Monthly Archives: September 2013

Why a nerd should never hookup with a mundane

This week a really cool statue of a Star Wars At-AT went up for sale for $16,000. Later in the week it came out the guy was getting rid of it because his girlfriend did not like it. This reminded me of a similar instance from a few years ago where a mans girlfriend made him get rid of a life sized World of Warcraft Orc. Martin Fillery (owner of the AT-AT) really needs to try and contact Robert Cushnie (former owner of the Orc) and find out how his relationship proceeded afterwords. I tried to look for a follow up article, but I found none, so I can not say for sure what happened to Robert’s relationship, but I can make some pretty good guesses based on what little I know.

Here is a piece of advise for everyone in relationship and thinking, this is the one. First off, your partner needs to love and respect you for who you are. If your partner is trying to make tectonic changes in your life, you are most definitely with the wrong person. Its okay to buy you a new shirt or ask you to see a movie you might not otherwise goto, that is no big deal, its the way of it. However if you wake up one day and find you hate all the cloths in your closet, have not heard a decent song in months and all your stuff is in storage, I have some really bad news for you.

Dumb Terminals, Thin Clients and Cloud Computing

I have talked about this before, but whenever its comes up I have to laugh about it. This time it came up last week while I was in a Linux class. One of the guys who works down in Enterprise at the company I work for said and I quote, “If I were in client like you, I’d be worried about my job.”. He then went on to describe how dumb terminals connecting to servers running virtual machines (VM) are going to replace everything. He even went so far as to tell me the technology has gotten so good, they can give each VM a GPU, so even graphics intensive applications can be run from a VM. My response was to of course to laugh, I just could not help myself. I responded with this example; Lets pretend for a few minutes that I am the site manager for a decent sized call center, I have say 200 phone agents all on these dumb terminals hooked up through phiber to servers running VMs. So then my $3000 switch (no I don’t have a backup, those things cost $3000) that controls the network goes down.  I call my tech support guys and they say, we will over night one to you. So there I am, no network, no call center. If they all have actual computers they could still use local programs to log their calls, they could distribute documents via usb keys, certainly it would be challenging, but you could still take calls and get work done. With VMs and dumb terminals, you sending everyone home. Certainly their are some situations where this is workable, like retail stores, but frankly they have been doing this since the 80’s, this not shiny new technology to retailers.

I have said this many many times, technology service companies have been selling this for decades as the NEXT BIG THING and it just never catches on. The reason for this is most CIO’s get it, they understand the same thing I do, when your computing power is decentralized, a single point of failure does not shut your whole operation down. During this conversation, I also pointed out that our employer was not replacing our systems with dumb terminals, if this is such a great idea, why to all my guys still have full blown desktops at their desks, why do I have a laptop? I told him, in your next team meeting, suggest to your manager and your team mates that you all give up your systems and go to this dumb terminal/VM system, see what the reaction is, heck, I guess what you are thinking right now, “But we are different, we need local systems.” and that is what most everyone else thinks to when you suggest this to them. No Cloud computing a niche service and certainly useful in a lot of circumstance, but it will not replace individual computers as the standard method of computing.

You and me and the dog named Ubuntu

I am a man of the digital age. I try to keep up with modern trends in technology and I do this because generally I find the movement forward in technology to be a good thing. When something promising comes out, I do tend to wait a little while and let them put the spit and polish on it before I jump in. Windows 7 was head and shoulders above Windows XP and I did give it a try as my home OS for a few weeks before going back to Linux. My latest foray into trying to keep up has been making my peace with Unity, the current desktop manager Canonical is using for Ubuntu.

A couple of years ago Canonical switched Ubuntu from Gnome 2 to Unity, I like many users were outraged by this and switched to Linux Mint. I chronicled some that here, and ultimately Mint was not as polished and usable as Ubuntu and had several issues I did not have to deal with when using Ubuntu. So I came back to Ubuntu and I could have installed Mates, a fork of Gnome 2, but I decided instead to try out Unity, see if maybe I was not missing something, embrace new technology and all. So for the last several months I have been using Unity.

Unity over all was not that bad. It did what it needed to do. It provided me with a way to easily access my programs and it took some novel approaches to carrying out this task. My problem with Unity though was I seemed to be stuck in the methodology and usability that Canonical decided was best for me and remove virtually all meaningful customizations. Frankly, my needs are relatively small, I prefer my taskbar at the bottom of my screen. Okay I get it, most people, myself included have more horizontal space than vertical space, so putting the taskbar on the side rather than the bottom, makes sense. Except that I really don’t like it there, it sat on the left side of my primary monitor. Visually this broke up my desktop in an unpleasant way and they would not even let me move it to the other side of the screen. I also did not really like having a universal menu bar at the top of the screen, again, I get it, by having all the menus on the one bar and which menu is available is based on the active window, provides the program with more screen room. Again, this did not appeal to me on an aesthetic level and I would end up trying to access the FireFox menu when I wanted the Virtualbox menu. Finally, because I use Windows 7 at work, having the Minimize, Maximize and Close buttons on the top left rather than the top right slowed me down because I had to think about it.

So, finally last night, I decided it was time to go back to Gnome 2/Mates. It is sort of like putting on an old shoe, it feels right, it feels good. This is the one big advantage that Linux has that Windows will never have. Reconfigurability at the system level, if I am dissatisfied with the way my window manager works, it is near trivial to install one that does work the way you want it too, I am not locked into the Canonical way. It took me less than half an hour to get Mates installed and set up the way I wanted it. I talked a bit last week about Canonical switching Ubuntu from Xorg to XMir in the next update, there is of course an internet shit storm as usual with even Intel acting the fool. To me, it matters very little, if I don’t like XMir, I will simply install Xorg and life will go on, if I do like XMir, then I will get on that train and and life will go on.

Outsourcing your internet persona

So the other night during our Friday night game, it came to light that Thor had outsourced his internet persona. We were actually gaming with a fellow named Sanjay in Bangladesh, whom Thor was paying $2 per hour to impersonate him on the internet. This was a brilliant idea on Thor’s part, first because Sanjay is a better player than he is and second because if I could pay someone to do all my screwing around on the internet, that would free up a massive amount of time to do more constructive things. Mind you, by constructive things, I mean masturbate.

Ubuntu’s new GUI framework XMir

Some time ago Canonical, the producers of Ubuntu Linux, decided to go their own way by developing their own GUI framework. The plan is to switch from Xorg to XMir in the next update 13.10. This of course has caused some minor internet shitstorms, but really its no that big of a deal. One of the nice things about Linux, is the massive amounts of choices you have. If you don’t like XMir, there is nothing stopping you from switching back to Xorg. For me though, this is a side issue.

The real point of interest for me is, what took so long. Many years ago Apple took the open BSD source code, customized it to suit their own purpose, built a proprietary GUI on top of it and called it OS X. They have an OS they have complete control over and it is just compatible enough that porting all those open source applications to OS X is near trivial. For years, I have been waiting for one of the big OEM PC manufactures to do the same with Linux.

If I were the chief product director at one of the big OEM houses I would seriously hirer a team of Linux developers to build me my own custom distribution in two versions, a server version with GUI optional and a desktop version with fancy proprietary GUI. I would pay Nvidia, AMD and Intel to send me engineers to help develop drivers for my project. I would start a community contributors program by making all the non proprietary stuff available and a developers tool kit for building and porting programs to my new OS. This would give me an OS I have control over, a pool of volunteer programmers and leverage against Microsoft. I don’t see why this has not happened yet.

The Air Gap

So last night during our weekly game we were discussing a lost password at someone’s work place and the struggle to recover the password. I, the smart ass that I am suggested he just call the NSA and ask them for the password, after all it is our tax money and the least they can do provide us with backups and recover passwords. The problem with this approach was the system in question was not and has never been attached to a network, so the NSA, short of breaking an entry, would not have access. This, inside the business is known as the airgap and makes accessing a computer much more difficult.

This got me to thinking, I should have an airgapped system in my house. I should not keep my GPG private keys on my main box, heck I probably should not maintain my Truecrypt locker on my main box. I should do all of my encrypting/decrypting on this box rather than my main box. The idea is every system attached to the internet for any length of time has already been potentially compromised, if not by the NSA, then by hackers. The only way to ensure any reasonable security is to have an airgapped system which is used strictly for storing important information. Ideally, this system would not be networked at all and all data to and from this system would be via sneakernet. You could set up an internal only network and attach the secure system to that for convenience, but it would then be exposed to potentially compromised system which could then pass the infection along, so to be truly secure it must have no network connections.

Further, any storage device plugged into it must be made as secure as possible as well. Buy a new USB key and completely wipe it, maybe go so far as to overwrite all the blocks with zeros. Then use this key only for transferring data to this airgapped system. Never use it in a system you do not have complete control over and I would never let the key be used outside of my house. Then after each use, I would completely wipe the drive again.

This really sounds like a lot of work, so the real question becomes, just how paranoid am I?

The end of summer

So here we are, its Labor day again and as always, I did absolutely nothing I wanted to do. We are now headed into the Fall months, which are historically the months I hate the most. Oh I love Halloween and PezWitch’s birthday is usually fun, but really that is just two days out of the 90+ odd days that constitute the Fall season. Winter is nice, My birthday, our anniversary, Christmas and New years all are fun and we both enjoy the holiday season. Spring is when I start feeling frisky and want to smoke dope, get naked and fuck on the beach, even if I don’t do it (Damn you puritan society!), It feels good to think about it. The comes the long hot days of summer, the time of the year I like the most and the cycle begins again. Sigh!

RE: Self hosted internet site

I decided running my site from home presented too many short term problems. First, while wordpress was usable running on a Raspberry Pi, it is painfully slow. With Lighttpd and Mysql running on the system, it also effected the other software I needed to be running on the system. When i looked at the memory in use, it was nearly maxed out. So I either need to use a higher powered system than a Raspberry Pi or I need to split the server duties between two Pi’s. All this occurred before I even started installing the software needed to support an email service. For the time being, I have paid up my domain and hosting for one more year. This will give me enough time work through all the issues so next year I can be done with it.