ER

The next four years

Dear Reader,

Today, the unthinkable is happening. A shmock becomes US president. I cannot express my feelings. Luckily, someone brighter than me can.

Following please find an excellent essay by Jonathan Kirshner, found at LA Review of Books (quote):

America, America

“Appalled by the state of affairs, realizing the greatness and the nearness of the danger . . . and thinking, as men are apt to think in great crises, that when all had been done they still have something left to do, and when all had been said they have not said enough, again called on the captains one by one . . . he reminded them of their country, the freest of the free, and of the unfettered discretion allowed to all in it to live as they pleased.” [Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, 7.69.2]

Everything ends. I know some of you have reservations about America – a Republic founded on the bloodstained hands of ethnic cleansing and the monstrous crime of slavery (the enduring legacies of which it has not yet escaped); invariably imperfect, occasionally murderous, often disappointing – but I’ve always been quite fond of it, despite the fact that I have spent most of my life in pitched opposition to its leadership. Ours was an audacious experiment in self-government forged by an extraordinary (if flawed, as we all are) cohort of founding fathers – an attempt to build a land of unprecedented freedom and opportunity which, especially in its best moments proved much better than anything else going. And even though the arc of history does not bend in any particular direction – it wobbles rather indifferently to the dignity of mankind – measured by the scores of years, until very recently, at any given moment America was better at that time than it had been 20 years previously.

To mourn for America is not my style. In fact, I have rarely mustered much enthusiasm even for my own team. Johnson (before my time), I could never forgive; Carter was not the kind of guy who inspired; Clinton, who I voted for over and over again, always struck me as a shallow opportunist – a view his undignified post-Presidency has only reinforced. And those were the wins. Then consider Nixon, a paranoid schemer whose self-appointed enemies were my heroes; Reagan had more substance than his detractors like to think, but he played the race card, and his policies were not my policies. As for Bush the younger – he quite irritated me. At least Nixon and Reagan were self-made, whereas “W,” an undistinguished fellow, emerged from the halls of privilege.

The point is, what we have here is quite a different thing. This is not about partisanship – I have lost more than my share of elections. And if a conservative Republican like John Kasich, or, help us all, Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, had won the Presidency, I would have been terribly disappointed. My side would have lost, my policies would have been abandoned. But such things happen in the normal course of events. Nor is this about politics more generally, which on a good day is an exercise in imperfection and compromise. Truman and Eisenhower each presided over shameful acts, more than once. It’s hard to be a saint in the city.

No, this is about our very capacity for self-governance, which is a fundamentally different beast, and no small thing. Perhaps you are inclined to tell yourself stories about Trump’s huge loss in the popular vote, how but for a few thousand ballots here or there and the quirks of the Electoral College, he would not be President. But you’d be wrong. Even if he lost, that he could get so close exposed the ruin of our political parish. From day one of the election campaign – that Mussolini on-an-escalator gesticulating incoherently about Mexican rapists – Trump ought to have been booed off the stage 20 times over. The list of should-have-been disqualifying moments is too long and too familiar to rehearse, but some of the highest crimes still linger: mocking heroes, banning Muslims, gleefully consorting with white-supremacists and anti-Semites (you name them, he retweeted them), more generally parading dangerous ignorance (about things like nuclear weapons) as if it was a virtue, showering praise on murderous authoritarian enemies of America, and conducting his affairs more broadly as if he was an incurious, spoiled game-show host surrounded by sycophants – this is the man that has been chosen by the people to lead us.

One of the most alarming aspects of the rise of Trump is (or should have been) his embrace of the Orwellian lie. This also cannot be normalized with a comforting “all politicians lie.” Of course they do. Lying is not telling the truth, or shaping a version of events with the intent to deceive. These things happen. Jimmy Carter promised he would “never lie to us.” Great. Nixon told so many lies it’s amazing he could keep track of them. But we are not talking about garden variety lying here – we are talking about the totalitarian lie: lies told, repeatedly, loudly and insistently, in direct confrontation with the indisputable truth. Lies purposefully designed to undermine the very capacity to make truth claims. Orwell was right to warn of this. But here we are.

Having spent three-quarters of a century fretting about enemies abroad, we have never fully processed a lesson of history: that great civilizations almost invariably collapse from within. We are Athens, we are Rome – we are, more than anything, Paris in the 1930s, another society divided against itself, living in what one historian described as “the age of unreason.” France then boasted the mightiest army on the continent, but the country was so hollowed out it simply collapsed when placed under stress, leading to defeat, occupation, humiliation. “Better Hitler than Blum,” many on the French right muttered, faced with the prospect of a Jewish Prime Minister – is “better Putin than Hillary” the 21st century equivalent?

We will now find out. The social experiment on which we are embarking is a treacherous one, from which it will not prove easy to recover. Trump promises a revolution – empty rhetoric of course – the promise actually on offer is what inter-war French reactionaries also dreamt of, a restoration of the 19th century order, when the mighty industrial trusts raped the poor and raped the land, and kept workers in line by convincing them that dirty foreigners (then Irish, Italians, and hordes from East Asia) were stealing their jobs – and when that wasn’t enough, the iron fist of strike-breaking, storm-trooping law-and-order would do. Still, even the rhetorical invocation of “revolution” is yet another in an overflowing field of red flags about the danger to our democracy. Americans can have a soft spot for “revolution,” since our war of independence from the British Empire was so nifty. But most revolutions are not. They are usually overtaken by their most extreme elements, spiral beyond the control of the principled, and lead to the collapse of social order and gratuitous and senseless bloodletting. “Reckless audacity came to be understood as the courage of a loyal supporter; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice,” Thucydides described, recounting conditions on the eve of the corpse-strewn Corcyraean Revolution. “In this contest the blunter wits were most successful.” Thucydides, in his commentary regarding the deterioration (and ultimate collapse) of Athenian democracy, hits too close to home: “Men now did just what they pleased, coolly venturing on what they had formerly done only in a corner” – this, more than anything, seems like the hallmark of the emerging Trump regime, replete with norm-trampling transgressions. We are in the hands of an ignorant, amoral, petulant authoritarian who has been handed the keys to the most powerful office on the country, and the world.

How did it come to this? To begin with, two things Trump (and many others) have observed are correct. It has indeed been a dispiriting few decades for the middle class and the poor, and especially so for the less-educated working class. By no fault of their own and due to no lack of effort or diligence, globalization, technological change, and automation have tilted the playing field against them. Middle class wages have been long-stagnant at best, opportunities for advancement increasingly slipping out of reach, and the idea that one’s hard-working children will find a better life rings increasingly hollow. Moreover, those who have prospered slip between their satin sheets each night, telling themselves sweet lies that everybody gets what they deserve because the “invisible hand” of market efficiency assures that factors of production are rewarded according to their marginal benefit to society. But how many of them have read The Wealth of Nations, the magisterial treatise where Adam Smith coined that phrase? (It’s more than a thousand pages long – that’s a lot of tweets.) They ought to, because they might learn that a hedge-fund manager who makes a billion dollars a year is not really 10 times more productive or socially beneficial than the less clever duffer who only takes in $100 million annually. Similarly, increased productivity, genius, or scarcity simply cannot account for the extent to which the pay-packets of CEOs have soared, in both an absolute sense and relative to their employees, over the past few decades. Those rewards have more to do with the pathologies of the executive compensation process and the socialized risk and dysfunctional incentive structures found in the financial sector. Adam Smith and the classical economists would have recognized these as “market failures” – a technical term applied for those exceptional circumstances where the magic of the market does not apply. In Wealth of Nations, for example, Smith favored things like public education and called for regulation of the financial sector, which, he thought, if left to its own devices would encourage ruinous speculation. But in today’s America, the glaring market failures that make the rich richer are not much fretted about – better to save such concerns, it seems, for the potential inefficiencies attendant to making the minimum wage a living wage.

Second, not only is contemporary American capitalism indifferent to its injustices, the system is, indeed, rigged. The wealthy have access to power; our representatives are beholden to the special interests they are supposed to protect us from. It is a plain fact that our political system is compromised. Nowhere is this more evident than in the financial sector and its (non-) oversight, a bipartisan catastrophe two decades in the making, when Bill Clinton’s New Democrats joined the Republican Party in their full-on embrace of Wall Street. Revolving door, crony-capitalism, fox guarding the henhouse – these old tropes, all accurate, fail to capture the full extent of the intimate ideological and financial enmeshment of the Wall Street-Washington axis. Friend-of-finance Phil Gramm, Senator from Texas, spent years shepherding conflict-of-interest riddled legislation from his perch as Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee before flying off to join banking giant UBS. Alan Greenspan spent his entire career in the company of bankers, and, when dispensing his public obligations as the nation’s chief financial regulator, could not possibly have been finance’s more faithful servant. But it was not just our Republican friends who fed lustily at this trough. Larry Summers (he who saved derivatives traders from oversight and regulation) subsequently raked in millions a year as compensation for his part time job at a hedge fund, and was paid $135,000 for a speech he delivered to Goldman Sachs (not Hillary money, but still, that must have been a hell of a speech) just a few months before joining the Obama Administration, where he would be an influential voice in decisions about how best to deal with the financial sector. And let’s not forget Robert Rubin, Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, who oversaw the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, something that made it possible for Citibank to become Citigroup – an outfit Rubin joined immediately upon leaving the Clinton Administration. Handed the title “Chairman of the Executive Committee” (a position the responsibilities for which the Wall Street Journal could not quite ascertain), Rubin was paid over $125 million for his efforts – and he must have been worth every penny, or the free market would never have so compensated him. Curiously, he did urge Citi to bet heavily on Collateralized Debt Obligations, a reckless gamble that came within an eyelash of ruining the venerable 200-year-old firm during the financial crisis.

In retrospect it was after the Global Financial Crisis when push came to shove – the straight line from that economic upheaval to this political catastrophe is now plain enough to see. We had no choice but to save the financial system; without the extraordinary measures taken by the Federal Reserve and the Obama Administration things would have been worse – much, much worse. But the irresponsible recklessness of the unregulated financial sector and the government that was derelict in its duty to supervise it led to the financial crisis, and the financial crisis led to the Great Recession, a nasty and stubborn affair that exacerbated the troubling economic trends of the previous few decades. And the bankers went into full “let them eat cake” mode – not just unrepentant, but beyond arrogant, failing to recognize the extent to which as “well-connected insiders” as Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf put it, they are “shielded from loss but impose massive costs on everybody else.”

So yes, the system is rigged (I’m going to credit this idea to Bernie, though), and President Hillary Clinton would not have changed that. It did not seem to even register with either Clinton that former and aspiring public servants ought to conduct themselves with a modicum of propriety. But however reprehensible (and I was not a fan), compared to Trump’s conflicts of interest (about which, invoking the King’s prerogative, he has refused to provide the relevant information), Clinton’s labile ethical standards are like texting at the dinner table – outrageous and to be condemned – but not the end of the world. There is a swamp out there, but it is madness at best to think that Trump might drain it. More likely, soon enough there will be a giant TRUMP sign affixed to the entrance of the place.

Bitterness about the status quo, then, and demands for change, are thus more than understandable. But in the words of Garrison Keillor, “Resentment is no excuse for bald-faced stupidity.” And the argument that many were voting for “change for change’s sake” is, in a word, idiotic. It is also disingenuous in whole cloth. Voting for Louis Farrakhan for President would also have represented a radical break with the past. If the goal is to bring about radical change, regardless of nominal policy content, the sort of knock-the-table-over housecleaning that only an outsider can deliver, well then Farrakhan is your man (and as plausible, and as qualified). But how many Trump supporters would have pulled the lever for Farrakhan? Right. So spare me the “any change is better than this” nonsense. There are very few instances where the Dylan doctrine does not apply (“think you’ve lost it all/there’s always more to lose”). Times may be tough, but the contemporary United States does not come close to being an exception to that rule.

Consider what it took in Germany to bring about a Hitler. That country fought – and lost – The Great War (World War I), a conflict that left two million soldiers dead and five million more wounded from a country of 65 million (in the contemporary US that would be the equivalent of about 10 million dead and 25 million wounded). Held under blockade and facing starvation, Germany had little choice but to sign the vengeful peace treaty imposed upon it, one that left the country demilitarized, dismembered, stripped of assets and forced to pay reparations. Amid the ruins of millions of disabled veterans and countless orphans and widows (and women who would never marry given the decimation of a generation of men), in the early 20s Germany’s fragile social structure was further disordered by high inflation which devolved into hyperinflation (prices rose hourly, and the currency presses were so busy trying to keep up eventually they only printed the notes on one side) that wiped out savings, impoverished workers, and abetted the rise of shadowy, once disreputable opportunistic operators. Then came the Great Depression, which saw unemployment, already high, soar to 25% in 1932. That’s what it took to bring a Hitler to power. After two decades of world war, total ruin, national humiliation and widespread misery, the Nazi party was able to claim 33% of the vote in 1932, running on its promises to ferret out and crush enemies within and restore German greatness. As a nation we’ve never faced a test of our national character as daunting as that, but we have faced plenty worse than what we’ve got today, and until now had never thrown in our lot with the first demagogue that came along.

There is more going on here than resentment about tough economic times – especially because Trump’s economic policies, to the extent that they are comprehensible, are almost certain to leave the working class even worse off. It took more than the long-term secular stagnation of median household income in a prosperous and secure nation to bring us to the age of Trump. It is simply not possible to shy away from the ugly fact that racism was an essential ingredient to his election. Not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist, but pretty much every racist did, and that mattered. Moreover, things are not that simple. Trump’s unmediated racism warmed the hearts of once-shadowy white supremacists (one pines for the days when politicians felt the need to couch such appeals in coded language), but many people who would self-righteously disavow the David Dukes of the world nevertheless felt, and articulated, what can only be described as “white resentment” – and this emotion informed their votes. Scratch at the arguments of a Trump voter, and too often you’ll find white resentment close to the surface. This is disheartening, of course, but it also raises questions about the future of the Grand Old Party. The ability of Trump, against every expectation, to cruise to the Republican nomination, suggested that the party’s traditional coalition: social conservatives, foreign policy hawks, and tax averse, welfare-state-opposing well-off individuals and business interests, is no longer viable. What then? Something has to hold the party together. Will the Republicans become a nativist, white-nationalist party, similar to those miscreants we see on the rise in Europe? Throw in some tax cuts and conservative appointments, and that coalition could hold – and rule. Now that Trump – George Wallace with less charm and experience – ran, and won, on a campaign imbued with naked racism, it would be naive to think that Republican politicians would not reach for any effective lever that might keep them in power.

The rise of an Angry White Party would be more than disturbing, of course, but it is way too easy to shout racism and call it a day. Racism is nothing new in America, and decade-by-decade we have made real progress (which may have precipitated the current backlash). And it’s not like the Presidency was there for the taking by any white nationalist who wandered by – indeed, most have been soundly rejected. Trump is different. He is a featherweight, famous for his fame. He is Zsa Zsa Gabor, he is Khloe Kardashian.

That Trump was ever even taken seriously as a candidate for President of the United States (he was understandably viewed as a carnival freak-show by his adversaries and the media, each of whom hoped to fleece the suckers that gathered while the circus was in town – this too abetted his improbable rise), suggests that we have exposed the limits of our ability to competently govern ourselves.

Have we really gotten that much stupider? Probably not. More likely, as with the economic changes wrought by globalization and automation, we are more or less the same, but the playing field has changed, empowering some actors at the expense of others. Or put another way: no internet, no Trump. Just as some people are much better at playing basketball than baseball, the nature of media environment primordially shapes the way in which information is disseminated, processed, and understood. As a technical economic issue, the collapse in the price of entry (manifested most dramatically in the staggering rise of social media) has undermined the practice of reasoned discourse. A now-quaint allegory for the pathologies of the internet culture can be seen in the emergence of cable television, as falling costs of production and a multiplicity of viewing options led to smaller audiences and an even more intense fight for ratings shares, an environment which encouraged attention-getting outrageousness. The internet is exponentially more pernicious: entry is free, accountability is absent, and – here we are more stupid – the ability of people to distinguish between fact and fiction has virtually vanished. We are living in a post-fact, post-rationalist, post-deliberative society, in which people believe what they want to believe, as if they were selecting items from different columns of a take-out menu. This is an environment that plays to the strengths of a media-savvy celebrity demagogue, who, even when not purposefully trafficking in Orwellian lies, has shown an utter disregard for the known truth regarding events large and small, from claims of witnessing non-existent crowds of Muslims cheering the collapse of the twin towers to planting golf-course plaques commemorating imaginary civil war battlefields.

There is no happy ending to this story. It is not “just one election.” Yes, in theory, most domestic policy blunders can be reversed at a future date. But best case scenario, brace yourself for a horrifying interregnum. The fantasy that the Republican Congress might serve as a check on Trump’s power is just that – a fantasy. Congress does have considerable authority, but mostly regarding those things that they agree with Trump about: slashing taxes on the wealthy, gutting environmental regulations, pretending climate change doesn’t exist, overturning Obamacare, appointing very conservative judges. Moreover, the internet culture is not going away, so don’t imagine that there is a silver lining to be gleaned from the looming policy disasters that we will all suffer through. If enough people enjoy watching the reality TV of the Trump Presidency, they will renew it for another four years. Nor should it be assumed that the Democratic Party, flat on its back, is poised for a comeback. The American left has its own deep divisions to tend to – largely along generational lines, as the young and the old articulate very different interpretations of the core principles of liberalism – which will not be easily papered over.

Worse still, even if we manage to endure the next four years and then oust him in the next election, from this point forward we will always be the country that elected Donald Trump as President. And as Albert Finney knew all too well in Under the Volcano, “some things, you just can’t apologize for.” This will be felt most acutely on the world stage. Keep in mind that in those areas where Trump departs from traditional Republican positions, such as those regarding trade and international security, Congressional power is much weaker. Trump can start a trade war or provoke an international crisis just by tweeting executive orders from the White House. And that damage will prove irreversible. Because from now on, and for a very long time, countries around the world will have to calculate their interests, expectations, and behavior with the understanding that this is America, or, at the very least, that this is what the American political system can plausibly produce. And so the election of Trump will come to mark the end of the international order that was built to avoid repeating the catastrophes of the first half the twentieth century, and which did so successfully – horrors that we like to imagine we have outgrown. It will not serve us well.

We have lost, we are lost. Not an election, but a civilization. Where does that leave us? I think the metaphor is one of (political) resistance. They resisted in occupied France, they resisted in Franco’s Spain. Even in the twilight years of the 1930s, times considerably darker than today, regular men and women stood up against much graver dangers and longer odds than those we now face. They did not resist, necessarily, because they thought they would win, they resisted because they simply could not imagine collaborating, even passively. And for us, even now there are oases of hope in our sea of despair – Trump did indeed lose the popular vote by a wide margin, and there are powerful states and municipalities that might protect many of the most vulnerable from the coming federal onslaught. But we will face a great moment of crisis, after the next major terrorist attack in the U.S. (something no American President could prevent), which will present something like a perfect storm: a thin-skinned, impulsive leader with authoritarian instincts, a frightened public, an environment of permissive racism, and a post-fact information environment. In such a moment basic civil liberties will be at risk: due process will be assailed as “protecting terrorists”; free speech will be challenged as “giving aid and comfort to the enemy.”

And that will be the moment when each of us must stand up and be counted, and never forget Tolstoy’s admonition: “There are no conditions to which a man may not become accustomed, particularly if he sees that they are accepted by those about him.” Our portion is to make sure that never comes to pass.

Stay sane,

Engine Room

 

 

ER

Please don’t Yahoo

Dear Reader,

The internet dinosaur Yahoo had a famous advertising slogan once: Do you Yahoo?

Today I recommend you do not.

Yahoo was cracked. And that was before it got cracked. You can read it here http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/yahoo-hackers-stole-information-1b-accounts-44196851. One billion account details were copied. In the crack before half a billion were copied.

Now, I and DiaBlog have been cracked. It can happen. We are – and probably will always remain – amateurs.  We do not run a billion dollar internet company with email service, server space for photos and what not. Our responsibility is infinitesimal in comparison. Yet we are doing quite a lot to stay safe.

Today, you cannot really exist without an email address. Numerous government agencies require you to have an email address. Try getting a job without, or traveling, or opening a bank account. Thus, whoever provides you with an email address should be careful. And Yahoo has proven, that they are not.

I recommend Yahoo users delete their accounts. Get a different email provider. I will not respond to Yahoo emails anymore.

Stay tuned,

Engine Room

ER

You are under full surveillance

Dear Brits,

As of next week all your internet activity is under full government surveillance. You can read about the “snooper charter” here at AP.

Just to be clear, that is not just your browsing history. That includes email, chats, VoIP telephone, Netflix/TV, everything coming and going through that cable and/or satellite connection. And do not forget your smartphone.

Let this sink in for a moment.

You government spies on you more, than former communist Eastern Germany spied on its citizens with its Stasi.

Who will have access to your data?

From here comes a list (quote, emphasis mine):

Metropolitan police force
City of London police force
Police forces maintained under section 2 of the Police Act 1996
Police Service of Scotland
Police Service of Northern Ireland
British Transport Police
Ministry of Defence Police
Royal Navy Police
Royal Military Police
Royal Air Force Police
Security Service
Secret Intelligence Service
GCHQ
Ministry of Defence
Department of Health
Home Office
Ministry of Justice
National Crime Agency
HM Revenue & Customs
Department for Transport
Department for Work and Pensions
NHS trusts and foundation trusts in England that provide ambulance services
Common Services Agency for the Scottish Health Service
Competition and Markets Authority
Criminal Cases Review Commission
Department for Communities in Northern Ireland
Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland
Department of Justice in Northern Ireland
Financial Conduct Authority
Fire and rescue authorities under the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004
Food Standards Agency
Food Standards Scotland
Gambling Commission
Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority
Health and Safety Executive
Independent Police Complaints Commissioner
Information Commissioner
NHS Business Services Authority
Northern Ireland Ambulance Service Health and Social Care Trust
Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service Board
Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Regional Business Services Organisation
Office of Communications
Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland
Police Investigations and Review Commissioner
Scottish Ambulance Service Board
Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission
Serious Fraud Office
Welsh Ambulance Services National Health Service Trust

Also do not forget the five eyes agreement. Thanks to that, the secret agencies and governments of the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand will have all your data too.

Naturally, those few will keep your data completely safe. No hacker can get to it. And none of the few government employees will abuse the access to that data. We all know, they are angels. No snooping on the ex, or neighbor, or relative. Never.

Nobody will ever manipulate that data. Nobody will add a bit of child pornography to your browser history. Nobody ever will add a bit of drug buying, or a subscription to an illegal gambling site. No, your government does not engage in such activities.

Boy, you are so much safer now, aren’t you?

Brave new world,

Engine Room

PS: Why didn’t you read more about that? Because your government buried that under Brexit and the US election. That’s how much your politicians and media watch out for you.

ER

Happy 25th Birthday Linux

Dear Reader,

This post is a bit late, if you consider Linus Torvald’s announcement on the usenet group comp.os.minix on August 25th, 1991, the birth date of Linux. Or a bit early, if you consider his first release of Kernel version 0.01 on September 17th, 1991, the actual birthday.

So we are somewhat in the middle toasting to Linux.

It is a peculiar feeling.  On the one hand, Linux is quite new. What is 25 years? Yet, it feels like I have been using it forever. And I could not imagine working without it.

And you should celebrate too. Whether you are using a smartphone or tablet with Android (market share ~ 80%), or because you are reading this post. Both are powered by Linux. One could claim, 90% of the internet is powered by Linux. Certainly our server is, like ~ 90 % of all web servers.

And Linux is running on many other devices you are using. In all likelihood your router at home and at the office is running on Linux, as well as your satellite navigation system and your TV. Of the 500 fastest super computers 497 are running on Linux.

The next outstanding issue, still Linus is running the show. Along with by now thousands or tens of thousands of volunteers. Because although the first 10,000 lines of code in version 0.01 were written by Linus, within less than two years hundreds of the best hackers in the world had added much more to it.

Linux was the first free open source software project of that magnitude. And it is the largest.

So, happy birthday Linux!

And thank you so much to Linus and the countless people making it happen every day.

Stay tuned,

Engine Room

PS: Isn’t it about time, you kiss good-bye to bloody Windows on your laptop or desktop, and give Linux a go?

ER

New Hardware

Dear Reader,

One of the reasons for my prolonged silence on Diablog was broken hardware. No, not the server, everything is fine there. The server received plenty of updates and improvements under the hood, all installed behind the curtain, you did not notice. Except for even shorter loading times maybe.

After a mere five years my high class, high quality, expensive Thinkpad notebook by Lenovo failed. The lid/display broke at one of the hinges. The display is the most expensive part of a notebook. Replacing it usually costs almost as much as an entire new machine. Thus, I decided to replace the Thinkpad.

Granted, the machine had been used a lot, it traveled a lot, and I admit to not handling it in the most gentle way all the time. Nevertheless, I had expected twice the life time. Tough luck, all of a sudden I was in need of a new laptop.

Over the past couple of years I had decided already, that my next machine would not be a Lenovo again. Lenovo installs spyware and maleware. No thanks.  HP computers are suspected of the same, HP was out of the question too. Dell offers linux laptops, but they are not the most reliable in terms of hardware any more. Plus, they glue in hardware, like the battery. That limits the life time of the laptop to the battery life, in other words three to four years. What a stupid waste.

So I had chosen an independent supplier of high quality laptops without any operating system – aka Microsoft crap – and without any of that UEFI shit, where Microsoft thinks, it can dictate what other operating system you can install. Thanks, but no thanks. I want a clean machine and bought one.

The new laptop arrived and I installed my preferred linux distribution, LMDE. The next step would have been to transfer my home folder from old to new and be done within an hour.

Since the laptop came from a linux sprecialist, my expectation was for everything to work out of the box. Yet, it did not. I had ignored the basic linux lesson: check whether your hardware is supported. My bad.

My graphic card was not supported, the laptop ran in software rendering mode. That means, all processors were running at up to 90% capacity. And that in turn reduced the run on battery from the promised 8-10 hours to a mere two hours. Not possible.

After unsuccessfully trying to fix that by myself, a conversation with the friendly supplier got the answer: the hardware was too new. And LMDE. using a slightly older kernel, lacked the required drivers. The newer kernel would not come into LMDE for another one or two years.

Luckily, by now other distributions are using my preferred desktop environment, Cinnamon. So I switched distribution. But now the software programs or applications were of a different version, mostly older ones. LMDE uses an older kernel, but the applications are cutting edge. LinuxMint is the other way around, newer kernel, but slightly older application versions. Bugger.

Copying the home folder was not an option anymore. Instead, I had to transfer the data by individual application. And I had to redo all my settings, making everything look and behave the way I want it. After a few updates and changes, I am now where I want to be. Everything works brilliantly. Everything looks and behaves the way I want it to. No spyware on the machine, no maleware, just clean, neat free open source software.

Consider me a very happy camper. And now I should have time for Diablog again.

By the way, has anyone seen or heard of Glynsky?

Stay tuned,

Engine Room

 

ER

New search kid on the block

Dear Reader,

Within 20 years the internet has become an integral part of our life. And the world wide web part of it continues to grow. For the web we are using browsers and most browser sessions start with a search. Web search is dominated by Google so much, that its users are living in a filter bubble. Users see only, what Google wants them to see.

Now there is a new search engine. Or rather a metasearch engine, aggregating the results of other search engines while not storing information about its users. It is called Searx.

Searx is a free internet metasearch engine which aggregates results from more than 70 search services.

Users are neither tracked nor profiled.

Additionally, searx can be used over Tor for online anonymity.

And if you are really paranoid, you can run searx on your own server. Because the source code of searx is free open source software. You can get the code and install it.

For the less tech savvy user, you can use one of the many existing, public installations like:

https://searx.laquadrature.net/

https://searx.me/

You can customize your search in many ways, for example by language, by search engines used and aggregated, by file type, and more.

I recommend you give searx a few test runs. Play with the preferences and see, what it shows you. See whether you are missing out with Google, and if so, what you have been missing.

Because you want to see what is out there. Not just what Google thinks you should see.

Happy surfing,

Engine Room

ER

Cracking party

Dear Reader,

Among the many parties happening around the world, there is a big one on cracking. Cracking passwords that is.

Do you have an account with LinkedIn.com? The “business social network”?

If you do, I highly recommend you delete it. And if you used the password from there at any other website or internet service, please change that immediately.

LinkedIn got cracked in 2012. And they kept pretty silent about it. At the time they admitted only, some 6.5 million passwords had been taken. This week we learned here, it was more like 117 million passwords. Or precisely:

164,590,819 unique email addresses
177,500,189 unsalted SHA1 password hashes

And as of now > 90 % of the passwords have been cracked already. Just 14 million to go.

Why does that matter? It means, those passwords are not save anymore. And never will be again. The algorithms used for password cracking have been trained. And whoever uses one of those passwords anywhere, is wide open.

Granted, the most popular passwords at LinkedIn were the usual bad ones: 123456, linkedin, password, 123456789, 12345678, 111111 and qwerty. And those are easily cracked. But eventually well over 95% of those passwords will be cracked. It is just a matter of time and computing power.

LinkedIn is one of the more popular websites. According to WikiPedia.:

LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking service. Founded in December 14, 2002 and launched on May 5, 2003, it is mainly used for professional networking. As of 2015, most of the site’s revenue came from selling access to information about its users to recruiters and sales professionals.
As of October 2015, LinkedIn reported more than 400 million acquired users in more than 200 countries and territories.
LinkedIn filed for an initial public offering in January 2011 and traded its first shares on May 19, 2011, under the NYSE symbol “LNKD”.

So, here is a publicly traded company, not some small garage firm, that did not care about its users and their safety. All they care about is selling the user data. And in the process they made the internet less save for everybody.

The somewhat famous founder and current chairman Reid Hoffman, usually quite outspoken, has been very silent about the matter. Nothing on his website, nothing on his twitter account. For that he deserves our Idiot of the Day medal.

And that is why you should delete your account there. Unless we, the users, make those companies and the people feel pain, unless they lose money or go bust, security will not improve.

Stay safe,

Engine Room