Author Archives: josh

Trustworthy email: authentication using exim4, SPF, DKIM and DMARC

The email authentication technologies we’re about to implement are, as best I can tell, all you need to be regarded as being from your domain when you send email, and someone else not being from your domain.  Effect: your emails can be considered trustworthy by email receivers who use these technologies. If they don’t use these technologies, they can’t tell.

At the very least, Google will be less likely to think your email is spam.

PTR record

A PTR record can be obtained from your host’s nameserver – it’s a reverse DNS record for your IP address. If the PTR record points at rather than (your domain), and you’re claiming to be sending mail from, what’s the email recipient meant to think?


will tell you what the host for that IP is. Lodge a ticket with your hosting provider and get that PTR record changed to This might take about a day.

SPF record

Create a Sender Policy Framework record on your nameserver:

TXT @ "v=spf1 a mx -all"

This says “for my domain, I will only send email from IP addresses listed on the nameserver”.  Nameserver changes take time to propagate.


DomainKeys Identified Mail is where things get more involved.  We’re doing this on a Debian Linux, like Ubuntu for exim4. We’re making our signing key 2048 bits, which is long enough to make life slightly unpleasant for us. Fortunately for you I’ve written a bash script that outputs the TXT record we need to create on the nameserver – because some nameservers (I’m looking at you, Gandi) can’t hold “long” strings – it’s broken into “small” strings:

sudo apt install openssl
cd /etc/exim4
sudo openssl genrsa -out dkim.private 2048
sudo openssl rsa -in dkim.private -out dkim.public -pubout -outform PEM
echo $(echo $(date -u +%Y%m%d && echo '') | sed -e 's/[ ]//g' && echo $(echo ' TXT "v=DKIM1; p="' && echo $(grep 'PUBLIC KEY' -v dkim.public) | sed -e 's/[ ]//g' | fold -w200 | sed -e 's/\(.*\)/"\1"/g'))

which gives something like
20170419._domainkey TXT “v=DKIM1; p=” “MIIBIjANBgkqhkiG9w0BAQEFAAOCAQ8AMIIBCgKCAQEAvCNqU0Njd4YQ4e89T3FNc+uyOS2JwUqynGk7uwcSYHjIE2MGRuTxi56s4JgPKSnCVlBkJlUnXQHXFp2UGnLm8SADtjRMfWwpNxz6TmzXBpMnNZV1zvuoBBdcxh0Qg1TtCSACtWM6ehml0BmOHVA8Ippqj9iRlP2HMjuVMxZXewN9eJl”

That all goes into one nameserver TXT record, spaces and all.  The world will join up the ” ” and get one big string. Note the bold number up there? That’s the selector. That a number needs to get larger with each new key.  Periodically you’re going to have to reissue your key because security.  You know what gets larger as time goes by?  The date.  Use the date.  If you screw up, use tomorrow’s date, etc.

Once you’ve got our public key out to the public via our public nameserver, we need to get exim to sign the payloads:

sudo nano conf.d/main/01_exim4-config_listmacrosdefs

After the line CONFDIR = /etc/exim4, add:

#DKIM loading
DKIM_CANON = relaxed
DKIM_DOMAIN = ${sender_address_domain}
DKIM_SELECTOR = 20170419

and reload the mail server

sudo service exim4 restart

After an appropriate delay for nameserver propagation, use to check your work.
If that works out, from to ensure everything checks out:

echo -e "Test my DKIM plz\nMsg Body\n.\n\n" | mail -v


Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance is where the wheels can come off if you screwed anything up.  We’re going to set things up so that when you screw it up, computers scold you rather than putting your emails in the bin.

You will need to create two dmarc reporting accounts.  Servers will email you a (surprisingly detailed) report card on how you’re doing with your implementation. It’s best if these accounts are on a different domain, in case something bad happens.  Yours are and, according to the following nameserver entry: 1800 IN TXT "v=DMARC1;p=none;pct=100;;"

none is the consequence for screwing up. none is where we’ll start at, and see what the reporting records say to us.  After a while, you’ll be comfortable that everything is ticking along nicely, and you’ll up the consequent to quarantine (shove it in spam) or reject (burn it).

As a human, to read the records sent to you, upload the files to

Making a captcha deamon for spamgourmet installations

For those of you following along at home, this is part of a cookbook style instruction set for getting spamgourmet going, but because of screwed up permission logic I can’t post this section there.

The captcha is for validating humanity when creating spamgourmet accounts. We’re going to limit what parts of the OS it can tromp over:

sudo useradd -c "captcha server for spamgourmet" -f -1 -M -r captcha
sudo /bin/mkdir -p /var/www-spamgourmet/captchasrv/
sudo chown -R captcha /usr/local/lib/spamgourmet/captchasrv/
sudo chown -R captcha /var/www-spamgourmet/captcha

Now we make our one-line shell script for running the daemon

sudo nano /etc/init.d/

# Provides:          captchasrv
# Required-Start:    $local_fs $network
# Required-Stop:     $local_fs
# Default-Start:     2 3 4 5
# Default-Stop:      0 1 6
# Short-Description: captchasrv
# Description:       captcha daemon for spamgourmet
sudo -u captcha perl /usr/local/lib/spamgourmet/captchasrv/ &

Next we get it going

sudo chmod +x /etc/init.d/
sudo update-rc.d defaults

And check if that worked, there should be about four entries:

ps -aux | grep captc

Now the captcha server will start whenever the computer starts.

How to to install the Crypt::Eksblowfish::Bcrypt module, and Crypt::Random

Have you gotten the error
Can't locate Crypt/Eksblowfish/ in @INC (you may need to install the Crypt::Eksblowfish::Bcrypt module)
and wondered what to do? Wonder no more!

sudo apt install libcrypt-eksblowfish-perl

and perhaps

sudo apt install libdigest-bcrypt-perl

What about
Can't locate Crypt/ in @INC (you may need to install the Crypt::Random module)

sudo apt install unzip make gcc
cd Math-Pari-2.01080900/
perl Makefile.PL
sed -i 's/CLK_TCK/CLOCKS_PER_SEC/g' pari-2.1.7/src/language/init.c
make test
sudo make install
cd ..
tar zxvf Crypt-Random-1.25.tar.gz
cd Crypt-Rando1.25.tar
perl Makefile.PL

Easy! Only takes a few hours if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Installing a secure Apache webserver to run Perl

So, you want to run Perl on the web, because it’s the 90s all over again. You want HTTPS, because… no, there’s no because.  You want HTTPS.  Who wouldn’t?  Here’s what you do on a Debian Linux such as Ubuntu:
sudo apt-get install apache2 libapache2-mod-perl2
mod-perl is an Apache module that allows Perl programs to be executed from Apache.

Our goal is to get /var/www/html/ running at

print "Hello World"

Disable the default Apache virtual host:

sudo a2dissite 000-default.conf

Create an file in /etc/apache2/sites-available with your text editor, replacing instances of with your own domain name in both the configuration file and in the file name /etc/apache2/sites-available/

<VirtualHost *:80>
     ErrorLog ${APACHE_LOG_DIR}/error.log
     CustomLog ${APACHE_LOG_DIR}/access.log combined
     </Directory /var/www/>
              Options +ExecCGI -MultiViews +SymLinksIfOwnerMatch
              AllowOverride None
              AddHandler cgi-script .pl
              Require all granted

<IfModule mod_ssl.c>
<VirtualHost *:443>
     ErrorLog ${APACHE_LOG_DIR}/error.log
     CustomLog ${APACHE_LOG_DIR}/access.log combined
     </Directory /var/www/>
              Options +ExecCGI -MultiViews +SymLinksIfOwnerMatch
              AllowOverride None
              AddHandler cgi-script .pl
              Require all granted

If you have multiple sites, you’ll want to do things with DocumentRoot to isolate them from each other. But that’s for another post.

You might add in DirectoryIndex / to make execute your program.

The Directory section above allows you to isolate executable code from served code, which is good practice. For this example we’re dumping the executable in with everything else, which is questionable.

Repeat this process for any other domains you host.

sudo a2ensite
sudo service apache2 restart

Punch holes in your firewall for ports 80 and 443.  Navigate to to check all is okay. You ought to see Hello World displayed for your website.

Having security used to be a pain.  SSL certificates signed by a recognised CA cost money, and then you’d have to keep them up to date, and there wasn’t process automation, so you’d do all that stuff by hand.  LetsEncrypt address all these problems, handing out free certificates and scripted everything.

Now it’s time for the S part of HTTPS:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:certbot/certbot
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install python-certbot-apache
sudo certbot --apache

certbot renew
If that works, we’ll automatically renew our 90-day certificates every month:
echo '@monthly root /usr/bin/certbot renew >> /var/log/letsencrypt/letsencrypt-auto-update.log' | sudo tee --append /etc/crontab

Done.  You’ll never have to worry about certificates again. Now alter your Apache sites-available file (look in /etc/apache2/sites-available/) to include the (optional) redirect HTTP to HTTPS and the mandatory location of the SSL certificates:

<VirtualHost *:80>
# Only allow HTTPS
RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{SERVER_NAME} =
RewriteRule ^ https://%{SERVER_NAME}%{REQUEST_URI} [END,QSA,R=permanent]

<IfModule mod_ssl.c>
<VirtualHost *:443>
SSLCertificateFile /etc/letsencrypt/live/
SSLCertificateKeyFile /etc/letsencrypt/live/
Include /etc/letsencrypt/options-ssl-apache.conf

Now make the secure version live, and in the process the insecure one… shy? When a request is made for a http page, like, the response will be “Here’s where what you asked for has moved to… forever!”:
sudo service apache2 restart
Now requesting ought to deliver you to

Install exim4 STARTTLS using a free LetsEncrypt certificate

Here we are on a Debian Linux, such as Ubuntu and we want to run a mail server. Exim4 is currently the most popular email server, but getting it up and working for free is a hassle – who wants to pay for a SSL certificate, on an ongoing basis? And then there’s the maintenance of the security of it – constant renewal, renouncing and re-installation of the certificates.

Wherever you see, swap in your Fully Qualified Domain Name. That may be
It’s assumed you’re not logged in as root, but user ubuntu
Wherever you see, swap in your machine’s local IP address, from
ifconfig | grep "inet addr" | grep -v ""

Security is all handled automatically by LetsEncrypt’s certbot. I’ll let you look that one up yourself. Run it up and get your certificate for

Once you’ve got that handled, punch a hole in your firewall so that port 25 can get through from the outside world to your machine. Be aware: the outside world is filled full of botnets trying to hack into your machine.  After installing exim, keep an eye on the logs in /var/log/exim4/ for a while.

Let’s install exim4:
sudo apt-get install exim4
sudo dpkg-reconfigure exim4-config

  • pick “Internet site”
  • system mail name is
  • IP address is (the one returned by ifconfig, not the externally accessable one)
  • Other destinations:
  • No relays
  • No smarthost
  • No Dial-on-Demand
  • mbox format (or whatever)
  • Split the files
  • ubuntu for postmaster mail

Check we’re now running a mail server:
sudo netstat -napt
should show
Proto Recv-Q Send-Q Local Address Foreign Address State PID/Program name
tcp 0 0* LISTEN 25700/exim4

Now we have a mail server, the world needs to find it. Check your nameserver setting to ensure mail is destined this machine.  You probably want only one MX record.

Check the Internet can send mail to our server. After allowing for the appropriate propagation delay for your nameserver changes, use gmail or something to send an email to – you should be able to read it by typing

Now it’s time to enable MTA-MTA link encryption for secure transport of mail, by enabling STARTTLS on exim4 using our LetsEncrypt certificate
sudo nano /etc/exim4/conf.d/main/03_exim4-config_tlsoptions
Enable STARTTLS by adding/setting in the tlsoptions section:

before any of the IF shenanigans. Also add/replace pointers to the certificates:
tls_certificate = /etc/letsencrypt/live/
tls_privatekey = /etc/letsencrypt/live/

The MAIN_TLS_CERTKEY = no entry fixes an exim4 log message
2017-04-16 09:13:24 TLS error on connection from (IcePlanet) [] (cert/key setup: cert=/etc/exim4/exim.crt key=/etc/exim4/exim.key): Error while reading file.
You will see this when testing with swaks:
$ swaks -a -tls -q HELO -s -au test -ap '<>'
=== Trying
=== Connected to
< - 220 ESMTP Exim 4.86_2 Ubuntu Sun, 16 Apr 2017 09:13:24 +0000 -> EHLO IcePlanet
< - Hello []
< ** 454 TLS currently unavailable *** STARTTLS attempted but failed -> QUIT
< - 221 closing connection
=== Connection closed with remote host.

Allow exim (which when running runs as user Debian-exim) to get to the certificates:
sudo chown Debian-exim /etc/letsencrypt/live/
sudo chown Debian-exim /etc/letsencrypt/archive/
sudo chown Debian-exim /etc/letsencrypt/archive/
sudo chown Debian-exim /etc/letsencrypt/archive/

Changing these permissions doesn’t affect apache2’s ability to get them.

These permission changes prevent the following error message in your log file:
2008-06-03 08:27:35 TLS error on connection from ([]) [] (cert/key setup: cert=/etc/ssl/certs/server.pem key=/etc/ssl/private/server.key): Error while reading file.

Restart the service and the TLS settings ought to be working
sudo service exim4 restart
Test STARTTLS is working from another machine
swaks -a -tls -q HELO -s -au test -ap '<>'
There shouldn’t be any obvious complaining.


Cheap passport photos using The Gimp and 10c printing

Australian Passport requirements are specified by Border Force.  The step that’s most avoidably expensive is the generation of compliant photographic representation of the individual (at $17-$20 per person).

The face size (the skin-visible bit of your head, so from your hairline down to your chin) needs to be between 32mm and 36mm; to allow for the vagueries of conversion we’re going to shoot for exactly 34mm.

Take your appropriately posed and positioned photograph. Don’t crop too aggressively: there’s plenty of pixels in modern photographs, and you can’t add “more person” if you got the ratios wrong.

Load the photo into the Gimp.

Find out how many pixels there are from the chin to forehead line by picking Tools | Measure and measuring as close to vertically as you can between these two features. I got 1573 on my image.

Whip out your calculator and divide this by 68% (34mm face height/50mm image height), getting you the number of pixels high your image needs to be to make 50mm – 2313 in my case. The width is 80% (40mm image width/50mm image height) of this number – I get 1850.

Now for the image we’re going to paste into. Standard photographs are 6″x4″, or about 152mm x 101mm – let’s call it 150×100. So select File | New, with a size double the height of the cutout, and a width of triple the height of the cutout – mine was 4626 x 6939.

Now we’ll put some guidelines on to help us place accurately. Select Image | Print Size... and put in 6″x4″ (Once you put in the 6″, the 4 should magically fill itself in). Pick View | Show Grid and View | Snap to Grid. Select Image | Configure Grid... and set up a 5mm x 5mm grid. There should be a lot of 5mm boxes on your image now.

Switch to your photograph.

Now check Windows | Dockable Dialogs | Tools Options has got a dialog up, and pick Tools | Selection Tools | Rectangular Select. On the options dialog (which may need resizing so you can see all the options), check Fixed and pick Size from the accompanying drop-down. Enter the dimensions you’ve calculated.

Now select your face, and copy it. Switch to the new image, and paste you image. Position it, and paste in your face. You ought to fit three across, and two down. Six passport photos for 10c! Yay!

Suppose you’re doing two different faces on the one photograph (or more!). Once you’ve gotten as far as doing the calculations for the second image (what are the chances you’ll get the same framing of the face?) and then copying the face, stop. Instead of pasting it into the printable image, pick Edit | Paste As | New Image. Pick Image | Scale Image, ensure Width and Height are locked with a chain symbol, then enter the Height of your original face (2313 in my case). If everything is going hunky-dory, the calculated width will match the new width in the dialog. Press the Scale button, Select | All, copy the image and paste it into your printable image, then position appropriately.

Now, to print out you’ll need a JPEG. Select File | Export, type in a filename ending in .jpg and you’re set. Take to your local Officeworks/Harvey Norman, and 10c later you’ve got your Australian passport photos.

Viali VCCG90SS and VCCG60SS rangehood installation instuctions

As the current home reno project is a kitchen rebuild (walls added and removed, nothing left behind – it’s dramatically more than a remodel) the first step followed was to acquire all the appliances (constructing the kitchen and then finding the oven that you’ve got a very specific sized hole made for is “no longer available” would be… disappointing).

One of the acquisitions was two Viali VCCG90SS rangehood extractor units, one for each cooktop. Noise during operation, rated capacity and acquisition cost all seem acceptable. The instruction manual seems, at first glance, fabulous: large, clear font, line drawings giving unit dimensions, step-by-step installation images and all in a matte A4-sized, easy-to-read format.

When you actually read the instruction manual with the intent of following the instructions for installation, that’s when you run into some difficulties. Let’s be clear: I’ve installed a couple of ducted extractor fans in the past, so rangehoods are not some unknown quantity for me. This is not my first rodeo. I consider myself handy, I’ve installed kitchens from the ground up. I’ve spent quite some time puzzling over this booklet, I’ve searched the Interwebs, I’ve really battled with this.

I will now try to explain how the heck you’re meant to install this Viali rangehood, because the shipped instructions sure don’t. Perhaps I’ll do it via annotation. Continue reading

Was this answer helpful?

Go looking for any help on LinkenIn, and you get lies and incompetent software construction:

Linkedin needs JavaScript to enable JavaScript

Javascript must be enabled to use the Help Center

We’re sorry, but your current browser settings won’t allow you to use the Help Center. You can learn how to enable your JavaScript settings.

Notice the little UTF-square? If JavaScript’s turned on, that becomes a graphic image. Because, without Javascript HTML can’t include images, right? Not only that, once JavaScript is enabled the message with the graphic isn’t visible!

It then explains how to enable JavaScript, in the help centre that won’t help you without JavaScript – which is clearly a crock of shit. If the help centre can help me to enable JavaScript, surely it can help me with other problems also without needing JavaScript? Why lie like this? Why not say “our business model doesn’t work without you using JavaScript”?

To rub further salt into the wound, at the bottom is a “Was this answer helpful?” question, which you can’t answer because the buttons don’t do anything without JavaScript. Egads!

Nature strip computer For The Win!

I found a computer on the nature strip; it was enormous, but had a couple of DVD-RWs, dual DVI connectors and USB3, so I figured it was reasonably modern.

When I got it home and inspected it closely, I realised it wasn’t USB3 but eSATA instead, and my hopes deflated. Booting it up showed a BIOS from 2006 and I figured I just bought myself another trip to the council’s transfer station. However, checking out the CPU (Intel i7 920), full-height full-length graphics card (MSI R4870X2) and RAM (6Gb of DDR3) I realised I had found something special. Dropping in a SATA drive that I salvaged from a machine we decided was past it’s use-by date, I built it into a Linux Mint box.

Yet again, the most powerful machine in the house was found in hard rubbish.  It’s twice as powerful as the last computer we bought, and nearly twice as powerful as the most recent desktop machine.  The RAM is a bit light-on, but DDR3 is still widely available.  The TPD (power consumed by the CPU) is 130 watts, which is… a lot.  Not a machine to run in a small room on a hot day.  Add in the graphics card that consumes between 120 and 220 watts depending on load, and a meaty power supply is needed; the one in the case has 1000W written on it, whatever that really means.

At the end of last year I found my local primary school had unceremoniously tossed about a dozen PCs into a dumpster filled with detritus such as broken plastic tubs, desks without legs and out-of-favour books (like a perfectly good Macquarie dictionary). Figuring I could cannibalize multiple machines into a single working machine, I pulled a half dozen monitors and three computers out and loaded them into the car. When tested at home, everything worked just fine. Everything. Confronting the authorities the next day, I was told that the PCs were “broken”, but after some haranguing I got a concession that next time the machines would be donated to a computing charity. As a result of this find I have a three-computer cluster of dedicated Minecraft machines, which now provide adequate performance after extensive tweaking.

Have you found anything good, or would you never take home strange hardware?

Unhelpful web help

Just… just… wrong. So wrong.

Firstly, note the error message “Enter a valid email addresss”. Where, pray tell, ought I do this?  Why do I need to upload any attachment again?  Why do I have to prove I’m a human time-after-time, when all I’m doing is wrestling with your completely broken attempt at a web form?

Have they noticed that no-one is submitting help requests via this form, what with its refusal to accept said requests?

Dear Flickr: stop sucking balls.

Summer 2014/2015 starts

Saturday 18 October             Max 26    Partly cloudy.
Sunday 19 October     Min 17    Max 29    Afternoon cool change.
Monday 20 October     Min 12    Max 23    Mostly sunny.
Tuesday 21 October    Min 10    Max 28    Sunny.
Wednesday 22 October  Min 16    Max 31    Possible shower.
Thursday 23 October   Min 15    Max 20    Possible shower.
Friday 24 October     Min 13    Max 22    Cloudy.

Winter 2014 ends

I’ve tried to use the same technique to determine winter the same way I do summer; I decided back in June that winter started. And in August, it’s over.

Tuesday   19 August Max 15 Possible light shower.
Wednesday 20 August Min 7 Max 15 Cloudy.
Thursday  21 August Min 5 Max 18 Mostly sunny.
Friday    22 August Min 6 Max 19 Mostly sunny.
Saturday  23 August Min 7 Max 19 Mostly sunny.
Sunday    24 August Min 8 Max 18 Mostly sunny.
Monday    25 August Min 6 Max 18 Mostly sunny.

A couple of days later the forecast was extended out to

Tuesday   26 August  Min 8 Max 19 Partly cloudy.
Wednesday 27 August  Min 9 Max 21 Mostly sunny.