Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

Converting QEMU disk images to VirtualBox images on Linux Mint 21

30th October 2022

Recently, VirtualBox gained fuller support for Windows 11 and I successively set up a new Windows 11 virtual machine that I hope will supplant a Windows 10 counterpart in time. The setup itself was streamlined but I ran into such stability issues that I set the new VM aside until a new version of VirtualBox got released. That has happened with the appearance of version 7.0.2 but Windows 11 remains prone to freezing on my Linux Mint machine. Thankfully, that now is much less frequent but the need for added stability remains outstanding.

While I was thinking about trying our Virtualbox 7.0.0, I remembered a QEMU machine that I had running Windows 11. Though QEMU proved more limited than VirtualBox when it came to having easy availability of functionality like moving data in and out of the virtual machine or support for sound, there was no problem with TPM support or system stability. Since it did contain some useful data, I wondered about converting its virtual hard disk to VirtualBox format and it is easy to do. First, you need to install qemu-img and other utilities as follows:

sudo apt-get install qemu-utils

With that in place, executing a command like the following performs the required conversion. Here, the -O switch specifies the required file type of vdi in this case.

qemu-img convert -O vdi [virtual hard disk].qcow2 [virtual hard disk].vdi

While I have yet to mount it on the new Virtualbox Windows 11 virtual machine, it is good to have the old virtual hard disk available for doing so. The thought of using it as a boot drive in VirtualBox did enter my mind but the required change of drivers and other incompatibilities dissuaded me from doing so.

Removing redundant kernels from Ubuntu

29th October 2022

Recently, a message appear on some web servers that I have that exhorted me to upgrade to Ubuntu 22.04.1 using the do-release-upgrade command. In the interests of remaining current, I did just that to get another message, one like the following:

The upgrade needs a total of [amount of space with units] free space on disk `/boot`.
Please free at least an additional [amount of space with units] of disk space on `/boot`.
Empty your trash and remove temporary packages of former installations
using `sudo apt-get clean`.

Using sudo apt-get clean did not resolve the problem so the advice given was of no use. The actual problem was that there were too many old kernels cluttering up /boot and searching around the web provided that wisdom. What also came up was a single command for fixing the problem. However, removing the wrong kernel can trash a system so I took a more cautious approach. First, I listed the kernels to be removed and checked that they did not include the currently running one. This was done with the following command (broken up over several lines for clarity using the backslash character to denote continuation) and running uname -r found the details of the running kernel:

dpkg -l linux-{image,headers}-"[0-9]*" \

| awk '/ii/{print $2}' \

| grep -ve "$(uname -r \

| sed -r 's/-[a-z]+//')"

The dpkg command listed the installed kernels with awk, grep and sed filtering out unwanted sections of the text. The awk command takes the tabular output from dpkg and turns it into a list. The -v switch on the grep command gets the lines that do not match the search expression created by the sed command, while the -e switch makes grep look for patterns. The sed command removes all letters from the output of the uname command, where the -r switch produces the kernel release details, to leave on the release number of the current kernel. On being satisfied that nothing untoward would happen, the full command below (also broken up over several lines for clarity using the backslash character to denote continuation) could be executed.

sudo apt purge $(dpkg -l linux-{image,headers}-"[0-9]*" \

| awk '/ii/{print $2}' \

| grep -ve "$(uname -r \

| sed -r 's/-[a-z]+//')")

This apt to purge the unwanted kernels, thus freeing up enough space for the upgrade to continue. That happened without significant incident though there were some remediations needed on the PHP side to get the website working smoothly again.

Using inventory files with Ansible

28th October 2022

This is the second post on Ansible following my main system’s upgrade to Linux Mint 21. Then, I manually ran some Ansible playbooks only to spot messages that I had not noticed before. Here, I discuss two messages issued because of an issue with an inventory file, which is where one defines lists of servers against which playbooks are executed. The default is called hosts and is located at /etc/ansible but the system upgrade had renamed the existing one so Ansible could not find it. The solution was to take a copy and put somewhere safer. Then, I needed to add the location of the new file to the affected ansible-playbook commands using the following construct:

ansible-playbook [playbook path] -i [inventory file path]

Before I did this, I was seeing messages including the text “Could not match supplied host pattern” or others with the following text:

[WARNING]: No inventory was parsed, only implicit localhost is available

[WARNING]: provided hosts list is empty, only localhost is available. Note that the implicit localhost does not match 'all'

The cause was the same in each case and attending to the inventory file got rid of the unwanted messages. The new file also should not be affected by system upgrades in the future.

Fixing an Ansible warning about boolean type conversion

27th October 2022

My primary use for Ansible is doing system updates using the inbuilt apt module. Recently, I updated my main system to Linux Mint 21 and a few things like Ansible stopped working. Removing instances that I had added with pip3 sorted the problem but I then ran playbooks manually only for various warning messages to appear that I had not noticed before. What follows below is one of these.

[WARNING]: The value True (type bool) in a string field was converted to u'True' (type string). If this does not look like what you expect, quote the entire value to ensure it does not change.

The message is not so clear in some ways, not least because it had me looking for a boolean value of True when it should have been yes. A search on the web revealed something about the apt module that surprised me.: the value of the upgrade parameter is a string when others like it take boolean values of yes or no. Thus, I had passed a bareword of yes when it should have been declared in quotes as “yes”. To my mind, this is an inconsistency but I have changed things anyway to get rid of the message.

Upgrading from OpenMediaVault 5.x to OpenMediaVault 6.x

8th June 2022

Having an older PC to upgrade, I decided to install OpenMediaVault on there a few years ago after adding in 6 TB and 4 TB hard drives for storage, a Gigabit network card to speed up backups and a new BeQuiet! power supply to make it quieter. It has been working smoothly since then and the release of OpenMediaVault 6.x had me wondering how to move to it.

Usefully, I enabled an SSH service for remote logins and set up an account for anything that I needed to do. This includes upgrades, taking backups of what is on my NAS drives and even shutting down the machine when I am done with what I need to do with it.

Using an SSH session, the first step was to switch to the administrator account and issue the following command to ensure that my OpenMediaVault 5.x installation was as up to date as it could be:

omv-update

Once that had completed what it needed to do, the next step was to do the upgrade itself with the following command:

omv-release-upgrade

With that complete, it was time to reboot the system and I fired up the web administration interface and spotted a kernel update that I applied. Again the system was restarted and further updates were noticed and these were applied, again through the web interface. The whole thing is based on Debian 11.x but I am not complaining since it quietly does exactly what I need of it.

A quick look at the 7G Firewall

17th October 2021

There is a simple principal with the 7G Firewall from Perishable press: it is a set of mod_rewrite rules for the Apache web server that can be added to a .htaccess file and there also is a version for the Nginx web server as well. These check query strings, request Uniform Resource Identifiers (URI’s), user agents, remote hosts, HTTP referrers and request methods for any anomalies and blocks those that appear dubious.

Unfortunately, I found that the rules heavily slowed down a website with which I tried them so I am going have to wait until that is moved to a faster system before I really can give them a go. This can be a problem with security tools as I also found with adding a modsec jail to a Fail2Ban instance. As it happens, both sets of observations were made using the GTmetrix tool so it seems that there is a trade off between security and speed that needs to be assessed before adding anything to block unwanted web visitors.

Some online writing tools

15th October 2021

Every week, I get an email newsletter from Woody’s Office Watch. This was something to which I started subscribing in the 1990’s but I took a break from it for a good while for reasons that I cannot recall and returned to it only in recent years. This week’s issue featured a list of online paraphrasing tools that are part of what is offered by Quillbot, Paraphraser, Dupli Checker¬†and Pre Post Seo. Each got their own reviews in the newsletter so I will just outline other features in this posting.

In Quillbot’s case, the toolkit includes a grammar checker, summary generator, and citation generator. In addition to the online offering, there are extensions for Microsoft Word, Google Chrome, and Google Docs. In addition to the free version, a paid subscription option is available.

In spite of the name, Paraphraser is about more than what the title purports to do. There is article rewriting, plagiarism checking, grammar checking and text summarisation. Because there is no premium version, the offering is funded by advertising and it will not work with an ad blocker enabled. The mention of plagiarism suggests a perhaps murkier side to writing that cuts both ways: one is to avoid copying other work while another is the avoidance of groundless accusations of copying.

It was appear that the main role of Dupli Checker is to avoid accusations of plagiarism by checking what you write yet there is a grammar checker as well as a paraphrasing tool on there too. When I tried it, the English that it produced looked a little convoluted and there is a lack of fluency in what is written on its website as well. Together with a free offering that is supported by ads that were not blocked by my ad blocker, there are premium subscriptions too.

In web publishing, they say that content is king so the appearance of an option using the acronym for Search Engine Optimisation in it name may not be as strange as it might as first glance. There are numerous tools here with both free and paid tiers of service. While paraphrasing and plagiarism checking get top billing in the main menu on the home page, further inspection reveals that there is a lot more to check on this site.

In writing, inspiration is a fleeting and ephemeral quantity so anything that helps with this has to be of interest. While any rewriting of initial content may appear less smooth than the starting point, any help with the creation process cannot go amiss. For that reason alone, I might be tempted to try these tools from time to time and they might assist with proof reading as well because that can be a hit and miss affair for some.

 

Stopping Firefox from launching on the wrong virtual desktop on Linux Mint

12th October 2021

During the summer, I discovered that Firefox was steadfastly opening on the same virtual desktop on Linux Mint (the Cinnamon version) regardless of the one on which it was started. Being a creature of habit who routinely opens Firefox within the same virtual desktop all the time, this was not something that I had noticed until the upheaval of a system rebuild. The supposed cause is setting the browser to reopen tabs from the preceding session. The settings change according to the version of Firefox but it is found in Settings > General in the version in which I am writing these words (Firefox Developer Edition 94.0b4) and the text beside the tick box is Open previous windows and tabs.

While disabling the aforementioned setting could work, there is another less intrusive solution. This needs the opening of a new tab and the entering of the address about:config in the address bar. If you see a warning message about the consequences of proceed further, accept responsibility using the interface as you do just that. In the resulting field marked Search preference name, enter the text widget.disable-workspace-management and toggle the setting from false to true in order to activate it. Then, Firefox should open on the desktop where you want it and not some other default location.

A new look

11th October 2021

Things have been changing on here. Much of that has been behind the scenes with a move to a new VPS for extra speed and all the upheaval that brings. It also gained me a better system for less money than the old upgrade path was costing me and everything feels more responsive as well. Extra work has gone into securing the website as well and I have learned a lot as that has progressed. New lessons were added to older, and sometimes forgotten, ones.

The more obvious change for those who have been here before is that the visual appearance has been refreshed. A new theme has been applied with a multitude of tweaks to make it feel unique and to iron out any rough edges that there may be. This remains a WordPress-based website and new theme is a variant of the Appointee subtheme of the Appointment theme. WordPress does only supports child theming but not grandchild theming so I had to make a copy of Appointee of my own so I could modify things as I see fit.

To my eyes, things do look cleaner, crisper and brighter so I hope that it feels the same to you. Like so many designs these days, the basis is the Bootstrap framework and that is no bad thing in my mind though the standardisation may be too much for some tastes. What has become challenging is that it is getter harder to find new spins on more traditional layouts with everything going for a more magazine-like appearance and summaries being shown on the front page instead of complete articles. That probably reflects how things are going for websites these days so it may be that the next refresh could be more home grown and that is a while away yet.

As the website heads towards its sixteenth year, there is bound to be continuing change. In some ways, I prefer that some things remain unchanged so I use the classic editor instead of Gutenburg because that works best for me. Block-based editing is not for me since I prefer to tinker with code anyway. Still, not all of its influences can be avoided and I have needed to figure out the new widgets interface. It did not feel that intuitive but I suppose that I will grow accustomed to it.

My interest in technology continues even if it saddens me at time and some things do not impress me; the Windows 11 taskbar is one of those so I will not be in any hurry to move away from Windows 10. Still, the pandemic has offered its own learning with virtual conferencing allowing one to lurk and learn new things. For me, this has included R, Python, Julia and DevOps among other things. That proved worthwhile during a time with many restrictions. All that could yield more content yet and some already is on the way.

As ever, it is my own direct working with technology that yields some real niche ideas that others have not covered. With so many technology blogs out there, they may be getting less and less easy to find but everyone has their own journey so I hope to encounter more of them. There remain times when doing precedes telling and that is how it is on here. It is not all about appearances since content matters as much as it ever did.

Using .htaccess to control hotlinking

10th October 2020

There are times when blogs cease to exist and the only place to find the content is on the Wayback Machine. Even then, it is in danger of being lost completely. One such example is the subject of this post.

Though this website makes use of the facilities of Cloudflare for various functions that include the blocking of image hotlinking, the same outcome can be achieved using .htaccess files on Apache web servers. It may work on Nginx to a point too but there are other configuration files that ought to be updated instead of using a .htaccess when some frown upon the approach. In any case, the lines that need adding to .htaccess are listed below though the web address needs to include your own domain in place of the dummy example provided:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(www\.)?yourdomain.com(/)?.*$ [NC]
RewriteRule .*\.(gif|jpe?g|png|bmp)$ [F,NC]

The first line turns on the mod_rewrite engine and you may have that done anyway. Of course, the module needs enabling in your Apache configuration for this to work and you have to be allowed to perform the required action as well. This means changing the Apache configuration files. The next pair of lines look at the HTTP referer strings and the third one only allows images to be served from your own web domain and not others. To add more, you need to copy the third line and change the web address accordingly. Any new lines need to precede the last line that defines the file extensions that are to be blocked to other web addresses.

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(www\.)?yourdomain.com(/)?.*$ [NC]
RewriteRule \.(gif|jpe?g|png|bmp)$ /images/image.gif [L,NC]

Another variant of the previous code involves changing the last line to display a default image showing others what is happening. That may not reduce the bandwidth usage as much as complete blocking but it may be useful for telling others what is happening.

  • All the views that you find expressed on here in postings and articles are mine alone and not those of any organisation with which I have any association, through work or otherwise. As regards editorial policy, whatever appears here is entirely of my own choice and not that of any other person or organisation.

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