Thursday, 23 December 2004

Linux, libertarians, and lust

Will Baude asks:

Does anybody find libertarian Linux-users sexy?

Heidi Bond responds that at least the Linux-using part may increase perceived sexiness, but also adds that ”[t]here are plenty of people who run Linux who I wouldn’t date.”

Undoubtably this is a pressing question for our time—not to mention our blog. Presumably Brock’s wife finds him sexy, although I don’t know that Brock would consider himself a libertarian; if pressed to judge, I’d say Brock is tall and handsome, and thus probably considered “sexy” by women, but neither of those attributes derive from his politics or his choice of operating system.

Robert runs Mac OS X, as does Heidi Bond’s boyfriend, which may count as “Linux usage” for sufficiently vague definitions of “Linux” (i.e. operating systems that use a lot of GNU software and use a kernel patterned after that of the Unix operating system). I have no idea whether Robert is sexy, since I’ve never met him and don’t generally judge the sexiness of other guys (not that there’s anything wrong with that), my assessment of Brock notwithstanding.

Nobody has called me sexy lately, but for the most part I haven’t gone to great lengths to advertise either my libertarianness or my Linux usage in the “real world”; there may be individuals who think I’m sexy, but they haven’t told me that or otherwise indicated they think I’m sexy in an unambiguous manner—defined in my world as “not made blatantly obvious,” so I could be oblivious to such matters.

So, Mr. Baude’s question is now in order. Let the debate commence.

Wednesday, 15 September 2004

Firefox 1.0 PR

I just downloaded Mozilla Firefox 1.0 PR, and like BigJim I’m liking the new Live Bookmarks feature immensely—it reminds me a bit of the approach David Janes took with BlogMatrix Jäger, but the Mozilla approach is significantly less featureful (for starters, I can’t see any way to go to the root URL specified by a feed, and it doesn’t keep track of what you’ve read in any way that I can tell; nor does there seem to be a way to add a RSS feed without a LINK element—so I can’t add the Chronicle of Higher Ed feeds). On the other hand, it’s integrated in the browser nicely, and you can put a folder of feeds in your Bookmarks Toolbar, and use the menu to surf posts seamlessly (so it doesn’t take up real estate when you’re reading), or you can open the “Live Bookmarks” in the sidebar. And it does have Atom support, which is nice. So, for now, I’ll give it 3 out of 5 stars.

In other changes, it looks like Gtk theming has changed slightly yet again, and apparently the “disappearing cookie” bug has been somewhat, but not totally, squished. And it does seem a little more zippy than 0.9.3 did on my Linux box (though that could just be due to the builds being i686 builds, as opposed to Debian policy-compliant i386 builds). So it seems like a worthwhile upgrade.

Wednesday, 4 August 2004

Time keeps slipping

For some odd reason, the ntp server on my laptop refuses to keep sync with any servers on the Internet; instead, it’s decided to just go off and run several minutes slow, for some odd reason I can’t quite understand. Maybe it’s a 2.6.8-rc kernel bug or something. I noticed it yesterday too—my laptop lost nearly a half-hour over a day, somehow.

Tuesday, 3 August 2004

Discovering S

Michael Jennings has been taking a crash course in R and S-PLUS programming. I’d still have to say my R is quite weak, for largely the same reasons my Perl is pretty weak—there’s too much overlap with C, which leads to bad coding style.

Probably the moral of the story is either that I need to start working with RPy, or need to figure out how to convince colleagues that becoming more proficient in R (and contributing to it) is hireable/tenurable activity.

Thursday, 29 July 2004

UUEncode makes a comeback

I just received the first UUEncoded email attachment I’ve seen in about half a decade. Now I have to remember how to decode one of the bloody things.

Thursday, 24 June 2004

Print it

My latest little project for Debian is an automatic printer setup tool, built from lots of the bits and pieces I’ve developed for Foomatic-GUI. Details here on debian-devel. Short instructions:

Add this to /etc/apt/sources.list:

deb ./

Then do (as root):

apt-get update; apt-get install printconf

Success or failure reports would be greatly appreciated.

Friday, 28 May 2004

If in doubt, tunnel through port 53

Now, this is an interesting (if somewhat scary) hack:

nstx allows you to pass IP packets via DNS queries. This allows you to use standard network protocols when otherwise only DNS would be available.

Color me impressed.

Thursday, 27 May 2004

Vaguely tenurable activity

Here’s a brief article on Quantian (a “live Linux” CD with lots of scientific and mathematical goodies on it) I’m working on with a fellow Debianista for submission to The Political Methodologist, our humble little organized section newsletter. Any comments or feedback would be appreciated.

Saturday, 22 May 2004

PPPoE advice

Setting maxfail 0 in /etc/ppp/peers/dsl-provider will save you hours of headaches. Trust me on this.

Sunday, 11 April 2004

Michlmayr wins

Congratulations to Martin Michlmayr on winning reelection as Debian Project Leader; even though I supported another candidate in the election, I think Martin will continue to do good work for the project in this position.

Friday, 26 March 2004

Good and bad news

The bad news first: two more Φ letters today. Neither, however, had the audacity to take the opportunity to tell me how great the person they hired is; for that, I am happy.

The good news: it looks like I’ll be spending about a week in France this summer at the Libre Software Meeting in Bordeaux, working on printing stuff for free software, like the semi-stalled Foomatic-GUI and the Debian Foomatic packages, thanks to the meeting’s sponsors (as I couldn’t afford the trip myself, that elusive tenure-track job still not having shown up at my door). It’s hard to believe I haven’t been to France in 14 years; I probably should brush up on my French, n’est-ce que pas?

Wednesday, 24 March 2004

Script Kiddies = Linux?

Dowingba has a rather ridiculous viewpoint on the SCO/Linux dispute:

Now, I haven’t been following the SCO vs Linux debate very closely, but the MyDoom DDOS attack automatically made me lose sympathy for the Linux argument. Only children and terrorists act that way when they have run out of arguments. Admit you’re wrong, make a new OS, or shut up.

As I pointed out in his comment section, MyDoom (and its variants) was almost certainly the product of a few immature “script kiddies,” and while a few morons at Slashdot cheered it on, they don’t represent the Linux community at all. I recommend reading the background on the SCO/Linux dispute, rather than casting aspersions based on the behavior of idiots who have little, if anything, to do with Linux.

Update: Dowingba has updated his post, explaining his position a bit better. For my part, I think the statement that Linux advocates should “admit you’re wrong, make a new OS, or shut up” is what really set me off: SCO is clearly in the wrong and is grasping at straws because its own efforts to promote Linux under its former name “Caldera” foundered—so now it’s shaking down everyone and anyone who actually had a decent business plan.

Monday, 22 March 2004

Firefox Redux

Both Chelle and Steven Taylor have come to know the bliss that is Mozilla Firefox.

Wednesday, 3 March 2004

SCO's latest bogosuit target: AutoZone

Read the story at Slashdot, bearing in mind the FUD-to-truth ratio inherent in that forum. There’s more info on some of SCO’s claims from GOLUM’s own Jim Greer here.

Update: Joy Larkin is rather unimpressed by SCO’s latest antics as well.

Obligatory conflict-of-interest disclaimer: I interviewed with AutoZone for a job (in part) supporting the software at issue in the lawsuit last month, and Jim (who is no longer at AutoZone) is a pretty good friend of mine.

Wednesday, 25 February 2004

Another PyTextile 2 port

I see someone else is trying to make a Python port of the Textile 2 syntax. My approach so far has been a straight port of the Perl code by Brad Choate, with some minor tweaks (using urlparse and mimetypes, for example), rather than trying to hack Mark’s existing module.

Now that I’ve been hacking away for a week (and am about 700 lines away from being done—I just started on format_table, which looks downright nasty), I’m becoming convinced that the smarter plan would have been to write a lexer from scratch for the Textile markup, rather than trying to use the regex-happy approach Choate used (which works far, far better in Perl than in Python).

Friday, 13 February 2004


This weekend’s Herculean coding task: port Textile 2.0 syntax to Python. Mark Pilgrim ported the 1.0 syntax, but has since put the project aside due to limited time. The Perl module is 2260 lines, not including the POD-formatted docs (I guess I’ll have to make that a docstring), so my work is cut out for me.

Anyway, it’s a welcome distraction from job applications…

Wednesday, 21 January 2004

Fun fun fun 'till Mozilla took the T-bird away

My transition to living with Mozilla Thunderbird as my email client is complete, now that I’ve discovered the bliss that Seth, er, I mean, is the Debian packaging of enigmail (and, for that matter, T-bird; for some reason, I didn’t think it was packaged until I started fooling around today). The anti-spam features are easier than futzing with Bogospam, the IMAP support with the dovecot server seems pretty robust, and it seems reasonably fast for my purposes.

Saturday, 3 January 2004

Multiple identities in Thunderbird

I’ve been trying to make the transition to Mozilla Thunderbird as my primary email client. One annoyance: there didn’t seem to be any way to associate multiple email addresses with a single incoming email account. However, a quick Google search turned up the solution.

Tuesday, 18 November 2003

Shake it on down

Jeff Taylor and Joy have the latest on our friends at the Santa Cruz Operation; Jeff* characterizes SCO’s business model as “consist[ing] of filing suit against Linux users.” I think he’s being charitable; it’s more like “trying to sell for $200/seat technology written two decades ago by a bunch of kids at Berkeley that’s today worth about 10 cents.”

You know, in 1999 or so, that could have been the basis for a decent IPO. Hell, nobody else back then had a viable business model either…

Thursday, 23 October 2003

The virus-free fallacy

Joy approvingly points to a Wall Street Journal piece by Walter Mossberg that starts by saying:

Windows is riddled with security flaws, and new ones turn up regularly. It is increasingly susceptible to all kinds of viruses, malicious Trojan horse programs and spyware. As a result, Windows users have been forced to spend more of their time and money supporting their computers.

Almost every week, they are supposed to install patches to the already patchy operating system to plug these security holes. And every few months, it seems, Windows users must quake in fear as some horrible new virus is created by the international criminal class that constantly targets Windows.

But for consumers and small businesses, there’s a simple way out of this endless morass: Buy an Apple Macintosh computer. There are no viruses on the Macintosh’s excellent two-year-old operating system, called OS X. And the Mac is a terrific computer—as good as, or better than, Windows for the typical computing tasks important to mainstream users.

Now, Mossberg does correctly point out that OS X isn’t completely immune from virii, trojan horses, worms, and the like (sometimes collectively referred to as “malware,” although these days pretty much any “malware” will just be called a “virus” even if it isn’t one). But his argument still rests on a few problems:

  1. The “security through obscurity” fallacy: “In addition, Macs constitute such a tiny share of the world’s computers that they just aren’t an attractive target for virus writers and hackers.” True enough; however, that never stopped people from writing malware for earlier versions of the Mac OS, nor did it stop malware on a plethora of relatively obscure platforms in the past (at its peak, the Amiga probably had more virii going around than PC operating systems of the day, despite a much smaller market share).
  2. “OS X doesn’t enable users—or hackers who hijack user accounts—to alter certain core files and features of its Unix underpinnings.” True enough; however, as OS X users get used to typing their password to gain administrator access (as they are prompted to do with every Apple-sponsored update), social engineering hacks—like fake update prompts—will be easy enough for malware authors to incorporate into their tools.
  3. OS X ships with a lot of software that traces its lineage back to the 1970s Berkeley Standard Distribution (BSD) of Unix; while some of it has been audited, most notably by the OpenBSD project, some of it has not been. Until the past decade, network security was just not a serious concern of Unix programmers, and there could easily be holes lurking in some of the software included, particularly in server-side applications (which, to Apple’s credit, are normally disabled by default).

OS X, and other Unix-based and Unix-like operating systems like Linux, are no panacea for bad security practices in general. As Microsoft improves the lackluster security of its offerings, it is likely that we will see more problems as the proverbial “honeypot” that is Windows becomes less appealing to hackers.

Speaking of OS X, Mark Pilgrim has a lengthy overview of what’s new in OS X 10.3 (aka Panther).

Tuesday, 21 October 2003

Stateside IPv6 deployment pilot

Joy has the scoop on plans by various government sponsors and the Internet2 project to try the first wide deployment of IPv6 (once called IPng) in the United States, expanding on efforts like the 6bone to see if IPv6 is ready for widespread use.

For now, tech-savvy users interested in experimenting with deploying IPv6 can obtain IPv6 service via Freenet6; you can even obtain your own public 2**48 address block if you’re so inclined—and, perhaps more importantly, if you’re prepared to deal with the security implications of having globally-routable addresses behind your home router. Freenet6 works by using a IPv6-in-v4 tunnel to get IPv6 traffic to the IPv6 backbone, then routing your packets normally.

As Joy notes, the IP address shortage is somewhat less critical in North America—largely because North American ISPs had huge allocations of IP addresses which they’ve been able to effectively subdivide and pass down using CIDR—but nonetheless we’ll need to make the transition eventually, if only so we can keep talking to the rest of the world.

Sunday, 19 October 2003

In defense of Stallman

My co-blogger has equated Richard Stallman’s proposed abolition of copyright with slavery. Kevin Aylward has equated Stallman’s agenda with Communism.

Both are being unfair to Stallman.

First, let’s look at Aylward’s charge of Communism. Aylward writes:

Stealing the product, regardless of the extreme moral relativism employed by Stallman, is wrong. And he’s not just talking about teenagers downloading copyrighted materials on Kazaa, he wants the remove the rights of the content producers as well. Your output as an artist (or programmer) belongs to EVERYONE. Replace the word EVERYONE with STATE and what do you get?


Who owns the air we breathe? “No one” would be the best answer. “Everyone” might be just as good. But that’s hardly the same as the air being owned by the state, and it does not make the USA a Communist nation.

Next, let’s look at Chris’s charge of slavery. Chris writes:

Taking away that choice by requiring them to give away their work—Stallman’s ultimate utopia—is morally indistinguishable from telling programmers they are slaves. That Stallman would have the state feed and clothe the authors of software and other works makes it no less slavery than if the system were operated by rich white plantation owners.

Let’s just set aside the fact that the vast majority of software development is not creation of software for sale. Part of my job is software development, but the stuff I develop would not be of the slightest interest to anyone but my employer. (As a matter of fact, the software I develop for my employer is in the public domain.)

In most countries, the state claims a monopoly on law enforcement. If you want to be a cop, you have to work for the state, and accept the state’s terms of employment. Cops are fed and clothed by the state. Does this make them slaves? No, because they have the option of getting some other job.

Personally, I would not be in favor of completely abolishing copyright. But Stallman has something interesting and valuable to add to the ongoing dialog about copyright protection. And unfair accusations of Communism and slavery do nothing to further that dialog.

Stallman and Slavery

Kevin Aylward does me the huge favor of explaining my distaste for Richard Stallman’s agenda. Indeed, in my opinion, the key reason why producing free software is morally superior to producing proprietary software is that the author is making the choice to give away the fruits of his labor for the benefit of others.

Taking away that choice by requiring them to give away their work—Stallman’s ultimate utopia—is morally indistinguishable from telling programmers they are slaves. That Stallman would have the state feed and clothe the authors of software and other works makes it no less slavery than if the system were operated by rich white plantation owners.

Monday, 22 September 2003

Mystery Red Hat upgrade bugs

I’m spending most of this afternoon slowly unravelling whatever went wrong with upgrading one of our boxes from Red Hat 7.3 to Red Hat 9. Main problem: none of Red Hat’s GUI administration tools work—they all die with segmentation faults. Neither did sendmail (which I promptly booted out in favor of postfix.)

In the process of straightening everything out, I installed apt-rpm. We’ll see if that makes the system slightly more administerable (is that a verb noun?).

The mystery deepens. Apparently, somehow the PyGNOME installation is hosed. However, it's only intermittently hosed; most of the Red Hat admin tools segfault, but some don't (they're just oddly buggy, like the Package tool that won't let you select things in the Details view). And Foomatic-GUI runs just fine (once wget is installed—no, don't ask me why). Damn strange.

Friday, 19 September 2003

Foomatic-GUI 0.6.3 released

Foomatic 0.6.3 is now available at both Savannah and here; it has also been uploaded to Debian unstable.

The main new feature in this release is the display of information from the printer database when in the printer make/model browser, using a GtkHTML2 widget. A screenshot of the new functionality is here.

Here's an updated screenshot of the current, more OS X-like main interface: Screenshot of Foomatic-GUI 0.6.3