Blog

Workshop on 3/12/2019: Introduction to the LAMP stack

This topic covered what the LAMP stack is followed by a hands on lab actually building 3 production web servers (as there were 3 teams of people) on Virtual Machines where the OS (Debian 10 in this case) had already been pre-installed with minimal packages.

Ultimately, for those unfamiliar, the LAMP stack has been traditionally been made up of (but often people swap bits) these 4 packages which is where it gets that acronym…

The lab covered how to get these all installed and then configure them manually in a way that would mean the web server is capable of serving multiple websites in their own directories, virtual hosts and database for each (if they need one).

A quick look at the colourful whiteboard…

It should go without saying that these VM’s are no longer live so there is little point trying to use these login details now!

The steps followed to do a basic Debian 10 server install though was explained by just showing screenshots of the screens gone through in the installation, most of which you can get away with just hitting enter.

Here are those screenshots though in case anyone wanted a closer look…

Finally the actual “slides” (if you can call them that) for how to get the lab task accomplished… was nothing more than a text file shown on our big TV at size 36pt font! Basically each “slide” is the 14 lines in between each horizontal line. But it worked, these notes also include other things we covered at the end…

At the end we had time for questions where we also went over some of the various free/open source and commercial control panels that can deal with a lot of this for you (but it’s always good to know how it’s done for diagnostic purposes) such as…

  • ISPConfig
  • DirectAdmin
  • Froxlor
  • Plesk
  • cPanel

And that was it for this time!

Ideas on Coverage

Since 1999 the LUG has always been fully titled as Staffordshire Linux User Group, abbreviated as simply StaffsLUG. However Staffordshire is a rather large county with the majority of it’s population in the northern end of it. This is mostly due to the city of Stoke-on-Trent. Many local community and campaign groups in the area have chosen to either title themselves with the prefix ‘North Staffordshire’ or ‘Potteries’ to try and specifically target the northern end of the county.

Although a large number of our local members (past and present) are from the northern end of the county, there are still plenty that have come in from places such as Crewe and Stafford. These are not ‘North Staffordshire’, neither are they part of ‘the Potteries’ either.

Given the well established Wolverhampton LUG is very close to both Cannock and Lichfield in the south of Staffordshire, it’s very likely they are catering for people from those neighbouring areas too. This makes sense as Wolverhampton is by far the closest/largest urban area. Equally we’d like to hope that the east of Staffordshire (such as Burton-upon-Trent) could be catered for by a LUG in Derby for the same reason, but as of yet no LUG seems to have popped up there (contact us if you know of one).

As for our LUGs own name? Well StaffsLUG has a nice ring to it, it’s not completely inaccurate nor does it seem to be really bothering anyone. It’s been thought to change the name some day (both for geographical reasons and to sound less Linux-centric), but certainly not for the foreseeable future and not without a lot of people really wanting that.

Ultimately this blog post is just here to show off a map with a big circle on it! It certainly does seem to show the Potteries area mostly in the middle, which makes sense as that’s our closest large urban area. Keele is marked in blue mostly just for clarity about where our meetings are normally held. That in itself is a good location for meetings as it’s both outside of the busy roads of Stoke-on-Trent, whilst also near the M6 that runs its way vertically through the centre of the map.

Of course this in no way changes who can participate in the LUG! Anyone from anywhere in the world can show up at meetings and join in on the mailing list. But this does give people a general idea as to the locality of people we generally pull in. If you feel like the circle isn’t quite right (e.g… extra towns you know we’ve had local members from, etc…) or just want to share your thoughts then comment below, contact us or use the mailing lists.

p.s. If anyone knows of a way of showing the same amount of detail and clarity (at that map zoom distance) using OpenStreetMaps let us know. We’d have much rather preferred to use that, but it never seemed to quite look as good.

Click me to make me bigger!

Workshop on 22/10/2019: Virtual Tabletop Gaming (inc. VASSAL)

The topic is essentially about simulating table top gaming (card games, role playing games, board games, etc…) on to a desktop PC. In our workshop the focus was bringing these ‘in real life games’ to digital platforms with a focus on how you can do that in Linux using a bit of software called VASSAL.

Click to visit the VASSAL web site

Here’s how we left the whiteboard…

Things discussed…

  • Who plays what?
  • Why would you choose to play via tabletop?
  • Social experience, bit of fun, can maintain this aspect of gaming digitally whilst maintaining the unique character of the games.
  • Reasons to go digital
    • Distance restrictions and limitations.
    • Regular group, e.g. weekly games nights.
    • Tournament practice.
    • Experimenting with different options and different strategies.

Vassal is a platform where the most popular modules are things like X-Wing, Advanced Squad Leader as well as…

  • Traditional games – monopoly, scrabble.
  • War gaming – games with miniatures.
  • Card gaming – MTG etc…

Take a look at the full list of VASSAL modules here, there are over 2000 modules in total. Other alternatives to VASSAL are…

During the workshop we had a go at the Scrabble module to get a handle on the basics, then loaded up the Warhammer 40K inspired Vassal40k module.

Lastly took a quick look at the module editor to basically see how all these overlaying bitmaps interact within the game.

The talk for this weeks workshop meeting was presented by LUG member Darren who is known as d72 online and is one of the current maintainers of the Vassal40k module. It is likely a version of this talk will be ran again sometime in the next 6 to 12 months with other games in mind too.

Additionally if you are interested in development of new VASSAL modules, working on VASSAL itself or working to improve existing modules and want to work with other LUG members face to face… then please use the meetings@ mailing list to discuss as there can always be ongoing projects in the background of any workshop meetings.

Trip: OggCamp (2019)

So a bunch of us at StaffsLUG went to OggCamp this year on Saturday 19th October 2019.

Plenty of talks to see, some of them on the “Main Track” (i.e. scheduled in advance and in the main room) and some of them scheduled as the day went on via a system of post-it notes and suggestions/offers of topics.

Managed to chat with a couple of people from Free Software Foundation Europe and also the Open Rights Group. Got some free stuff like leaflets and stickers from them for the LUG. Also making the rounds were a couple of people from Potteries Hackspace interested in many of the same talks, especially the one on MQTT.

The talk by LibreOffice was especially interesting to hear how IBM had been financing the war of OpenDocument vs Open Office XML. But sadly since then the specification of the OpenDocument formats has been left untouched for about 8 years until this year with a new standards editor part-paid for by Microsoft of all people!

There was also a very interesting talk by the Open Rights Group regarding how the RTB system used by online advertises violates GDPR. That one is definitely worth looking in to.

All in all it was very good, would go back again.

For more information look at the captions of the photo’s below.

Workshop on 08/10/2019: DNS Sinkholes (inc. Pi-hole)

The talk this week was about setting up a DNS sinkhole. Essentially instead of the machines on your network sending their DNS requests either to your ISPs recursive name server (or to your router which then forwards the request to the same place)… instead setup your own DNS server which forwards these requests on instead, but it has the ability to record and create statistics for the kinds of things seeking to be resolved.

The software used in the lab demonstration was…

Click to visit their website

Basically we had a number of Raspberry Pi Zero boards in cases powered by PoE (with PoE splitters) and hooked up to USB ethernet adapters scattered around the desks.

Pi-hole can however run on various platforms including VMs and pretty much any distribution or hardware you like. See their website.

The Pi’s had been pre-setup with Raspbian already and just needed the software installing which is largely just done with a one liner (see this page for details)… Please note: this is very case sensitive!

curl -sSL https://install.pi-hole.net | bash

Richard was leading this particular talk as he’d used the software before and was following his own notes which are provided below and were available for people to download on the day… (note: these are largely based on a thread/guide found over in the Linus Tech Tips forum)

Worked out very well, got some interesting results. Will definitely be revisiting this topic and others similar again in the near future.

In action!

You might have noticed we chose to go with Raspberry Pi Zero devices when testing out Pi-hole mostly due to their affordability, but they do need an additional USB ethernet adapter.

We’ve also found that a Zero model (compared to say a normal v3 model B for example) can be powered (if you’ve got a PoE switch or injector) with little micro USB PoE splitter adapter quite well.

Richard has also very graciously donated two kits of Raspberry Pi Zero’s to Function Office so they can be used with other similar StaffsLUG workshops which might need to use them.

Workshop on 24/09/2019: 20 years of StaffsLUG and Relaunch

A quick group photo to celebrate the relaunch, not all of us – just those that wanted to brave having their photo taken!

So we’ve decided to make a little blog post every time there has been a workshop meeting. It may be that these posts get created before the meeting with useful information that you may need before coming along… and then it’ll get updated afterwards.

The point of these isn’t to be a massively long drawn out recap of everything, but mostly to list out roughly what was covered/discussed and share any images/files (e.g. slides, if there was a presentation) that might be of use to people afterwards.

Basically this is mostly to act a reminder for people who came along, show you what you’re missing if you didn’t make it and generally provide nostalgia much later down the road. If you feel we’ve missed something on these posts just shout out in the comments box below.

Things discussed…

  • The new facilities now available to us courtesy of Function Office and one of their key benefactors Internet Central which is where the room is situated.
  • The numerous ways that we can now interact… Discord / Mailing Lists / Web Forum / IRC… with XMPP and NNTP coming soon.
  • OggCamp 2019 coming up, we’ll be going on the 19th October!
  • Who Richard / Steven / Mark are, that are volunteering the run the newly relaunched LUG.
  • A little talk was given by LUG co-founder Dave Roberts regarding when it all started and the kinds of places/events that the LUG has participated at in the past.
  • Potteries Hackspace being a thing, how they operate and what they do… leaflets available and encouraging people to check them out.
  • The LTSP setup we’ve put in place very quickly for people to use the PC’s.

Ideas raised…

  • Ideas for future workshop meetings included…
    • FreeNAS, OpenMediaVault and similar…
    • Backing up
    • Gaming on Linux
    • Raspberry Pi
    • Virtual Tabletop Gaming
    • Alternative Phablet OS’s
    • OpenWRT and other embedded OS’s
    • CAcert
    • FLOSS CCTV / IPTV controllers
    • Home Automation (in conjunction with Potteries Hackspace)
    • VBS / VBA / Excel macro Alternatives
    • Generally learning JavaScript, Python & Perl
    • Game engine recreations / opened up game engines

These are the rough slides / notes used to give the presentation, in OpenDocument Presentation format…

Whiteboard at the end of the meeting…