Hillary Clinton’s server

It was wiped, they say. What’s puzzling is why go to all that trouble? It would have been easier to just install a new blank hard drive. Then take it down to the FBI office: “Here’s the server, as requested.” I mean, it would be a lie, but…

Or, get a new hard drive, and write it full of random data. Tell them it’s encrypted, and Bill lost the keys. Bill says Hillary never gave him the keys? Then it’s he said/she said. Plus, that nobody can break the “encryption” shows the material was well secured.

What Lenovo did

“We’ve trained ourselves to think we’re safe if we see that little lock in our browser window, but what Lenovo did was load software that does an end-run around your web browser, making it impossible to tell if someone else had subverted HTTPS. Very few people check that, but that doesn’t make it right to take the option away. As long as Superfish is running, it’s impossible to tell if anyone has gotten between Superfish and your bank, or Amazon. So someone could empty your bank account while serving up a web page that shows you still have money, or hijack your Amazon purchase, running off with your money while Amazon never gets your order and you never get your product, and it will be next to impossible for you to even know what happened.” — Lenovo’s preinstalled Superfish spyware: A post-mortem, by David L. Farquhar

I’d rather build my own (difficult if you want a laptop), and install the OS myself, but sometimes you need something right now — I’m typing this on an off-the-shelf Dell, and there’s certainly software on it that’s useless and a nuisance. There’s nothing malign – as far as I know.

Tangentially, this Chromebox sounds interesting.

Comparing Linux and Windows XP

For the first time in years I’ve been using Micorsoft Windows regularly. The Linux client for Skype is unusable, and I need to use Skype just now. At the same time, some hardware became available, so I’m running Windows XP on what has become my primary desktop. My Ubuntu Linux installation remains is use for LaTeX and related work. It isn’t the fault of Linux that Skype can’t or won’t release a functional client, but if Linux won’t let me do what I want, I have to run something that will. Some observations:

  • The difference between Linux and Windows is less dramatic than it was, at least on the home pc desktop. Laptops, netbooks, smartphones, who knows? Not me. Maybe Windows improved because they faced competition from Apple (and to a lesser extent from Linux). Maybe Linux development has seen a decline in activity and interest, at least on the home desktop. Maybe the home desktop is a dead-end platform, or isn’t going anywhere for a while, as all the smart kids play with their netbooks and phone-like gizmos. Anyway, Windows XP has been perfectly stable and usable so far.
  • My Linux install is robust; my Windows install is fragile. If anything serious goes wrong, that’s pretty much the end of it, unless some kind of virtualization or emulation is possible.
  • Windows online documentation is surprisingly good.
  • Linux is still more secure and more free (as in speech). Potentially it’s entirely free, if you install it that way.
  • In Linux if my hard disk starts spinning or there’s a burst of network activity, I can find out why and stop it. With Windows, who knows what it’s doing?
  • In Windows, I can’t easily try out snippets of LaTeX if I see one that looks interesting. I could in theory install and use MikTex, but no way I’m going there.
  • Windows clipboard behavior is annoying. I’m tired of typing ctrl-c ctrl-v.
  • I don’t want any essential tools to be proprietary software. Inevitably some creeps in. There’s gmail, and after all Skype is proprietary (very). But I want as much as possible to keep everything open, and to not get locked in.
  • It’s great that the Vim text editor works across platforms. I would not want to learn Word to get work done. Of course, people who use Word would not want to learn VI.
  • Linux, even a heavy distribution like Ubuntu, works better on old hardware.
  • Remarkably, the Linux printer driver for my HP Deskjet has more options than HP’s driver.
  • Linux is free (as in beer). Some people add “if your time has no value,” but I’ve already spent the time.

So. I prefer Linux and run it when I can, but Windows is okay.

UPDATE: Dropbox is handy for keeping files accessible to both machines.

Webmail privacy

Basically, the law doesn’t protect mail left on Gmail’s or Hotmail’s servers as carefully as it protects email moved from a mail server to a mail client.

“A coalition of the net’s biggest online service providers, including Google and Microsoft, are joining with the top internet rights groups to demand Congress modernize the nation’s privacy laws.

“For instance, when the law was crafted, e-mail was almost always downloaded from a central server to a user’s computer. Any messages left after 180 days were considered abandoned, so the law allows police to obtain any e-mail older than six months simply by issuing a subpoena — meaning no judge is involved. If those e-mails had been downloaded to a user’s computer and removed from the server, the police would need a search warrant, based on probable cause, to get at them.

“With the announcement, Google and Microsoft are tacitly acknowledging that their services, combined with the deficiencies in the law, put their users at risk. However, there’s no mention of these problems in their respective privacy policies. There’s no option to delete all documents and e-mails older than 180 days. And there’s no reminders to users about the holes in the law.” —
Google, Microsoft Push Feds to Fix Privacy Laws

Gmail’s searchable archive is convenient, but I’ve wondered lately if email should be ephemeral by its nature. Don’t keep it forever – deal with it and delete it. Write a memorandum if necessary. Not that I’m prepared to start doing that, but it’s something to think about. If I am going to keep every email forever, it would be better protected (in some ways) if I download it to my own hard drive.

Recent service interruptions

The management regrets any inconvenience

I host this weblog myself on a collection of junk from the thrift shop. Mostly that works quietly and well enough, but yesterday and today I’ve had trouble with odd noises. First from a case fan, then from the power supply. I’ll see what I can cobble together, but I know about all I want to about ten-year-old consumer pc hardware. Having an accessible server always on is handy but not essential. If keeping it running becomes more trouble than fun, I’m just going to move to free hosting, maybe at WordPress.com.

Advice on buying a laptop

What laptop should I buy? Short answer: A Mac. Otherwise, it depends. The linked post is a good survey of what it depends on. The author is not a raving Apple partisan. Linux is also a possibility. Windows XP remains an option, but it has become clear that Microsoft shot itself in the foot with Vista.


At least there has been no spam

It seems comments have not been working for some time. Someone mentioned this to me a few months ago and I thought I had fixed it. I never got a huge number of comments, and I haven’t been writing as much lately. I figured nobody had any more to say than I did.

Anyway, I have turned off Spam Karma. I’ll see how it goes, and maybe make some configuration changes in the future. I have been fooling around with OpenBSD and Mediawiki on my internal network. Maybe I can do something with that. Comments on older posts are closed, and I have to approve all comments manually, but you should be able to leave one if you have something to say.


People learn Unix one epiphany at a time. I had never really understood the command-line utility xargs until Michael Stutz made it clear in UNIX tips: Learn 10 good UNIX usage habits: “In its simplest invocation, xargs is like a filter that takes as input a list (with each member on a single line). The tool puts those members on a single space-delimited line.”

The man page says that too, right up at the top. My problem, I think, was reading tutorials describing how to use xargs with the find command, which obscured what xargs was doing. Unix commands have lots of options and can be combined into powerful utilities, but in isolation they do one simple thing. If a command seems very complicated, find that one thing.

Mister Stutz then goes on the recommend using grep with the -c[ount] option instead of piping the output to wc. His own reasoning, and his warning about what can go wrong, seems counter to his conclusion. No doubt there is a time to use -c, but I would usually pipe to wc and hang the extra milliseconds. Of course I routinely cat things and then pipe to grep, which infuriates some people, so you can go wrong either way I guess. And to be fair he is also quite right that it is better to change the path than to move the archive. That is a minor epiphany itself, and also cryptically zen-like. I look forward to working that one into a conversation.

I remember listening to my father and his friends talk for 90 minutes about the intricacies and hidden pitfalls in operating the Spicer transmission. I’m going to stop now before I drift further into incoherent shell-speak.

Religion and politics, and PC vs Mac

Cord gadget

This power-cord box looks like it might be handy, though maybe not fifty-five dollars handy.

Apple reviews

George Wiman has a couple of solid, considered reviews of Apple computer hardware and software, written from the view of an experienced Windows guy. These would be good reading for an IT guy integrating Macs into a Windows enviornment, or a PC guy thinking about buying a Mac.

Change and decay

I need to read more about this and follow the links, but initially it looks creepy and disturbing:

“We try to maximize the church’s resources to fulfill our mission, and one way we do that is by legally minimizing our income tax burden.” … Any statement interpreted as either endorsing or opposing a candidate is against IRS guidelines, regardless of whether a name is mentioned.” … “It does not matter if the activity is in the pulpit, fellowship hall, the vestibule or newsletter.” … “It also does not matter whether the person doing or permitting the endorsement on behalf of the church is the pastor or a member.”

Maybe it bothered me because I had just read there are 32 CCTV cameras within 200 yards of George Orwell’s London flat.