All posts by Mark Rushing

A Satellite Dream

I had a dream that a guy was having surgery to place all kinds of electronic equipment inside his body, all over, including antennas, so that he could be a satellite.

The doctors were happy to do it, because it was something new. They wrinkled up all the skin around his shoulders and chest with a long, thick wire. He was wincing a little.

He said the only drawback so far is that it gave him scoliosis in a few places in his spine, and he felt heaver and it was hard to move because the metal inside always seemed to move separately from his flesh.

Give a Little Bit

Every person on the planet who uses information technology owes debts of gratitude to literally hundreds of people they will never know, or meet — those people who contribute their personal energies and efforts to the creation of free software and technologies that benefit us all, while asking nothing in return.

It is a labor of love, passion and obsession for these creators. And their greatest reward is seeing that their labors are useful and appreciated.

Some are nearly silent and invisible, working away for years on things we take for granted, with no recognition, and often intentionally so. Others, more loud and boisterous, who can draw and rally and prod.

Every large and small profit-seeking organization that uses or develops information technology exploits the work and and passions of these people, be it Google, Apple or Microsoft, some network switch vendor, a small website developer, SaaS provider, or even a writer making a blog post.

It’s the year’s end, yet again. Please consider donating some of your cash, if you have it to spare, to these people who do so much for us, and whose numbers we will never really know. For all they have done for you, and all they have empowered you to accomplish yourself.

It’s hard to single out people to give rewards to, in such a democratic sea, when viewed from above. But some organizations exists who blanket much good work.

Here is a small list that I give to. All are tax deductible non-profits.

Free Software Foundation, Inc. is the “original”. There is no way to estimate the value of what this organization and people have done, and the impact of what their ideas and efforts have had. And they continue to be a very important guiding light — some would say the ethical center — of free and open. This, in addition to providing key technical foundations.

Software in the Public Interest, Inc. is another venerable organization that gathers funding for many free and open software projects, including Debian (to which I owe so much), PostgreSQL, LibreOffice, Arch Linux, even such stuff as FFmpeg… πŸ™‚

The Mozilla Foundation has been instrumental in helping push web development in free and open ways, as well as technically good ones, and they are in many ways the last bastion of any privacy hope we may have in browsers. Not to mention a great email client for home and business, Thunderbird.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation doesn’t do much directly developing software and technologies, but they are critical to helping us keep good government and legal standards in place to allowΒ  freedom and innovation to thrive.

Personally, I feel so incredibly happy that these organizations exist, and that people made the effort and took the risks to create them, and that I can help propel them along in my own small way.

EFF’s Web Browser Tracking Tester – My Results

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) announced an update to Panopticlick 2.0 — a web-based utility that analyzes your web browser’s current capabilities, settings and behavior as it is visible to outside people, to help you understand how your privacy is maintained.

It’s an interesting question, the issue of privacy, when considering the accessibility and use of so many “free” services. The fact is, our privacy is the currency we often trade in money’s stead.

This growing realization is prompting many people to find ways to start protecting their privacy. This is a challenge, despite whatever means they discover, particularly considering the largest marketing company around, Google, also provides people with the most widely-used web browser, Chrome.

Running Panopticlick 2.0 from the Chrome web browser yielded the following result for me:

Chrome Web Tracking

It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect. I don’t, however, use Google’s Chrome browser, except when I have no choice, which Google makes sure is often enough. For example, you can’t edit your photos stored on Google unless you use Chrome. You can’t use hangouts unless you use Chrome. Or use Google Voice. And if you’re using Linux, in order to use Chrome, you must give Google root access to your computer by installing Chrome as a system repository.

So I use Firefox for nearly everything that isn’t a Google service, as a sort of compromise. I actually find Firefox is a much better experience for me, too, regardless of ethical considerations. I also use the EFF’s Privacy Badger plugin, which helps thwart tracking. The result of the same test run above with Firefox, using Privacy Badger is the following:

Web Tracking with Privacy Badger

I honestly don’t mind ads on sites, as long as they are not obtrusive or intrusive — or malicious. And Google provides some of the least obtrusive ads out there. However, they also provide some of the most intrusive, in that they know the most about you.

I use Google’s Ads on my site here. Despite getting around 100 or so visits per day, I haven’t made any money from them yet. Not one cent. Yet I’m giving Google the information that you’ve come here to read this. Unless, of course, you’re using something like Privacy Badger to block the ads, like I am. πŸ˜‰ I don’t know how much you could really block using an add-on, if you’re using Google’s Chrome browser though.

As an interesting aside, I ran this test on Microsoft’s Edge web browser. It surprised me! They actually have some partial protection for people going on. Well done Microsoft!

Web Tracking Microsoft Edge

The funny thing is, if you click on “Install Privacy Badger” in Microsoft Edge, you get taken to the Google Chrome store to install a Chrome plugin. The EFF really needs to fix that.


Thoughts on the AMD 5350 APU

The AMD 5350 is one of my most favorite chips that has come out in the mainstream in a long while. As a serious system builder, you look for solidity, predictability, a strong feature set with matching performance, and a good price ratio to contrast that against. The AMD 5350 really hits those sweet spots.

I was looking for a low TDP chip a while back that could be used as the centerpiece of some small, lower-power workstations a client needed. Previously I had tried Intel Atom processors for this, but gave up quickly – they are painfully slow in real use, and even when they’re not so bad, they bog down very quickly when stressed — and their feature sets are poor, while their price is high. Not again for Intel Atoms just yet.

So I was skeptical trying this 5350 chip. I loved that there were commodity motherboards available for it. I loved that it was quad-core to spread out load. And I especially loved that it supported full hardware virtualization — all in just 25 watts of power use!

These 5350’s are APU’s, so graphics were built in, and if they were as close to as good as the FM2+ socket APU’s in graphics, this would meet the criteria.

Well, I was really, very pleasantly surprised. I’m a bit shocked this chip doesn’t get talked up more around tech sites. I suppose those sites are more about marketing than science and engineering though. But this chip provided excellent real-word performance, considering its low power draw. Far better than any of the Atom processors I’d tried.

I ended up making several of these workstations into XFCE4 Linux boxes, and used the hardware virtualization support built into this amazing little processors to install legacy Windows XP instances. And they ran far faster than the bare metal machines they were replacing in XP. πŸ˜‰ It’s a super solution for any organizations stuck in XP.

Since then I’ve used them in several different devices and configurations. My latest is a DVR box with MythTV (have to do something for myself every once in a while). And I have to say, I’m floored once again by the performance of these AMD 5350 chips.

First, I’m not even using a power supply on this tiny mITX build. I bought an ASRock mobo that had a DC in, so you just use a laptop power cord.

On the network, I have a HDHomerun television tuner which has 2 TV tuners on it. With this AMD 5350 APU, I can record 2 1080p HD television channels at the same time, while I’m watching a previously recorded 1080p HD show, or home media videos in h.264 — with no stutter or lag at all! In fact, there are considerable CPU resource left. This is an amazingly well-engineered chip from AMD. A true hidden gem.

And what’s more, this is all without even using the proprietary AMD video drivers. This is using the free/open source Linux kernel drivers, which apparently AMD has been silently working to get mainlined in the kernel and XOrg — and astonishingly well I might add.

Oh — and I forgot to mention — this chip even while recording 2 TV shows, watching a 3rd recorded one — it can also stream out to another TV via DLNA even another HD movie. I forgot about that movie getting watched upstairs — with no problem.

I just had to write this quick little praise piece on the AMD 5350 chip. The thing is $50. πŸ™‚ And I can’t believe what it can do. I even have one running virtual servers with a virtual router. πŸ˜‰

The only downside is that it supports only single-channel memory, so although you can get motherboard with more than 1 memory slot, it’s limited to using the bandwidth of just 1 channel — not that you notice though with what I’ve been putting it through. Also, although the 5350’s seem to support ECC memory, there doesn’t seem to be a motherboard vendor who’s placed support in their motherboards.

Come on ASUS! You’re the one always being great about supporting the ECC capabilities of the AMD FX chips… put that ECC love on a new motherboard!

Anyway, I’ve been meaning to say something about this chip for long time, and just finally have sat down to do so, because it’s so hot that I can neither go to sleep, nor stay awake. πŸ˜‰

AMD is a brilliant engineering and design company. They sure aren’t a marketing company. And I appreciate that. This 5350 is most definitely an unsung hero of a chip.

Perl PostScript::TextBlock Fix for ARRAY ref Error on line 57

While dealing with the hellishness of generating Postscript from scratch, I ran into an error using the PostScript::TextBlock module for Perl.Β  This seems to effect Ubuntu and I’m sure also Debian, when it next releases, unless this gets fixed.

The error message is:

Can't use string ("4") as an ARRAY ref while "strict refs in use at /usr/share/perl5/PostScript/ line 57

Upon looking, I saw it’s using a peculiar old way of returning the number of elements of an array. Fortunately, this error is easily fixed by editing the file, heading to line 57 and changing:

return $#{@$self}+1;

to the much more readable:

return scalar @$self;

This works because when you return a scalar representation of an array, Perl believes you should have the number of elements. Most sensible thing I can imagine for it to do, really.