Privacy is a big topic

Just massive. From retailers selling on your grocery purchasing decisions, your phone reporting your location every few minutes, government and corporations sniffing your personal e-mail and text messages, it’s all whacked. On the surface level, it’s just creepy. At worst it can be used to commit crimes in your name.  I’ve been dabbling with my various ‘devices’ and, while just scratching the surface, have learned a few things which I’ll elaborate on further in days to come:

  • Don’t Put Anything Into Electronic Form you absolutely don’t want somebody else to see. Certainly not on a computer that connects to the internet. There are a whole host of folks, from hackers in dingy basements to corporate and  government departments around the world dedicated to ‘stealing your stuff’. Sounds paranoid but it only takes a glance at those nerdy technology news sites to confirm. I was once told an unprotected computer plugged into a cable modem would be malware infected within a minute. I was told this by the cable company’s own tech support. No, really.
  • Given The Choice, Use Open Source Software even if you don’t understand it. Chances are somebody else does and has taken a look ‘under the hood’ and made sure it’s not booby trapped to report your every move. You give up little as modern open source software is often slick and sophisticated. And free. Nothing is guaranteed, but at least it’s scrutable.
  • Have a Glance at “App” Permissions because there are strange things afoot. Many ask for access that is not needed to function and is present solely to gather information about you. There are ways to deny an app access to your personal data. More later on this…
  • Don’t Eat Web Browser Cookies as they, like their real world brethren, are seldom good for you. They can have legitimate functions, but many are there simply to track your movements. Install something like Ghostery to see just how many companies are watching your every move.
  • Turn off location reporting on your device unless you are using it for the GPS function. Some platforms try to fool you into thinking you have turned it off, only to turn it on in the background when you’re not looking. This sucks.
  • Encryption is a huge topic itself. Think of it as the envelope on your electronic letter. From what I can tell, anything in a commercial package is presently suspect. People (sometimes are forced to) put in back-doors to allow access on demand. Some agencies, often known only by acronyms, feel the need to read everything you write. They may break laws and lie to the public, courts and government in order to do so. They too, are the suck.
  • Know Your Privacy Rights even if you don’t intend to flex them. Hereabouts there are resources like PIPA and the Privacy Commissioner. Consider not giving out more than you’re legally obligated to do. Which you may find to be very little in many cases. Where I live, it isn’t legal to discriminate against somebody because they are enforcing said rights.  A local vet office got very flustered when I refused to enter in all my personal information into their database while purchasing pet food. To the point they once attempted to refuse me service. It did not end well. To them, I am now and will always be “Bob Robertson”. And they now have a written privacy policy available on demand.
  • People Can Still Dig Through Your Garbage and may do so in order to steal your identity. They may even call, posed as a service, and request your passwords or other data. Shred sensitive documents (our cats love the shredder, it’s a thrilling Saturday night for the entire family). Offer to call back anybody that contacts you requesting personal information. If it’s a sensitive matter, ping the company at their main number first to validate the contact.
  • Remembering Complex Passwords Hurts My Brain, but there are other ways to go about keeping your virtual locks fresh. Sure, a constantly rotated bazillion digit unique upper/lower/numeric/symbol/non-dictionary password for each account may be ideal, but some modern research suggests long strings of ‘random’ words can be too. Stick in a couple of ‘lett3rs as num3ers’ gags and a caPitaL or two while you’re at it. Just not ‘TheRainInSpainFallsMainly” or something else ridiculously common (pausing here for an Audrey Hepburn moment…  …aaand done). There are also “password managers” out there that encrypt all your passwords under one other ‘master’ pass phrase. Kind of a ‘AllY0ur3ggsIn0neBasket’ approach. I am old and confused enough now that I’m looking at this technology in order survive a slow but certain decent into dementia, whilst enabling access to the barnyard and pet videos I love so dearly.
  • Tinfoil Hats Can Be Comfortable and with some effort in securing your electronic world, cruising the morass of modern communications should be more relaxing. After all,  you’ll have done all you can to protect yourself from various digital rashes.

Action Pants

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Click image to play.

That’s right. To test the new laptop, I strung together some clips and added a soundtrack by The Shamblers.

Action Pants Rough (The Shamblers) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Python and laptops

lenovo-thinkpad-twist-press2_1020_verge_super_wideFunny how ones views change over time. Once I liked having a big-ass desktop replacement, in order to do previs work on set (and play an hour or two of Eve Online). Then it became more about portability than power, a 8 inch ultra-light to do web page updates from SIGGRAPH. Now it is all about code. So, typing.

What a selection to choose from! Despite this, there was not one perfect match for my wants. Keyboard, it became all about finding the perfect one. Most did not have the tactile response. Most did not have full sized shift keys. Some had problems with linux installations (boo!). Windows 8 was kinda dumb without a touchscreen. Touchscreens are kinda dumb unless on a tablet or convertible

Something had to give. Could I live without discreet graphics in order to get a decent keyboard? Did I have a choice? Not really. Not and compromise elsewhere on my wishlist. Enter the Lenovo Thinkpad Twist (review on Notebookcheck).

The trackpad is crap. Battery life middling and the unit is overall a bit on the fugly side. The hard drive it came with was slow and quickly replaced with a fast SSD which transformed performance. But it has the best keyboard I laid my fingers on in weeks of testing lightweight laptops. By far. Some Haswell-based unit will come out next week that trumps it, but I think I will be happy for a couple of years.


Particle Fun

Particle sillyness…


They’re at it again. This time Scarlet’s making it sound serious!


Just as I was (thinking about) getting serious about learning Houdini, the company that makes it started a contest. A “Cookoff” where you could produce up to 30 seconds of animation on a food related theme.  Here’s when I ended up:

Am I happy with the result? No. I spent far too much time getting over Houdini’s learning curve, tracking down technical issues and render glitches (some of which are still in there). Almost all artistic concerns went out the window with the effort it took to just finish what’s there.

Next time should be easier, now that I’m over the initial curve. And I have to say it was a good crash course on the overall application. But ouch!

A shout out to Sam (IHoudini) Hancock, P. Quint, CMIVFX, Digital Tutors, P. Bomar, Paul Debevec and the Houdini online community for sharing their brains with me.  Seeing as how I learned most of this from them, in a way, this is mostly theirs. Not that they’d, umm, want it or anything :-)


The Bikes

In response to a couple of queries; I have two Moto Guzzi’s. A 2009 Stelvio and a 1975 850-T:

A 2009 Moto Guzzi Stelvio traveling Vancouver Island

Moto Guzzi 850-T, after my first ride.


Road Trip

Took a couple of days and travelled to the top of Vancouver Island from Vancouver. A nice ride to Port Hardy. Here is a video of the road from Port Alice to the highway. Rain and some slippery leaves made for a sedate ride….


Not the most exciting of days, managed to get Banshee installed and my music library copied to the NAS. I’ll go crazy unless I have a bit of music playing while I work. Banshee is pretty nice, Ladytron is sounding good. Though after a bit of exploration, I’ve decided to move to OGG Vorbis format for my future encoding. MP3 playback isn’t really “free” and seeing as I’m playing in linux-land now, I might as well move to another well supported format (it seems the default for many applications). Quality is supposed to be better as well. We’ll see.

Snagged a copy of an app called Grsync, a graphical front-end to rsync, a (funnily enough), file synchronization application. Easy to use and once I allowed it to run as root, it could backup everything nicely. And quickly, wow.

The bulk of the day was replacing my disc imaging application. dd was proving a bit arcane, partimage doesn’t support the ext4 filesystem, so I created a bootable USB key to launch Clonezilla. Easy to navigate and I simply backed up my entire 120 gig SSD (Windows7/Fedora dual boot) in one go. While Macrium Reflect has been serving me well at home, I might consider moving to Clonezilla wholesale.

Now to pick up the lapdog and go off to a vendor demonstration (Nuke and Mari).


Hooking Up a NAS

So I’ve decided to make a short. A short-short to be precise. Under 30 seconds.

Mainly because it’s all great to be boning up on Linux and Houdini but it doesn’t mean much unless it’s put into action. Here, I intend to “discuss” the experience. May it serve as a warning to future generations.

Yesterday, I realized I needed a portable NAS. Now, I have a couple of Netgear “ReadyNAS” units (and a Drobo, but I’ve been trying to block that purchase out) that are stuffed full. Besides I wanted, keeping with the theme, a linux based box. Building my own out of an old machine was an option but, really, a super low power unit I can keep running 24/7 appealed to me. So I picked up a Synology ds2011j. It’s not the fastest but it reviews well. You can even connect via SSH if you want. And combined with a couple of 2TB drives, it’s got enough space for what I plan. Well under $400.00 all told. Setting it up was a breeze and I left the box to build it’s raid set overnight.

Today was more of a challenge. After setting up the basics of the unit (through it’s excellent GUI), I did a speed test using CIFS. OK, good enough anyway. But then I thought I should probably try it with NFS, just to see. Well, not so simple. First of all it’s not nicely auto-discovered as with the first method. No, you need to create a mount string and either enter it into a shell or run it at startup. Not a big deal, that’s what the internet is for. But I was still stumped after a time. Turns out the unit will not allow the connection by hostname, but only by IP address. Once that was out of the way I could finish benchmarking. CIFS ran about 30 MB/s in either direction. NFS, about 25 MB/s write, but 85 MB/s read. Much better.

Of couse the big downer is that Microsoft, from what I can tell, has seen fit to leave out NFS drivers from their Windows 7 64 Pro OS. No big deal at work, but at home I have my CG apps on such a box. I wonder whether there is a way around this without coughing up for Windows “Ultimate” (which apparently includes the driver). Some research for the weekend.

And so I don’t forget:

mount -t nfs /media/Projects
Bash Shell Command to Find or Get IP address
NFS Client Configuration
Optimizing NFS Performance

Static IP’s here I come!