Internet Privacy: Do You Google?

This article is going to be seen as “political” by some, and as such will be controversial. So, if you, dear reader, do not like reading “political” articles, move on along, there is nothing to see here. But if you are a person who can peer past the veil of “politics” to the heart of a matter, you may want to keep reading.

First off, I am a USA National with a long form, hard copy birth certificate to prove it if needed. I believe strongly in personal freedom, personal privacy, personal responsibility, and small, limited government. Very much like the founders of my country (1,2,3). I have been dismayed at the growth of government in my country and the resulting erosion of personal freedom and personal privacy for a long time now. I could not care less which “political party” is in power as long as they share the ideals of the founders of the USA, and thus my ideals.

Sadly, or tragically, or disgustingly, or perhaps happily, depending on one’s perspective, neither of the two major parties here share the ideals of the founders of this nation. They have proven so over and over by continuing to grow the power and reach of government after each election cycle is completed. The slide toward despotism and tyranny in a country always begins with the growth of government and the erosion of personal freedom. An honest look at history will prove that.

What does this have to do with Internet privacy and Google? If you use Google for anything, the US government, and likely other governments, can potentially see what you are doing. Google has servers all over the world and keeps records of your activity. Google can therefore be coerced to give those records to a government agency. Further, Google does not encrypt your connection by default with HTTPS, so snooper programs used by government agencies, such as the US NSA, can watch what you do without need to go to Google. This does not just affect Google users, it also affects users of Yahoo!, Bing and any other on-line service that keeps records of activity and/or does not encrypt connections by default.

The recent revelations that the US government has massive data gathering programs to obtain data on Internet and phone users is no surprise to those of us who suspected this all along. But it has been a big, unpleasant surprise to many folk who do not usually think about these issues. Inevitably we have seen the tired argument raised, “I don’t care! I have nothing to hide! Only people who want to hide criminal activity would be concerned about this!” Yes, the exclamation points must be used. From a freedom and privacy perspective this argument is egregiously incorrect. Allow me to quote a wise man, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin 1775.

Some others have addressed this argument as well:

Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have ‘Nothing to Hide’
By Daniel J. Solove
The Chronicle Review – May 15, 2011

Plenty to Hide
By Jay Stanley
lifehacker – June 14, 2012

Why ‘I Have Nothing to Hide’ Is the Wrong Way to Think About Surveillance
By Moxie Marlinspike
Wired.com – June 13, 2013

If you are concerned about your privacy on-line what can you do about protecting your privacy from snooping? Here are some means to assist you with that.

Use HTTPS for as much of your browsing on-line as possible. This encrypts the traffic between you and the host to which your browser is connecting. That makes real-time monitoring of the data on your connection impossible by any currently known means of monitoring network data.

Limit your searches to search engines that do not track you and do not store information about your searches. Two of these are run by the same group. StartPage.com and ixquick.com both protect your privacy by first using HTTPS encrypted connections and second by not storing any information about your searches. By using encryption you are protected from in-line scanning of your searches. By not having information stored about your searches you are protected from government coercion of your search provider to reveal your search data. Even better for USA users, the servers for these services are in The Netherlands. This means it would require the US government to rely on treaties and negotiations with the host country before it could even approach the owners of the servers.

Caveat: occasionally these search engines return a message about being overloaded and request you wait for a few minutes and try again. While this may be annoying and frustrating, it surely is a small price to pay for your privacy.

When practical, use a proxy to view web sites. Both of the search engines mentioned above provide a relatively secure proxy feature. A proxy sends its own IP address to a web host and acts as a bridge between your browser and the host system. This helps mitigate your exposure when using sites for which you have searched. Certain features of content rich web sites will not work through a proxy and require a direct connection. So, you have to decide whether or not to continue using such sites. For example, if your browser uses Java for connection to any content, no amount of proxy routing can hide you at that point.

What about e-mail privacy? Once again, avoid the major players like Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, et al. It may be worth a few dollars to secure your e-mail by using a paid, privacy e-mail service located in a country other than your own. This web search may offer you some ideas: secure private e-mail.

Ultimately we all need to decide what the term “privacy” entails and how much privacy means to us. For me, my “stuff” is mine and no one has a right to know about my “stuff” unless I choose to share it. If this means I have a little less “safety” from terrorists, so be it. I am not willing to compromise my freedoms for some amorphous amount of perceived safety.

FOSS+CSS: Closed Source DOS Accounting Meets Linux and DOSEMU

About the middle of December 2012 I received a call from a long time SCO OpenServer Unix and IBM PC-DOS using client. This client has four Point of Sale business locations and runs a mix of DOS, Unix and Windows in the retail outlets. The main office, here in my town, runs a SCO OpenServer box I built them with Advantage Accounting Point of Sale that is accessed using PuTTY on two Microsoft desktop clients at the checkout counter. The Microsoft systems are basically “dumb” terminal replacements and are used for nothing else.

(One of the locations runs that Intuit PoS system. I had nothing to do with that one.) Two of the other locations run DOS based Advantage Accounting Point of Sale on stand-alone DOS boxes. One of these boxes I had built them about 10 years ago finally gave out. The hard drive would spin up, but the box did nothing else. So, they called me to get a new DOS PC. I explained that DOS was best served these days in a virtual machine or using a DOS emulation layer on something like Linux. We talked over the options and they decided to send me the old case to gut and rebuild with new parts, Mageia 2 Linux and a DOS Virtual Machine.

I ordered the new parts to go in the old case. While waiting for the parts I gutted and cleaned the old case. Everything came out except the old hard drive, which did still work. The new parts finally arrived. Then a new hard drive and all new “guts” went into the case with the old drive. The old drive, being an IDE, had to have an IDE <> SATA adapter. This was installed to access the old drive after Linux was installed on the new drive. I backed up the old drive to a file with ‘dd’ once booted to Mageia 2 on the rebuilt PC.

Then VirtualBox was installed and the ‘dd’ copy of the drive was cloned to a virtual disk image (VDI) using the VBoxManage command line tool. A virtual machine to run the IBM PC-DOS on the VDI was created and booted to test. All seemed well. However, this PC needed parallel port printing. The motherboard ordered has a parallel port and serial port on-board. But no matter how I tried to get parallel printing working with VirtualBox, it never did work. I either got errors (No, I do not recall the errors exactly. I remember permission errors, I think. Silly me lost my notes about that.) or making changes to the setup got no errors but no printing either. This was a show stopping problem, until I recalled that DOSEMU allows one to set up printing to Linux print queues in its configuration file. Whew!

So, out went VirtualBox and in came DOSEMU. I copied the files from the old drive to the appropriate DOSEMU directory under the user account. Edited the CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT for use of IBM PC-DOS in DOSEMU. Then I set up a RAW printer to use with the DOS accounting application and placed the command to access that in the appropriate section of the DOSEMU configuration file. A test print worked as expected and all was well. Well almost.

I still needed to address backups. The old floppy tape drive would not work because these new motherboards do not include a floppy controller. Besides, tape is just so passe. Instead, I took a CDRW disc and used K3B to create a backup job that could be run with a double-click from the Xfce desktop used with this build. Yes, I could have whipped out my bash foo and created a backup script from tabula rasa, but time was of the essence on this job. I usually want to spend a bit of time tweaking my scripts to make them extra awesome and fool proof. In this case, I just did not have the time to create an excellent, one off, debugged script. The shop needed its Point of Sale system back “yesterday”. Besides, K3B works fine and this PC has plenty of resources for adding in some KDE bloat to run K3B. Plus, these guys need to see some eye-candy as this is the first Linux box they have ever had.

Now they have their DOS Point of Sale back in place. They also have a new Linux based PC with a GUI, LibreOffice and other office goodies installed for creating flyers, making custom spreadsheets and all the other office PC tasks a DOS only system just cannot do easily or at all. Mission accomplished.

P.S. Old DOS Geeks – Yes, I know there are still those of you using WordPerfect for DOS, Lotus 123 for DOS, [insert name] for DOS and you can do whatever you want with those. But I live in the 21st century and so do my clients. We like the pretty GUI while we do our work. ;)

Merry Christmas 2011

It is that time of year again. When too many people are spending too much money, buying toys for “Santa” to “deliver”, and overeating to “celebrate” the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the offspring of the Creator of the universe and all that is in it. For at least the few seconds it takes to read this short post, think about the living person Jesus for whom this Holiday (Holy Day) exists.

Luke 2:10-12
New King James Version (NKJV)
10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

Happy Birthday Jesus.

Following Jesus is not a “religion”, it is a personal, one on one relationship.

 

Incredible Times, Incredible Technology

Here I am at around 12:30 AM local time running updates on a client's PC that was just reinstalled with Microsoft XP Media Center Edition 2005. This reinstall was done to clean up the registry and get rid of the "sluggishness" that had set in over the past 4 years of continual use. While the interminable Microsoft updates ran on that PC sitting next to my desk, I watched a movie on my personal business tower computer that is running Mandriva 2010.1 Linux. The same computer which was also downloading files in the background, periodically checking my e-mail and keeping several other software applications going simultaneously.

Suddenly, after the movie finished and I was listening to the music while the credits ran, I had an overwhelming sense of awe at how far we humans have come technologically in the last 200 years. Especially the advances that have come in just the past 50 years of my short lifetime (I am 50 this year.) suddenly seemed incredible to me. People my father's age, 70-ish, remember the Dick Tracy serial cartoon series, and Dick Tracy's video / audio two way wrist watch. At the time my father was a boy  that sort of technology was Science Fiction. Today we pretty much have that technology with cellular phones. Even though cellular phones are small, they are not a wrist watch, so some companies like LG, HP and others are making the "Dick Tracy wristwatch" happen: LG Dick Tracy(ish) Wrist Watch.

Over the past 50 years much that was Science Fiction 60 to 70 years ago, or in the realm of "magic" 150 or more years ago, is now science fact. Thanks to the United States mankind has actually been to the moon and back. Thanks to the pioneering efforts of the U.S. space program and all the basic science research that went into that program we humans now have ever smaller microprocessors, personal computers, cell phone technology, advanced plastics, and more technological afvances than I can recall while sitting here. That space program was money well spent. We need to do more of that. Much more.

Thanks to some other pioneers of the technology age I have an awesome operating system that runs on my space race inspired PC. Of course I mean Linux which was begun by that Linus fellow. Over the past 15+ years Linux the kernel has matured into "Linux" the marketing term for a powerful, stable, fast, secure, wondrously user-friendly, complete operating system with the help of GNU, X, various GUI window managers, desktop projects and more Free Open Source Software than I will ever need to use.

I am blessed with an embarrassment of technological riches that for the most part I take for granted … except for this morning. This morning I am allowing my mind to experience awe and wonder at the technological marvels within reach of my desk chair. I can only ponder where the next 50 years will take us, provided we humans are still here in 50 years.

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Automotive Design Engineers

Time for me to vent a bit after working on my automobile on and off this week. You see, I drive an old junker that was new in 1984. As it is so old it "nickel and dime"'s  me with small needed repairs every few months. This week it has developed an electrical short somewhere that is keeping it from starting about 90% of the time. The other 10% it may start and run just fine. Or it may start, then run long enough to die at an intersection, then not start again that day. That is "fun". I must now find that short. Oh joy. Oh happiness. Oh glee … Oh my.

"What does this have to do with automotive design engineers?", you ask. Since you asked so politely, I will tell you. My first inclination was to check the tune-up chart and see that the car was overdue for a tune-up. So, I took the bus to the auto parts store, a two hour round trip, and bought the parts to do a tune-up. I dread doing tune-ups on this car. Some dingbat automotive design engineers decided that if one could easily get one's hand down between the engine block and the wheel wells there was too much room. So, they made sure that to get one's hand down to put a socket on a spark plug one must have the hands of a four year old child. My hands are the hands of a large, 50 year old, adult male. I need to find a four year old child to work on my car …

No, not really. But I once again have cuts and contusions on my hands wrists and forearms after swapping out the spark plugs on this car. Now let us discuss heater cores.

I have a bum heater core in this car. I have bypassed the heater core by looping a hose between the cooling system inlet and outlet that circulate hot coolant through the heater core. I also have a brand new heater core … in its shipping box. "Why is it not installed?", you inquire. As you so nicely inquired, I will tell you. I am certain the same, drooling, half-wit, automotive design engineers that I mention above determined the location of the heater core. It is on the firewall, beneath the dashboard, behind all the other components that fit under the dashboard. That's correct, one has to remove the entire guts of the dashboard to get to the heater core. A single 24 hour day is not enough time to do that for us mere, ordinary, shade tree mechanic, mortals.

So, all you automotive design engineers with such brilliant ideas, I hereby consign you all to repair your own designs. As a "shade tree mechanic". Every day. For forty years. Then maybe you will rethink your asinine design decisions. Have a nice life in that back yard, under the hood and in the dash of your poorly designed cars …

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Jackson and Madison Linux User Group (JaM-LUG)

The Jackson and Madison County Tennessee Linux User Group (JaM-LUG) is being formed and will have its first meeting starting at 5:30 PM on Thursday the 8th of April 2010 in the Dining Hall at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Tennessee.

What is Linux?

See this URL for an answer: What is Linux at www.linux.org.

What is a Linux User Group?

See this URL for an answer: What is a GNU/Linux user group? at www.linux.org.

How do I get there?

This document contains directions: JaM-LUG Flyer (PDF Document)

The intention is to have regular, informal monthly meetings on the second Thursday of each month starting in April 2010. Our regrets to you poor Microsoft system administrators who will occasionally have to be recovering hosed Microsoft systems following Microsoft Patch Tuesday (2nd Tuesday of each month). We will miss you at the meetings. :) Feel free to contact us at ERACC with other questions, comments or offers of assistance.

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Donna J. Maxwell – Tribute to a Friend

My friend Donna died last week. I was not able to attend her funeral, so this is my “Goodbye, you will be missed.” to Donna. As most of my contact with Donna was business related that is the perspective from which I write this article.

I started my business in 1989 setting up a RealWorld Point of Sale system on SCO Xenix for my very first client. No, Donna was not connected to that venture but she heard about me “through the grapevine” from the CPA that did work for that business. Soon after that job was over I was contacted by Donna to help with a problem on a multi-user DOS system (Either PC-MOS/386 or Concurrent DOS, I do not recall exactly.) at Baker Energy, Inc., a local small petroleum reseller that is now defunct. Donna was the in-house accountant for Baker Energy. Donna was a good small business accountant who “knew her stuff”. Later Baker Energy switched to the Factor accounting software for petroleum businesses running on IBM AIX Unix. I was called on by Donna to help with that too. From that first contact I developed a friendship with Donna that lasted over 20 years.

When Donna needed help with a tough computer problem I was the guy she called. We shared angst many times over crashed Microsoft Windows systems, cantankerous serial printers, backup failures and network communication problems. I guess you could say I was “Donna’s geek” when it came to Donna needing computer assistance. When Donna changed locations or changed jobs I was eventually called upon to come fix some computer problem at the new location. Donna also called on me to assist with her home PC several times. I could always count on a glass of Southern Tea (Meaning sweet and cold with ice of course.) or a cup of coffee (Black, no sugar, thank you.) and good conversation when I worked on Donna’s home PC.

The last time I worked on Donna’s home PC was to set up a new Microsoft Windows 7 based system given her by a relative. Donna gave me her old PC to do with as I please. I wiped it clean and installed Mandriva 2010 Linux on it to use as a demo system. It is still sitting here by my desk as I type this. This was late last year in 2009. Donna was finishing up cancer treatments for lung cancer and was very hopeful that she was well and it was over. Unfortunately, Donna was not well and it was not over until last week when Donna passed away while at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, TN. At least now Donna is not having to go through all that pain. For that I thank God.

Donna, goodbye my friend. You will be missed.

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