Happy SysAdmin Day

System Administrators everywhere, rejoice! It's the last Friday in July once again, and that means it's SysAdmin Day - have an extra donut and another Mountain Dew, as we bow to your expertise and remarkable use of profanity.
Friday, July 31, 2015, is the 16th annual System Administrator Appreciation Day. On this special international day, give your System Administrator something that shows that you truly appreciate their hard work and dedication. (All day Friday, 24 hours, your own local time-zone).
Let’s face it, System Administrators get no respect 364 days a year. This is the day that all fellow System Administrators across the globe, will be showered with expensive sports cars and large piles of cash in appreciation of their diligent work. But seriously, we are asking for a nice token gift and some public acknowledgement. It’s the least you could do.



iFixit, Putting The Green In Geeky

In the old days, a geek could probably be referred to as a tinkerer - I remember my own Grandpa back in Scotland, spending hours in his garden shed futzing around with broken stuff. He even built a (working) electric lawnmower out of an old electric motor and some baby carriage wheels he pulled from the scrap. Pretty geeky by the standards of the day.

Tinkering - or more specifically fixing broken gadgets - can be quite green too, particularly as many electronic items seem to be designed to NOT be easily fixable. Enter iFixit, a haven for those who have the itch to fix their own stuff, rather than consign them to the scrap pile. 
Finding parts to fix broken Kindles, GoPros, and Nexus devices can be practically impossible, but now that iFixit and ERI are teaming up, consumers will have a way to keep more of their busted gizmos alive, instead of tossing them in the wood chipper.

iFixit announced its partnership with ERI today, promising to offer consumers rigorously tested replacement parts sourced from ERI that are backed by a lifetime warranty. By teaming up with ERI, iFixit can now harvest repair parts straight from the company’s 8 recycling facilities in the U.S. that process over 250 million pounds of electronic waste every year



Ubuntu Smartphone - What And Why?

Ubuntu -  or more specifically, the Canonical folks that brought us the Ubuntu Linux OS - also has a smartphone operating system, and a smartphone to go with it. Although it currently has very small exposure, they are positioning this as an alternative to Android and Apple/iOS devices.

Apparently in use it actually comes across as an interesting approach, and is a legitimate attempt at a cross platform OS. It seems to generally work well, but performance and battery life on the currently offered hardware is reported as a bit lacking.


My Laptop Can Sleep At Last

I have a 3 year-old Samsung laptop with an AMD chipset, and I have never been able to get it to "sleep" properly under any Linux distro I have tried - and I have tried quite a few over the years. It would go to sleep, but it would not wake up; I would need to do a hard reset to get it working again. 

It was a minor annoyance, and I never really figured out the cause. My laptop would sleep with Windows, and other laptops sleep fine under Linux, but not mine. I just got into the habit of powering down when I was done for the moment, and I as I had since upgraded to as SSD drive, boot time was about 10 seconds so no big deal.

About a month ago, I closed my laptop without thinking and when I opened it up again and pushed the power woke up, I logged on and away I went. It has done so without any drama since. I have been using Elementary OS for a while (very pleasant to use, by the way), but it had originally exhibited the "no sleep" behavior too. I can only assume a kernel update or something quietly took care of the issue.

Everything comes to those who wait, I guess...

Georgia's Copyrighted Laws

Georgia - the US State, not the small eastern European country - is suing a website owner for publishing the state's own laws online. One would assume that laws would be deemed to be public knowledge, and that the State of Georgia might have better things to do with it's time, but no.
According to the lawsuit [PDF] filed this week, Carl Malamud has "engaged in an 18 year long crusade to control the accessibility of U.S. government documents by becoming the United States’ Public Printer."
Although an alternative reading could be that he was simply publishing public laws on the internet.
At the center of the issue is not Georgia's basic legal code – that is made readily available online and off – but the annotated version of it. That annotated version is frequently used by the courts to make decisions of law, and as such Malamud decided it should also be made easily accessible online.


Data Security: Instead Of Prevention, We Get Detection

Security detection is like the old saw about bolting the barn door after the horse is fled. "Oops, there goes old Nellie, let's lock up the barn!". Should it not be "Hey, Nellie will find a way out if we don't lock up that door, y'know!". That would be prevention, rather than detection.

It turns out that in a lot of malware attacks, the malware is specific to the attack and as such is much harder to detect in any given case.
Enterprises spend a mind-boggling $76 billion each year to “protect” themselves from cyber-attacks, but the bad guys keep winning because most protection solutions are based on detection instead of prevention. The 2015 Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report highlighted over 2,100 breaches and the FBI claims that every major U.S. company has been compromised by the Chinese – whether they realized it or not.



Hackable Vehicle Computer Systems - Nightmare On Wheels *updated*

If you stop and think, a modern car is a big, heavy, fast-moving computer. Computer systems, if you recall, can be hacked  - and are, with alarming regularity. Guess what - so can cars, and it apparently can be done so remotely. Let that sink in for a moment, then read this Wired article.
Uconnect, an Internet-connected computer feature in hundreds of thousands of Fiat Chrysler cars, SUVs, and trucks, controls the vehicle’s entertainment and navigation, enables phone calls, and even offers a Wi-Fi hot spot. And thanks to one vulnerable element, which [Charlie] Miller and [Chris] Valasek won’t identify until their Black Hat talk, Uconnect’s cellular connection also lets anyone who knows the car’s IP address gain access from anywhere in the country. “From an attacker’s perspective, it’s a super nice vulnerability,” Miller says.
** Update - Chrysler Fiat is issuing a substantial recall to address this **



Karma Is A Bitch, In The Form Of Ashley Madison

Imagine you were thinking of cheating on your spouse, and decided that using the Ashley Madison website ("Life is short. Have an affair") was a good way to help with that goal. Imagine then that the site was hacked, and your dirty little secret was about to be spilled to the public. Imagine no more, as that has happened. Sweaty palms and dry mouths all around, I should think.
(Reuters) – Hackers claim to have personal details of more than 37 million cheating spouses on dating website Ashley Madison and have threatened to release nude photos and sexual fantasies of the site’s clients unless it is shut down, blog KrebsOnSecurity reported.


Electric Cars vs Gasoline Cars; A New Report

How good are electric vehicles for the environment, as far as actually reducing pollution? It's a difficult thing to calculate, but a new report indicates that within cities it can certainly be beneficial. Outside of cities, its less clear, and the whole thing depends largely on the way that electricity is generated (well, duh). Plenty of data for both sides of the argument to chew on.

One thing that keeps coming to my mind is the process of manufacturing and transporting the many batteries used in these vehicles; from what I understand, it can be a pretty "dirty" process - maybe that can be an area to look at in the future.
The analysis uses some quite complicated formulae to calculate the damages that result from emissions per mile from 11 different battery EVs on sale in 2014, compared to the closest internal combustion engine-powered equivalent, independent of price.


A Possible Ad-Free Hulu Service In The Works

Hulu is an online TV streaming service, and was one of the early entries into that market. For a monthly subscription fee of less than ten dollars, you can view a variety of programming - but there are also advertisements as part of the Hulu experience. The company is looking into an option where subscribers pay more, but with no ads.
But according to the Wall Street Journal, Hulu may have come up with a solution to this aspect of its design. Executives at the streaming service are contemplating an ad-free alternative to its current $7.99 per month subscription fee. A subscription to “NOAH” – “No Ads Hulu” – would cost somewhere between an additional $12 to $14 per month for users, and it could be made available on the market as soon as Fall 2015.
Choice is good.




Hodor In Da House!

Actor Kirstian Nairn plays the faithful Hodor in HBO's "Game of Thrones" adaptation of the George R. R. Martin series of novels "A Song Of Ice And Fire". Hodor is a simple fellow, and can only repeat his own name as a form of expression.

Nairn is more outgoing and is now doing the DJ thing in a more public setting - something he has been enjoying quietly up till now.
Apparently Nairn has been a musician and DJ for 20 years, according to Wired, and he's just released his own original debut tracks.


Firefox Finally Flunks Flash

Mozilla is disabling Adobe Flash Player by default in the Firefox browser until Adobe can get their sh*t together.
"All versions of Adobe's Flash Player plugin are currently deactivated by default, until Adobe releases an updated version to address known critical security issues," Mozilla states in a support note.
So there!



Batman vs Superman First Full Trailer

While I really enjoyed the 2013 movie Man Of Steel, I was troubled by the way it seemed to rather blithely gloss over the carnage and death wrought upon the city of Metropolis and it's denizens. While few actual deaths were shown, it was obvious that a great many people must have suffered during the titanic struggle between Superman and General Zod and his followers.

Cue the new Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer, revealed at Comic-Con; it shows an anguished Bruce Wayne witnessing some of the destruction of that battle first hand, with at least one of his office buildings being destroyed and some workers killed as a result. 

Click to enlarge


All Your Backdoors Are Belong To Us

FBI Director Jim Comey would like technology companies to just get with the program and provide backdoors so they can access information as needed, please and thank you.

+1 for hubris, then.
(Comey admitted Tuesday he has no specific data to back up his claim that encryption has prevented the FBI from solving crimes.)
That admission should end the discussion right then and there.
Notably, just one day before Comey’s testimony, an all-star group of leading technical experts released a paper running through, in specific detail, the myriad of problems mandated backdoors in encryption would cause for the public. The paper posed dozens of technical questions about how such backdoors would work in practice, which the FBI has so far not even attempted to answer. The scale of the questions – and the fact that many of them will never have clear answers – shows just how ill-thought out the FBI’s idea really is.


Juicy Flash Bug Brought To Light After Hack Attack

Wow, it's getting hard to keep up with Adobe Flash bug/patch cycles. Now we find that the "Hacking Team" security group - who were recently hacked themselves - had knowledge of a new Flash bug and had not yet clued in Adobe. Consequently, there are already several exploit kits available to take advantage of it. Adobe has since scrambled to release a patch.
Adobe acknowledged the bug could "cause a crash and potentially allow an attacker to take control of the affected system".
It said the flaw affected Flash and earlier versions for Windows, Macintosh and Linux.
The company released an update to Flash on Wednesday and said it recommended people install it "within 72 hours".

Tulips And Tech Startups

The Netherlands (which I always knew as Holland when I lived in the UK) is a small European country of 17 million squished in between Belgium, Germany and the North Sea. It's the one with all the tulip fields and windmills. It is also one of the liveliest tech startup locations in that part of the world, just behind the cities of London, UK and Berlin, Germany.
The early strengths of the Netherlands’ budding startup scene — software, space, smart energy, financial tech, digital health, sharing technology and 3D printing, among others — coincide with the overall direction of global innovation. And the Dutch prowess for high-tech hardware, in particular, has drawn investment interest not just from the United States and Europe, but also from China.

Netflix and Uber both recently decided to establish their European headquarters in Amsterdam. And given the Netherlands’ favorable tax code, strong international travel infrastructure, and newly released startup visa, you can expect other global brands to follow suit.


Converting Old SVCD / VCD Disks To Video Files

The VCD and SVCD format for video disks was popular back in the day; it essentially let you create a video disk on a CD disk (not DVD) and play it back (usually) in a regular DVD player. Embracing what I thought was a pretty spiffy technology, I converted several videos from VHS tape into playable disks - this was before I had a DVD burner in my PC.

I dragged some of these VCD disks out with a view to converting them to video files that I could upload to my cloud account, as they contained some pretty special scenes of our kids when they were little. We don't have a DVD player connected to our TV anymore, so I reasoned just converting each VCD to a single video file made sense.

Social Media Day - Who Knew? Not Me

Again, I am starting to worry about my geek cred. Apparently Social Media Day is a thing, at least according to Mashable (who also instigated it several years ago). I had no knowledge of that until just now. Every June 30th the world (or at least "thousands of people" according to the Mashable article), being on social media.

While I am indeed on Twitter , Facebook, Rebelmouse etc, I had no idea I was being encouraged to celebrate the fact on a specific day. 

Poor old geek.


Lockheed F-35: To Expensive To Fail, But...

I came across a rather depressing article outlining how the Lockheed F-35, the hideously expensive next generation strike fighter for the US Airforce was rather soundly schooled in a mock air battle with a decades old F-16. 

F-35 critics must be rubbing their hands gleefully, as the (presumably accurate) article goes on to describe the cutting edge aircraft's failings in several key areas. It's glum stuff, with lashings of money being thrown at a project which so far is delivering very, very little for the resources being poured into it.

Sometimes - probably more often than not - US Weapon technology is outstanding at what it does, and one hopes something can be salvaged from this budding train wreck, as the military brass feels they have come too far to walk away at this point.

I am generally not of the guns-vs-butter mindset, but this has all the early signs of a huge pig in a poke.

Prime Minister David Cameron, 1984 Edition

British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to climb onto the slippery slope of banning strong encryption. Citing the challenge of intercepting and thwarting terrorist activities, he maintains that the British authorities don't want to look through everyone's email and invade their privacy. 

Of course, that is almost certainly exactly what will eventually happen. Politicians love power almost as much as money, and knowledge is power. To me at least, it's not too much of a leap to foresee a time when "wrong thinking" a'la George Orwell will be sought out and punished.
Cameron confirmed that the government plans to bring forward its draft investigatory powers bill in the autumn.
The resurrected bill, known previously as the 'snoopers' charter' is facing growing opposition outside parliament.

The threat of new powers to block private online messaging services has already led to some online companies threatening to leave the UK.