Category Archives: Technology

A note about security in the cloud

People who know me well know that I do not easily entrust my data to the cloud. I find that even with the best of intentions, the risk of accidental data leakage is just to great. There has been a recent case proving that my fears are founded.

A bug in Gmail allowed students at some schools to read each other’s emails. I don’t know about you but I’d rather not have other people read my emails. (Yes, I know the vast majority of emails are transfered in plain text. I does not entail that it is okay for my colleagues to be able to access my mail folders.)

Unscrupulous people stealing financial information

When it comes to securing the data I have on my computers, I take the task seriously. I use Ubuntu and Windows on my laptop.  The Ubuntu installation is fully encrypted.  There’s a performance hit but I feel pretty sure that if my laptop is ever stolen or lost or needs service by a third party, I won’t be at risk of getting sensitive information stolen.  The Windows side is not (yet) encrypted but I do not use Windows intensively or for sensitive tasks so I’m not very worried about that.

Now, when I talk to other people about this, I’m told that I’m paranoid.  If I’m not keeping porn on my laptop, I have nothing to worry about.  If my laptop is stolen, no one will take time to look for banking information.  The techs who perform service are interested searching for porn, not financial details.  Basically, I’m told I’m worrying for nothing. (Now, logically-minded readers will have figured out that the flip side of this bad reasoning is that if I do worry about people snooping through my hard disk, then it means I must have porn on there.)

Well, well, it turns out that a Sky News undercover investigation that technicians do indeed look for financial information on the laptop they service and they try to use it to break into banking accounts.  OMG!  Who would have thunk?

The solution against unscrupulous technicians is to give them a clean drive: a drive which contains no sensitive information.  My point here is not that encryption is the solution but that unscrupulous people are indeed after your financial information.  Encryption is part of the arsenal of tools to protect against that.

Airbag safety

I have to admit, sheepishly, that I have not been paying good attention to the fact that airbag technology in cars requires changes in behavior. I’ve been reading up on it a bit and came to that part where they advise passengers to avoid riding with hard objects in their lap. I can’t count the number of times I’ve violated this rule and I shudder I the thought of what would have happened if an airbag had deployed.

“You love laptops! How about having one embedded in your face?!?”

Yes, yes, I know. Even without airbags it is dangerous but airbags make it much more dangerous.

Fixed my power supply

“It is a poor craftsman who blames his tools.”

Let’s get this one out of the way. I’m not a craftsman, so there.

The power supply on my laptop gave out while I was in Taiwan. I quickly found the problem was located in the wire going between the power supply and the laptop. The internal sheath had broken so the wires made a short-circuit. I tried repairing it while I was living at Dharma Drum but that proved quite difficult due to the lack of proper tools. The only soldering iron available on the mountain was of terrible quality. It was barely getting hot enough to melt the solder. Moreover, there was no new solder available on the mountain. I eventually was able to reuse the old solder already on the board (gaaah!) and made some sort of temporary repair. I considered going into Taipei to get parts to finish the job properly but I gave up on that idea. It turns out that during my last few days at Dharma Drum my temporary repair gave out and I had to keep the wires in place with a piece of plastic tape. (Eeek!)

I came back home two days ago.  Yesterday, I bought heat shrink tubing.  This morning I gathered my tools and was able to finish the job in about 10 minutes.  It was a real pleasure to work with good tools.  No doubt someone adept at soldering would laugh at my work but… well… the power supply now works and I’m not pretending to be a craftsman.

I’m quite pleased with myself.  When I bought the laptop, I did not get an extended warranty.  I took the one year warranty and made the bet that if something were to happen I would probably be able to fix it myself.  It looks like I’m going to win that bet. (I’ll only win if the laptop is still working fine after 3 years of ownership.)

The Internet has proved indispensable in this process.  First, I found this guide on how to fix a power supply cord.  Sri1ram’s comment about using a blade to crack the glue holding the case together was very useful.  Second, I found Keith’s blog post on refitting a strain relief.  Before I found this post, I thought I’d get a new strain relief or I’d finish the job without the strain relief.   The problem was that I was unable to rethread the cable through the strain relief.  Keith had the same problem and solved it by drilling through the strain relief.  I got my wife’s Dremel out and did the same: it worked nicely.

Open Office 3.0: Meh…

Be warned that this is not a thorough evaluation of Open Office. I use it mainly during the initial phases of translating from Chinese or Tibetan. (I still use Emacs for Sanskrit.) I produce all my final documents in LaTeX. So there is a lot of the functionality of Open Office I do not use. I’m putting my impressions here mainly because I told some people I would tell them what I think of Open Office 3.0 and I figured I might as well post my impression to my blog. It is likely that I am going to ignore features that other people would find crucial. So there you have it.
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Intrepid: Growing Pains

Updated again Nov 1st 9:00pm, Taiwan time.

I’ve upgraded from Hardy to Intrepid and found a slew of problems. First the problems which are not fixed:

  1. Gnome does not want to start the gnome-terminal which is saved in the session configuration. After further investigation I found that session saving in gnome 2.24.1 does not work at all. This is a regression bug and a major one at that.

  2. Update: I can’t sync to my cell phone using bluetooth. The bluetooth driver is there and working but to be able to sync there need to be some configuration performed. The configuration of the bluetooth tools has significantly changed since Hardy so this is not a trivial thing to fix. And the documentation seems nonexistent. One step forward, two steps back.

  3. Evolution displays negative total number of emails.

Then the problems which I have been able to fix:

  1. The guys working on compiz have decided to go from 0-based indexing of viewports to 1-based indexing. Of course, user settings are not automatically upgraded so I had to go into my configuration and fix that manually. I think the change is good because 0-based indexing makes sense only to programmers. However, not providing for an automatic upgrade of the configuration data is asinine.

  2. scim initially refused to start. It turns out that skim was preventing it to run. Not skim directly but there was a session script which checked whether skim is present or not and if present would refuse to run scim.

  3. Evolution at first did not want to connect to my mail server. I fixed this by switching from TLS to SSL for the connection protocol.

  4. Update: Hardy and Intrepid run different versions of rsync. Unfortunately, the two versions do not speak the exact same protocol. There is some degree of compatibility so not all uses of rsync between an Intrepid and Hardy machine are doomed to fail. However, I use rsync in such a way that Intrepid’s rsync cannot talk to Hardy’s rsync. I’ve backported Intrepid’s rsync to Hardy to take care of that problem.

  5. Update: Skype initially was not able to produce audio. Changing my sound out and ringing devices in the “Sound Device” tab of the “Options” dialog to the value “pulse” fixed the problem.

  6. Update: Spamassassin’s cron job fails. A workaround exists.

  7. Update: The Eclipse version bundled with Intrepid is both ancient and buggy. To be fair that is also a problem with Hardy. The problem has been reported and a newer version of Eclipse exists in one of the PPAs.

  8. Update: Evolution displays a huge “Show:” button. I fixed this by going into the gconf registry and removing the key at /apps/evolution/mail/labels.

I will update this page as I find more.

Softphone solutions for Linux

In light of my upcoming trip to Taiwan, I’ve been looking at softphone solutions for Linux. I already knew about Skype but I’m not happy with them challenging the GPL in Germany. After a bit of research I learned about Gizmo5 and then OpenWengo. OpenWengo looked promising but a) the VoIP company which initially supported OpenWengo has apparently stopped collaborating with the project and b) the project does look dead. I’ve come across a blog post which claims that the project is not dead but several links on the OpenWengo web site are broken and no release has happened in a long time. This leads me to believe that the project is indeed dead. And then the Linux versions of both Skype and Gizmo5 seem to seriously lag behind their Windows version.

Update: After further investigations, I have decided to go with Skype even though I hate Skype’s attack on the GPL. The WengoPhone software (i.e. OpenWengo) proved flaky and moreover was not able to show any video. That’s a total deal breaker. Gizmo5 looks good in theory but it is flaky on the amd64 platform. I’m still going to investigate how well Kopete handles video. Gnome-based solutions like Ekiga are not an option since I use KDE. (I prefer to stick to one DE, thank you.) Twinkle looks promising as a good softphone but it still does not support video.