January 19, 2006

Google Search Records Targeted By Bush Administration

Posted in In the News at 10:54 am by jyesis

MercuryNews reports that the Bush administration is trying to force Google to relinquish access to search records nominally to protect children from pornography. While innocuous on the surface, this raises some troubling issues. If investigators need “to develop a factual record of how often Web users encounter online porn and how Web searches turn up material they say is ‘harmful to minors’ ,” then why don’t they perform their own searches and examine the results for such material? Knowing the current administration’s obsession with terrorism, I would not be at all surprised if the administration were to “accidentally” find information in these records that would indicate “suspect” terrorist “connections” which could be used to further chip away at the rights of Americans. We all know how reliable the “suspected connections with terrorists” definition is. USAToday reported that a four year old toddler was on the watch list because his name, “Edward Allen” is shared with another “suspect” person. If the list of “suspect connections” is so prone to error, why should we trust the administration to target “bad guys” indicated by a new information source with any more reliability? Don’t get me wrong, terrorists are scary. But we cannot let fear dictate our lives.

As Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Americans are in danger of relinquishing far too many of the values upon which America was founded in order to achieve the illusion of a “secure homeland”. We have seen this administration authorize domestic NSA wiretaps, subpoena library records, “detain” American citizens without due process, and more all in the name of “homeland security” which, to me, is reminiscent of the “for the fatherland” cry of prewar Germany. We must take great care not to let ourselves be blinded by banners, bugles, and slogans in an attempt to “feel safer”. Sure, we might prevent another plane from crashing, but the modus operandi of terrorists is to improvise, to adapt to their situation and find new and unique ways of wreaking havoc. The only way they can do real damage to America as a nation is by influencing our daily lives. No plane crash can do that. The lives of the victims, and their friends and family will be forever changed, but the life of the average American, while frightened and concerned, was not substantially changed by the destructive glide path of any aircraft. It was changed by the policies and regulations of our own government in response to those crashes. We are becoming weaker, not stronger, in our response to these attacks.

At one point in our history, America was seen as a shining example of a nation of “freedom” and “human rights”. Now, we preemptively invade a sovereign nation that posed a “potential” threat, we “disappear” people and export them to be tortured, we restrict the rights of our own citizens, monitor their lives, and question their every association all in the name of “freedom” and to the cry of “homeland security!”. These are not the actions of a “freedom loving American.” What happened to speech free from unwarranted government monitoring, assembly free from suspicion of “links” to a “suspect” organization, prohibition of “unreasonable” federal searches, safeguards such as due process, and all the other rights enshrined in our constitution? Why are we spreading “freedom and democracy” in other countries, but killing the same here at home? The terrorists have sown fear in the hearts of Americans. We are so terribly afraid, not only of the terrorists, but of our own people. We fear to be associated with the “enemy,” however loosely defined that may be. We fear to stand up and be an example of courage in challenging times, preferring instead to be led like sheep with a duly elected shephard keeping us “safe”. We fear most of all, to live without fear. It is expected that we be afraid. That we hunt down the “enemy” even at the cost of a few innocents. After all, the truly “innocent” will be exonerated in time. No, I forgot…..no due process. Good thing little Edward wasn’t “detained”.

Well, I guess we just have to stick our heads in the sand and hope this all blows over. The “War on Terrorism” will end just like the “War on Drugs” did. What? It didn’t? A rhetorical oversight, I’m sure somebody else will fix it. Right? Anybody? Oh, and I still haven’t been told just exactly what defines a terrorist…… But I’m sure we can trust the government to do the right thing…..

January 17, 2006

Linux for All

Posted in Geek Stuff at 6:30 pm by jyesis

Those of you who know me know of my aggressive promotion of the Linux operating system. I’ve been told many times that the “average user” neither needs, nor wants anything other than a Windows system because “windows just works.” Well, this here blog gives me the chance to respond to this.

How many of you have had a virus on your system? How many have seen an otherwise fast system run slower than molasses in January because of spyware and adware? How much time, money, and effort have you spent to prevent these problems from happening? These are the questions that prompted my switch to Linux about a year and a half ago. Like many of you, I spent hours every month running updates, scans, defrags, and countless other maintenance chores just to keep my “just working” system functioning. I soon found myself downloading “freeware” like Adaware, and Spybot S&D to keep my system safe. It didn’t take long for me to ask why this free software was able to do what my operating system (which I paid good money for) could not. I mean, I thought this kinda software was unreliable, buggy, and loaded with viruses. What kind of person in their right mind would take the time and effort to produce quality software and then not charge for it?! It didn’t take long to realize that my computer ran smoother and was better protected with this “freeware” than it ever had been with proprietary ($$) software. I started using other freeware programs to make my weekly maintenance chores easier. Free firewalls like Sygate or ZoneAlarm, registry cleaners, faster defrag software and other nifty little gizmos were tested and adopted as I tried to spend less time on “chores” and more time having fun with my PC. One day, while browsing for more freeware utilities, I came upon a forum entry that announced “Linux is ready for the desktop!” Now keep in mind, I’d never heard of this “linux” thing at the time, but it aroused my curiosity.

A quick google search told me that linux was a free operating system. Free? Now wait a sec, I just paid a fortune for XP Pro… either this Linux thing is pretty cheesy or I had been royally taken advantage of. Everybody knows there are only two choices in the computer world – Windows and Macintosh. Both of those choices cost money. A free operating system seemed kinda dodgy to me, but, after my experiences running freeware on Windows, I felt I should take a closer look.

I clicked on a link to something called “gentoo” (funny name, something to do with a cow) and found myself looking at all sorts of high tech gobbledygook. “Ahhh…., I understand now,” I said. “This Linux thing is for programmers!” I almost quit right there, but I was curious why they called Linux “Gentoo”, so I followed another link that taught me the concept of a distribution. There are hundreds of “flavors” of Linux called distributions. www.distrowatch.com is a great site that lists the most popular of these distributions. To make a long story short, I soon found that there were indeed “non-geek” versions of Linux that met my computing needs (internet, word processing, etc). I admit I was still somewhat nervous about “learning” a “new” operating system, but I reasoned that if I spent the same amount of time learning that I currently spent on updates, scans, etc, then I should be proficient with the new system in no time. Guess what? It worked!

Today I run the kubuntu linux distribution and I haven’t spent a dime on software for over a year. I don’t have to pay for Antivirus. I don’t have to scan for spyware. While I have software on my system that protects me (clamAV, snort, guarddog, and tripwire for the curious), every item I’ve installed has been free of charge. I have found Linux to be far more configureable than Windows ever was (and yes I’d “re-skinned” windows back in the day), and the “Linux community” far more helpful than any “tech-support” I’ve ever dealt with. I’m taking my first steps into programming today, thanks to the time I’ve saved, and the lessons I’ve learned thanks to Linux. It’s not for everybody, but if you aren’t afraid of that giant calculator on your desk, then you might enjoy a fresh (and did I mention FREE) alternative to Windows.

On a side note. There are idealistic reasons behind my switch to Linux, Firefox, and other open source software as well. The shuttleworth foundation does a good job of describing this. I’ll go further into this topic later, but I hope this post has been sufficient to whet your curiosity about alternatives to the “standard” that Windows seems to be by default. Linux isn’t perfect, but I find it more efficient to use and less maintenance intensive than Windows. Give it ashot! The Linux community will be happy to help, and what have you got to lose – its FREE!