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Greg's diary
March 1992
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This was partially written from memory 30 years later, and partially a slightly reformatted copy of some mail messages I sent to the BSDI beta mailing list in March 1992.

Sunday, 1 March 1992 Manchester → Schellnhausen
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Back home from Manchester, where Yvonne showed me what Bahram [our Saluki dog] had done: chewed up a letter. Although the letter slit (which drops directly onto the floor) had been taped over, some idiot had detached the tape and put the letter through anyway.

Who was the idiot? What was the letter? Peter Datzmann, our “Human resourcelessness” manager, along with his assistant Gerdi Mwema as witness to the delivery of notice of my termination. What a welcome home! Into the office to call somebody up and ask what it was all about. Phone (paid for by Tandem) dead. X.25 line (paid for by Tandem) dead.

So, what do I do? Ten years of my life truncated just like that. Is the notice even valid? Yes, they delivered it to the house, but not to a letter box. What if they had put it into the dustbin? And it should have been delivered by the end of February, and I only just got it.

And why are they firing me? No fault of mine: the company is in financial trouble, and that's what US companies in trouble do: lay people off.

On the other hand, the conditions were surprisingly good for me, so much so that I don't understand what advantage Tandem has in it: by law the notice period (taking into account the length of time I worked for Tandem) was 4 full months to the end of a quarter. If they had served the notice yesterday, that would be until the end of June, and that's what they claim. But arguably it should be until the end of September. But on top of that they paid my salary (but not fringe benefits) until the end of May 1993. That makes up for it, maybe.

Monday, 2 March 1992 Schellnhausen
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Into Gießen today to talk to a lawyer. Yes, the notice was delivered too late. After some discussion I decided not to do anything about it: it's potentially possible that Tandem would accept having to pay until the end of September, but withdraw their voluntary payment beyond then.

Into the office to pick up my things, also sending a couple of mail messages from my not-yet-removed accounts. Apart from other issues, I no longer have any kind of networking connection! X.25 gone, email gone. I'll have to get my own Internet connection.

Fortunately, I know the way: we already had an account with unido, the University of Dortmund. Called them up and arranged for the setup; now I just need to find out how to do it.

Friday, 6 March 1992 Schellnhausen
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My mail system is up and running. sendmail installed, B News installed. First emails out, incoming email no longer gets routed to /dev/null:

From!DAGOSTINO_ROSE  Fri Mar  6 21:53:40 1992 remote from unido
Received: from
        by with SMTP (5.65+/UNIDO-2.1.0.b)
        via EUnet for lemis
        id AA12536; Fri, 6 Mar 92 21:53:40 +0100
Received: by suntan.Tandem.COM (4.0/suntan3.920226)
        id AA04364; Fri, 6 Mar 92 12:59:08 PST
Received: from comm.Tandem.COM by suntan.Tandem.COM (4.0/suntan3.920226)
        id AA04359; Fri, 6 Mar 92 12:59:04 PST
Received: by comm.Tandem.COM (5.52.1/2.D)
        id AA20281; 6 Mar 92 12:59:53 -0800
Date: 6 Mar 92 12:38:00 -0800
Message-Id: <199203061259.AA20281@comm.Tandem.COM>
To: lemis!grog
Subject: Damn' another bites the dust
Status: OR

Hi there, I have this photo on my desk and everytime I look at it another
person fades off it.  It appears that I will be next.  Word is that
Federal's death knell is about to start.  Perhaps as early as next week
or the week after.

Oh well the ride was good while it lasted.  I've got my resume together,
now all I have to do is start doing something with it.

Boy did you really get that much in severence.  With that amount I wouldn't
have to do a thing for at least three years.

Let us know where you land.

Tandem is becoming duller by the minute.

Smiles, Rosemarie

Thursday, 19 March 1992 Schellnhausen
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From: grog (Greg Lehey)
Message-Id: <9203191715.AA19003@lemis>
Subject: BSDI beta report - LEMIS
Date: Thu, 19 Mar 92 18:15:16 MET
X-Mailer: ELM [version 2.2 PL0]

Beta test report, BSDI/386, 19 March 1992
Topic: technology Link here
From:       Greg Lehey
      LEMIS, Lehey Microcomputer Systems
      Schellnhausen 2
      W-6324 Feldatal
      Phone: +49-6637-1488

I have only just got on this list, so a certain amount of this information may be redundant; please bear with me. In addition, I have a System V background (specifically, in this context, ISC), and this is my first exposure to BSD, so some of the things I write may sound naive.

The machine configuration is:

        33 MHz 486 with 16 MB RAM
        Tseng-3000 based VGA (Orchid ProDesigner VGA)
        AHA 1542B controller with
            Maxtor XT-4380S rev B5A disk, 651630 blocks
              (claimed by  the startup info)
            Tandberg TDC 3800 rev -03 SCSI-1 streamer
        WD-8003E Ethernet controller

Observations - no action expected

  1. Copying disks with DOS DISKCOPY is possible. It can be a problem if DOS hasn't seen a DOS disk on that drive first. The fix is to do a `dir' on a floppy in that drive first. If all is well, the DISKCOPY program should claim

    Copy 80 tracks, 2 sides, 18 sectors per track.

  2. The docs suggest that you use -f /dev/rst0 for SCSI devices - is this a typo? In any case, I would expect it to work the same way by setting the TAPE variable to /dev/nrst0, and it does.

  3. Ported GNU bash 1.12 to BSDI with almost no problems—needed to modify machine.h to explain the combination of BSD and 386 when __bsdi__ was set, but that was all. In particular, I had had a panic with ISC UNIX/386 2.2 which appeared to be due to bash calling stat with an invalid buffer address (haven't had time to work out the linkage back to the user process in ISC - if anybody knows how to do this, I'd be grateful for the info).

  4. NFS didn't complain, but also didn't come up correctly. I hadn't created an /etc/exports file, and as a result a number of processes didn't bother doing anything. Probably worth documenting.

  5. Need mountd -n for Sun PC-NFS. It's there in the documentation somewhere, just need to look for it. If you don't do it, the mounts from the PC to the BSD machine fail.

  6. It would have been nice if the Ethernet driver would report missing interrupts: my WD8003 reconfigured itself with an incorrect interrupt, but I spent most of the time looking at the software configuration.

  7. I compiled and ran one of my CPU benchmark programs (a non-Erastosthenes prime number program), and it ran at approximately 10% of the speed it ran under Interactive on the same machine. I suspect that this is related to the coprocessor handling. When I have time, I'll check on it. Apart from that, the system seems very fast, but of course I don't have X installed yet...

  8. Found the halt command by trial and error. I suppose it will be in the final documentation.

Minor problems - would expect a fix in final release

  1. SCSI drive config is a bit strange, and I got a number of invalid config messages. However, fsck seemed to be happy enough on rsd0a and rsd0h.

  2. Trying to read in the tape (SCSI tape) I had a minor problem with an invalid status:

          st0: scsi sense: unit attention: asc 0x0, asxq 0x0

    This seems to happen when the tape is still moving or after inserting it, and will work correctly the next time.

  3. During installation, trying to mount /dev/rsd0h I got the message Device not configured. Tried a newfs /dev/rsd0h again and got the message "Warning: calculated sectors per cylinder (540) disagrees with disk label (535).". This didn't go away when I rebooted and redid the newfs. It still claims a divergent number of sectors per cylinder. Since I don't have the correct info handy, I'm leaving it at 535 sectors per cylinder. Did another newfs on /dev/sd0h and got the same message again, but it went and did the job anyway. fsck again seemed to be happy.

  4. Still during installation, after reading in the root file system, the mount worked, but tar -xvp read nothing. The last file restored from that archive was root/.login - this agrees with a tar -t I did afterwards. A second tar -xvp worked fine.

  5. Even in multi-user mode, ctrl-alt-DEL will reboot the system. The current implementation seems to be broken: first it asks if you want a dump, and whether you ask for one or not will try to dump and fail about half the time. This is unfortunate, because then it doesn't re-sync the file systems. It would also be nice to be able to escape at this point (i.e. undo the ctrl-alt-DEL).

  6. Problems writing to SCSI tape: there seems to be no way to specify the density to write with. The Tandberg will handle up to 525 MB per disk, but I was not able to use this density. It looks as if it defaults to QIC-150.

  7. To get over the previous problem, I wrote

    tar -cf - /usr | compress >/dev/rst0

    which worked as expected until the end of tape, when it claimed incorrect block sizes and aborted.

  8. make does strange and somewhat dangerous things. Trying to make emacs (the version supplied on the tape), I hit the intr key while it was making etc, and it removed etc - not, apparently, as a directory, but as a file. On re-booting, fsck tripped over a couple of unlinked etc directories. Is this kosher in BSD?

  9. During installation I tried to start vi with the root file system protected. This didn't work very well, of course - couldn't open the swap file - but when I remounted the file system and tried again, the system paniced (and didn't take a dump, but did reboot before I could get any details).

  10. Tried porting my sources of Emacs and had fun with the xmakefile - there was a ^L at one point, and make didn't understand it. it seems to be a problem with make rather than with emacs, and so I decided to port make first.

  11. A couple of problems with porting make: a recursive definition between job.c and sys/param.h and something that looks like a compiler error:

         #ifndef wait3
         int wait3 ()

    fails with conflicting definitions, complete with line numbers and so on. When I get EMACS done, I'll do gcc 1.40, and hopefully that will get rid of the problem.

  12. vi dies under certain circumstances (I entered an EMACS ^A) with a segmentation fault and leaves the file open. (Sorry, something ate the core dump, but I'll keep it if it happens again and if anybody is interested).

Problems - would be nice to solve before final release

  1. I tried to configure an NE2000 clone as described, and found no mention of buffer address. Since the requirement was stated in brackets, I assumed that it's always D0000. However, on POST, the Adaptec BIOS (located at DC000 as default) did not come up. This is obviously not directly a problem with BSDI.

  2. telnet doesn't seem to work. Can't find a telnetd, which is probably the missing link.

Serious problems - would like to solve immediately

  1. Can't get any kind of display from X. After working out that it would only support certain chips, got the Orchid card, which only has 512K of memory. It's a pity that the driver insists on supplying 256 colours - I have been using it as a 1024x768 display on Interactive, and here I'm limited to 800x600, assuming I can get it up at all.

    Starting xinit from the console blanks everything out, and otherwise nothing of interest happens. I need to reboot to get a display again - does anybody have a program to reset the VGA? After a bit of experimenting, I found that the server would produce some messages if I started it from another terminal. The message I am getting now, after lowering the resolution to 800x600, is "Can't resolve 800x600", which doesn't make much sense to me.

Friday, 20 March 1992 Schellnhausen
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From uucp Fri Mar 20 22:26 MET 1992
>From lemis!grog  Fri Mar 20 19:30:10 1992 remote from unido
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From: unido!lemis!grog (Greg Lehey)
Message-Id: <9203201804.AA21151@lemis>
Subject: LEMIS Beta test report, 20 March 1992
To: BSDI.COM!beta
Date: Fri, 20 Mar 92 19:04:41 MET
Cc:!pc,!bsdi,!grog (Greg Lehey)

Beta test report, BSDI/386, 20 March 1992
Topic: technology Link here

X is working! It took quite a while, but now I think I've worked everything (well, something) out.

  1. In addition to the installation instructions, which tell you a fair amount about how to set up screen geometries, you desperately need to read /usr/X11/man/mann/X386.n, which is Thomas Röll's description of how his server works. In particular, it tells you what choices you have in setting up /usr/X11/lib/X11/Xconfig, which is the main task you need to perform X installation. Here a couple of gotchas, some of which X386.n won't help you with:

    • the file and path names are different. They look as if they have been set up for Interactive (System V) X. In particular, if you have stuck to the path names suggested in the Beta installation instructions, you will need to change the following:

      • references to /usr/X386 to /usr/X11

      • the mouse device from /dev/tty00 to /dev/com0 or /dev/com1

    • If you don't have a Logitech mouse, you still seem to need to tell the system the bit rate of the mouse - at least, unless you do the results are very erratic.

    • I finally succeeded installing an Orchid ProDesigner VGA, which has a Tseng 3000 chip set and 512 of memory. The server correctly found the memory, but couldn't work out the bit clocks. The error message in this case is `Mode couldn't be resolved: 800x600', meaning basically that it couldn't find a bit clock to match the specs in Xconfig. It's relatively easy to guess the bit clocks on the ProDesigner, because it's an old board with 5 crystal oscillators on it. However, just specifying `clocks 25 28 35 45 65' won't work, because it seems that this line is used as a reverse indexed array, and in this case (e.g.) 45 MHz would give the value 3 to some register, which would not necessarily set 45 MHz (it doesn't, as it turns out). I think I remember seeing something about this while grepping through the X11 files, but I've forgotten where. In any case, I proceeded by trial and error: I connected a scope up to the horizontal sync and set up the Xconfig as follows:

    • #
      # The graphics drivers
        Virtual       800 600
        ViewPort      0 0
        clocks 65
        Modes         "800x600"

      # clock  horzontal timing      vertical timing
       "800x600"   65     800  816  952 1000    600  608  610  633
      #           35     800  832  966  966    600  600  609  631
      #           39     800  872  968 1104    600  600  606  624
      #           39     800  864  896 1008    600  600  606  624

      and then started the display (with xinit). The result was display spaghetti, but I was able to establish that the sync pulses on the scope were 40 microseconds apart. Noting that I have exactly 1000 dots per line, this implies a dot spacing of 40 nanoseconds, or 25 MHz. So I put a 25 in front of the 65 and tried again with 65. This time I got a frequency of 28 MHz, and so I put that in and carried on until I got bored. The final result looks like:

      clocks 25 28 32 35 32 35 45 35 35 0 35 35 32 35 45 65

      There are a couple of things to note here: first, the values repeat themselves, and secondly there's a 0 in there. With the 0, it didn't sync at all - I just got garbage on the scope. The same happened with 65, but I couldn't imagine that there would be more than 4 bits for selecting the clock speed. I suspect that there is some internal dependency for 65 MHz on the ProDesigner, and that bot 0 and 65 MHz will select 65 MHz, but only under certain conditions. This seems particularly so since the scope showed 65 kHz after I stopped the server (more on that below). I'm currently writing this in an xterm running 800x655 at 45 MHz, and it seems reasonable. Since I can't use this board at 1024x768 with 256 colours, I'll get a new board and use this on the Interactive machine.

      Note the resolution I'm using: this makes the most of the memory I have available. Neither the name of the display mode (800x600) nor the frequency spec of the dot clock seem to make any difference to the config routines: they just use the values as IDs to find the resource required. 800x655 uses a total of 524000 bytes of refresh memory, which leaves 288 bytes unused. The monitor will do 1280x1024, so I don't need to limit the on-screen display.

    • What didn't work

      The big problem I had, apart from getting the system to run at all, was that stopping the server, either by stopping the last window or ctrl-alt-bs, would leave the screen in an indeterminate state. I still don't know a way around that.

      Another thing that didn't work was the resolution scrolling advertised with ctrl-alt-grey +. Nothing at all happened. If I specified more than one possible display format, it always took the last one.

      I included xhosts + in my startup .xinitrc, and the server registered the fact and stated that all hosts had access, but I couldn't start a window from an ISC machine. There may be other reasons behind this, of course, and I intend to investigate them.

      I got hold of a 1MB ET 4000-based VGA and put it in the machine, but had the same effect that the Adaptec 1542B no longer ran the BIOS, so I couldn't boot. Has anybody else seen this? The board I had was an Iris VGA ET4000.

      Keymaps still don't seem to be right. I'll investigate later, but xev shows that XLookupString will return the same values for an alphabetic key with or without the Alt key.

    • Other things

      The server seems slow. I haven't had time to do any real tests - I'm happy enough that the ^&*(&* is running - but possibly the fact that the server is handling 8-bit pixels has a bearing here.

    • Non-X-related things

      Still can't get telnet to work. Last time I tried, I couldn't get a telnetd started. Turned out inetd didn't have a path to it, so I linked it into /usr/sbin, and it started telnetd - and did nothing. If anybody has any comments on this, I'd be interested to hear them.

Saturday, 21 March 1992 Schellnhausen
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LEMIS Beta report, 21 March 1992
Topic: technology Link here

Comparatively little to report today. A couple of minor problems turned up, a couple of problems solved themselves or at least mainfested themselves more clearly.

Solved problems:

  1. Permissions problem starting windows: only local root can open a window. This doesn't seem to be a net problem: turned out that remote root could also open the windows after X had been started under root. Starting under my own userid allowed normal access to all users.

  2. The telnet problem, if not completely solved, turned out to be an incompatibility between Sun PC-NFS and BSDI. It works well from ISC to BSDI (except that ISC has a tendency for telnet to die with a ridiculous error message (no more processes) after some indeterminate time).

New problems:

  1. This is probably related to 2: I can mount UNIX file systems on a PC with PC-NFS, but I can't access directories. A cd to a directory will either do nothing or bring an error message saying "invalid directory".

  2. On one occasion, the system just rebooted without any apparent warning or reason (I was doing something routine in the editor). This could be hardware, but the interesting thing was that, on reboot, fsck did not see any problems.

  3. At the moment I'm doing some thinking about European keyboard mapping. Does anybody out there have any thoughts on how to do it?

Do you have a comment about something I have written? This is a diary, not a “blog”, and there is deliberately no provision for directly adding comments. It's also not a vehicle for third-party content. But I welcome feedback and try to reply to all messages I receive. See the diary overview for more details. If you do send me a message relating to something I have written, please indicate whether you'd prefer me not to mention your name. Otherwise I'll assume that it's OK to do so.

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