[sf-lug] Hayes Valley Setup

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Sat Jul 28 12:52:17 PDT 2007

Quoting jim stockford (jim at well.com):

> Who'll go down to HVCC to fix up boxes when needed? Are there
> volunteers? A rotation schedule?

We had to deal with this matter at The CoffeeNet, a 100% Linux-based
Internet cafe that my friend Richard Couture and I built at 744 Harrison
near 3rd Street.   (See: http://linuxmafia.com/coffeenet/ for a mirror
of its Web site.)  Richard was proprietor of The CoffeeNet, but couldn't 
possibly sit around to babysit the machines.  Like me, he was a computer
network consultant.  The cafe staff were completely non-technical.

As an aside, this is part of the reason The CoffeeNet out-competed
several rounds of Microsoft-oriented cafes nearby, such as Cyberworld,
Internet Alfredo, and Club I.  Cyberworld had to keep an expensive NOC
staff on-hand pretty much all the time, just to keep their NT-based
network and workstations working, while Richard's NIS/NFS-based setup
just kept running.

Each of the workstations downstairs in the cafe was a cookie-cutter
workstation box.  Upstairs in his apartment (and away from public
access) was Richard's old 486 myrddin.imat.com, serving as NIS master
and NFS server to the boxes in the cafe.  Every once in a while, some
idiot customer would decide it was cute to crack root and do something
childish.  The cafe staff had a piece of paper behind the counter giving
a simple recipe about what to do:  Reboot, enter the BIOS password, set
the floppy drive first in boot order.  Save, exit.  Boot from the
maintenance floppy normally stored behind the counter.  Linux
mini-system starts, switches to RAMdisk, prompts for workstation name.
(Staffer removes floppy.)  Script on RAMdisk starts rewriting
workstation hard drive based on an image file stored on the NFS server.
Staffer goes back to making espressos, after writing Richard a brief 
note so he knows to reset the workstation boot order, that evening.

This routine was made possible by the fact that the shared NIS
authentication database, all filesystems users cared about (home dirs,
mail spools) were on the protected machine upstairs, such that the
workstations held no data state that mattered.

Last I heard, there was still a clone of the CoffeeNet setup in one of
the computer labs at CCSF.

You might want to think of such consideration _next_ time you do a
project.  D'oh!  

Of course, when you do a _real_ setup like that, you can't just load a
distro's defaults, declare victory, and go home.  (Welcome to the land
of network consulting.) 

> There's always opening the box and shorting the CMOS to ground to
> restore factory BIOS. 

I used to do that, before I discovered the "skeleton key"
factory-established passwords in BIOSes.  See:  "BIOS Passwords" on 

Please note that, if you _don't_ set a BIOS password, and leave the
machine publicly accessible, you can _count_ on some jerk doing it and
not telling the staff.  (Welcome to the school of Papa Darwin.)

If you didn't think of that, yr. not cynical enough, yet.  ;->

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