Kirk Strauser's articles

Passing notes in class

My children recently started school. I wanted a way for them to be ableto chat with their friends, get help with homework, and generally have funon the Internet without exposing them to the world at large. So, I did whatany extremely geeky dad would do: I built a secured instant messaging (IM)server for their school.

I could have set my children up with any number of accounts on thenormal, commercial services. However, I decided to create my own forseveral reasons.

Your data or your life

Your daughter has just been in a car crash. She falls unconscious on her way to the hospital, but not before she is able to tell the paramedics the name of her doctor. This is vitally important because the emergency room won’t know that she’s an insulin-dependent diabetic with a penicillin allergy, but her doctor will be able to give them her relevant medical history.

Or, at least he would be if he’d renewed the tech support contract on his medical records software. He didn’t, though, and now his information—and your daughter’s—is locked away in a proprietary database he can’t access.

Pay a little now, pay a lot later

Freedom of choice is an ideal. It’s also increasingly obvious that it’s almost always the most pragmatic approach, whether involving economic issues that affect billions of people or comparison shopping for a pair of jeans. Unfortunately, the people who voluntarily give up their own are the ones who can least afford to do so.

.NET? .Not!

My office runs on a hodgepodge of Visual Basic, Python, C, and FoxPro. Since we’re a small company with few programmers, this hasn’t been a problem. Each of us simply chose the language that best met our needs for a given project. However, the seemingly exponential growth in the size of those projects, plus the addition of a few new programmers, means that our idyllic little world is coming to an end. We need to standardize on a common development platform before the proliferation of languages and framework libraries makes progress impossible.

The pull of the fruit

I tried my hardest to help my wife love Unix. When we were still dating, I built a little Debian machine for her so we could chat on ICQ while I was at work (and gave it to her on Valentine’s Day; aren’t I romantic?). That lasted for a while, but I eventually switched it to FreeBSD for reasons I no longer remember. Her computers always worked pretty well, but she was never happy with her inability to install software on her own, or to run games and applications from the local non-geek stores.

The pull of the fruit

I tried my hardest to help my wife love Unix. When we were still dating, I built a little Debian machine for her so we could chat on ICQ while I was at work (and gave it to her on Valentine’s Day; aren’t I romantic?). That lasted for a while, but I eventually switched it to FreeBSD for reasons I no longer remember. Her computers always worked pretty well, but she was never happy with her inability to install software on her own, or to run games and applications from the local non-geek stores.

Any way the wind SCOs...

OK, so I admit: I can’t get enough news about SCO. It’s like the best and worst parts of a soap opera, train wreck, and slapstick comedy all rolled up into one big, sticky ball. This week’s entry into their history of shame is a claim to own the standard Unix executable file format, which is ridiculous for more reasons than I feel like going into right now. What I took away from the whole circus, though, is that you’re playing with fire if you entrust your company or personal computing to proprietary software vendors.

Breaking the silence

This was the year of Linux on the desktop, at least for my family. I’ve been using a succession of free systems for years, switching at a whim between FreeBSD, Gentoo, and Debian; I’m the household geek though, so that doesn’t mean much. However, the real turning point came when we decided to build a little computer out of spare parts as a Christmas present for my in-laws. Rather than giving them an old licensed version of Windows, or shelling out much more than the value of the computer for a new copy of XP, I decided to install Ubuntu.

Introduction to Zope

Zope is a web application server, similar in concept to proprietary products like Cold Fusion. However, it is free software that is available under the GPL-compatible Zope Public License, which is very similar to the BSD License. Zope was designed with the specific goals of creating a powerful, secure framework for the development of robust web-based services with a minimum of effort.

Filtering spam with Postfix

If you are responsible for maintaining an internet-connected mail-server, then you have, no doubt, come to hate spam and the waste of resources which comes with it. When I first decided to lock down my own mail-server, I found many resources that helped in dealing with these unwanted messages. Each of them contained a trick or two, however very few of them were presented in the context of running a real server, and none of them demonstrated an entire filtering framework.

The history and future of SMTP

SMTP is an abbreviation for “Simple Mail Transfer Protocol”, and is the standard internet protocol for sending email from one system to another. Although the word “simple” belies the inherent complexity of the protocol, SMTP has proved to be a remarkably robust, useful, and successful standard. The design decisions that made it so useful, though, have given spammers and infectious code an easy way to spread their unwanted messages. Its recent evolution reflects the tug-of-war between those unsavory players and the administrators who want to protect their systems and their users.

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