May 4, 2013

and thanks for all the fish

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:53 am by dgcombs

Over the past few years, I’ve used Posterous (now at https://posterous.com/bye.html) for my blogging. There were two values to Posterous… I could post directly via email and have that post delivered to a number of other platforms. And I could write my post in Markdown and Posterous would automatically decode it into HTML.

Now that Posterous has been acquired by Twitter (http://twitter.com) and closed its doors and shutters, I’ve decided to move my blogging back to WordPress. The only thing it is missing is the ability to post in Markdown. I guess I can live without that for now.

So long, Posterous. Thanks for all the fish.

May 3, 2013

The Search for a New NAS

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:47 pm by dgcombs

The Pledge

A few months ago, as I kept my head down between working and studying, my network backup server stopped working. That worried me. You can never have too many backups. Especially of pictures.

memory chips

A few years ago, I panicked at the thought of having lost my pictures. But, luckily, I had them safely tucked away in the corner of a backup disk.

FreeNAS or NAS4Free

My backup server was built from old parts I had laying down around the house.

  • An Intel ITX motherboard w/ a dual core Atom 330 processor
  • A 500Gb hard drive from a disfunctional Time Capsule
  • A 1Gb memory SIM from some forgotten project.
  • A DVD reader from a left over white computer.

It really wasn’t such a fancy system. But then all it had to do was hold my data. Especially my pictures.

I used FreeNAS to build it originally. I installed it an ran it on a slow 4Gb USB memory stick. That method left all the space on the hard drive for storage.

I decided as long as an upgrade was in order, I’d download the next version of FreeNAS and upgrade. But when I visited the website, I was disappointed to find that FreeNAS was no longer being being developed. Apparently, the FreeNAS project had been sold/given to iXsystems who are developing a new 0.8 version rather than keeping the 0.7 version around. Is there a difference? You bet!

FreeNAS 0.7 Hardware Requirements

  • Memory 512Mb
  • Bootable Flash with 256Mb (embedded) or 384Mb (full platform)
  • Processor 32-bit or 64-bit

FreeNAS 0.8 Hardware Requirements

  • Memory 4Gb (32-bit) / 8Gb (64-bit)
  • Bootable Flash, 2Gb
  • Processor 32-bit or 64-bit

So you see. It simply won’t fit on my hardware. So I thought I’d look for other more suitable software for my hardware. That’s when I decided to look at Linux which comes in many flavors each with its own special purpose in life!

Looking for a Linux – The Turn

If you spend any amount of time looking for a Linux distribution, you will likely have heard of Distrowatch which promises to “put the fun back into computing…” I have a small issue with their point of view. Fun for me is doing the function I want on the computer, not reinstalling a new Linux distribution to see how it works. It’s like having unlimited access to free caboretures for your car. How many of them do you need? Just one, right? But scrolling through Distrowatch’s list of Linux and FreeBSD applications made me feel like I needed something from them all! Or mayby none of them all. At any rate, I started reviewing my options.

Pendrive Linux

Who can resist this claim >Easily install your favorite Linux operating system on a flash drive >or USB key no larger than your thumb (Thumb Drive) found on the Pendrive web site. But although it is seductive, it is not what I’m looking for. The underlying assumption is that I want to take a complete Linux install with me. Everywhere. And once I find a lone machine with nothing better to do, I can boot up my environment and go to work.

No. I think what I had in mind was something more generic and more like a server… And not so much like a desktop system.

Open Media Vault

Ah – now this one looked a little more like what I needed. Open Media Vault says it is >OpenMediaVault is the next generation network attached storage >(NAS) solution based on Debian Linux. Who can resist that? And look at the services it supports right out of the box. >SSH, (S)FTP, SMB/CIFS, DAAP media server, RSync, BitTorrent client and of course it offers the option to support many more using plugins.

No. It looks like a repeat of the former issue. The ISO for the 0.4 version is 284.2 MB. Big. I’m looking for something small. very small.

Tiny Core Linux

Installing SAMBA on Tiny Core Linux seems harder to do that it is really worth. Most larger systems provide some sort of assistance in downloading dependencies and other features that will be needed to make a target application work out of the box. But Tiny Core seems to believe that we’re all just shy of capable gurus.

After struggling with this for a bit, I decided it was time to move on. Tiny Core is a cute Linux and all, but it’s not exactly what I wanted.

Alpine Linux

Oh my! What a great idea. A Linux based on the freedom and versatility of the Alpine mountain range! And it’s small, they boast that they are an embedded system for

Alpine Linux is a community-developed operating system designed for x86 Routers, Firewalls, VPNs, VoIP and servers What could be better!?

Well, a Linux that allows me to install SAMBA perhaps? Yeah, it is in the list on their web site… but it doesn’t install. At all.

Maybe next year.

Superb Mini Server Project

Then I ran into the Superb Mini Server Project while looking for something else. Why how, uh… cute! Puppies and all. And it’s got one of everything! And I do mean everything! The Live ISO download looks like it comes in at 501 MB. Not small. But if you want everything, they’ve got it.

While looking through the web site, I noticed a Linux distribution I recognized: Slackware. And that brought up a service I’d used once before.

SLAX Linux

SLAX Linux was in the middle of its heyday some time back when I used it to create a small farm of Linux machines on my desktop. The underlying idea was to see how much it would cost to create a lab to test various versions of security software. I was impressed with SLAX. The general version came on a disk that was about 200 MB. However, you could trim that back and only download what you want. The core and utilities were only about 50Mb. Now we’re talking my language! That would fit on a small thumb drive and leave some space for keeping the modifications. But apparently SLAX has gone through some changes lately.

Posted on this web page by the original author of SLAX, Tomas M:

It seems Slax won’t die so soon.
Several persons from two companies are willing to invest in further Slax development.
Both parties agreed to preliminary draft of an agreement,
so it seems that Slax development will be restarted when the legal documents are signed.
This is good news for me and I hope for you too!

Nearly a year later, version 7 of SLAX is released.

Version 6

But the SLAX available at the time (December) was version 6. A rather nice version. Although it had its own little problems. The first was that it was being hosted on the old website. The second was that it had a small bug that did not allow me to save configuration modifications across reboots if I downloaded the fully reduced size. But I was able to test. And yes, I liked SLAX version 6 a lot.

Version 7

The structure of SLAX version 7.08 is different. It was going to take Tomas some time to work through the issues that make the new version better than the old version. It looks pretty good now, but it is still missing a few simply installable things. So I kept on looking.

Porteus

Finally, I came across someone looking for a version of a package that was not available for SLAX version 7 but was available on version 6. A responder suggested they look at the Porteus distribution which was based on the SLAX version 6 release and had the package. Tooling over that, I found that the Porteus release was pretty darned close. In fact, so close that it almost made sense to just stop right here. The biggest problem I ran into was that the distribution required me to download the ISO (yes, some 262 Mb). Boot with that and use its features to install onto a USB stick. Well, that’s closer. Much closer!

After booting up a couple of times, I realized I’d need to make a few changes to the boot structure so that it would save changes across restarts.

Updating LILO Boot

Although most Linux devices use GRUB to boot their systems, Slackware and its kin use LILO. LILO stands for Linux Loader and is useful in a number of locations where GRUB is just over kill. One of the main features of LILO that makes it attractive is the boot configuration file. In this file, you can list out what you would like the LILO to boot to. The first option is the default. So if you delete all but the first option and make it the server version, voila! It’s a server boot.

LABEL text MENU LABEL Text mode KERNEL /boot/vmlinuz APPEND initrd=/boot/initrd.xz autoexec=telinit~3 changes=/mnt/sdb1/porteus/porteussave.dat TEXT HELP Run Porteus in text mode and start the command prompt only ENDTEXT

As you can see above, the default boot runlevel is 3 – command prompt only. And it saves any changes to the USB boot drive in a file called porteussave.dat.

SAMBA Shares

In the system, I have configured my primary drive (/dev/sda) to contain a single partition with a EXT2 partition on it mounted at /mnt/sda1. This provides a place to store my data.

/dev/sda1 /mnt/sda1 ext2 auto,noatime,nodiratime,suid,dev,exec 0 0

Then I configured SAMBA to permit me (and only me) to connect to it using some SAMBA configuration parameters.

[dgcombs]
comment = Dan’s Backup
path = /mnt/sda1
valid users = dgcombs
public = no
writable = yes
printable = no
create mask = 0765

The Prestige

I now have a Porteus Powered backup system running on my little computer. It has a simple configuration that permits me to connect from my Windows computer, my Linux computer and my Mac OSX computer. I can dump my files over there very quickly using the SAMBA configuration. It’s like a magic trick. At first you see it. Then you don’t. Poof!

December 16, 2012

Trapped! By my past.

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:56 am by dgcombs

It isn't often that something from your youth circles around with the force of a cyclone and hits you square in the face. It was like the real-life version of the Charles Harness Novel, Ring of Ritornel. In the far future time, two religions compete with each other. Alea (the name comes either from Latin meaning "dice" or from Hebrew meaning "exalted one") teaches that the universe is simply a matter of chance. A roll of the dice. Or a whim of the the exalted one. In either case, your own personal actions mean nothing. It's all chance. Ritornel (the name comes from an instrumental interlude that recurs after each vocal stanza) teaches that the universe will not end, but simply recycle. In this case, your own personal actions mean nothing. It's just a cycle. Was this chance or cycle?

In October, Linda and I went to Illinois along with my brothers to move my parents into their new house. After a 30 year long stint in Arkansas, they were ready to be home. Although home is really more like Kansas/Oklahoma. But nobody lives there and my brother lives in Urbana. So we were unpacking and putting stuff away when my mom discovered an "old, left over vacuum cleaner."

"Ooff!" said, my mom. "That's heavy! Anyone need a vacuum cleaner?"
"Ours is wearing out." said my wife.
"It's yours!" replied my mom.

And before you know it, I was looking for enough space in the car to store not just a vacuum cleaner but a Kirby Vacuum cleaner and a box with all its attachments.

Mykirby

Of course, if you've never had the pleasure of some polite, young fellow knocking at your door one the evening to tell you how marvelous the Kirby vacuum cleaner (with its die-cast aluminium body) is then you probably don't know just how fabulous they are!

During my High School days, my dad gently prodded me to find a job. Any job. Just get a job! So after days and days of pounding the pavement and visiting every shop on the Main Street, I finally found a sign that said, "Help Wanted." I was elated. I stopped in and discovered the Kirby Vacuum cleaner. All I basically had to do was deliver them. Oh, and give a little half-hour speech. After just a few days of training, I was an official door-to-door Kirby salesman.

Here was the deal. They had someone call ahead. They scheduled an appointment for you. They promised the salesman would deliver a free set of steak knives "just for listening." Then you got the name and address and off you would go. Deliver the steak knives. Deliver the speech. Deliver the Kirby. Make tons of money. Only it didn't really work like that. There are a lot of ways to snag the steak knives without actually buying a Kirby vacuum cleaner. My favorite was the guy who answered the door. He saw who I was and slammed the door in my face. I yelled, "Hey, don't you want the steak knives?" The door opened a crack and a disembodied hand snatched away the little box of knives.

The best visit I had was the family that collected trilobites. After a few minutes of talking vacuum cleaning, the father said, "that's boring, have you ever seen a fossilized trilobite?" Off we went into a discussion on trilobites that I could never get back on track. Nice family. They got their steak knives.

At the end of my career as a vacuum cleaner salesman, I had sold one Kirby. I had given out quite a few packs of steak knives. And for my efforts, I got nearly one hundred dollars. Just enough to pay for the gas I had used. Apparently, the salesmen were charged for each set of steak knives they gave away. If I had known that, I would have kept a set.

The Kirby in question is relatively old. It was purchased in 1998. It cost over one thousand dollars. And it appears to have been used very little. It does a really good job.

But, ooff! Is it heavy!

October 8, 2012

Let There Be Stories

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:13 pm by dgcombs

When people told themselves their past with stories, explained their present with stories, foretold the future with stories, the best place by the fire was kept for… The Storyteller. — Jim Henson

I love stories.

Hbs

I remember visits to my grandparents included begging my grandfather to tell us a story. I loved the way he could spin a story out of nearly nothing and keep my brothers, sister and me occupied for what seemed like hours. He loved to embroider his stories with little details: the sights and smells of long ago. One short story he told us was about life on his family’s farm. There was no grociery store just down the block then. And you couldn’t go every week. It was a special trip. Not least because of the candy dish in the general store. My grampa and his brothers climbed onto the horse-drawn wagon eager with anticipation. Their father gathered the reins in his hands. Then, just before starting off, he turned to the children. “Do you have any money?” he asked. When they said, “Yes,” as he knew they would, he held out his hand, “let me have it, please.” They turned over their hard-to-get cash, visions of the candy canes and even chocolate dissipating like an early morning fog in the sun. They would not see their money until their return home when their father asked them again to hold out their hands. He returned their money. Once in a great while, they might even see a penny or two added to their total. The life lesson was to spend your resources wisely.

I was really fascinated by the ability of The Beatles to tell a story in two minutes or sometimes even less. The story of a frustrated young writer trying to break into the business is told in 2 minutes and 18 seconds. And it rhymed.

Paperback writer, paperback writer.
Dear Sir or Madam will you read my book,
It took me years to write will you take a look,
Based on a novel by a man named Lear,
And I need a job,
So I want to be a paperback writer,
Paperback writer.
It’s a dirty story of a dirty man,
And his clinging wife doesn’t understand.
His son is working for the Daily Mail,
It’s a steady job,
But he wants to be a paperback writer,
Paperback writer.
It’s a thousand pages give or take a few,
I’ll be writing more in a week or two,
I can make it longer if you like the style,
I can change it round,
And I want to be a paperback writer.
Paperback writer.
If you really like it you can have the rights.
It could make a million for you overnight.
If you must return it you can send it here,
But I need a break.
And I want to be a paperback writer.
Paperback writer.

Twitter has a minor celebrity, @VeryShortStory (Sean Hill), who writes… well, very short stories. They are suitable for Twitter’s 140 character limit. One recent installment sounded like it could have begun a Sam Spade novel.

Noticed her legs first. Strong and lean. Long scar on the back of one. I took my time approaching. Kissed her on the nose. Great horse.

All of which make me wonder where to start this story.

In a valley far away where the water quietly bubbles up from deep in the earth and the moon shines brightly, there was a cave.

September 21, 2012

Xenophobes, Unite!

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:42 am by dgcombs

Back in the early 1980's I made my first real trip to a foreign country, Canada. I packed all the cold gear I had and headed to the airport. Once there, the airline employee (yes, in those days, you actually talked to a human being to get your ticket printed), informed me that I would need proof of citizenship. I stopped dead in my tracks. This was news to me. I'd heard all my life that you only needed a driver's license to go to Canada. She laughed at my naivete. "It's not for getting into Canada. It's for getting back into the United States. Your driver's license is not proof of citizenship." So I headed back to my car deep in thought. I only had a few minutes to make the flight, not nearly enough time to go home and dig through the "important papers" file to find my birth certificate. So I dug through my car's glove box and brought everything that could help: my driver's license, car registration, my voter registration card and a prayer. All the while I was desperately trying to remember who won the World Series that year.

On my return to the United States, the border guard again repeated the same refrain, "Your driver's license is not proof of citizenship." It must have all my cumulative documentation and the fact that I knew the Phillies had won the World Series that got me safely home.

I recently received a notice that my driver's license will expire this year and that the state of Georgia has a new procedure to make absolutely sure only valid citizens, living in the USA, employed and paying taxes and being billed for utilities can acquire a driver's license.

Photo_small

I'm not at all sure how this protects me on or off the road. But I'm wondering if this renders my passport obsolete. Any day now, I expect to be stopped at the border crossing between Alabama and Georgia and hear a request for "your papers, please."

May 14, 2012

All Good Things Come in Three’s

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:58 pm by dgcombs

When I was in High School, we had a Physics teacher who was a legend. No, really. He was a legend. His name was Clarence Heberer. He was a very old teacher, even by adult standards. He enjoyed smiling. He enjoyed physics. And he enjoyed teaching more than anything. And every time he made a little joke in class (which was surprisingly, quite often), he would raise his wildly bushy eyebrows just twice. Our class started inserting the gesture parenthetically into our daily life as (eyebrows, eyebrows).
Heberer

From the 1963 yearbook: CLARENCE HEBERER: An industrious teacher with a sense of humor. He teaches general science and physics and received B.Ed. from Southern Illinois University and M.A. from the University of Colorado. Sponsor of the Class of '63 and the Camera Club.

I'm not at all sure if he is related to the St. Clair County family who founded the Herberer Brothers City Park Brewery on the northeast corner of North Second and West A streets in Belleville or the 1831 Heberer family whose earliest product from Heberer's vineyard was called "the vilest and meanest stuff that ever went under the name of wine." But the 1926 record at Southern Illinois State Normal University lists Clarence G Heberer of Lenzburg (just outside Red Bud), Illinois.

His High School Physics class was seniors-only. Since it was a public school, the books were lent to the students and reused year after year. When we got the books during the first week of class we were introduced to a mystery. Nearly every book had a series of quotes written in the front and back covers. We had no idea where they had come from?

One day, Mr. Heberer told the class about ordering three special, iodine-filled tubes. He told us he had only ordered two, but the company had sent him eight. Since it would cost more to send them back, he just broke six (eyebrows, eyebrows). We were completely  taken aback. Should we laugh? Should we nod our heads in agreement with the apparent wisdom of the decision?

Later that evening, my friend Mark called me. He was beside himself. He had found that very same iodine-filled tube story in the back of his Physics book! We suddenly began to see these quotes in a whole new light. They were like Neanderthal cave paintings in France. A communication from fellow students who had come before us. They had left us guideposts.

Day by day, we were more excited about going to class. What was Mr. Heberer going to say next? Was it already documented in one of the books? Did he have his stories already mapped out in a planning guide? Would he give us a unique gem we could contribute to the growing collection?

Where is that place in Kentucky? Knoxville, Tennesee? (eyebrows, eyebrows)
Of course there were only three. All good things come in threes! (eyebrows, eyebrows)

Another example of the genius of Mr. Heberer took the form of his chapter tests. Each class bequeathed its tests to the next class with the solemn assurance that Mr. Heberer never changed the questions. And that was absolutely true. However, if you simply memorized the answers ("A", "C", "D", "C" … so forth and so on) you were sure to fail. Why? Because every year he changed the answers. True, he did not change the questions, but the order of the answers changed every year. So you had to learn both the questions AND the answers. Then you were sure to pick the right one. We reviewed the text and the tests very carefully. Probably more than if we had not had the answers. On one test, the whole class disputed one answer. We had all gotten it wrong. You see, there were two right answers among the multiple choices. In clear Hebererian reasoning, however, since both answers were right, then we should have chosen the wrong answer. Then that would have been right (eyebrows, eyebrows)!

Toward the end of the year, after our class had entered its contribution to the books and gotten so much enjoyment from our physics class we decided to go through each book and make a "permanent record" of Mr. Heberer's sayings. That was the last year for those physics books. They were to be retired. We were given the option of buying our books or turning them back in. Every single student in our class bought his/her book. The literary club "published" the now classic list of Mr. Heberer's sayings. And a group of graduating Seniors handed a bundle of physics tests to a wide eyed Junior with the solemn assurance that Mr. Heberer "never changes the questions."

I still have my physics book and my own copy of collected sayings. And whenever I read an article with only two points, I look for the third, because of course… all good things come in threes. (eyebrows eyebrows).

Mr. Heberer was a unique and remarkable man in a lot of ways. He loved his school, his classes and his students. I was absolutely sure he must have been in his 70's when he taught me physics, but I was wrong. My high school was in the middle of a March madness basket ball tournament and playing at Southern Illinois University (my alma mater) the very next year. Mr. Heberer had taken the time to come down to show support his school. He died in the stands cheering them on at age 64 in March, 1972.

CHeberer.pdf Download this file

April 3, 2012

Why I doffed my ruby slippers

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:16 pm by dgcombs

It’s a good thing I’m not a weather man.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a young web programmer. We somehow got onto the topic of programming languages. I said I had never learned Ruby. You know those long pauses where something should be said but you just can’t figure out what? Yeah. It was a lot like that. In my head, there was a lot going on. But out in the real world it was very, very quiet.

In my head I’m thinking back to the 1960’s when my dad came home from work all excited. “Look what I’ve got!” he said in that “don’t show this to mom” voice. He pulled a little metal box from his pocket. All boxes back then were metal or wood. Or they were cardboard like Quaker Oats cylinder-shaped boxes. He opened it up an inside were four or five brightly colored chunks of… what? What was that? He winked. “Plastics,” he said, Foreshadowing a movie I had yet to see, staring a man I did not yet know, with music that had not yet been written. “What can you do with it?” I asked. “Make things out of it,” he replied. Thinking about how you interact with metal or wood or sometimes cardboard when you make a cylinder, I said, “it’ll never catch on.”

In my head I’m thinking back to the late 1980’s when my wife was in graduate school at the real GSU trying desperately to juggle home, children and research for her Master’s thesis on multicultural education. Although she could look up the title and some of the general description, the book’s content simply eluded her. The screetching Hayes modem just couldn’t drag the books those long miles to home. “If only I could find, download and read whole books over the modem,” she pleaded. Thinking how complex an undertaking it would be to convert all that printed material to some electronic format for easy download and delivery, I mused, “It’ll never catch on.”

In my head I’m thinking back to the late 1990’s as a new programming language made the Internet scene. I had graduated from C to Rexx to VBScript and JScript, automating simple tasks in Word and Excel for finance users. Awash in tools that were already included in Windows and not seeing an easy way to deploy Ruby to the masses, I realized at once that, “It’ll never catch on.”

But out loud I simply said, “No, I skipped Ruby and went directly to NodeJS. Sometimes I regret having missed out on the whole Ruby phenom.”

Oh, look! It’s sunny out. I thought it would rain today.

March 31, 2012

Seccubus v2 – ‘Cause I’m B. RightLad!

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:11 pm by dgcombs

 

Wouldn’t you rather be B. Rightlad than C. Lueless (PDF)? Or at the very least follow in his footsteps? I know I would. That’s why I downloaded the latest beta version of Seccubus v2 (BlackHat Edition) and set about putting it to work instead of staying late and getting in early like C. Lueless.
Seccubus is a tool to automate network vulnerability scans and coordinate their results using tools like Nessus, OpenVAS and NMAP. These tools are great! But they have one thing in common. They send back a huge, hard to read, hard to comprehend report. Seccubus on the other hand, gives you an easy to review list of findings stored in a MySQL database.
I decided to scan the 157 host IP addresses in a local DMZ. That’s a lot of work without Seccubus. Heck, even with Seccubus, it’s a lot of work to set it up. I decided to scan each IP individually. So now I needed a list of all the IP’s. Thanks, NMAP!
Then I wrote a small PERL script to insert each host IP scan into the DMZ WorkSpace of the database.

print “Opening $InputFile”;
open(INFILE, $InputFile) or die “No such File: $!\n”;
while (<INFILE>) {
chomp;
$HostIP = $_;
print “insert into scans set name=\”Nessus-$HostIP\”,scannername=\”Nessus\”,scannerparam=\”-u $ScannerUser -s $ScannerHost –policy $ScannerPolicy –hosts=\$HOSTS\”,targets=\”$HostIP\”,workspace_id=$WorkSpace;\n”;
}
close INFILE;

So now I had 157 scans in my DMZ-Workspace. But how do they run? Again, PERL to the rescue with a small script to create a crontab file for the Seccubus user. In fact, it looked remarkably like the MySQL input file.

print “Opening $InputFile”;
open(INFILE, $InputFile) or die “No such File: $!\n”;
my $x,$y = 0;
while (<INFILE>) {
chomp;
$HostIP = $_;
# Stagger the runs by five minutes beginning at midnight Saturday night
print “$x $y * * 0 /home/seccubus/bin/do-scan -w DMZ-Scans -s Nessus-$HostIP >> /home/seccubus/scanlogs\n”;
# increment $x by five – if it is 60 increment $y and reset $x to 0
$x += 5;
if ($x == 60) {
$y += 1;
$x = 0;
}
}
close INFILE;

 Now I can sit back, relax, play some Epic Mickey and let the machines do all the work. I’ll review the findings on Monday and maybe even put together a little graph. Something with GnuPlot, maybe. Along the lines of
Showcase_plot

March 13, 2012

Eschewing the Ol’ Two Step

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:48 pm by dgcombs

Anybody else as frustrated with the Google Two Step verification as I am? I thought so.

Twostep

About a month ago, after consulting with a colleague of mine, I decided it might be a good test of Google's cheap-n-cheerful two-factor substitute, two-step verification. Oh, it sounds like a good idea. You enter your password (that part doesn't change). Then up pops yet another login screen. This one is looking for a code that is sent via SMS to your mobile phone. Or if that fails, you can have Google call you – or rather some robo-voice which gives you two more numbers than an SMS usually does. Once you successfully navigate that screen, you're home free! Or are you?

The problems I've run into are not the ones I expected. While travelling outside the good ol' U.S. of A. I figured I'd have problems. But the SMS messages got delivered overseas pretty handily. It wasn't until I got home that I began to achieve unexpected results.

I did not realize I used Gmail on so many computing devices. My home laptop, my home desktop, a virtual machine on my home desktop, a Wubi install on my laptop, and my work laptop. But in addition to those were the little devices, my iPhone and my iPad. These require another more sinister mechanism called Application Specific Passwords. Here, you sign-in using your password and then name your application (iPhone) and get a sixteen character password to type in. Then you can get your email on your iPhone. But wait! There's more!

If you use any of Google's other features such as Chrome Sync or YouTube or Google Reader. Those mathematically inclined will quickly divine that if you use the last two on your iPhone or iPad (like I do), you will require four, maybe six, such application-specific passwords. And the device gives you no clue that this is going on. It just wants a password. It doesn't tell you that somewhere behind the scenes, it's looking for that 16-character behemoth. And on one machine, I try to enter the 16-characters so I can sync my Chrome, but the cursor just spins and spins.

Looking at the Accounts page chock full of my application-specific password status and connected sites, I'm surprised at just how much Google I consume. So I'm thinking I might just revert back to one-step authentication until such time as Google can make it a smoother user experience or I find a suitable non-Google substitute.

March 4, 2012

Oh My Zsh, for PowerShell

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:28 pm by dgcombs

If you listen to The Change Log long enough, you’ll hear a lot of chatter about Vim. It’s quite a handy editor and one that I’ve used a good bit in spite of my long term affair with Scite. On some systems you don’t even know you’re using Vim unless you accidently invoke some code which is colorized using Vim syntax highlighting. There is a bit of a friendly competition between Vim adherents and Textmate. For the price alone, I come down on the Vimmer side. It has some features you can’t beat in a GUI editor much less a command line utility.

While looking for a way to use Vim on Windows 7, I remembered another very old episode of The ChangeLog which highlighted a shell known as Zsh which rounds out the feature set for a great development environment both of which are unavailable on Windows where I spend way too much of my time. Total sigh. What gave it the most useful features is the repository of add-on features for Zsh hosted on Github.

Then I stumbled over a command line shell that fits the bill, and perhaps then some, PowerShell. I had thought PowerShell was simply another command interpreter built to run inside a command shell. Boy was I wrong. A little digging and some playing around has revealed that it is much more than that. It rivals even BASH.

Half a problem solved, I’m still searching for a way to use all the Vim features inside a PowerShell window. In the mean time, even though late to the party, I’m enjoying PowerShell features while I edit files with Scite. Anyone for Oh, My PowerShell?

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