Issue #5 March 2005

Ask Shadowman

Last month, Shadowman said unto the masses, "why, in the name of all that is good and holy in life, would you still be using telnet?" And lo and behold, the masses replied in unprecedented numbers. Shadowman takes to heart a number of lessons from this experience.

Lesson the first. When Shadowman dares his readers to send email, they are only too happy to respond. What would happen if Shadowman dared his beloved readers to send him crisp hundred dollar bills? Shadowman can't help but wonder.

Lesson the second. Shadowman's beloved readers are quite protective of one another, as it turns out. The number of personal bodily threats that Shadowman received as a result of the last issue was truly heartwarming.

Lesson the third, and Madame Editor, take note: there's a new monthly column here just waiting for its inaugural. Shadowman sees its title emblazoned across the masthead: "Red Hat Magazine's Senseless and Incendiary Question of the Month." The primary benefit of this column, Madame Editor: it will require very little work, as your beloved readers will fairly stampede you with responses, and you can take your pick. Shadowman will even toss out the question for the first issue: "We dare you KDE/vi/perl weenies to give us one good reason why the GNOME/emacs/python folks shouldn't send ten double-anchovy pizzas to each and every one of your houses."

So. Without further ado, Shadowman presents the very, very best responses from the pitchfork-wielding mob. And for those of you who actually asked questions of Shadowman, better luck next month.

Got a question that you'd like Shadowman to answer? Ask him.

A Seattle hacker responded:

There are many uses for telnet which SSH will not perform adequately. Here are a few:

* Composing email messages directly to port 25 (e.g. testing spamassassin's filtration of spoofed headers)

* Streaming video over a low bandwidth connection with the ASCII Art library (check out for example software)

* Checking out unknown port services on mysterious computer systems (I'm sure Shadowman has done a bit of this in his day.. that hat still has a few traces of black clinging to it...)

I'm sure the fusillade will continue from readers more learned than myself.

To which Shadowman replies:

Fusillade. Isn't that a great word? And how eerily descriptive.

Shadowman will not comment, however, on the erstwhile blackness of his cherished fedora.

skirk asked:

Shadowman, are you any relation to the BOFH?

To which Shadowman replies:

No, but interestingly, Shadowman and BOFH went to the same vocational high school. It's a pretty ugly-looking yearbook.

n9oec responded:

In response to your challenge to name anything for which telnet is more suitable than ssh: I find telnet a quick way to check out other unsecure tcp protocols when you need to debug or just verify a service is running, i.e. smtp, http ...

inkubus responded:

Telnet is a handy tool for talking to / diagnosing / playing with plain text network protocols—such as working out if you can MITM subvert someone's SSH server. There are many other tools that can do the same (if not better), bash can get most of the way there but telnet is installed on a larger number of systems. An SSH client clearly doesn't do the job. </pedant>

prt3 responded:

In some environment, telnet makes perfect sense. I first setup a VPN (I use OpenVPN, which provides compression and encryption available to various services that might otherwise be inefficient and/or insecure (eg: nfs, vnc, and (why not) telnet). Doing ssh over an already secured VPN would be a waste.

To which Shadowman replies:

Ah, see, here's the heart of the matter. Of the multitude of suggestions that Shadowman received for the use of telnet, not a one of them recommended the use of telnet to bring up a shell on a remote system in the absence of some sort of security wrapper. And that, of course, was Shadowman's point: connecting to remote machines in plaintext using telnet is just a bad, bad, bad idea.

Of course, that's not what Shadowman said, exactly. As always, Shadowman deserves what Shadowman gets.

dpinson responded:

Why is Shadowman a dill?

I don't have the problem that respondent "Getting there" had. He should take this up through normal support channels. But you should also direct him to these options without treating him like a twit.

Shadowman replies:

Ouch. The bathos. The stinging guilt. What a fool Shadowman has been.

Before succumbing entirely to self-pity, however, Shadowman respectfully observes that anyone who goes out of his or her way to ask a question of Shadowman is probably up for a bit of playful repartee. After all, nothing roused Spencer Tracy like a good slap in the face from Katharine Hepburn. That's chemistry. Of course, a slap in response would have put Mr. Tracy into the slammer, so perhaps chemistry is relative.

Therefore, let it be resolved: if, dear reader, you should send a question in to Shadowman, and if you should feel that Shadowman's response is less than gracious: cry out in the night to Shadowman, and Shadowman will be there for you. Shadowman will hold you and whisper calming words into your ear. Shadowman will tell you to breathe deeply and will bring you a refreshing bottle of the finest spring water. Shadowman will align his chakras to yours. Shadowman will tell you he's sorry. Shadowman will make everything all right.

Shadowman loves you babies. Come to Shadowman.