Brave GNU World

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Brave GNU World

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Issue #9

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Welcome to the ninth issue of Georgīs Brave GNU World. This monthīs headliner is a project from Berlin, Germany.

Linux-Lab Project

Laboratories, where the reliability of data acquisition is extremely important, have been forced to use DOS or Windows for a long time. To fix this, Claus Schroeter created the Linux-Lab Project in 1994.

The project itself should be understood as a pool of applications, tools and know-how that serves as a basis to access a lot of different hardware for data acquisition and process control via the Linux kernel.

The website [5] contains several whitepapers and links to the different approaches to achieve this goal. One approach is the Linux Devices Driver Development Kit (LDDK), for instance. Its idea is to provide a special scripting language, the Driver Description Language (DDL) that acts a source for C sourcecode which can then be included directly into the kernel. With the help of the Simplified Wrapper and Interface Generator (SWIG) the functions of this driver can then be used in the actual programs.

Another approach is the Control Measurement Device Interface (COMEDI) by David Schleef, which tries to create a standardized interface for all hardware. This is being realized in two modular layers which enable the programs to access the hardware with simple ioctl, read and write calls.

Future plans include the generation of a standardized development environment to simplify tasks from hardware control to application development.

Combined with the advanced realtime capabilities of the Linux kernel the Linux-Lab Project allows especially critical tasks to profit from the reliability and stability of GNU/Linux.

The next project should be interesting for musicians and music-lovers who need to typeset music.

GNU LilyPond

LilyPond [6] by Jan Nieuwenhuizen and Han-Wen Nienhuys is the (La)TeX equivalent for music. Similarly to TeX a rather abstract command-language is used to tell the program about the desired content and the program does all tasks of writing and typesetting.

Especially to the TeX-inept this may sound rather complicated at first, but it does have several advantages and in my experience one doesnīt want to use anything else after getting used to it. Itīs not surprising that GNU LilyPond has been designed to work well with LaTeX - the combination should pose no problems.

But as ever work is not yet complete. Although pop music and "settled" classical music like Mozart and Bach pose no problem, the typesetting of classical music becomes more complicated the more recent it is. To increase flexibility the authors now want to switch from compile-time to run-time rules. In order to achieve this, the task at hand is to switch from C++ to GUILE.

The next project is also a typesetting one.

GNU Texinfo

Karl Berry, current maintainer of GNU Texinfo [7], released version 4.0.

Texinfo is a system for creation of documentation that allows generation of DVI, Postscript, PDF, HTML, Info or plain ASCII from a single source document in a TeX-based format. It also contains some special functions that are especially useful for handbooks.

Since it allows to maintain only a single document for a program, GNU Texinfo's main purpose is the documentation of programs. Since Richard M. Stallman wrote the first version of Texinfo even before he created the GNU Project, it is not surprising that it became the standard form of documentation for GNU Projects.

The future plans include adding output filters for DocBook and split HTML as well as 8-bit input. All authors looking for a good way to document their programs should definitely give it a try.

The author of the next project, Paul Sheer, specifically asks everyone for feedback.


Mirrordir is a collection of utilities that offer an alternative to projects like ssh. Unlike some other projects it is licensed under the GPL and uses no patented algorithms, so it can be used without restriction.

In order to avoid possible export limitations for cryptography, Paul Sheer and James R. Van Zandt decided to give Mirrordir the ability to compile without cryptography. At the first program start the program then downloads the cryptography-modules via FTP.

The Mirrordir package contains three components. Pslogin is a remote-login program with strong cryptography (Diffie-Hellman), Forward allows to create encrypted TCP/IP channels over normal connections and then there is the eponymous program Mirrordir.

Since the Mirrordir program allows the user to copy whole directory structures with all their attributes (ownership, permission, access times, links...) into another directory or tar archive, it is a very useable alternative for backup solutions or RAID systems.

The project is in practical use already, by the way. Paul Sheer uses it on a high-availability mail and webserver with a proxy from which a Mirrordir backup is taken every six hours. Should the server break down it is being turned off and the mirroring server gets rebooted once. Within two minutes all services are back online and there are never more than six hours loss. Anyone who would like to give it a try can download Mirrordir via FTP [8].

The next feature is mainly for the Japanese readers of the Brave GNU World, but it can also be understood as a inspiration for readers of other nationalities.


GNUjdoc [9] is an official GNU Project started by OKUJI Yoshinori and TAKAO Yamashita. The project's goal is to translate all GNU documents into Japanese.

Until now Japanese translations were hard to find and there was no common or easy way of installing them. Another problem was that makeinfo creates incorrect linebreaks and pretty much all the Info files have to be created within Emacs which requires more knowledge than a "typical" user would care to have. For these reasons the current status was very unsatisfactory for a lot of people.

The core of the GNUjdoc project is the central CVS repository [10] that is open for everyone. From this central, shared point for Japanese documentation, the initiators hope to have avoided the implicit obligation of authors to maintain everything they have translated. Everyone should be able to participate according to his time available and it should be no problem to stop maintaining a document completely.

Besides translating the actual documents it is also necessary to create a better internationalisation of makeinfo and a good way of automatic installation. The initiators explicitly encourage everyone to participate - especially translators are very much needed according to OKUJI Yoshinori.

Now Iīm coming to the final part for this month and I dare say that some of you will probably be a little surprised. Especially because this project is not directly computer-related I thought it worth a feature because the GNU Spirit not only contains program code.


Osprey is a completely analog, paper, pencil and die based roleplaying game (RPG) by Chris Goodwin. The game is "free" in the GNU sense because it is published under the Open Content License (OPL) [11], which is a GNU General Public License kind of license for documents.

The game is point- and skill-based. Similar to games like "Star Wars" by Westend and related systems, the number of points determine the number of dies, they are not just an abstract number.

The current status is designated as "pre-alpha" by the author himself, it is playable but only with some good will. Naturally the declared goal is to complete a "stable release" first. After that Chris Goodwin has plans to write a big number of adventure- and sourcebooks to change the RPG-market in the way that Free Software changed the software market.

Participation is very much encouraged - anyone who is not satisfied with current systems or always planned to participate in the creation of a roleplaying game should have a look at the webpage [12].

Thatīs it for this month; as usual I would like to receive a huge number of ideas, comments, questions and information about new or updated projects. The address is probably well-known to most of you by now, but of course itīs still in the info [1].


[1] Send ideas, comments and questions to Brave GNU World <>
[2] Homepage of the GNU Project
[3] Homepage of Georg's Brave GNU World
[4] "We run GNU" Initiative
[5] Linux-Lab Project
[6] GNU LilyPond
[7] GNU Texinfo
[8] Mirrordir
[9] GNUjdoc
[10] GNUjdoc CVS Repository: "", module: gnujdoc, empty password
[11] Open Content License
[12] Osprey Homepage

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Copyright (C) 1999 Georg C. F. Greve, German version published in the Linux-Magazin

Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this transcript as long as the copyright and this permission notice appear.

Last modified: Thu Dec 16 18:58:55 CET 1999 greve