John Locke's articles

Open Source is (almost always) Free

This post is in response to Dario Borghino's story, "Why Open Source is not Free Software". Go read that first...

I have a couple problems with this post. First of all, there is much less difference between free and open source software than this post suggest. Secondly, patents do not have much effect on the software industry, in practice. Those may sound controversial, but let me explain.

Security bulletins, computers, and cars

If you’re connected to the internet, you are vulnerable to attacks. I don’t care what operating system, which browser, what firewall, anti-virus, or anti-spyware you have installed—there’s a vulnerability on your system somewhere. Even the tools security researchers use to analyze attacks can be used against their owners as a way of breaking into their machines.

What’s free about free software?

Computer history has some interesting parallels with the history of the American West. After the initial forays of Lewis and Clark and the first set of explorers, early settlers crossed the plains in covered wagons. But the West wasn’t accessible to most Americans until the age of the railroads, when the Union Pacific Railroad put tracks across the continent and started running a regular passenger service.

Railroad history

What’s a Wiki?

If you haven’t paid attention, the World Wide Web has been changing dramatically over the past few years. It used to be that if you wanted to create a web site, you either had to learn the basics of HTML, or spend a few hundred dollars on a web development tool. Or hire a designer to put one together for you.

Every time you want to add new content to your web site, you’d have to go back to your tools, add a new page, update all of the site navigation, or pay another fee to your web designer.

Who’s behind that web site?

Let’s talk about phishing. Phishing is just like fishing, only your identity is the fish and the bait is an email that looks like it came from your bank, or eBay, or Paypal, or any other legitimate place. The goal is to get you to follow a link to a site owned by the phisher, and trick you into divulging some private information, such as your bank account number, pin, passwords, or social security number.

Worst case scenario - protecting your computer

In my last article my laptop had died a spectacular death from a full cup of coffee. I had to send it into the IBM depot, where they replaced nearly everything but the battery. Including the hard drive.

My files were all properly backed up, and I was even able to retrieve the few files I had worked on that day by connecting the drive to another computer. So when the service depot called and said they wanted to replace the drive, I said go ahead.

A laptop, a coffee, and disaster recovery

Last week, my laptop died a sudden spectacular death-by-drowning, as a full cup of coffee poured into its keyboard. It emitted a pop sound, and the screen and the power shut off.

What would your reaction be? Mine was to immediately unplug the power cord and remove the battery. Then I took it over to the sink and poured out the coffee. Remembering tales of people flushing keyboards with water, I ran some fresh water over the keys and then set to work. I removed the keyboard, the palm rest, a few of the inner cards, and let it sit without power for several hours. Apparently, not long enough.

Hard passwords made easy

In the online world, security plays a role in all online activities. Passwords are the most commonly used method to limit access to specific people. In my previous article I discussed assessing the relative value of systems protected by passwords, and grouping passwords across locations with similar trustworthiness.

In a nutshell, don’t bother creating and remembering strong passwords for low value systems, and certainly don’t use the same passwords for low value systems that you use in high value systems.

Mail servers: resolving the identity crisis

Dspam filters spam with the best. In my installation, it stops over 98% of all spam: I’ve only had one false positive in the last year, and that was a message to the Dspam list that contained a real spam!

Administering Dspam is a breeze. No rules to configure, new users can automatically benefit from a global dictionary and quarantine management is simple. But getting a Dspam quarantine set up the first time, without losing any email, can challenge the most seasoned mail administrators.

Smarter password management

Your dog’s name... your anniversary... your childrens’ initials, birthday, or birth weight... your favorite hobby, or the name of your boat. Which one do you use for your password? Network Administrators and hackers know that most people choose passwords like these to protect anything from logging into web-based bulletin boards to buying things online.

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