Monday administration.

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This week I had a fair amount of traffic, and the server coped quite well. This implies that I don’t need extra resources at present to run it. The current tool stack seems to be working OK, though I continue to be informed that I need to update the server. Leaving that to the people who manage it.

As far as writing, I am finding that Firefox is getting more and more glitchy when using wordpress — one of the problems is that Firefox is updated frequently. I don’t have that problem with opera

Software Stacks

I had some time this weekend — getting rid of most TV watching helped — to get work done, and in the process have begun considering the robustness of the systems I’m using.

I like Arch distributions. However, there are some issues.

  • Arch itself requires considerable skill with dependancies. At times the maintainers change base packages. I have installed Arch, but I have broken it multiple times. It is a little too bleeding edge
  • Archbang is a good idea — and I have used similar debian based sysems before. Very minimal. It is run by one person, which fails the “bus” test: if that person is hit by the Clapham Omnibus Archbang is toast
  • Kaos has a small team, and their version of the user repository — KCP — works. If you are completed KDE centric, it works. I have used it for six months, and it’s OK. But I worry, still, about its robustness.

Which led me to Manjaro, which is slightly downstream from Arch, has a testing version and a stable version akin to Debian, a bigger community… and multiple window managers. At this point it got painful.

Firstly, I tried to install from a DVD I burned on the server. This got about this far.

So I moved the iso to a USB. However, the USB I had did not boot. Went upstairs. Found another USB, pulled out my old computer and downloaded the iso (again) and then it booted, started, and twenty minutes later had manjaro running smoothly.

At that point it was time to do the next day’s scripture, and I shut down the laptop. Opened it up this morning, everything runs the way I want it to, updates happen smoothly. Will optimise it over this week, then the real challenge: installing it on the frankenserver in the office.

Hardware and cellphones

For personal use I have a midrange Chinese cellphone, which I generally keep in a pouch. It is very hard to find cases for it. Well, pulled it out, dropped it, and cracked the screen. The local people quoted $250 for this, and the mail in national centre is about $90 cheaper. So we are mailing it there. The tech pointed out that the good cases that preserve phones are available only for high end phones (and are well worth it: I have one on my work phone). This is still cheaper than a refurbished or new old Samsung S8 or Apple 6s.

So the moral of the story is (a) ensure you have a high end phone where you can get cases and such like that protect your phone and (b) there is a service centre in your nation. In New Zealand, that means Apple or Samsung. Other brands — including the brand I have — don’t have the support.

It is getting nasty out there

Your digital life is a product Facebook, Google, and your local and international criminals and intellgence agencies (but I repeat myself) want. Some recent news.

Just over a week ago, the wearables and GPS navigation company Garmin were held to a $10 million ransom, having suffered a crippling ransomware attack after a hacker gang infiltrated its internal network and encrypted the company’s servers.

The breach caused a five-day blackout for the company, affecting its call centers, its Taiwanese production line, Garmin Connect, flyGarmin, and Strava. After what can only be called a two week period in hell, Garmin is officially back up and running after apparently receiving a custom decryption key – but at what cost?

The trouble is that the EU regulators don’t trust the US systems, particularly privacy shield. There is a balance between the “five eyes” signal intelligence need to surveil domestic and foreign terrorists (noting that the “foreign” includes citizens of the four other five eye countries, and that my country, NZ, is not that trusted in that group). But the pile on continuing: Telegram (which I do use) is suing Apple in the EU, and the official infrastructures for both places don’t talk to each other.

The collapse of Privacy Shield only proves that the US is not a safe haven for data. Once your private information leaves the EU, it becomes vulnerable and open to surveillance. This will cause a headache for international companies such as Zoom or Google as they’ll have to implement new privacy policies.

While businesses can still operate and transfer data under Standard Contractual Clauses, this comes with its own costs. Companies will have to sign thousands of new agreements aimed at protecting data leaving the EU in compliance with GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) requirements.

However, not everyone trusts Standard Contractual Clauses. Rumors say they might be suspended, creating disruptions in data transfer between the two continents.

While the EU might come up with a new agreement, it may be hard to negotiate if the US remains unwilling to change its national security and privacy policies. EU citizens are left with many questions unanswered: how secure is their data, who can access it, and how can they protect their fundamental rights from constant encroachment?

The question is how do we deal with all this. Ideally, we would be able to use PGP/GnuPGP and blockchain to certify things and just move on. Most open source products do, and there are good secure email accounts that do this. I **DO** have and pay for a proton mail address which I use for personal and private correspondence.

But… We live in a real world. Both by employers use Office 365 — which is a very smooth and use friendly product, but it is based on systems the EU does not trust. Google sells my data for profit, but I use google photos, google drive, and am cooperating on projects that use Google docs. Like Microsoft, it is a parasite that has wormed its way into my life.

Nothing is perfect, Keeping out of the twitter sphere and Facebook/Instagram/Linkedin is difficult enough.

More next week.