Category Archives: Interwebs & Intrawebs

Tor, Vidalia, and Privacy

Yesterday I reported on a talk given by Eben Moglen (Blech!).  Among the things he talks about is a technology called Tor.

Essentially, Tor is an world-wide network of relay servers integrated and designed to ensure the privacy of the surfers (not serfs) by anonymizing all browsing activities and locations.  Reading the overview on this page will give you a basic understanding of how this works.

There are several ways that one can participate in the Tor network itself and you can read about those here.

For those of us not running servers or otherwise currently capable of participating on the network side of Tor, there is Vidalia.  Vidalia is a client—available for Mac, Windows, and Unix systems of all flavors—which allows you to take advantage of the Tor network (as a proxy network) and thus annonymize much of your on-line activities.

For Opera users, I found this article for using Opera over Tor.

Tor is located in the Ubuntu repositories.  (If you are not running Ubuntu as your operating system, I recommend it.)  This is a good place to start if you are interested in either using or participating in the Tor network.

I’m just doing my little part to make the world a better place.  I hope that I can help you work toward that same goal.

Happy hunting.

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How the Cloud Turns I from Server to Serf

Here is a great collection of talks by Eben Moglen concerning cloud-computing and, among other things, spying.  He has an excellent wit, a broad set of real-world non-technical examples, and a powerful argument.

Many of us are trying pretty hard to forget that privacy and security are held by us with thin fragile threads.  It’s unpleasant to think about all the time.  But please take some time today and devote that time to thinking about exactly this.

To give you an interesting and perhaps seemingly peripheral example, let’s talk briefly about the relationship between Exchange, Outlook, and mail.  It’s always been a bit of a hassle to obtain and copy the message headers from an e-mail message using Outlook.  The headers are not part of the message as it is displayed in Outlook.  They are buried in a menu item and even I have trouble remembering how to locate them.

Newer versions of Outlook working with Exchange (and I think this is currently unique to RPC/HTTP and not for the other protocols) do not display message headers in the box where they normally appear.  Why is that?  Because Exchange no longer offers those headers to the client.

The server keeps the information from you.

If you are a non-IT person, you’re probably thinking “why should that matter to me?”.  I mean it only as a small piece of evidence of a larger trend of corporations reducing our abilities to know.  What is alarming is that this reducing is occurring in the one medium (the Internet) that was wholly designed to allow people to know.

It’s not all about them reducing our abilities to know; it’s also about them endeavoring to own knowledge and then licensing that knowledge back to us.  This is true for Facebook, Google, Microsoft, the MPAA, &c.  What we buy—what we are allowed to buy—increasingly, is the right to enjoy what they own.

I should step aside and let you listen to what Eben has to say.  He’s really worked this out in very precise detail and I trust you will enjoy what he has to say (even if the picture he paints is, hopefully, sobering).

This page includes both audio files and video files (in open source codex as well as proprietary, of course):

Eben Moglen ‘Freedom in the Cloud’

I hope you enjoy his talk.  If you are in IT, I hope you will help work toward a world and an Internet that respects individual freedoms.  If you are not an IT professional, I hope his talk helps you to understand better some of the difficult choices that will approach each of us as we move forward in this increasingly complex and technologically dominated world.

Thanks for reading.  See you around.

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Facebook Is Coming for You Too

This evening I returned home from dinner at my favorite Thai restaurant (Thaiku) here in Ballard to find that when I refreshed Facebook I received a security warning from Opera.

Illegal Intranet Request
Illegal Intranet Request

This should not be happening.  Facebook is requesting information about my local network (which is to say information about my machine and my router and firewall and so forth).  This is a security violation worthy of any spyware maker.  In other words, it is a serious security issue.

As such I will not be visiting Facebook until they are able to resolve this matter.

Don’t cry for me; I’ll be ok.

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Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back to Google

Google has announced their newest technological innovation. It’s an instant search feature and they are calling it Google Instant. Pretty clever name, eh?

I’ve never been all that interested in the look-ahead technologies out there. I turn the spelling correction off on my Android mobile because I don’t care for the look-ahead feature.

Google Instant does represent a good decision here.  They make the default search what you have actually typed and not what they are suggesting, which is exactly what I hated about the spelling correction on the phone (as it would insert things I didn’t want to say at all—I’ll leave that up to your imagination).  Bravo.  Now go fix that in Android.

This is some pretty cool stuff. Firefox, Opera, and Safari (and others) have been offering search term look-ahead (guessing at your desired search terms) for a long time now. As to the dynamic (javascript reliant) searching, well, Facebook and other sites have been doing that for a while. Granted Google has put together an excellent implementation of these technologies; but let’s not pretend they pulled a rabbit out of a hat here.

I’m not feeling all that compelled by being able to get one click quicker to my search results. I touch type so I can type a search term and hit enter often before I can scan and read their results. (Make your children take some typing. It’s useful.)

The one aspect that is more innovative is that the results are location aware. I know, maybe not more than the iPhone’s location awareness gimickery, but hey who’s counting?  It means typing one less search term if you are seeking something close to home (or whatever your current location happens to be).  Even I can’t type that fast.

I will say it is nice to see that we can’t search for the seven words you can never say on television (which you can certainly say on television now, given the right conditions—let’s write a television show about someone with Tourette’s).

I mean, I don’t want forking asp holes digging my sheet, beach.

You can search for erection and you can search for nipples, but you can’t search for erection nipples. “You can prick your finger, but don’t finger your prick.” Thanks, George; thanks, Puritans; and thanks, China.

Google seems to imply that we are able to turn off this filtering feature, but I have tested it with safe search turned off and this changes nothing.  My tests are confirmed in this article.  (Here is another article.)

All in all, I like it well enough. Not sure why they bothered with all the hubbub. They could have slipped this out pretty quiet like. I’m much more interested in the possibilities of Google Wave and that is languishing and obscure yet (and still doesn’t work properly in Opera).

Oh, and Instant doesn’t work in Opera. Here work means “Google does a browser check and if it detects Opera it doesn’t serve up the required Instant code”. Other than that it seems to work just fine.

So if you want to use Instant in Opera you’ll have to at least identify Opera as Firefox ( right-click on the page —> Network tab —> Browser identification —> Identify as Firefox drop-down ).

Good luck with that. And remember you save two to five seconds per search, but Google saves bazillions of processor cycles.

Ode to a Bull Market

O sweet smell of success
the unmimicable aroma
sought by perfumeries in Paris
so strong the nose of noses
dies a little death
and the effluence of the shitting bull
dissipates in fog

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How Facebook Fails to Scrape

I just wrote an article on setting up Google’s new Buzz (social site) to pull data from my blog.  I wanted to follow that up with an article on how to get Facebook to do the same.  The only problem is Facebook fails to manage this simple process.

Google and Buzz manage to pull information from my blog by scraping or periodically checking my blog site for new posts.  Facebook, through Notes, claims to be able to take an RSS feed from my blog (really any RSS feed) and deliver information about new posts to anyone watching my Facebook account.  As fate would have it, there is a bug which breaks this functionality—a bug which is over a year known.

(See my comments below for the preferred method of alerting Facebook concerning your RSS feed.)

There is as yet no fix.  There is a really crappy work-around.  It is the same as adding an RSS feed, so here are those instructions (see update below for an easier update method):

  • Click on Account —> Application Settings
  • Click on Notes (this will take you to the My Friends’ Notes, and oddly this is the only way I have found to get to this particular page)
  • Click on Edit import settings » (in a box to the right)
  • If you are performing the work-around, click the Stop Importing button (it is convenient to copy your blog’s RSS URL first)
  • Enter your blog’s RSS URL into the Web URL: field (mine is jamesisin.com/a_high-tech_blech/?feed=rss2 )
  • Click the Start Importing button
  • You will then be offered posts to import; click the Confirm Import button

My RSS feed worked in Facebook for about 15 months.  Then it just stopped.  Now I have to perform this work-around anytime I create a blog post.  Fucking useless.  It’s only slightly helpful if I happen to create more than one post at a time.

Since Facebook has their own (crippled) blogging capabilities (Notes itself is a sort of blogging application) I have my doubts about Facebook feeling a strong motivation to fix the RSS problem.  However, maybe when they realize how soundly Google is kicking their ass with their ability accomplish blog-to-social-site updates (in spite of the fact that Google also has their own blogging application—at least BlogSpot and Blogger if I’m not mistaken) Facebook will suck it up and fix it.

Happy blogging.

Update:

I was pointed to another way to manually update RSS feeds.  Those instructions were not up to my annoying standards so I have re-written them.

  • Visit your Wall (which is to say go to your Facebook profile)
  • Beneath the “What’s on your mind?” Share button, click Options
  • This will reveal a Settings link; click it
  • This will reveal Stories Posted by You (and some other stuff); click Blog/RSS (which should be your blog)
  • This will reveal some settings for your blog; click Update Now

Not as painful.  I haven’t tested this yet. This will manually update your RSS activity.  Best of luck.

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How I Spill Ink into Google Buzz

I have a blog.  Shocking, I know.  I like to ensure that my social diseases sites are continually updated by my narcissistic ever-important posts.

It has gotten to the point where my social sites have social sites, but the latest and greatest entrant into the fold is Buzz from our overlords friends at Google.

I searched the Web and found a host of well-intentioned but either overly complex, poorly instructed, or downright misguided information about adding an RSS feed or automatic scrape from my blog to my Buzz updates.

Turns out it’s simple to get updates from my blog and I don’t have to use RSS per se.

There are two parts to setting this up.  First you need to add your blog to your Google profile.  Then you need to connect Buzz to that linked blog.  It’s a bit tricky, but with a small amount of attention to detail you should be able to do this in maybe ten minutes.

Ok, so let’s set up that profile.

Go to your Google profile and then follow these instructions:

  • (If you used my link above click View my profile)
  • Click Add more info to my profile
  • Under Links add your blog to the My Links section
  • If your blog doesn’t appear under Add Links use the Add custom links to my profile and paste in your blog address
  • (Do not use your RSS address; I used merely http://www.soundunreason.com/InkWell )
  • Locate your blog under My Links and click Edit
  • Check the box that says This is a profile page about me (This is the most important step.)

Now you can head on over to Buzz.

  • Locate and click the connected sites link (you may have to click on your name first)
  • If you did the first part correctly, your blog should appear here and you can simply click the Add button

Easy enough?

Ladies and gentlemen, spill that ink.

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