Beonard’s Losers — 2009, week 9

This week’s show is posted, just under the wire.  I’d also like to take a moment to compare my stats to the sports writers at the local paper.

  1. Beonard: 0.783
  2. (tie) Nathan Baird and Jeff Washburn: 0.762
  3. Mike Carmin: 0.725
  4. Sam King: 0.675

Now, we don’t always pick the same games to cover, but it does give me joy to stack up against the professionals.

Cyber security awareness month: Other uses for SSH

As I noted a few weeks ago, October is cyber security awareness month.  I’d planned on writing a big how-to for remotely and securely connecting to another computer, but time has escaped me, so what I’ll give here is the quick and dirty version, and trust that my readers can use Google to fill in the backstory.

Back in May, I wrote an article about using SSH as a proxy to help secure your web browsing when away from home.  SSH was designed primarily to provide shell (command line) access to remote machines using encryption and other features to prevent someone from eavesdropping, but it can be used to tunnel all kinds of other traffic.  For example, you can tunnel your Subversion version control over SSH, using the svn+ssh argument (e.g. svn co svn+ssh my_svn_files). Or you could tunnel your VNC (a remote desktop protocol) over an SSH connection.

Why would you want to tunnel VNC?  The first reason is that VNC by default passes all traffic in plain text, which means all of your keystrokes (read: passwords) are exposed.  By using an SSH tunnel, your session is encrypted. The second reason is that by using an SSH tunnel, you don’t have to open the firewall for the VNC port(s).

So how do you tunnel VNC, or another protocol?  The -L argument to SSH (or LocalForward in the config file) tells SSH to forward locally.  To tunnel to a VNC server running on display :1, you’d do something like:  ssh -L 5901:localhost:5901   and then point your VNC viewer to localhost:1.

In addition to interactive-type uses, SSH can be used for file transport as well.  The scp command copies files to and from a remote server in the same manner that the cp command works locally.  sftp can be used as a secure replacement for the FTP protocol (but there’s no provision for anonymous access).  And most importantly, the venerable rsync command can be used with SSH by specifying it as the argument to the -e flag (e.g. rsync -e “ssh” -av /some/local/directory

So the moral of the story is: SSH can help keep you secure.

2009: The Year of Linux on the Desktop

It’s been a joke for nearly a decade (maybe longer) to refer to the current year as “the year of Linux on the desktop.”  For me, it’s been a reality for several years, at least at home.  With my change in jobs last week, I had only a limited equipment budget, and since I needed a new laptop, that didn’t leave much money for a new desktop.  Most of my coworkers have opted for iMacs or Mac Pros, but I opted for a surplus lab machine running Fedora 11.  With the two widescreen monitors and 1 TB RAID 1 that I set up, it clearly makes sense to use it primarily.

Having used Linux in both server and desktop settings over the past 8 years, I’ve grown very comfortable with it, but my first week was not without issues.  The first was that the video card in the machine was made by ATI.  I’m not passing judgment on the quality of ATI’s hardware, but their Linux drivers are problematic.  Fortunately, my officemate had a spare NVIDIA card that I could put in.  A quick run of the NVIDIA setup program, and I had my monitors working perfectly.

The real fun came getting my e-mail set up.  My employer has a Microsoft Exchange server, which I’m required to keep an account on.  I first tried to use the Evolution groupware client, which has some rough support for Exchange.  For the life of me, though, I couldn’t get it connected. So I tried to use IMAP, which also didn’t work.  Of course, that didn’t bother me too much, since an IMAP connection wouldn’t work for calendaring or contacts, just e-mail.

Most of the admins in my group use Google accounts for e-mail and calendaring, so I decided to go down that route.  I set my directory entry to forward my work e-mail to my Google account and set up Google to POP my Exchange e-mail (since mail sent from an Exchange user doesn’t leave the Exchange server).  Evolution has excellent support for Google accounts, including e-mail, calendars, and contacts.  At least, I thought it did.  It turns out Evolution has a fun bug that causes recurring calendar events to not display when the account is added as a Google account.  Apparently, it works if you add it as a CalDAV account, but if the calendar is the primary calendar for an account, the @ symbol in the URL breaks things.

I finally gave up on Evolution and tried Mozilla Thunderbird.  Thunderbird has a calendar extension called Lightning.  With the gContactSync add-in, I can synchronize my contacts as well.  The  account setup was really easy, and I’ve been happy using it.  I just wish I could have arrived at it sooner.

Most of this post has focused on problems I’ve encountered in desktop Linux, but the truth is, most of it has gone pretty well for me.  I’ve used Fedora on my primary desktop at home for years, and most things just work.  Many of the reasons people give for Linux not being ready for the desktop are based on things that have been fixed years ago, or the fact that the problems are different.  All OSes have problems, but when you’re used to the problems of one, the problems of another stand out.

It’s 2009, the year of Linux on the desktop.

Beonard’s Losers — 2009, Week 8

This week’s predictions

I’m not very good at this, am I?  Halloween Party preparation (yes, I know it’s a week early, you’ll get over it) has kept me busy this week.  Next week I promise I’ll record the show, and maybe even have another blog post or two.

So let’s talk football.  Holy crap, did you know Purdue can actually play a full 60 minutes of football?  That hasn’t happened in a while, nor has a win against a ranked team.  Yay!  Also, I think Michigan State could pull off the upset against Iowa, but the past two weeks I’ve thought Iowa would lose and both times they’ve proved me wrong.  Maybe they’re a better team than I give them credit for?

In a manner similar to Iowa’s perennial owning of Penn State, I really wanted to pick BC over Notre Dame.  I just can’t see it happening this year, even though it would bring me much joy.

Aaaaand finally, TCU is undefeated, but they don’t have any wins against teams that I would call “good.”  BYU will get the upset, and I don’t even think it will be all that close.

Beonard’s Losers — 2009, Week 7

This week’s show (no recording this week, too busy with this)

I’m not even going to talk about Purdue football anymore.  As of this writing, we are just under 20 days from the start of basketball season.  I have to admit, though, it did warm my heart to see that IU lost so spectacularly.  I wasn’t as pleased with Michigan losing, although I’m normally not opposed to the idea.  I picked Iowa to be upset again this week, in the hopes that the Badgers will be a bit kinder to me.  I said earlier this season that Iowa isn’t as good as they seem to be, and I stand by that, although I’m quickly being made to look the fool.

On a happier note, I’ve discovered a Big Ten blog called “First and Big Ten“.  It’s been a great insight into the other teams around the conference, and a valuable reference when it comes time to write my Beonard’s Losers scripts.

Book review: The Last Match

In an attempt to have actual content, I’ve decided to do the occasional book review.  The books are whatever I’ve read recently, likely from the public library.  The first installment is David Dodge’s alleged thriller The Last Match.  Dodge is best known for his novel To Catch a Thief, which became a rather successful film by Alfred Hitchcock (you may have heard of him).  Set in the late 1950s, written in the early 1970s, and published in 2006, the story is as diverse geographically as it is chronologically.  Unfortunately for the reader, the plot also lacks cohesion.

Quoth Dodge’s daughter in the afterword:

…he wrote The Last Match out of his head, skimming through the memories of a lifetime, combining fact and fiction, real-life personalities and invented characters, landscapes and lovers and lifestyles to his heart’s content.

It is not clear to me if Dodge intended this work to be published, or not, but it does seem to be written for his own sake, as his daughter’s words suggest.  The individual sections of the plot are often quite disconnected from each other, to the point where they could have been re-written with little effort as independent short stories.  Indeed, one of my biggest problems with this book is the fact that I spent the first two-thirds distracted by the wait for the plot to become apparent.  It might have been a more enjoyable read had I known from the beginning to expect the chapters to be only loosely bound.

The library categorizes this story as a mystery, but there is little mystery involved. The cover lead my wife to immediately identify it as a romance novel, but it lacks the thinly-veiled sexual descriptions common to that genre.  The amount of crime and pursuit certainly qualify it as a thriller, although I found it to be not-so-thrilling.  I selected the book somewhat arbitrarily from the shelf at the library, and will willingly admit that I probably did not wind up with the best possible book.  I’m certainly open to reading another David Dodge novel, but I cannot recommend The Last Match.

Cyber security month — your private pictures aren’t

Editor’s note (*snerk*): October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month.

One of the most commonly repeated pieces of advice given about privacy on the Internet is “be careful who you allow to see your stuff.” That advice is good, but it doesn’t quite cover it.  Pictures posted on many social networking sites can be set to only be viewed by your friends, or even subsets of friends.  However, there are ways around those protections.  On Facebook, anyone who has access to the picture can copy the picture’s URL and send or post it to others. The URL allows anyone, even people without Facebook accounts to view the picture. On MySpace, there was a way to view any users pictures from a slide show, so long as you knew their ID number (which is easily obtainable).  This has since been fixed, it seems. There are also methods for finding private pictures on Photobucket and other sites.

Beyond the somewhat innocent ways of compromising your pictures, there are also more sinister ways of losing control of your content.  If you have a weak password, or reuse passwords, or let your password be known, you are open to someone compromising your account and removing, changing, or adding content.  This has the potential to be very damaging to your personal life.  And of course, anything that can be viewed on screen can be copied in a screen capture and posted anywhere.

That isn’t to say that your content shouldn’t be controlled.  It is still a wise idea to try to keep tabs on things you don’t want everyone to see.  The important thing to remember is that your private pictures aren’t, and anything on the Internet might eventually make its way into public view.

Beonard’s Losers — 2009, week 6

This week’s show.

I’m rather proud of myself. For the first time in a long time I got the script for Beonard’s Losers written by Sunday night.  That’s a good thing, since I’ve included a Thursday game into the mix this time.  Of course, being done ahead of time doesn’t really help if I don’t record it until Thursday evening.  Oh well, baby steps.

At this point, I’d normally talk some about last week’s games.  I’m not sure I can bring myself to do that in a way that would still leave this post family-friendly.  Purdue played one of the most awful games of football I’ve ever had the misfortune to watch.  It was an absolute travesty, and it’s not the first time this season that my beloved Boilers have folded.  I hate to place the blame on a coach that’s been in charge a full 5 games, but there’s clearly some problems in the program.  There’s talent on the field, we’ve seen it (just never for an entire game).  Our big problems are mental errors, and at some point you have to say “well the coach just doesn’t have them well prepared.”  I wanted to say that Purdue will beat Minnesota this weekend.  I think they’re certainly capable of it, but I can no longer pick them to win until they’ve shown that they can.  Is it basketball season yet?

It’s hard to come up with ideas

In the past few weeks, my blog writing has really suffered.  I’ve struggled to come up with three posts a week, which has been my goal.  I’ve had a few ideas, but by the time I sit down to write them, they’re either stale or I’ve decided they weren’t very good ideas after all.  Finding inspiration has been hard, too.  The weather has been exceedingly boring lately, I haven’t had time to do any updates to the website, and my sports teams are lousy.  This blog has become mostly about work-type topics, which is to say Linux administration.  I didn’t particularly intend that, but I don’t mind either.

Lately, though, I haven’t made too many Linux-related posts either.  That is related in no small part to the lack of interesting work I’ve had lately.  In a small department with only 70 Linux machines, there’s not much opportunity for interesting work to come up.  It is partly for that reason that I’ve accepted an offer for a new job.  Starting in two weeks I’ll be working in the research computing group on campus, primarily in support of our Condor implementation.  In addition to providing a more challenging work environment, it will hopefully also provide more inspiration for my blog.  We shall see.