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Ultra-secure social networking promised by Secure Share

Secure Share is a very interesting project that aims to replace existing social networks with a far, far more secure platform upon which developers can build new distributes apps and services. Think of it a bit like a new version of Bit Torrent with an easy API for sending messages, relationships, streams, and status updates, and a prototype desktop client for bringing these together in a social networking interface.

The Secure Share team seem to be correct in their core beliefs that Federated networking is part of the privacy problem rather than the solution, and that the web browsers are incapable of delivering secure communication. They certainly appear to know what they’re talking about, and the amount of research and planning evident in the many articles on the website is impressive. The project lead, Carlo Von Lynx, has promising talents, with a background in security and scalability (compare this to the team that founded diaspora).

Code already exists, mainly for the back end libraries and daemons. There is a user interface component, but it hasn’t been worked on since April, and it’s intended to be a desktop social network app, which may be impractical for most users as it requires local installation.

All in all the project feels more like a research project than a software project at this stage. Presumably their recent requests for  funding is intended to ease the transition to usable software.

I’m very sceptical about the requirement for Secure Share users to install something on their local machine. In a time when Google is determined to turn all consumer computers into thin clients, and the web browser is becoming “the only app you need”, it seems unlikely that the future social networking app used by “all humanity” will run from a binary downloaded from secureshare.org.

Secure Share developers also don’t seem certain how it would be possible for their users to access their accounts on more than one machine. Being able to login from university, or on a friend’s laptop, seems like a critical requirement however. There’s some vague talk of using Secure Share on smartphones, but if this is to become a reality then surely it should a priority right from the start. Making smartphones a primary target platform seems like a no-brainer now that they outsell traditional personal computers.

It seems to me that Secure Share is a long term project with a lot of intellectual value, but comparatively little practical potential, unless it receives a lot of interest and funding. Diaspora had $200,000, and what they achieved was approximately 5% of what Secure Share have in mind. That said, Carlo is a heck of a lot more capable than the Diaspora developers, and he’s already written a significant chunk of the Secure Share back end. Secure Share is also a second-generation project, building upon successes of the Psyc project, showing that those involved know how to deliver production quality applications.

I have high hopes for Secure Share. If it becomes user-friendly and feature-rich enough, perhaps it could lure developers into taking it to new platforms, and users into jumping ship from Diaspora, and maybe even Facebook. I wish the team the best of luck.


Gtimelog: editing logs

Gtimelog is very simple. It provides no method of editing the log of how your time was spent.

Fortunately the program’s simplicity extends to its system files, which encourage easy manual editing, without the need for a separate interface for doing so. The file format of log files benefits from some explanation however.

In Gtimelog click File -> Edit timelog.txt to view the log for the current day. Each task has only one time associated with it, and that is the time that the task ended. The time that any given task started is taken from the end of the preceeding task.

2012-06-15 09:00: Start
2012-06-15 12:00: Eating mailing list spam
2012-06-15 13:00: **Lunch

In the above timelog.txt, the eating of spam commenced at 09.00, and ended at 12.00.


View web pages on a local web server from a virtual machine on Fedora 17

These instructions will allow you to view web pages that are served by your local web development server from within a virtual machine.

Example scenario: you run a local web server on Fedora for development, and you want to test your local site pages from within another operating system which is running in a virtual machine, e.g. to test compatibility with Internet Explorer 9. The below method saves you from having to upload your development files somewhere remote – you can keep all your development local and also try out your pages on all platforms.

1. Install VirtualBox from https://www.virtualbox.org/. Download the .rpm and install it via GUI or commandline

Note: Using either Virtual Machine Manager, or VirtualBox from the rpmfusion repositories does not work.

2. Install and boot your desired OS in VirtualBox (I’ll assume that this is Windows)

3. Edit and save the hosts file of the guest OS to include entries for each of the local websites that you wish to access from the virtual machine. The site names should be identical to the ones in your Fedora /etc/hosts file:

10.0.2.2 local.mysite example.devsite

Note: on Windows saving the hosts file takes effect immediately. On Windows the file is located at c:windowssystem32driversetchosts

Note: Windows 7 requires an additional step to edit the hosts file

4. Start Apache on your host machine, if it isn’t already running

5. On the virtual machine visit example.devsite in a web browser

UPDATE: If you encounter problems when starting your virtual machine relating to kernel modules, try the following:

yum install gcc kernel-devel kernel-headers kernel-PAE-devel

/etc/init.d/vboxdrv setup


Install GTimeLog time tracker on Fedora GNU/Linux

GTimeLog is a simple and effective time tracking application for GNU/Linux. It is the preferred tool of top FSFE staff. It is not currently available in official Fedora repositories however, so in order to use it you must manually install it using Python. Fortunately this is simple to do. These instructions were originally written for Fedora 16, but should also work on 17.

Download GTimeLog from the official website:

http://pypi.python.org/pypi/gtimelog#downloads

Extract the downloaded file from the command line:

tar -xzf gtimelog-0.7.1.tar.gz

Enter the newly extracted directory from the command line:

cd gtimelog-0.7.1

Install dependencies from the command line:

sudo yum install python2 pygtk2

Install GTimeLog from the command line:

sudo python setup.py install

GTimeLog should now be installed. You can run it by pressing Alt+F2 and typing gtimelog [enter] in Gnome and KDE.

UPDATE

By default GTimeLog is unable to generate reports of weekly and monthly statistics etc. due to a dependency on the command line mail client Mutt. Mutt isn’t for everybody, and most likely it won’t be installed on your system either. To access generated reports in Gedit text editor, edit the GTimeLog config file using nano:

nano ~/.gtimelog/gtimelogrc

and set “mailer” to Gedit:

mailer = gedit %s

Alternatively you can set the mailer to Kmail, if you’re using Kontact or Kmail, and wish to send your reports as emails (don’t forget to change [email address] and [name] to your own values):

mailer = kmail --subject "Weekly report for [name]" --msg %s [recipient email address]

UPDATE 14.03.13

Version 0.8.1 was released last month. You can upgrade by simply following the original installation instructions again with a fresh copy of 0.8.1. Fedora users who recently upgraded to Fedora 18 from an older version will need to perform this update to use GTimeLog again.



Set up a local web development server on Fedora 16 with Apache

The following procedure allows you to run your own webserver on Fedora 16, so that you can develop web scripts and applications and test them locally without an Internet connection. I assume that you’re using Gnome 3. Run the stated commands in a terminal – accessible via alt+F2, enter: gnome-terminal [press enter]

Login as root:

su

Install the Apache webserver:

yum install httpd

Configure Apache to handle requests to your local website:

nano /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf

Navigate to the end of that file using your arrow keys, or the page down button, and add the following text at the bottom. Replace the text in {} with whatever suits your setup

<VirtualHost *:80>
DocumentRoot {PATH TO YOUR WEB FILES (THE SPECIFIED FOLDER MUST EXIST), E.G.: /var/www/mysite}
ServerName {ADDRESS TO ACCESS YOUR WEBSITE IN A BROWSER BY, E.G.: local.mysite}
</VirtualHost>

The actual text that you add might look like this:

<VirtualHost *:80>
DocumentRoot /var/www/mysite
ServerName local.mysite
</VirtualHost>

Save and close the file:

ctrl+x [enter]

y [enter]

Configure your hosts file to route requests for your website to Apache:

nano /etc/hosts

Add to the end of this file the following text:

127.0.0.1   {ADDRESS TO ACCESS YOUR WEBSITE IN A BROWSER BY, E.G.: local.mysite}

The actual text that you add might look like this:

127.0.0.1    local.mysite

Save and close the file:

ctrl+x [enter]

y [enter]

Restart Apache:

service httpd restart

Your website should now be accessible in a website via whatever address you specified above, e.g. local.mysite (note not www.local.mysite).

(Optional) Configure file permissions:

If your website is still not accessible, you may have a file permissions issue. You can temporarily disable selinux to see if that is causing the problem. If that doesn’t help, you can use a permissions debugging tool to find problems with your UNIX file permissions.


Document Freedom Day posters have arrived

Two thousand A2 posters of Stephen Fry advertising Open Standards and Document Freedom Day have arrived!

DFD poster boxes

Posters ready to be sent out

I will send these posters on to people who can use them all over Europe. Only 1.5 weeks remain before the big day – please let me know right away if you can receive some posters! Contact samtuke () fsfe dot org .

Where to put them:

  • In your office or workplace
  • In your school or college
  • In your university campus or halls
  • In your local library
  • In your local community centre
  • Anywhere else that you can think of!
Stephen Fry DFD poster

Where will you put yours?


Install zip module php-zip on Fedora 16

Due to an issue with the packaging of zip functionality within Fedora’s PHP package, the yum package php-zip, which was available for Fedora 15, is not available in Fedora 16. This is actually a “feature”, not a “bug”, but either way, getting zip support in PHP now takes a few extra steps.

1. Install dependencies as root or using sudo:

yum install pcre-devel gcc zlib zlib-devel

2. Install zip module using PECL (PEAR‘s sister):

pecl install zip

3. Edit the main PHP configuration file to register the new module. Add this text:

extension=zip.so;

a few lines before this:

Module Settings

in /etc/php.ini, as root or using sudo, like this:

nano /etc/php.ini

4. Restart your web server as root or using sudo:

service httpd restart

5. Check that support is enabled using phpinfo(). You should have a section on your phpinfo() page that looks like the image below.

Screenshot of zip support shown on phpinfo() page

Zip support confirmed by phpinfo()

That’s it, good luck 🙂


Like candy from a baby: PS Vita takes freedom from new generation

SONY’s new hand-held console is riddled with Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). Both hardware and software are built to control what consumers can do, requiring large and frequent payments to SONY in order to experience the features the PS Vita advertises. As the SONY marketing machine focuses its powers on children and young adults in their homes and schools through the usual multi-million dollar advertising onslaught, I thought I’d highlight the ways in which a new generation of gamers will have their freedoms taken from them. Will PS Vita owners grow up to assume digital media will only ever work on a single device? Will they come to see cross-platform, cross-device compatibility of applications and protocols as a historical ideal?

Some of the restrictions below are well established in SONY products. Disproportionately priced, product-specific removable flash memory with inbuilt DRM has been a company staple for more than a decade. Some of the measures are new however, like the various systems which enforce a strict single user per device policy. This initiative is eerliy familiar to anyone who has read Richard Stallman’s short dystopian story from 1997 ‘The Right to Read‘. Furthermore it is amazing to me that on top of these restrictions, SONY still hasn’t added support for Free formats and standards like OGG and HTML5 video – these are well established within the industry, and free of both copyright and patent concerns for companies like SONY. The combination of willful product restrictions, and the lack of Free and Open elements results in a consumer product that is as anti-consumer as anything SONY has produced.

Anti-freedom components of the SONY PS Vita:

  • New proprietary operating system
  • App store purchases / prices restricted by region via ‘PlayStation®Network’ (PSN) ID
  • Games and media only work with the single PSN ID account with which they were purchased, prohibiting sharing
  • Only one PSN ID per machine, enforcing single user devices
  • App store (‘Playstation store’) purchases only via sony
  • Built in chat systems (text, voice) only compatible with PSN – no communication with non-SONY social networks
  • ‘PS Vita cards’ are proprietary physical form and format (purchased games and movies come on these)
  • ‘PS Vita memory cards’ are proprietary physical form and format (saved games and downloaded apps are stored on these)
  • All existing memory types of memory cards (micro-SD, MMC etc.) are unsupported
  • ‘PS Vita memory cards’ are currently ten times more expensive than Micro-SD
  • Games which support the use of alternative firmware are removed from distribution by SONY
  • Incompatible with iTunes movies and TV shows
  • Incompatible with blu-ray movies
  • Video player only accepts a single patent encumbered video format (MPEG4)
  • Open media Standards are not supported (Ogg, Theora, WebM); no HTML5 video support
  • Advertised backwards compatibility with Playstation games only available via redownload from SONY (versions may be different, old purchases are no longer anonymous)
  • Using an alternative firmware to protect your freedom or privacy would void device warrantee
  • Using an alternative firmware which does not enforce DRM and region-blocking may be illegal
  • Official website uses proprietary Adobe Flash
  • Games more expensive than ever RRP £35 – £45 (consumers pay for all that DRM)

Car: 1, me: 0

So, I got hit by a car on Monday while cycling home.

Sam's face after the crash on Monday

Me at A&E on Monday

It was dark and raining, and I was in the cycle lane about to go straight over a junction when a car turned left into my lane and into me. I went over the handle bars, possibly over the bonnet, and landed on my knee, shortly followed by my face.

Sam after being stitched up in hospital

Me after being stitched up at hospital

I was on the tarmac for about an hour; a small crowd, three teams of medics and a GP helped to check me out, cut off my clothing, and get me onto a stretcher and into hospital. I came out several hours later with nine stitches in two wounds, crutches, bandages, and 0.5 less of a tooth than I went in with.

I’m returning to work gradually and may take longer to reply to emails for a week or so. The whole experience was rather a shock, but things are slowly returning to normal.


Document Freedom Day sprint in Berlin

Last week I travelled from Liverpool to Berlin for three days to step up preparations for Document Freedom Day 2012. I arrived on Tuesday afternoon and went straight to the FSFE offices. Over the next two days I had meetings with other Document Freedom Day organisers, added a new web page, two new features, and fixed several other bugs.

DFD 2012 Team members

DFD 2012 Team members (excluding me!)

Summary of changes made to documentfreedom.org:

  • Added page listing all DFD 2012 partners
  • Added identi.ca feed to contact page
  • Added new print css file meaning website pages, including articles and events lists, can be easily printed
  • Fixed broken news links
  • Added link to city sponsorship page from sponsors page
  • Added new testimonials
  • Numerous other bug comments and closures
Advert for GB on billboard in Berlin

Facing Shonefeld airport is this advert encouraging UK tourism