Well Hallelujah! Big Brother has finally acted!

I just checked into a motel today that not only has a password for its internet access, and not only a good, secure password, but — get this — it was automatically generated when I checked in and asked about internet access, and that everyone gets an unique password. They told me that it has an expiry time that I could choose when I first logged on; if I mistakenly chose one too short, I just would have to call the front desk for a new one. I know it’s unique to “me” because I’m using two laptops on this trip, my company machine for company business, and my personal laptop for personal stuff, and when I tested the original password on my personal machine after having used my company machine, I was told that the limit of accounts attached to the password had been reached, so I called the front desk and they gave me another one, no questions asked.

Some would say that the unique passwords could be a violation of my privacy. Possibly, if they happened to tie the password to my room; I don’t know if they have, but in this case … well, the conspiracy theorist in me has not been awakened (I know, famous last words. 🙂 ) I suppose I’m not fond of the notion that the unique password could be used to against me, including wrongly and/or maliciously.

However, I suspect that I’m safe; hotels are generally in the business of being discrete as part of their profit motive, so keeping track of who gets which password or derivative information about my internet use is, well, not generally in their interest. Then again, perhaps I should also be worried about the key card hotels give me and whether they are keeping track of how often I go in and out of the room, or use the pool, hot tub, exercise room or laundry room protected by the key cards. Ooops, they took down my name, address, and phone number, and they have credit card information linked to me when I signed in! My privacy has already been thrown out the window!

I shouldn’t be — I figure that this should be the norm — but I’m sincerely impressed that this hotel protects its business resources much the same way they they protect the others, such as the aforementioned rooms, pools, hot tubs, exercise rooms, laundry rooms, and the like.

Hotel internet access passwords — Here’s a case for Captain Obvious

In the past 4 weeks I have spent as much time in my own bed at home as I normally spend in hotels for business over 6-12 months (about 4 nights.) As such I have been using a few hotel internet hookups.

First, the good news from Captain Obvious is that most hotels and motels in North America these days seem to have wireless internet. I know, I’ve been using hotel/motel wireless for about three years now, but now it’s so commonplace, that my experience last fall near Boston at an otherwise charming New England Inn where they used a large group of computer savvy geocachers as guinea pigs for their new wireless internet setup seems odd.

Next, to set the stage, Captain Obvious is observing that several years ago when people started getting wireless routers in their homes and offices and anywhere else, after a while people learned that they had to lock down their router with a password that nobody knows except, well, those with whom they wanted to share their bandwidth (and only those with whom they wanted to share their bandwidth), so that, well, you know, the neighbours don’t decide to save a few bucks on a cable modem and piggyback on yours. Or use so much of it that you start getting overage charges, assuming that their theft of your signal doesn’t significantly affect your use of your internet. Or that strange looking people don’t park in front of your house for hours on end for no apparent reason. Or worse yet, do so while doing things that would have the cops knocking down your door for doing things like, oh, who knows, downloading kiddie porn or spamming or hacking into financial institutions and stealing large sums of money.

Which makes me wonder about the all the hotels I’ve been staying at over the past month:

– The first one had a great, really secure password, that hadn’t been changed in over a year and a half.

– The next one used the hotel’s name with a few numbers added to the end. I don’t expect that they change it very often, if at all; I’ve used that hotel a couple of times over the past three weeks and I haven’t been told that the password has changed. The signals just work fine, and at the end of the week I think it’s even money that it still won’t have changed when I likely will go back to that hotel.

– The next one didn’t even have a password.

– The next one used its fax number as its password. Apparently the owner just recently acquired the establishment and at least has gotten to the point of pulling the plug on the router for a few minutes whenever he notices a suspicious character in his parking lot. There were anywhere from two to four other insecure networks in range, although one called itself “free public wireless”, and the other was a nearby internet café.

– The next one has two routers without a password, and there’s another insecure signal in range.

At each place I have implored the people at the front desk to please install a password and change it at least monthly if not weekly, or even have an unique key generated for each guest or at least each hour for whoever comes in during that period (OK, this is a bit too much Big Brother, but the day may come), and not use a dictionary word; of course two of the five are staffed by employees without any real influence over such matters, and at another I suspect much the same.

In general I wonder how hard it is to have a control panel to their router to change the password, that they remind themselves to do according to a schedule they can mark on their calendar, or they can ask their IT guy to set up a script to do it automatically according to whatever schedule the innkeeper chooses, and they just need a quick reference note to show up on their guest registration screen with the “internet password”. I know, I can’t do it, but I could even figure out how to do a cron job; surely in the MS world it’s easier than that.

I congratulated the first place for their excellent password but said that after a while all someone has to do is stay a night or speak with someone who has and they can get the password. Then they could easily set up a router in the bushes nearby and a few repeaters or a wire to their house a few doors down and bingo, who cares about the cops banging down the innkeeper’s door. The cops *know* that hotel guests will often use their trips to hotels to download things they might never do at home. However, the innkeeper is paying for some thief to reduce the service he’s supplying to his customers just to remain competitive. All he needs is the bad publicity from the cops knocking down his door or those of his clients because of someone in a van with a laptop, who can drive away when the sirens are heard down the street, is conducting some illicit business using a hijacked connection.

I can put up with the nuisance of a fist-time password challenge web page at a hotel. I understand that Friday evenings to Sunday mornings — and possibly other times during the week — there are a lot of guests at a hotel and the speed is likely to be slower as a result. But I wonder about how much slower it is because some industrious person may be hidden somewhere in the bushes or the parking lot, or have a series of repeaters running down the block and slowing down the access I’m paying for through my room rate. Or temporarily losing a connection because the innkeeper is “scaring off” a suspicious character in the parking lot by unplugging his router for a few minutes.

And the notion that my door conceivably *could* be knocked down for someone in the parking lot, or at least, I could be a spectator to such a thing and still be questioned, is less than savoury.

My complaints *are* rather petty compared to world hunger. But that’s not the point: It seems to me to be a good combination of due diligence and, well, good business sense, just to change the passwords on the first of the month, or every Monday. They put key-card locks to the pool, the whirlpool, the exercise room, and even the laundry room (that is coin-operated!) to limit access to their guests.

Why not do the same for their wireless internet?

Sigh … Bill Kurtis *is* consistent

In my last post I mentioned that Bill Kurtis, in his “I’m Bill Kurtis, and I’m faster than …” commercial series, didn’t appear to be consistent with the laptops the techies were supplying him with.

Obviously, I have seen the original commercial several times since and have been paying attention.

Well apparently he has been consistent, I again demonstrated my general incompetence by, in this case, wanting to see brown (ughh!) in the form of the Gnome desktop. In fact, it was much closer to the greenish blue of the second “Andy Roddick” commercial. And, there is the disclaimer at the bottom of the screen: “Simulated images”

This bugs me a lot. I’ve said it before, I say it again: it seems that for something as simple as these commercials, the screenshot doesn’t matter; all they are trying to do is avoid having some software developer demand royalties for the screenshot, so they make a generic desktop screenshot in-house. Too bad, the techies in the back usually would love to see their laptop in a (inter)nationally broadcast commercial and have the bragging rights.

Of course, putting aside my conspiracy theory about the TV producers not wanting to pay royalties for the on-screen use of copyrighted software or the legal department not wanting to risk depicting a “real, live OS” (like it or not that’s what MS is) and making potential customers think that what is being advertised will *actually*work* with their computer (hey, there’s a new conspiracy theory for me!), there is probably a much more logical explanation, along the lines of the difference in cycles between a screen and a TV camera (flickering), or simply maybe it’s difficult to get a good screen resolution off a computer in the shot on TV.

Hmmm … Bill Kurtis isn’t being consistent

I just saw a new commercial in the “I’m Bill Kurtis, and I’m faster than …” ad campaign advertising the AT&T 3G internet dongle, this time with Andy Roddick.

The last one I saw, in which Bill Kurtis was in a boxing ring, I was convinced that his laptops were using Ubuntu because I saw what appeared to be a brown desktop that clearly seemed to be the Gnome desktop.

In the Andy Roddick commercial, the computers appear to be using MovieOS, it’s a greenish blueish background (somewhat reminiscent to the default background for Win98) with next to no distinguishing features.

I’m disappointed … short of the likely probability that it costs a production company less to have a few stock photoshopped MovieOS “desktops”, and that obviously it’s likely easier and cheaper to just “make a movie” (or an interactive one, so that it fits in with the script) than to make *any* OS do exactly what you want to do, the way you want to do it, exactly when you want to do it, it seems to me that the easiest thing to do when all you really want is a half second, generic screenshot is just ask the computer geeks in the back room to format a computer with Ubuntu or whatever else, and there aren’t any licensing fees.

Hmmm … unless the various backers of distros have these “commercial use” clauses in their distribution licenses that I haven’t bothered to look up.

Of course, this now reminds me of another conversation I had recently: It “started” in 2006 with the person I convinced to reformat my systems with Linux on the premise “that I just want something to believe in” — something that has bugged me over the past couple of years of being both too corny and not quite what I really meant — and that “ended” a few weeks ago with someone else covering all the basic linux topics, particularly the convoluted licenses making you cynically wonder whether or not you may use a given piece of software even for its intended purpose, concluding with me saying “I just want to use my computer” — which I realized is pretty much what I really meant to say in 2006.

Linux, the mainstream, and market penetration

Back in January, I related a story of a billboard I’d seen in October and how the software being advertised happened to be available for Windows, Mac, AND Linux.

Everyone who cares (that’s about, what, five of us) knows about “MovieOS” or “Hollywod OS” — computer sceenshots that are obviously custom shots that are in-house artwork. You know, either the animated PlaySkool shots showing people to click on the “GO” button regarding going to their store to spend lots of money on their wares, or, it’s a screenshot that “looks” like it’s a functional computer screen but doesn’t look like any computer desktop people are familiar with or any other computer desktop on the next show or movie you watch.

I’ve been noticing things on occasion in the mainstream media for a couple of years regarding computer screenshots: Not only is it not Windows or Mac, it’s not “MovieOS” either. What you see is a variant of the Gnome desktop, usually on Ubuntu (for those of you who have no clue what to look for, watch for two white lines on the screen, one on the top of the screen, and one on the bottom, and a light brown background to the rest of the screen.)

Listen up folks, here’s one of the moments that I think Mr. Shuttleworth’s little darling is doing some good.

In late 2007, there was a CBC Marketplace report on the various download speeds of the various high-speed internet suppliers across Canada. A closeup of the download progress window made it clear that each participant was downloading the Ubuntu CD of the day.

Just today on CNN I noticed in an ad for AT&T 3G USB key for highspeed mobile internet — this is the one with Bill Curtis in a boxing ring bragging about how fast he is — and the laptops appear to be running Ubuntu.

These are the two that come to mind. However, every couple of months, what do I see? An Ubuntu screen. I rather suspect that the reason for this trend as well as most instances of “MovieOS” is that it’s cheaper — including the cost of paying the computer technician in the back the time to reformat a computer, assuming that they didn’t just ask the guys in back to lend them their laptop, or of course asking the art department to make up something that looks nice — than paying any licensing fees to MS, Apple, or anyone else. Or, they didn’t get a sweet enough product placement deal from MS or Apple or whatever computer manufacturer in the advertising department’s rolodex.

I’d say that Linux — be it Linux in general, Ubuntu, any other distro, or the fact that there is a wide choice out there, in this case I don’t care — seems to be making some headway. Here’s one of the examples where I’ll concede the point that if people think Linux, they think Ubuntu, and that that’s OK.

Oooooops, I was wrong … (so what else is new?)

In a previous post, “I may just have that reason to get rid of Ubuntu …” I stated that the thing that killed Ubuntu for me was the difference in how OO.o on Ubuntu 8.04 and Fedora 9 deal with the “notes” function in a document. The versions of OO.o in question were — according to distrowatch.com — 2.4.0 for Ubuntu 8.04 and 2.4.0 for Fedora 9. As of today’s date my F9 notebook has updated itself to 2.4.2, so to be fair I imagine that in the past year Hardy Heron has had some updates as well.

Today I stumble across this little gem from the OpenOffice.org website:

Improved Notes Feature in Writer

“In the past; notes in OpenOffice.org were just displayed as small yellow rectangles within the text. This was not very intuitive and user friendly. With version 3.0, OpenOffice.org got an advanced notes features which displays notes on the side of the document. This makes notes a lot easier to read. In addition, notes from different users are displayed in different colours together with the editing date and time.”

Ooops.

I went off on a holy rant, wondering why the heck Ubuntu has changed a few things more that it arguably needed to, when in fact … well, it apparently hadn’t: The annoying yellow dot was a function of OO.o to begin with. At that time. If anyone was changing things, it was Fedora backporting this function some time last fall, assuming that it wasn’t OO.o doing it, or adding a preview into the version that Fedora grabbed and included in F9 — in keeping with Fedora’s usual policy of not using custom patches not necessary to Fedora integration or backporting updates, instead opting for rapid changes, new releases, and submitting bug and improvement patches upstream instead.

Which is perhaps not saying much since at release time, both distros were using 2.4.0; rather, it only raises the question of why things are different between two nominally identical pieces of software, and perhaps lifts blame away from Ubuntu.

Oh well, I still don’t like Ubuntu. 🙂

In the meantime … I wonder how this is explained given that both distros apparently had the same version of OO.o at release time. I wonder if the feature was backported in Fedora. Or if it was backported by OO.o and Fedora simply passed on the change. Or … ?

And in the meantime as well, I wonder about the notes function in previous versions of the 2.x series of OO.o acting in “the new way” at least back to 2006 — again in the same post, second to last paragraph:

“The appearance of the notes in the margin is not a recent occurrence in OO.o, at least in the 2.0 series: back in August 2006 under CentOS 4.4 — OK, this is still the Red Hat family — I received a document with the notes visible in the margin (being a work contract I declined the document and asked that they resend the proper version, please.) I was using the standard OO.o 2.whatever downloaded and installed directly from openoffice.org (since the CentOS 4 series originally came wih OO.o 1.5.something series; I’d been using the OO.o 2.0 series for close to a year at that point under Windows before I’d made the switch to linux.)”

Printing PDFs

I’ve just had an interesting object lesson in the differences between two different pieces of software that have more than essentially the same function.

Today I had an important PDF document to print out at home instead of at the office. For the purposes of practical convenience, it was far better to print it out at home and just deliver it to the office than spend the extra time at the office (5-10 minutes) turning on my office computer and printing it out there on a printer I knew would have no difficulty dealing with it, having printed out a few dozen identically-generated documents on it.

On my pretty much stock Fedora 10 box, I use the Evince Document Viewer 2.24.2 using poppler 0.8.7 (cairo) for the Gnome desktop to display and print PDF documents. So far, I’ve been satisfied.

The PDF’s layout had margins beyond my printer’s abilities. And of course the most important parts of the document, being right at the edges of the margins in this document, were being cut off in the process of printing out the document. A reduction in the print size was not useful since the vital information was on the end of the document being cut off in the margins. I suppose I could have tried rotating the document to try to see if the cut off part would not contain crucial information, which I didn’t think of at the time. Both these strategies, however, miss the point: If the original document has very narrow margins, something is going to get cut off no matter what; not exactly desireable.

I did try something that happened to involve a Windows box (ughh) mostly because it had a different printer, and you never know how things behave differently with different equipment.

Not surprisingly, the windows box happens to have an Adobe viewer installed (I avoid that box as much as possible; I don’t even maintain it, that’s my brother’s job. 🙂 ). I click to print the document and whaddya know, in the print dialog there’s an option to fit the document within the printable area. Document printed, convenience secured.

Now what I would like to know is how much of the print window in my desktop is governed by HPLIP, how much by Gnome, how much by CUPS, and how much by the application invoking it at the moment. So I did a little experiment: Always selecting my printer, I opened a print dialogue in Evince Document Viewer, OpenOffice.org (3.0.1), Firefox (3.0.7), The Gimp (2.6.5), Xpdf (3.02) which I intentionally installed for the purpose of this experiment, and gedit (2.24.3) (on which I’m composing this blog). Besides Xpdf, each appears to have the same base, and except for Evince Document Viewer, each also adds a function tab of its own. Xpdf, on the other hand, has its own stripped-down interface — either invoke the lpr command or print to a file.

Here’s a quick table listing the tabs listed in the print dialogs available in five, off-the-shelf standard installs of Fedora 10 software, with my printer selected, plus Xpdf, which was installed directly from the Fedora repositories without any modification of settings or whatever on my part:

OpenOffice.org*: General; Page Setup; Job; Advanced; Properties
Firefox: General: Page Setup; Job; Advanced; Options; Properties
Document Viewer: General; Page Setup; Job; Advanced
The Gimp**: General; Page Setup; Job; Advanced; Image Settings***
Xpdf: Xpdf has its own stripped-down interface
gedit : General; Page Setup; Job; Advanced; Text Editor

* There is an Options button in the “Page Setup” tab for OpenOffice.org.
** The Gimp treats my “special” PDF as an image much like any other, and automatically sizes it to the current settings, much like it would handle a .png or .jpg image
*** The Gimp has an option to ignore the margins; see above note

Not one, besides The Gimp, has an option to fit the document within the printable range, and The Gimp only indirectly, because of the way it seems to handle PDFs by default as an image to be manipulated. And of the others, to be fair, only Document Viewer and Xpdf deal with PDFs — even FireFox delegates PDFs to the Evince Document Viewer by default.

Then I did another little experiment: I installed Adobe Reader 9.1 (that license is interesting, pretty convoluted, and makes me wonder whether I may use the installation at all; in any case, I’ll be getting rid of it since I really only installed it for the purpose of this experiment, and decided a while ago that having 2 PDF viewers above and beyond that which is available in the basic distro installation is superfluous unless ther’s a particular reason for it.) And what do I see? A new print dialog that reminds me of the one I saw earlier on the windows box. Interestingly, it has “fit to printable area” and “shrink to printable area” options.

So my little experiment has led me to the following conclusions:

– many pieces of software, presumably not wanting to reinvent the wheel, rely either on the OS or I suspect, at least in this case, the desktop environment for its print dialogs;
– some software authors do want to reinvent the wheel, such as to “do it their own way”, or to be completely platform and environment independent, and therefore make their own dialogs;
– some software authors want to do extra things but don’t want to reinvent the wheel, so they have a wrapper for to add extra functionality to an existing base;
– in my documents, I shouldn’t try to stuff as much content as possible into each page too far, at least not by playing around with the margins.

Looks like something for the Evince authors to toss in. Assuming, of course, that — without fundamentally changing a document — resizing a PDF and/or its content to the local printer’s printing range is a really useful feature, such as to deal with awry margins, or PDFs sized for A4 instead of letter sized or vice-versa. 🙂 And that such non-conformities and/or their prevalence make it worth my using the Adobe Reader, licensing issues aside. Or that another PDF reader out there that has that functionality.

finally, more memory

My desktop now has a gig of memory. I managed to trade the $5 1gig DDR2 memory stick I bought a month ago for 512megs of DDR memory.

So far, the machine is a bit peppier. I wonder if the X.org problem will become solved in the process. I doubt it.

Hmmm … OO.o differences, Fedora, and Ubuntu

In my post I may just have that reason to get rid of Ubuntu … I whined about minor differences between “stock” OpenOffice.org appearances and functions and those I used straight off the OO.o website as well as what ships with Fedora.

This blog (here’s my archive) explains a bit why: It says “Many Linux distributions ship ooo-build. … Fedora ships a modified OpenOffice.org, but Fedora does not use ooo-build.” Which means that in keeping with Fedora’s usual policy, it ships upstream versions of software with only reasonably required modifications to make it work under Fedora. When I was using CentOS, I was using the vanilla version directly from OO.o.

That explains a few things. It doesn’t necessarily justify my whining — nor all the changes Ubuntu or other distros (or even Fedora) make, but … Why mess with a good thing? 🙂

Blog spam

I’ve been both annoyed and had my curiosity piqued over the past couple of years regarding my blog: While I’ve been having to hit the “Spam it!” button quite a bit for responses to my posts — not so much over the past 6 months, mind you — but apparently not a single comment came from a real person.

Interestingly, most of the spam posts are generic posts that are along the lines of “interesting post, keep it coming” “I don’t agree with everything you wrote but you make interesting points” and the like, and the give-away is the link (rolexes, youtube, etc.)

It appears that my posts are all drivel, and no one real is really interested in what I have to say.. 🙂

Actually, the self-deprecation is sincere, I read my posts sometimes weeks later and poke holes it them on their technical merit.