Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mac Vs. Linux, My opinion : Part II

I felt that it was time for me to follow up on my previous article  "Mac Vs. Linux, My opinion".  I do still, day-to-day use a mac next to two linux systems.  I feel in this regard, I have justification for my opinion.

Again to preface, I have used linux for much longer than mac (everyday).  As a result I learned over the years to use my linux in a windows heavy environment without much disruption or laments from my co-workers in regards to interoperablity.

For work purposes, both efficiency of activity and for productivity within the applicaitons I still find that linux is my prefered environment.  I should say that the gap that is software, which once was very wide, is no where near that wide anymore.  Much of that may have to do with my office's adoption of open source software.

I have to say that I prefer linux more now still for the double ease of use of the clipboard and having two available.  One accessible via highlight and mouse-wheel click and the other using the classic ctrl+c and ctrl+v. 

The second point that keeps me on a linux desktop is the ease of use and speed of virtual desktops in linux.  Mac does now have spaces (same function) but there is no customization available and it is sluggish in comparison to my linux system.

The third aspect of linux that I still prefer to mac is that it is much easier to migrate information to the lowest common denominator: TEXT.  Mac works fine with text and is useful in the terminal app, but on linux the transition from terminal to a gui application requires very little effort on the part of the user.

Lastly, of no consequence to efficiency, would be theme customization.  With the new Ubuntu (9.10) and following the additional themes I installed using the instructions at this long post on "The Silent Number" (new fav is 'Night Impressions') I have found the view of my linux system is something that I can change to easily based on tasks or system and with something like NBR (netbook remix) I can completely alter the function of my desktop any time I care too.  This is not an impossible task on the mac, but for sure isn't as easy.

The ace in the hole that mac still has is that the performance of VMware Fusion is great on the mac.  Like that I can still have access to any other operating system that I need/prefer since I am very much about using the correct tool for the correct work.  I won't use this as a "freedom" platform, this is just a direct 1-to-1 comparison while I have both systems side-by-side in my life.

Both will continue to be in my workspace and work-flow.  I hope in the future to have relevant follow-ups to this series of articles.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Podcast Review: - Author Scott Sigler

While I listened to this book as a podcast, via Podiobooks, as the name describes they are audiobooks delivered in podcast format.  I have found quite a few great books at Podiobooks so I wanted to feature not each book, but rather authors.  I say this because there are a few authors like Scott Sigler who have a small catalog that would take me many posts to review all of the books I've read from him.  So this podcast review is for the author and his collection of works available at Podiobooks.

First point would be the presentation.  I mean to say the voice acting, audio production and the ability to create the setting though voice which by old school definition might be described as "story telling".  On this, Scott would get an 11 out of 5.  I have to say that it is very clear that Scott is pumped about his own material and it comes across in his work.  There are many authors who should NOT read their books, in this case I would suggest that they should get Scott to read it for them.  Amazing voice characters,  fantastic pacing and just enough background sound effects to bring the edge of dept to a two dimensional presentation.

Scott has written quite a few books, some not available at Podiobooks.  I would recommend you visit his website to get details on his complete works.  I cannot rave enough about how great his work is, a few of his books are actually available in print.  I am personally waiting to get the collection of books I've read in hardback series.  If paperback makes you happy, go for it.  I really strongly suggest Scott Sigler's works to anyone who is looking for a high energy fiction "listen".

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Dropbox on a Headless Server

I know there are a few guides for Dropbox on a headless server.  I noticed that my experience wasn't 100% as advertised, so I wanted to post here on what my process was (repeated on 3 servers for accuracy)

First the requisites for this activity.  You must have a ssh account and my advice is to make sure you have the same disk space free on the server that you are using in your Dropbox account.  For the free version, that means 2Gb of disk space.

Next I need to install the application, this is done on the server account.  I had in all 3 cases to launch the "nautilus" application one time.  So I connect with the "ssh -X" for allowing X11 export over the connection.  Once connected the next thing was to get the script from the Dropbox Wiki.  On the server I used:
   chmod 755
This gives the application in the home dir with executable permissions.  Now run the script with:
   python install     <--- mine was x86 the other is x86_64
This step will download the tarball and start to set things up.  Mine hung after it downloaded everything and put it in the right place.  I then escaped with ctrl+c.  I then launched nautilus with:
This brought up the view of the home folder and then the splash screen for setting up the Dropbox account.  I entered my account details and let the folder sync the first time.  Once done, I closed nautilus and disconnected from the server to forcefully break the 2nd Dropbox icon it put in my computer's systray.  I then reconnected WITHOUT x11 forwarding and launched the daemon in the background with:
  ./.dropbox-dist/dropboxd &
This should fire up the daemon to run in the background.   After that you can check the status of the daemon with the script with:
  python status
That should report "up to date" as long as it is running and healty.

You might need to restart the daemon if the server machine reboots.  But for my headless servers that doesn't happen very often.  I have seen this work perfectly with the syncing that Dropbox does and works just as expected and seen with any other desktop machine.  I really enjoy this idea since there is a disk space use limit built into the account.  Also, this provides a truely off-site backup storage to ensure against any disaster recovery issues.  So with my last post about using gpg to encrypt files and edit them, it means that even if the server security is compromised, they won't get any data from my files unless they have a supercomputer and 20 years :)

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

vim + gpg + dropbox = secure passwords

Finally accomplished a multi-system synchronized encrypted password file.  Let me tell the short and then the long version.

The short version is
1.) gpg encrypt a text file
2.) store it in a shared dropbox folder
3.) add vim gnugpg plugin.

The long version of the story is that Dropbox has added a functionality to share a folder with other Dropbox users.  I have a Dropbox account for each operating system that I use (3).  So I can modify on one machine and it will get pushed to all the other machines.  I also found the script which lets me run dropbox on a headless machine.

I already have 2048 bit pgp keys created.  I used that key to encrypt a text file to myself.  The file I had was a text file that I was using to record my passwords.  With the command "gpg --encrypt filename"  will produce an encrypted copy with the *.gpg extension.  This new file I placed in the shared dropbox folder and created a symbolic link to it in my home directory.

Then after creating the folder ~/.vim/plugin and moving the gnupg.vim into that folder I was able to open and edit the gpg encrypted file after typing my passphase for the key.  This extension turns off the auto-backup feature of vim to prevent a clear text copy from being anywhere but ram.  Once writes to the file are made, it will re-synchronize with the other computers automatically.

With this new process I am able to view, search and edit my password file even on a mac (with vim and gpg installed).  Of note, I also have a Truecrypt volume in this same shared folder and once a month I do a plain text export into the hidden volume of a Trucrypt drive.  This allows me additional access even if I do not have the permissions to install all the needed components.

Now I can use strong secure and unique passwords for every online service I have.  I even took the opportunity to generate a few passwords and keep them in the password file directly in the case I needed to update a login without command line access to pwgen.

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