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Announcement

From news.groups.newgroups:

This is an official communication from the Big-8 Management Board. Please note that followups are set to news.groups.

After a careful review of the Big 8 Management Board’s activity and process, all remaining members of the Big 8 Management Board opted not to consider re-election and instead have voted to install two new volunteers as the new members of the Big 8 Management Board. These two volunteers are:

Tristan Miller Jason Evans

We believe these volunteers have the technical and social skills necessary to maintain the Big-8. Please give them your support while they develop their vision for the future mission and goals of the Big 8 Board.

Kathy Morgan, Chairperson Emeritus Bill Horne, former Chairperson

Proposing a new newsgroup: Internet History

I am thinking about making a formal proposal for one of two new
unmoderated groups. The group would either be comp.internet.history or
soc.history.internet. I think you can see where these two names could
possibly overlap.

The general idea of the new group is to discuss retro internet
technologies such as IRC, ftp sites, BBSs (telnet and otherwise), MUDS,
MOOs, and of course Usenet and others. We could also discuss the culture
that surrounded many of these technologies especially IRC and Usenet as
they were maturing. Many of use don’t consider these technologies to be
“retro” because we use them everyday and yet interest in them is waning
and in order for them to continue, fresh interest must be continually be
added.

I don’t know if anyone could possibly be interested, but the only way to
find out is to ask. If I get enough positive feedback, I’ll write up an
official CFD and submit it to the board. I won’t do anything if no one is
interested.

Why Stack Exchange is Broken (and Reddit too)

I’m going to begin this rant by saying that there are some things that that the Stack Exchange network is really good with: mainly, programming help.

However, it really sucks when it comes to providing help with a specific application where there is already a community. For the past year, I have been the #1 person to answer questions on tor.stackexchange.com. I’m not saying that to pat myself on the back; just to say that I have actually been doing this for a little while. However, I feel that many, if not most, of the questions should never have been there. Here’s what I mean:

  1. Nobody googles anything for themselves anymore. A huge number of questions have been answered time and time again and can be found by just searching.
  2. Nobody reads documentation or man pages.
  3. There are better places to ask the questions.

While #1 and #2 are annoying, it’s #3 that I want to focus on. For example, we get a lot of questions about running Tor relays. Many times, I will copy and paste from the documentation and answer their question. However that question should never have been there at all. It should have been posted to the tor-relays mailing list. That way more people who actually run relays can answer and give better insight. Also other newbies to the list can learn also and the person asking the question can actually be a part of the community.

When it comes to subreddits that are based on a specific application like Tor, take my 3 examples and multiple it by 1000x because it is a continual cycle of the same crap week after week. I had to leave before I flamed someone for asking the same stupid question for the 9th time in a row. I miss good netiquette.

Advice for Newbies

I originally wrote this as a reply to a Reddit post but as I saved it, comments were blocked.

2867374530_5feabdfbce_bGive yourself little tasks and projects to do. Think of it as being like model kit building. You start with the easy kits like a plane with just a few pieces and as you get better you pick up new things like painting, sanding, and eventually making bigger better kits.
So, start with small things. For example, write a small program with a for-loop and get to know what all if the commands are really doing. This is your basic kit. Add in some variables. Add in user input, and keep going trying new things. Eventually, challenge yourself by learning how to work with a GUI. Sometimes your program will break. This isn’t a bad thing. It teaches you how to debug. What’s important is to take your time and experiment.
The same goes for aspiring system engineers. Learn how to create a virtual machine and install Linux in it. Then learn how to create a web server and then how to get PHP and MySQL working, etc.
A computer course can teach you how to write good code or what all of the system services do that you need but what’s most important is that you don’t give up and never lose your curiosity.

Thoughts on LBRY

At the behest of people like Bryan Lunduke and DTLive on YouTube, I have started using LBRY more and last night I even uploaded a few test videos of my own. I would eventually like to put up some of my own tutorial videos.

With that said, LBRY has some serious issues. So, let’s be frank. LBRY has no rules against hardcore porn or if they do, they are not enforced. That’s fine, and I don’t care. It’s not hard to find porn on YouTube also. However if a porn channel doesn’t flag their own content as mature, then it will be in your search results and there’s no way right now to flag it yourself. The suggestions that I got in the help forum (aka the discord server) was to report it to the #report-spam room which I did. Will that result in these channels being told to reflag their content? Who knows. It seems a little iffy.

I realize that this is a startup and there is only so much time and energy to put into such things for a small team. I am rooting for them to make LBRY a great alternative to YouTube.

Creating Onion Services on OpenBSD

OpenBSD is a new beast for me. I’m still learning, experimenting, and trying out new things. Yesterday I was able to create 3 onion services on it quite easily but it takes time to learn the correct order of operations and to learn how to find out why things don’t work when you think they should.

A word about OpenBSD

OpenBSD isn’t friendly to newbies. The developers, users, and management work to make the best and most secure OS that they can. When you work with OpenBSD, it is assumed that you have at least a moderate to advanced amount of Linux or Unix knowledge and experience before starting and that you know how to read documentation, man pages, etc. Don’t bother asking for help unless you’ve done your homework first. Here’s an unedited quote from a recent mailing list post:

> I never read

Please stop wasting our time then.

Setting up Tor

It will become obvious in a minute, but it’s important to set up your Tor onion services first and your web server later. We will be setting up 3 onion services with 3 completely different addresses that have completely different websites associated with them.

First install Tor:

pkg_add tor

Enable the tor service:

rcctl enable tor

Here is my torrc file. It can be a little hard to see, but I enabled separate logging and debugging for Tor when I was working through this. If you don’t, it can be hard to see why something isn’t working. For example, mine kept failing but I couldn’t get a good error as to why until I did this. The reason was because I hand’t actually created the /var/tor/ directories nor set them to the correct permissions. I didn’t see that until I starting watching those logs.

Here is how I set up the configuration for each site. These are the directories that I forgot to create. They contain the public and private keys and the hostname for each onion service.

HiddenServiceDir /var/tor/site1
HiddenServicePort 80 127.0.0.1:8080

HiddenServiceDir /var/tor/site2
HiddenServicePort 80 127.0.0.1:8081

HiddenServiceDir /var/tor/site3
HiddenServicePort 80 127.0.0.1:8082

Each onion service is running internally on port 8080, 8081, or 8082, etc. This is the port that the actual OpenBSD OS will see running. However, tor will be expecting traffic to come in on the standard http port 80. You might be wondering how this works. Tor will be advertising my onion service on port 80. That traffic will come in via tor and get translated to the internal port that the OS will use.

Once I had this running correctly, I finally started tor.

rcctl start tor

Once tor is up an running, check each HiddenServiceDir for the hostname of each onion service. You will need them to test the web server.

Setting up httpd

OpenBSD has it’s own web server that comes with the standard installation called httpd. This is not the same as the Apache httpd that comes with Redhat or Ubuntu. This is a secure minimalist webserver which might actually be ideal for Onion services.

By default, you can’t just start the httpd service and have it running with a default configuration like you can with Apache or Nginx. You actually need to create an /etc/httpd.conf file first. Here is mine.

## Site 1

server "tpsh5cb4zl73pwymkkuopl4roibk4envf6k3ybdcdzuhuztrytsnxxqd.onion" {
listen on * port 8080
root "/htdocs/tpsh5cb4zl73pwymkkuopl4roibk4envf6k3ybdcdzuhuztrytsnxxqd.onion"
}

# Include additional MIME types
types {
include "/usr/share/misc/mime.types"
}

## Site 2

server "ueaireabdst7uqupz5dlrt5vhltgid3wyz4esgwd7buug7nc2absawyd.onion" {
listen on * port 8081
root "/htdocs/ueaireabdst7uqupz5dlrt5vhltgid3wyz4esgwd7buug7nc2absawyd.onion"
}

## Site 3

server "r6udfh5el5bigkpnh7twtsx3j6w6cxmyexlaa23vacqugq7jo6hxlryd.onion" {
listen on * port 8082
root "/htdocs/r6udfh5el5bigkpnh7twtsx3j6w6cxmyexlaa23vacqugq7jo6hxlryd.onion"
}

The first things is the define the name of the url that traffic will be coming in on. I got this from the onion hostname that was generated by tor. Secondly, that hostname needs to be matched with the internal port number that tor will be sending traffic to. Finally you need to tell the web server where to find the actual html that make up that website. I used the complete onion name for that directory. That’s not actually necessary but to me it is helpful. Be careful: although the line of code says “root” it is not the compete directory. htdocs is actually under /var/www/.

You can test your web server’s configuration without actually starting it by running:

httpd -n

Once you get a “configuration OK” status, you can enable and start it

rcctl enable httpd

rcctl start httpd

A really great resource for starting to work with this web server is here. I would suggest waiting 30 seconds or so after starting the web server to check the urls with the Tor Browser or you can check them directly using the internal ports with curl.

Final thoughts:

OpenBSD put security before performance.

OpenBSD believes in strong security. Our aspiration is to be NUMBER ONE in the industry for security (if we are not already there). Our open software development model permits us to take a more uncompromising view towards increased security than most vendors are able to. We can make changes the vendors would not make. Also, since OpenBSD is exported with cryptography, we are able to take cryptographic approaches towards fixing security problems.

Security is not privacy and it is certainly not anonymity and yet these things work well together. This focus makes OpenBSD the right match for those who want to use Tor and why I will always suggest that people avoid Windows or Macs for those who are serious about privacy because they put those platforms put user experience and sales before anything else on top of being closed source.

KDE vs XFCE vs Gnome

Chris Titus recently vlogged about an article showing that KDE 5.17 is now smaller than XFCE 4.14 in memory usage. The article says that in their tests, XFCE actually uses more RAM than KDE. I was very interested in this, but I couldn’t quite believe it and so I ran my own tests.

First of all, we need to compare apples to apples. I created an OpenSUSE VM using Vagrant with KVM/libvirt. It had 4 cores and 4192MB of RAM. This VM has no graphical interface at all. As soon as I got it up, I took the first “No X” measurement. After patching using zypper dup, I took the second “No X” reading. Every reading in this blog post was using the free -m command. I then shut down the VM and cloned it 3 times so each copy should be completely the same.

I installed the desktop environments into their respective VMs using the following commands:

zypper in -t pattern kde


zypper in -t pattern xfce


zypper in -t pattern gnome

After desktop environment was done, I then installed the lightdm display manager. This wasn’t actually necessary with Gnome because it installs gdm as a dependency.

After that, I started the display manager with:

systemctl set-default graphical && systemctl isolate graphical

Once I logging into the graphical environment, I ran xterm and then free -m for the first reading. I then rebooted each machine, and logged in for the second reading. I then installed and started libreoffice-writer. I created a new spreadsheet. That is the “Libreoffice” reading. Finally, I closed LibreOffice and took the third reading.

The results are a little surprising. The averages speak for themselves. KDE does use more than XFCE but not to a shocking amount. In fact, according to the average, only about 68MB. What’s really surprising is how much more Gnome uses than the either two — nearly 200MB more that KDE!

Finally, I also did a df -kh after installing libreoffice-writer on each. KDE is in fact that disk hog by a wide margin and that’s even comparing it to Gnome + gdm + lightdm.

Desktop Test No RAM (MB) Disk (GB) Version
No X 1 54
No X 2 58
Average 56
   
Gnome 1 471 3.34.2
Gnome 2 501
Gnome 3 508
Gnome Libreoffice 547 1.9
Average 507
   
KDE 1 327 5.17.4
KDE 2 284
KDE 3 291
KDE Libreoffice 330 2.3
Average 308
   
XFCE 1 216 4.14
XFCE 2 230
XFCE 3 241
XFCE Libreoffice 272 1.8
Average 240

Let’s Talk About Anonymity Online

Let me show you what it looks like from the internet’s point of view when I go to a simple website using a normal Browser (Brave):

111.222.333.444 – – [18/Dec/2019:16:29:05 +0000] “GET / HTTP/1.1” 200 7094 “-” “Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/78.0.3904.108 Safari/537.36”

The 111.222.333.444 would be my IP address. With that, anyone can get a lot of information about. With just a simple google search, you can actually see in the general vicinity where an IP address originates from. For example, the public IP address for Google is 172.217.23.238. You can use services like https://whatismyipaddress.com/ to what company owns an IP and a map to where it is located. In this case, the IP for Google is probably in a datacenter in Kansas. When I look up my personal IP, the website shows a map of Prague and the company that I use for my internet provider.

What does this mean? To any website that I visit and I don’t say who I am, I am anonymous but I am trackable. My IP address and many other things about my computer and my browser give me an unique fingerprint. From the website that I run, if I wanted, I could see a list of every IP address that ever visited, where they come from, what kind of computer they use, what browser they use, what resolution their screen is, and a lot more. A law enforcement or legal organization can easily find out who I am personally by contacting my internet service provider and then I am no longer anonymous at all. Anonymity is a very tenuous concept online. It really isn’t difficult to find out who someone is in real life if you have the means to do so.

Now let’s change gears. You’re probably heard about Tor. I know I’ve written about it a lot here. Tor is a way to make yourself both anonymous and untrackable. Furthermore it makes your true IP address a secret so even law enforcement have a very hard time tracking down someone using it. Your ISP doesn’t know what you do online.

Let’s see what it looks like when visit my website using the Tor Browser:

45.66.35.35 – – [18/Dec/2019:16:49:41 +0000] “GET / HTTP/1.1” 200 7094 “-” “Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; rv:68.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/68.0”

The IP address is not mine. It belongs to an exit node which is run by a Tor volunteer. These IP addresses are publicly known and are often banned from many websites (we’ll talk about that later). Even though I am still running Linux, Tor Browser says that I am running Firefox on Windows 10. In fact every Tor Browser user appears to be running Windows 10 and they all have fake IP addresses.

If I do something that people don’t like, the best they could do it to contact and possibly ban the exit node but it is no simple feat to find someone using Tor. It takes a lot of big-government level money and resources to do so and even then it takes a lot of work.

Why is this important? Isn’t the amount of privacy that I have online enough? After all, if I log into Twitter or Reddit, I can create a new account and never tell anyone my real name. I am anonymous aren’t I?

To a point, you are anonymous but only on the most basic level. Again, it takes very little to pinpoint who you are in real life. Do one of these types of people sound like you? This list was written from a specific point of view. The thing that gets me most of all is that there are people in this world and perhaps in your country who are willing to use violence to keep opinions that they don’t like quiet. It is easy to keep quiet and hope not to get caught up. It is difficult to speak what you believe where the consequence could be loss of employment, injury, imprisonment, or even death. Anonymity isn’t cowardice. Sometimes it’s the only safe way to be heard.

Before I finish up, I have to talk about the negatives of anonymity. First and most obvious is that many online companies do not want you to be anonymous. They make money from giving you ads and tracking what you do. Do not be surprised if many website, including Google, stop working when using Tor. They have no reason to allow you to use their services if they can’t make money off of you and every reason to discourage it.

Secondly, bad people also use Tor. Not nearly as many as there are on the open internet, but they are there. Some are criminals. Some are merely trolls. A few do terrible things under the cover of anonymity online. Those are probably the stories that you have heard in the media and not about those who live under repressive regimes.

Not everyone agrees with me, but I believe that anonymity is important and it is crucial for safety online.

Communities in the distrowatch.org top 20

Distribution Forum Wiki Community Membership Bug Reporting Mailing List Chat
MX Linux Yes Technical Only No No Yes No No
Manjaro Yes Yes No No Forum Only Yes Yes
Mint Yes No Yes No Upstream or Github No IRC
elementary Stack Exchange No No No Yes No Slack
Ubuntu Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes IRC
Debian Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes IRC
Fedora Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes IRC
Solus Yes No Yes No Yes No IRC
openSUSE Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes IRC
Zorin Yes No No No Forum Only No No
deepin Yes Yes No No Yes Yes No
KDE neon Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes IRC
CentOS Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes IRC
ReactOS* Yes No Yes No Yes Yes Webchat
Arch Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
ArcoLinux Yes No No No No No Discord
Parrot Yes Debian Wiki No No Forum Only No IRC/Telegram
Kali Yes No Yes No Yes No IRC
PCLinuxOS Yes No No No Forum Only No IRC
Lite Yes No Yes Yes Yes No No

*All are Linux distributions except ReactOS

Column descriptions:

  • Distribution: Name of the distro
  • Forum: Is there a support message board?
  • Wiki: Is there a user-editable wiki?
  • Community: Are there any links where I can directly contribute to the project?
  • Membership: Can I become a voting member of the community?
  • Bug Reporting: Is there a way to report bugs that I find?
  • Mailing list: Is there an active mailing list for support, announcements, etc?
  • Chat: Is there a way to talk to other people in the community directly?

What is this list?

This is the top 20 active projects distributions according to distrowatch.org in the past 12 months.

Things that I learned:

Only well-funded corporate sponsored Linux distributions (Fedora, Ubuntu, OpenSUSE) have all categories checked. That doesn’t mean that anyone is getting paid. I believe this means that employees are probably the chief contributors and that means there are more people putting in resources to help.

Some distributions are “Pat’s distribution”. Pat’s group owns it and Pat doesn’t want a steering committee or any other say in how the distro works. Though contributions by means of bug reports may be accepted.

A few distributions “outsource” resources to other distributions. Elementary allows Stack Exchange to provide their forum. Parrot Linux refers users to the Debian wiki. Mint suggests that you put in bug reports with the upstream provider unless it is a specific Mint create application.

There are a few Linux distributions that leave me scratching my head. How is this in the top 20 distros on distrowatch? There’s nothing here and the forum, if there is one, is nearly empty. Who uses this?

What do you want from an open source project?

Do you want to donate your time, make friends, and really help make a Linux distribution grow? Look at Fedora, Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, or Arch. These communities have ways to help you make this happen.

Do you want to just install a free OS on your machine and not worry about what goes into it until something breaks? Check out a Linux distribution with an active and friendly support community. Sometimes the more avenues the better. Sometimes you only need one really good and helpful forum.

Suggestions for distro owners:

Explicitly declare on your website what you want from the people who use your distribution and how they can help! Maybe you just need funding so you can quit your day job and do this full time.  Maybe you really need well written bug reports and testers. Say so and help them help you!

Did I miss something? Did I say that you have no chat but you have a thriving community on IRC? Then let me know and I will update this blog post! Also, make sure that it is visible on your page and not hidden away.

Email Consolidation

I’ve got too many email addresses.

I have:

  • 2 for work
  • 1 alias for opensuse.org
  • 1 paid account with protonmail with 5 addresses shared in that account
  • 1 very old gmail account (I signed up the first day I heard about it).
  • 1 seznam account (Czech provider)
  • 1 installation of mail-in-a-box with 4 domains that I own but only one real account that I use
  • 1 librem.one account (this is a mistake and a disappointment)

The goal is to change all of the services, mailing lists, etc that I use to point to a single email account either directly or through aliases so that all of my email is in one place with the exception of my work email which should always stay separate. Also, to get people to only email me at the one account.

to be continued…