Octopodial Chrome

Stuff that Made Sense at the Time

The Personal Weblog of Bob Uhl

Friday, 06 January 2012

Happy Epiphany!

It’s the Twelfth Day of Christmas! Today we mark the revelation of Jesus Christ to be God the Son, as indicated by both the visit of the Magi and His baptism in the Jordan. In Mexico children get gifts today.

Of note, today is one traditional day to end the Christmas season—by which I mean: I hope you don’t take down your decorations until at least today. I personally keep ’em up and celebrate until Candlemas (the Feast of the Presentation, on the second of February) though.

Forgetting Christmas on the 26th of December is Right Out.

Saturday, 06 August 2011

Fifty unlikely Linux users

No-one runs Linux, right? Well, not quite: here’s a list of fifty Linux users you might not expect. From our own government, to foreign states, to aircraft, to some of your favourite websites, Linux is everywere.

Why not give Ubuntu a spin today?

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Freedom's end

A.J.P. Taylor wrote this in 1970:

Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police. Unlike the countries of the European continent, the state did not require its citizens to perform military service. An Englishman could enlist, if he chose, in the regular army, the navy, or the territorials. He could also ignore, if he chose, the demands of national defence. Substantial householders were occasionally called on for jury service. Otherwise, only those helped the state who wished to do so. The Englishman paid taxes on a modest scale: nearly £200 million in 1913–14, or rather less than 8 per cent. of the national income. … broadly speaking, the state acted only to help those who could not help themselves. It left the adult citizen alone.

Is there anywhere in the world today so free?

Hat-tip to Daniel Pipes.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Linardatos on the Greek economy

I’d be interested to know what my Greek friends think of Napoleon Linardato’s take on the Greek economic situation. It certainly seems very unhealthy for one in four workers to be State employees.

Friday, 24 June 2011

World War II rescue-at-sea

Thanks to Mom for forwarding this clip of a submarine rescuing airmen some seventy miles off the coast of Japan. Neat seeing it in colour too.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Mother convicted of a felony for spanking

This is abso-frickin-lutely insane: a woman in Texas was convicted of a felony for spanking her daughter. She didn’t use a belt. She wasn’t (apparently, from anything I’ve read on the case) beating the girl; she just spanked her. Judge Jose Longoria told her, you don’t spank children today, and sentenced her to five years of probation. As it’s a felony, she’ll never be permitted to vote or own a firearm again.

It’s conceivable of course that she really did overstep the bounds, but I doubt it: from the facts as reported in multiple sources, I suspect this whole thing was really a ploy for her ex’s mother to get the kids. Well, the grandmother has them now, and the mother’s life is ruined.

I wonder if the judge has kids, and if so exactly how rotten they are.

No, Judge Longoria, one does spank a child today, if he or she needs it.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Who's Who in Asimov

I just discovered this wonderful Who’s Who of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and Robots series. Very good to have on hand if you, like me, discovered Asimov at an impressionable age and devoured every single thing you could get your hands on.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Happy Fathers' Day!

Jeffrey Goldberg marks this Fathers’ Day with a story about Thomas Woude, a man who died saving his son. I’ve no doubt that my own father would have done the same for us—fortunately, it has never come to that.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Lightweight Portable Security

I just discovered Lightweight Portable Security a Linux distribution released by the US Air Force. The idea is that it’s a system which boots from a CD or flash drive and works entirely in volatile memory—thus any malware is unable to survive a reboot.

They even have an LPS-Remote Access which is the only way to access government systems without government-furnished equipment. That’s pretty cool!

It’s a nifty idea, particularly for folks who have to travel and use unknown hardware a lot. Of course, a true paranoid would develop his own version of LPS, not use one from the Air Force.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Happy 100th IBM!

Well, today marks a centuury since International Business Machines was founded. I know we employees like to complain a lot, but it really is an amazing company—and has paid my wages for over a decade. Here’s to another hundred!

How to install Linux Mint on an encrypted volume

One of the few things I miss about Fedora when using Ubuntu and related GNU/Linux distributions is the ease of setting up fairly complex disk partitioning schemes. I’m a big believer in disk mirroring (to protect against hard drive failure) and in encryption (to protect against data loss due to hardware theft), and Ubuntu requires use of an alternate, text-based installer while Linux Mint doesn’t even do that much.

Fortunately, this is Linux, which means I have all the tools I need to get this to work. Many thanks to this guide from 2008, which provided the base instructions.

Note that I do not set up software RAID (mirroring) in this case, as these instructions are for a laptop. If you want mirroring, my advice is to build two partitions on each mirror, one for /boot and one for the mirror volume, then build an encrypted volume atop the mirrored volume; add that encrypted volume to a volume group; and finally build logical volumes in that volume group.

A note about naming: throughout these instructions I refer to rootvg as the root volume group. This is fine for small installations; however, if you ever move disks between computers that also have their own group called rootvg, this causes trouble (generally, failure to recognise the new physical and logical volumes). For that reason, in practice I usually name my volume group with some unique name, perhaps related to the hostname.

  1. Boot from Linux Mint Katya DVD
  2. Open the terminal from the menu (lower left-hand corner). Install the Logical Volume Manager with sudo apt-get install lvm2.
  3. If this drive has previously held unencrypted data:
    1. Open a web browser and visit some site to generate some entropy; install and play some games too.
    2. sudo dd if=/dev/urandom of=/dev/sda bs=1M & sleep 5; while sudo pkill -USR1 dd; do sleep 60; done (make sure to continue web browsing and playing games—when unattended, leave some music or videos playing)
  4. Format the hard drive: sudo fdisk /dev/sda. Create a 512M primary partition 1 for /boot (no BIOS that I’m aware of supports booting from an encrypted disk, so your boot partition must be plaintext) and then an extended partition 2 for the rest of the disk, with a logical partition 5 filling it. I’m sure there’s a GUI to do this too, but the command-line is easier and quicker.
  5. Create an encrypted volume: sudo cryptsetup luksFormat -c æs-cbc-essiv:sha256 -s 256 /dev/sda5 (if you get an error, run sudo modprobe dm-crypt; sudo modprobe æs-i586 to install the crypto modules)
  6. Activate the new volume: sudo cryptsetup luksOpen /dev/sda5 cryptpv
  7. Create an LVM physical volume on the encrypted volume: sudo pvcreate /dev/mapper/cryptpv
  8. Create a LVM volume group: sudo vgcreate rootvg /dev/mapper/cryptpv
  9. Create a logical volume for your swap (virtual memory): sudo lvcreate -L 4G -n swaplv perique (where 4G is twice your RAM).
  10. Create a logical volume for your root filesystem: sudo lvcreate -l 100%FREE -n rootlv rootvg
  11. Format your boot partition: sudo mkfs.ext2 /dev/sda1
  12. Format your root partition: sudo mkfs.ext4 -j /dev/mapper/rootvg-rootlv
  13. Install Linux Mint as usual; the installer should detect the partition and logical volumes. Make sure to use the advanced partitioning tool. Format /boot as ext2; format / as ext4 (the reason for formatting them earlier is so that the installer doesn’t get confused; I reformat in case the installer uses any special options). Do not use the swap as swap; the installer will be confused and believe that it is a physical volume. If others will have unsupervised login access, consider encrypting your home directory as well.
  14. Mount the new root on /mnt: sudo mount /dev/mapper/rootvg-rootlv /mnt
  15. Mount the new /boot: sudo mount /dev/sda1 /mnt/boot
  16. Change root (this makes the current process think that /mnt is /—which is another way of saying that it makes it appear that you’re working inside the freshly-installed system): sudo chroot /mnt
  17. Mount special filesystems: mount -t proc proc /proc; mount -t sysfs sys /sys; mount -t devpts devpts /dev/pts
  18. Update the list of available software: apt-get update
  19. Install LVM2 on the freshly-installed system: apt-get install lvm2
  20. Update the cryptography table: vi /etc/crypttab
    cryptpv /dev/sda5 none luks
  21. Update the filesystem table: vi /etc/fstab
    /dev/mapper/rootvg-swaplv none swap 0 0
  22. Updated the list of modules installed in the boot-initialisation ramdisk (this may actually be overkill nowadays): vi /etc/initramfs-tools/modules
         dm_mod dm_crypt sha256_generic æs-i586 
  23. Build the new initramfs: update-initramfs -k all -c
  24. Unmount the special filesystem: umount /dev/pts; umount /sys; umount /proc
  25. Exit the chroot jail: exit
  26. Unmount the boot filesystem: sudo umount /mnt/boot
  27. Unmount the freshly-installed root filesystem: sudo umount /mnt
  28. Format the swap logical volume: sudo mkswap -L swap -f /dev/mapper/rootvg-swaplv
  29. Reboot: sudo shutdown -r now

After following these instructions, you should have a fully-encrypted root volume running Linux Mint.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Star named after saint

A star in the constellation Scorpio has been named after Saint Afanasy of Kovrov, who was persecuted under the Soviet union. I think naming objects after great heroes—whether of the Church, of the State or of the Academy—is a splendid idea.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Why mobile phones can't cause cancer

Babbage, over at The Economist, explains why mobile phones can’t cause cancer. It’s a basic principle, really: they simply don’t emit enough energy to produce free radicals.

Granted, it could be that wearing them causes shifts in how one moves, and that might conceivably cause certain health issues like osteoporosis. But that would apply equally to other things one wears (like pistols or purses). And of course it’s not cancer.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

The world is doomed

In today’s edition of The World is Doomed, we review a case wherein cops who claim children under ten years are only allowed in their parents’ yard.

Now, this is on the face of it absurd. Almost exactly four years ago I mentioned a story about children losing the right to roam which featured a great-grandfather who would walk six miles to go fishing. There’s nothing at all wrong with that! In fact, given the very large number of Americans who are morbidly obese, maybe more six-year-olds should be playing outside their parents’ lawns.

Regardless, if parents wish to allow their kids to run free (and of course assume responsibility for any misbehaviour those kids get up to), that’s the parents’ right. Neither the State nor its agents have any business intruding a nose where it’s not wanted.

Monday, 30 May 2011

How to replace interviews

It’s an open secret that the position-filling business is badly broken. The employer doesn’t have any real confidence that the selected candidate is a good fit; the employee doesn’t have any real confidence that the selected employer is a good fit; instead the employee assuages the employer with a thesaurus-generated resumé and the employer assuages the employee with money. This is just dumb.

Jason Freedman suggests an alternative that just could work: being on potential hires as short-term contractors. Both parties can then get some experience working with one another and see if the position is a good fit. And if it’s not, the psychological cost of severing the relationship is much lower than even with probationary periods.

It’s probable that HR departments would have to refashion themselves to do this, especially in larger corporations, but that’s their job.

I wonder if anyone can think of downsides of this idea. The only one which comes to my mind is that current law assumes too much about people being long-term employees (e.g. with the way health insurance is taxed). But that can be changed, and probably should anyway.

Friday, 13 May 2011

The Definition of Love

Caught a reference to this on a blog today:

My Love is of a birth as rare
As ’tis, for object, strange and high;
It was begotten by Despair,
Upon Impossibility.

Magnanimous Despair alone
Could show me so divine a thing,
Where feeble hope could ne’er have flown,
But vainly flapped its tinsel wing.

And yet I quickly might arrive
Where my extended soul is fixed;
But Fate does iron wedges drive,
And always crowds itself betwixt.

For Fate with jealous eye does see
Two perfect loves, nor lets them close;
Their union would her ruin be,
And her tyrannic power depose.

And therefore her decrees of steel
Us as the distant poles have placed,
[Though Love’s whole world on us doth wheel],
Not by themselves to be embraced,

Unless the giddy heaven fall,
And earth some new convulsion tear.
And, us to join, the world should all
Be cramp’d into a planisphere.

As lines, so love’s oblique, may well
Themselves in every angle greet:
But ours, so truly parallel,
Though infinite, can never meet.

Therefore the love which us doth bind,
But Fate so enviously debars,
Is the conjunction of the mind,
And opposition of the stars.

—Andrew Marvell, 1892

I particularly like the seventh stanza.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Chemical-free chemistry sets: the world is doomed

As part of my ongoing series covering the imminent death of Western civilisation, I bring you the chemical-free chemistry set. I think this is the inevitable result of a few of the trends in our society, partly the War on Some Drugs but also the infantilisation of childhood.

Guess what, parents—your kids won’t grow up if you don’t let them! When I was a boy Mom & Dad bought us these great chemistry sets with all sorts of poisonous and caustic chemicals, and yet we didn’t kill ourselves or anyone else (no, not even with the cobalt or the cyanide). And I was playing with that stuff at the age of 8 or maybe even younger. By the time one is 10, one is definitely old enough to use real, potentially nasty chemicals—or suffer the consequences. But this set is absurd. Growing crystals is for kindergarteners; slime and gook and bubbles are for toddlers.

Worried about your kids hurting themselves? Here’s a radical idea: supervise them! Or here’s another radical idea: tell them what not to do, and why not to do it, and expect to be obeyed. If they’ve not learnt obedience by the age of ten, their lives are in for some pain anyway.

We are doomed, all of us: doomed.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Why Max Barry fled from cubicle life

Max Barry speaketh truth:

The difference between people and human resources is that people have brains. People don’t need a company policy on how to ascend stairs (stay left, hold the handrail at all times, look straight ahead). People can figure that out for themselves. Human resources, on the other hand, are dumb as a box of hammers. They need everything spelled out.

Human resources are basically office equipment with legs. They’re talking furniture.

No company which treats its employees as human resources can innovate: innovation is the product of men, not of resources.

I am a free man, not a human resource!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

On loving our neighbour

Every one of us is created and fashioned in the image of God, and every one of us in like a damaged icon.

But consider this: if we were given an icon damaged by time, damaged by circumstances, or desecrated by human hatred, we would treat it with reverence, with tenderness, with broken-heartedness. We would not pay attention primarily to the fact that it was damaged, but to the tragedy of its being damaged. We would concentrate on what is left of its beauty, and not on what is lost of its beauty.

And this is what we must learn to do with regard to each person as an individual, but also—and this is not always easy—with regard to groups of people, whether it be a parish, or a denomination, or a nation. We must learn to look, and to look until we have seen the underlying beauty of the person or of a group of people. Only then can we even begin to do something to call out all the beauty that is there.

Listen to other people, and whenever you discern something, which sounds true, which is a revelation of harmony and beauty, emphasize it and help it to flower. Strengthen it and encourage it to live.

—Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom), of blessed memory

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Things not to say to a military wife

From the wife of a Seabee, here’s a (quite serious, not funny) things one shouldn’t say to a military wife. Spare a thought for these married single moms who have to move every few years and put up with stresses most (but not, of course, all) can’t even imagine.

Lessons learnt by an Alaskan trapper

When he was 18, a fellow went off to Alaska to become a trapper. He learnt a few lessons about overwinter survival the hard way—and thanks to his notes, we can learn those same lessons the easy way. Some good insights into the nitty-gritty details of living a primitive life.

Monday, 04 April 2011

My kind of multiculturalism

Back in the Bad Old Days, it was the custom in India to burn widows alive. Eventually the British conquered the subcontinent and outlawed the practise. When a delegation of Hindus took General Sir Charles Napier to task for this interference, he replied with these immortal words:

You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows.You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.

That’s my kind of multiculturalism!

Tax the rich…then what?

I found this illuminating graphic of how long the net worth of various people could power the federal government’s borrowing. If we confiscated every last penny of Bill Gates’s fortune (not his income—his fortune), it would only finance 12 days and 8 hours of borrowing. If we were to confiscate the fortunes of the 400 richest people in the country, it wouldn’t even cover a year of what we’re borrowing.


Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Simple soups

Mark Bittman (one of my favourite cooking authors; his How to Cook Everything is superb) recently had a really useful article on simple, customisable soups. Starting from four basic recipes (a creamy spinach soup, a simple broth with toast, an earthy bean soup, and a hearty minestrone) he proceeds to offer two additional variations on each, for a total of twelve different soups. Over the past few weeks I’ve been making the ones that sound good (no tomato soup, natch) for myself & my kid brother.

The curried cauliflower and squash-and-ginger soups are top-notch, as good as anything one might find in a restaurant. I made the spinach soup with lettuce; it was delicious, almost minty, the night I made it and loathsome the next day. I’ve also made a broccoli and ginger soup, which was tasty. I need to experiment more with blended soups: I really, really like them.

His broth recipe is thick and good; I’m going to have to use a variant of it in my future bone stocks. The egg drop soup was tasty, but I agitated the soup too much and the egg drops became more of an egg foam. The rice-and-pea soup was good but perhaps a bit too thick. I might try it again with less rice, or a different kind of rice.

The bean and black bean soups are good. I’m going to do more cooking with dried beans: they’re cheaper than canned, and have less sodium. The problem with the chickpea soup is that even soaked overnight, dried chickpeas take forever to cook. I’ll have to play with it some more.

I haven’t tried the minestrone or mushroom soups yet. I may make the former tonight. As for the latter, neither of us is a great fan of mushrooms, but perhaps with non-button varieties it could be palatable.

One nice thing about these recipes is that, having made them all, one should never again be at a loss for something to throw together at the last minute for dinner.

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