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Stallman on Ubuntu

Last year I asked Dr. Stallman to comment on what Ubuntu/Canonical had done with regards to privacy and since then he has expressed his view very clearly, most recently in this video.

Graphically Managing Server-hosted Drives (Over SSH)

On interacting with various file servers or client servers as through they are local


Sometimes we may wish to allow users, logged in remotely (away from their main workstations) or wishing to connect to another host where essential files are located, to access those files. A convenient way to achieve this without proprietary protocols is SSH in SCP ‘mode’, meaning that OpenSSH is being used to gather information about remote filesystems and pass files across the network upon demand. There is a convenient ways to manage this in UNIXy file managers These are unified by the universal command-line syntax, but the front ends may vary and be based on Qt, GTK, etc. Here is a demonstration of how it is to be achieved in Dolphin (KDE) in order to remotely log in to an SSH-enabled (running sshd) host.

Connecting to the Server

File managers typically have an address bar, which in simplified interfaces are not editable unless one clicks the universally-accepted CTRL+L (for location), which then replaces a breadcrumbs-styled interface with an editable line. Here is an example of Dolphin before and after.


Now, enter the address of the server with the syntax understood by the file manager, e.g. for KDE:

fish://[USER name]@[SERVER address]

One can add ":[DIRECTORY path]" to ascend/descend in the accessed server.

The syntax is the same for Konqueror and a few other file managers, with the exception of the “fish://” part, which is handled by kio. Here is what the password prompt/dialogue may look like.


Syntax may vary where the protocol, SSH in this case, is specified, but the port number if always the same and Nautilus can handle this too. Once the remote filesystem is shows like a local file system it can be dragged into the shortcuts pane, bookmarked, or whatever the file manager permits for fast access, including the facility for remembering the password/s (handled by kwallet in KDE).

The Nautilus Way

I have installed Nautilus to document the process for Nautilus as well.

The process can be done with the GUI in Nautilus. This is to be achieved slightly differently and it take a little longer. Here are simple steps:

Step 1

Open Nautilus (installed under KDE in this instance, using Qt Curve in this case).


Step 2

Collapse the “File” menu.


Click “Connect to Server…”

Step 3

Choose SSH, unless another protocol is desired in this case.


Step 4

Enter the server name (or IP address). Optionally enter the port number (if different from the standard port for this protocol), path (called “Folder”) and of course the username (“User Name”). Shortcuts can be created by using the options beneath.


Step 5

Finally, enter the password and access is then granted.


By keeping passwords in memory or disk one can more rapidly and transparently access the remote drive again, reaching files seamlessly.

Working on Files Remotely

This is where a lot of power can be derived from the above process. Using KIO slaves in KDE, for instance, files can be opened as though they are stored locally and when an application saves (applied changes) to those files, KIO will push the changed file into the remote file store (working in the background). This means that headless servers can be interacted with as though they are part of the machines that access them. No need for X Server, either. Since many machines out there are configured to be minimal (no graphical desktop), this sure proves handy.


Backing Up Bootloader and Home Directories Over the Network

Backups that are robust and resistant to disasters like fire should be distributed. Backing up by writing to external drives is good, but it is not sufficient. Here is how I back up my main machine. Backup is quick in a smaller number of rather large files (not too large as some file systems cannot cope with those), so one trick goes like this:

sudo mkdir /media/backupdrive/`date +%Y-%m-%d` # (if disk space permits, or via external mounted drive for another safety net)
sudo tar -cf - /home/|split -b 1000m - /media/backupdrive/`date +%Y-%m-%d`/Home-`date +%Y-%m-%d`.tar.

This includes all the hidden files.

To reassemble:

cat *|tar -xf 

this is then scp‘d or rsync‘d over to another box based on a wildcard or directory like

/media/backupdrive/`date +%Y-%m-%d`

This leaves a stack of backups in case the latest one is already ‘contaminated’. rsync of the original files, uncompressed and untarred, can be fast except for the first time, but for a stack of backups it’s not suitable.

But more files need to be backed up, depending on the bootloader for instance.

MBR backup and restore is done with dd:

dd if=/dev/sdX of=/tmp/sda-mbr.bin bs=512 count=1

dd if= sda-mbr.bin of=/dev/sdX bs=1 count=64 skip=446 seek=446

If this is saved to the home directory, then it’s included in the main backup.

My Interview With Richard Stallman on Booting Freedom

Techbytes 2012

Direct download as Ogg (0:13:28, 5.5 MB)

Summary: The first part of our interview with Richard Stallman covers UEFI and related issues

I first interviewed Richard Stallman about 5 years ago. Yesterday I spoke to him about the subject of much debate in the Free software world right now. Here is a transcript of our conversation.

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: I want to know how big a threat you think the so-called “secure” boot is considered to be to the Free software movement.

Richard StallmanDr. Richard Stallman: It’s a disaster. Well, except that it’s not secure boot that’s a disaster, it’s restricted boot. Those are not the same. When it’s front of the control of the user, secure boot is a security feature. It allows the user to control what programs can run on a machine and thus prevent — you might say — unexpected malware from running. We have to distinguish the unexpected malware such as viruses from the expected malware such as Windows or Mac OS or Flash Player and so on, which are also malware; they have features that hurt the user but users know what they are installing. In any case, what secure boot does is that it causes the machine to only work with (?) programs that are signed with a certain key, your keys. And as long as the user controls which keys they are, then it’s a security feature. However, it can be chained into a set of digital handcuffs when the user doesn’t control the keys. And this [is] happening.

Microsoft demands that ARM computers sold for Windows 8 be set up so that the user cannot change the keys; in other words, turn it into restricted boot. Now, this is not a security feature. This is abuse of the users. I think it ought to be illegal.

It’s a matter of control by the vendor of course, not control by the user himself

Exactly, and that’s why it’s wrong. That’s why non-free software is wrong. The users deserve to have control of their computers/

I think that not only Windows is going to be an issue in fact, if you consider the fact that even a modified kernel is going to be in a position where it’s perhaps not seen as verified for execution. Right, I’m saying, it might not only be a malicious feature in case of something like Windows running on it, it’s also for — let’s say — a user of the offered operating system but it’s free if the user wants to modify the operating system, for example…

The thing is, if the user doesn’t control the keys, then it’s a kind of shackle, and that would be true no matter what system it is. After all, why is GNU/Linux better than Windows? Not just ’cause it has a different name. The reason it’s better is because it’s freedom-respecting Free software that the users control. But if the machine has restricted boot and the users can’t control the system, then it would be just as bad as Windows. So, if the machine will only run a particular version of GNU/Linux, that is a restriction feature. And I haven’t heard anyone doing that yet with GNU/Linux, but that’s what Red Hat and Ubuntu are proposing to do things — somewhat like that — for future PCs that are shipped for Windows. But it’s not exactly that. And my reason is, the users will be able to change the keys. They will be able to boot their own modified version of the system of Fedora or Ubuntu if they want. So, what Fedora and Ubuntu were proposing doesn’t go all the way there. They’re proposing to do things to make it more convenient for users to install the standard version of those systems. But if things go as it has been announced, users will still be able to change the keys and boot their own versions. So, if all the restricted boot — but it will be something that goes sort of half-way there — it’s somewhat distasteful.

On the other hand, with Android, which is another mostly Free operating system which contains Linux but doesn’t contain GNU, it’s quite common for the product to have something equivalent to restricted boot, and people have to struggle to figure out how they can install a modified and more free version of Android. So, the presence of the kernel Linux in a system doesn’t guarantee it’s going to be better. And I’ve heard someone say — oh, it hasn’t been checked — that a particular or kind of Android device is actually using an Intel chip with restricted boot.

One of the concerns that I think is worth raising is the fact that, as far as I know, with many of the embedded devices, especially those based on ARM, I believe it’s not even possible to get into boot menu to disable so-called “secure”…

That’s where Microsoft is really going all out, because Microsoft has ordered essentially — demanded — that those shipping ARM devices for Windows 8 make it restricted boot with no way to get around it.

Yeah, which also means of course waste of… all sorts of impacts on the environment. Any time that hardware become obsolete with the operating system itself is not being used of course…

Well, it’s worse than that. It means basically that those devices, you have to throw them out if you want to escape to the free world. And this — in the past — we were able to install, to liberate a computer by installing Free software on it instead of its user-restricting operation system, and this of course was tremendously helpful to the spread of GNU/Linux because it meant that users could move to freedom. It would be much harder if they had to buy another computer to do so. So it’s a very damaging thing that Microsoft is doing and so we need to look for every possible way to stop them or tweak what they’re doing.

Well, I wanted to ask you, one of our readers — his name is Will — is asking me if you have seen any new good hardware that can take coreboot.

I’m sorry, what?

One of my readers — a guy called Will — he has asked me if you have seen any new good hardware that can take coreboot.

I don’t know. Basically, I don’t keep track of hardware models. I only remember their names anymore, except for the one I use, which is, the Lemote Yeelong and it doesn’t run coreboot but it will run timar [?] in GRUB, it has a Free BIOS. When it comes it has a Free BIOS, which is why I chose it. But in terms of running coreboot, well, the machine which you run coreboot on are Intel-type machines. Now, there are a couple of… there is a problem, and that is, a lot of the Intel — and also AMD — CPUs require a microcode blob, and coreboot has these microcode blobs, which is the same kind of problem as firmware blobs in Linux. So, what we really need to do is make coreboot libre, just as we make Linux libre (which doesn’t have the blobs), keep (?) the coreboot libre (which doesn’t have the blobs) and then we need to see which processors actually run adequately without any microcode blob. And we’re looking for somebody who wants to lead this project ’cause it takes work. Now, leading this project doesn’t mean that you personally get all these kinds of hardware; oh, no, it would be asking the whole community to test things, but somebody has got to ask the community to do it, spread the word, receive the responses, put them together, and publish the list. Would (?) he like to do that? If he is really interested in having the answer to this question, maybe he’d like to help get the answer, and that would help the whole community.

More from Stallman is to be published in coming days.

We hope you will join us for future shows and consider subscribing to the show via the RSS feed. You can also visit our archives for past shows. If you have an account, consider subscribing to TechBytes in order to keep up to date.

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Thank you, Eugeni Dodonov (RIP)


Bio and CV

Linux/Unix: Deleting Old Files in a Cron Job

SEVERAL years ago I wrote about an old backup procedure of mine. Sometimes people set up a job to make a backup, but what about removing backups that are too old to matter? If a directory/file needs deleting based on age, with wildcards one could run something like:

rm ~/some_file-`date -d "7 day ago" +%d%m%Y`*
rm ~/some_file-`date -d "6 day ago" +%d%m%Y`*

Or quick and dirty (risky if there’s a mixture of files in the said location):

find . -atime +7 -exec rm {} \;;

There’s nothing complicated to it. Once it’s done once, it can be modified thereafter.

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