Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Wed, 18 Aug 2010

Getting Pretty Gnarly

I've written several times previously about encryption. I've had a public key for several years now, but haven't used it too much. It's been signed by lots of people, giving it fairly good provenance. I sign the occasional email, but there are few people I would send anything encrypted. At Herts LUG last week a friend of a friend came along, partly to do some keysigning. I was not well organised and didn't manage to print off my whole key signature, so I'm not sure he's going to sign mine, but I signed his and emailed it back to him.

Part of the reason I've not been encrypting or signing is due to problems getting this working in Kmail. Since I did my recent fresh install it hadn't been working, but it is now thanks to some help I got from Ubuntu Stack Exchange, a welcome addition to the Q&A network. I still feel that encryption is still a bit technical for the average user. If it's not used correctly then will be getting a false sense of security.

Encryption would be used more if integrated into more of the email tools people use. I didn't realise that Gmail had experimented with signature verification last year, but it doesn't look like they decided to keep it. That's a shame, as is the end of development of FireGPG, a browser plug-in I looked at a while back. We all rely on encryption to secure financial transactions on the internet, but few seem interested in the possibilities of secure communication and the ability to verify their identity. I wonder if the growth of Facebook and other systems is moving people away from conventional email. I know that spam could put me off if I was starting now.

Back at Herts LUG, we had an interesting demonstration by Malc of installing Sidux using the latest GRUB facilities to boot an ISO image directly from a hard drive. It didn't all quite work, but the principle was proved. He made it hard for himself by using an ancient PC that wouldn't boot from anything other than a floppy. I also had my first hands-on with an iPad. A slick device, but not one I'm desperate for. You read more on the owner's experiences on his 'flog'.

[21:35] | [/Internet] | Comments | G

Thu, 05 Aug 2010

Useful tools

The internet is full of all sorts of servies that can make our digital lives easier. One problem is just finding out which exist that are actually useful. Here's a couple I've started using lately.

I've got loads of passwords for all the different sites I use. I've tried various apps on my PDAs and phones so that I can have them with me. These store them encrypted with a master password. The KeePass file format is supported by apps on just about any platform. I've used the same file on Windows Mobile, Linux and Android. This still leaves you having to look up the passwords each time you need them and type them in. I recently read about LastPass which does a similar thing, but stores the encrypted file on-line and allows access via browser plug-ins. I've been using it for a few weeks and it's great. It encourages you to use more secure passwords as you don't need to remember them or trust them to your browser, which generally stores them unencrypted. I'm not using it for critical things like banking.

Since my recent hard drive crash I'm thinking more about backup. The main things I lost are some recent photos and a few documents. The rest was on a USB hard drive. I needed something that would automate the backing up of new and updated files. I'd been using Ubuntu One, but the KDE support was a little lacking and so it didn't get the most recent files. I recovered some files from it. Dropbox offers a very similar service, with very similar price plans, but has support for more platforms, including Android. The free option gives you 2GB, but you can get more by inviting others to join and by playing with some of the facilities. I only really need a few GB. The 50GB for $10/month is a bit expensive for my needs. It seems Dropbox and Ubuntu both use Amazon's S3 storage, so I expect they control the cost. I would hope to see prices drop. Anyway, Dropbox silently gets on with backing up my files and even keeps old versions in case I mess something up. If you want to try it then please consider using this link that will get us both an extra 250MB.

The other thing I've been playing with is Google's Chrome/Chromium browser. I've been using Firefox since it first appeared as Firebird, but fancied a change. Chrome seems to do all I need. There are a fair number of plug-ins for things like mouse gestures, LastPass, delicious and other things I use. I'm sure Firefox will develop further, so I'll be keeping an eye on that. Brownsers are one of the easier apps to move between as there's so little local data, I don't use much in the way of local bookmarks.

I was disappointed to hear that Google are dropping Wave. I've played with it a few times and could see uses for it. In the last week or so I've been using it for real to plan a trip with some friends from the Six String Bliss forum. There are not too many tools that would allow us all to easily update a common 'document' that includes maps etc. Some listed here, but I have yet to try any of them.

This is my first post in a couple of months. I need to find time to write and a topic that justifies it. I hope my loyal reader has not been too bored.

[20:07] | [/Internet] | Comments | G



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