We are shepherds; we exult in our toughness.
Not that we idolize the little engine that could, but we each seek to be the little engine that would. It is not the toughness of “we can do it” but of “we are obedient to the call” and consequences be damned.
There is no elitist pride here. We are tough because someone has to be tough and God has chosen us. He has chosen us to lead in one thing or another, and we are grateful to Him regardless. We are tough because we love to serve Him. We enjoy being tough, not because we hold toughness up as a virtue, nor do we offer spite to those who are not so tough. We exult in being tough because it means we have a purpose among those who are not called to be tough.
In the balance of things, we have a calling and it’s a privilege to serve.
It’s Sunday and the prophet has a burden to share: Learn how to surf the Net safely.
Most Internet users are not sufficiently paranoid, and they leave way too many doors open for the kind of activity they engage. Most Internet users are brain-dead careless as it is, lacking any level of cynicism such as they might have in meat-space. One of my clients gets a pile of spyware almost weekly because of airhead habits.
The first thing to change is that person in the mirror: Are you a sucker for entertainment? Shopping and bargains? Do you chase the first search engine links to show up when you hunt for a particular artist or act? Have you not heard of search engine rankings and manipulation of “search engine optimization”? Has it not occurred to you that suckering Net surfers is about the most lucrative criminal activity on earth right now? Most Internet users are frankly stupid; not just careless, but egregiously hatefully stupid and impatient with any kind of precautions.
But if it occurs to you to think about it because you could prevent the worst of it, here are some things you can consider.
1. Think about compsec. What do you have on your computer? Pictures, documents, spreadsheets, banking information? Do you let your browser save passwords? Do you know if that saved password is secure? Whatever is on your computer is vulnerable. First, back up your important files to another device or at least to one of the free cloud services like DropBox. Windows has a functional back-up utility built right into the Control Panel; learn it. Second, think about where you are sending your computer into virtual space. What could be on the other side of that link? Are you aware most browsers can be re-directed multiple times in a second through a series of servers and addresses to places you never imagined? Are you aware that any given webpage might have active content served up from other sites?
2. Think about site content. Are you aware that any given webpage is downloading more than text, colors and images? Lots of hidden images called “web bugs” that do nothing more than load your browser cache with lots of unique identifying tags hidden in the image are on many sites. It’s actually not even an image, but your browser accepts it as one. The next site you visit can read those tags and track you all over the Net. Each webpage is likely to have a lot of scripting that controls how things are displayed, but can also download all sorts of junk you never notice, more scripts that do things to harm your computer. There is a large and thriving business where crooks and governments trade information about how to sneak stuff through your web browser and past your anti-virus and anti-malware defenses. Windows is full of such holes not yet patched.
3. Learn about web browsers. Install several different ones and learn how each does one or another thing better than another. Some have extra extensions you can add that make them work differently. Most have built-in security and privacy controls that people never examine. Several of them allow you to create multiple profiles within the browser, each with different settings. Learn how to turn off various features that make your browser an open door for malware; learn to surf without all those bells and whistles if you don’t really need them for various different kinds of sites. Learn how each kind of browser saves your passwords and whether it’s a good idea. Chrome doesn’t encrypt them, but there are add-ons that do; Firefox does encrypt. The new Opera browser does not (so far), because it’s built a lot like Chrome. Seamonkey does because it’s the same guts as Firefox, and with even more options to control how it works. There are dozens of variations built on the same guts as those, and many more with entirely different guts.
4. Learn about communication security: email, chat and encryption. Does it matter whether something is encrypted? That depends on what you are sending and who is on the other end. Could that person have a secret life that would get you in trouble? There’s only so much you can do before it makes you a hermit, so think in terms of balancing needs. On the other hand, make a game of learning encryption with some of your online friends. Do it right; exchange your encryption keys in person on a removable file device, then install them into your encryption keyring. If it really, really matters, learn how the worst criminals avoid getting caught. Learn how to research terminology in compsec that is unfamiliar to you. Ask questions of people who know.
5. Get real. Most of my computer ministry clients are poor benighted souls who imagine that their political views somehow place them under siege from the opposition. They imagine the opposition has threatening powers that they must fight. Just getting people to think that way is part of what political agitators try to do. So if you allow propagandists to win control of your thinking, you’ll be paranoid about things that don’t matter and won’t happen or can’t be fixed, while remaining totally a fool about things that do matter. The various government spy agencies are one kind of threat; the commercial spying operations are another entirely. Worst of all, they both work together entirely too much. Computers are just a tool, though admittedly one of the most important and ubiquitous tools in the world today. Learn what your computer can and cannot do against the fabric of what really matters in this world.
6. Consider using an operating system that is more secure in terms of giving you control. In terms of what’s available with easy access and price, sometimes Windows is the best choice. It’s also going to be always the most easily cracked by bad guys. Part of the problem is that there is so very much you cannot possibly know about it. Even genuine Windows experts have trouble understanding some parts of the system. Those who know it best will not tell you what they know without charging high fees. The Open Source world is just the opposite; the people involved are eager to tell you what they know. You will unlikely never need to know most of it, but the openness is itself a form of assurance that you can trust them. Also, keep in mind: If your computer has enough power, you can always run Windows emulators or virtual machines — it really isn’t that hard. You can install Linux and run Windows inside your computer as a separate environment, then shut it down when you don’t need it. You can also run Linux in a virtual machine on your Windows desktop for safer surfing. You can install Cygwin on your Windows computer and have the Linux commandline at your fingertips, or run the X server and run a Linux desktop in Windows. You can also learn to run Linux from a CD or DVD, booting into a different OS completely that cannot be changed by crackers or malware.
Nothing is impervious to determined cracking, but we can raise the price for such attacks. How much does it matter? Don’t be lazy. The threats are real, and get worse depending on your activities. It’s not getting any better. Some recommendations you can research:
Browsers: Chrome/Chromium, Opera (both the newer webkit and the older version), Firefox (research variations like Pale Moon), Seamonkey.
Browser extensions: Ghostery, Adblock, Click&Clean. Several different password safes.
Browser cache cleaners: CCleaner, Bleachbit.
Private search engines: Startpage.com, DuckDuckGo.com.
Encryption: GnuPG is currently the best for free.
Cygwin: A way to run Linux stuff on Windows, particularly useful for Lynx browser.
Email clients: Opera Mail, Seamonkey, Thunderbird, Claws. Each has unique features for security, and most of them will can work with GnuPG for direct encryption and decryption.
More: If any part of the name says “toolbar” it’s bad for you, even if it comes from your anti-virus provider. Never install anything regarding coupons. Never install software associated with any social website, news site, etc. Check the site Ninite.com for an installer for any item you use, because it strips out bundled advertising junk. Look at the list of stuff they offer, because it tends to be safer than alternatives not listed. Avoid anything made by Adobe if you can. Never trust McAfee or Norton. Don’t use any Google services unless you have to; same goes for Yahoo and the other popular web portals. Use them for throw-away accounts; learn how to kill them and do it often. Learn how to get webmail accounts based in foreign countries.
For once, Job comes close to a direct answer to their accusations. Yet, because he uses reverse wording, most Western commentators miss the point. Again, Job does not accuse God of injustice. Rather, he warns his visitors that if they are correct, that would make God unjust.
Job begins by asking rhetorically how long the trio would torment him. In the common Hebrew turn of phrase, he says “ten time” to indicate they have reproached him repeatedly. They are shameless in their ignorance. However, let’s pretend for a moment they are correct. If Job had sinned, they could not possibly know about it. Indeed, nothing in his alleged secret sin would affect them at all. It’s none of their business! These men are acting as busybodies who have nothing better to do than self-righteously mock someone whose situation they refuse to understand.
He mocks Bildad’s question in 8:3 — “Does God pervert justice?” The correct answer is that God defines justice; whatever He does is justice because He did it. Only lesser creatures can pervert justice. To assume God would never bring suffering on the righteous is a perverted concept of justice, a perverted notion of God. Were God as the trio describe Him, then it would indeed be evil if God have brought this sorrow on Job, because he remains morally upright. It’s not that Job has slipped here, but that he is skillfully mocking their shallow reasoning.
What follows is his counter argument. Job cries out that he has been wronged. There is no rescue. The justice they have promised does not come. Job has been robbed of everything that men value. God is against him and all his worldly friends and family have deserted him. He goes on at length in that vein, then asks the trio why they insist on making things worse than they have to be?
Job wishes that someone would transcribe his words so that everyone could see what he actually said instead of reading their impatient thoughts into his words. Still, Job is philosophical. That is, he knows that even if he dies, the One with the power to redeem him will some day return to this earth and pass judgment. Job knows that long after he has died, his flesh will reconstitute and he will stand before that Judge. Job won’t have to find a proxy; he’ll be there to see with his own eyes. The unspoken implication is that Job has no consciousness at all of anything for which he should be ashamed. His convictions tell him he will stand before God without fear.
For now, his heart grows faint as his flesh slowly and painfully expires. He doesn’t have that much time left, but he knows how these three think. They are plotting how they can hound him all the way into the grave. But they should fear the Hound of Heaven, for in that Judgment Day they will be deeply ashamed.
This thing is pretty low spec, starting with a dual-core 1.3Ghz processor. It comes with Win8 and I would personally never tolerate that on any of my computers. While I am capable of helping my clients set theirs up and to fix a few minor issues, Win8 seems to be the final ultimate breaking point for me. I even tried downgrading to the Win7, as that would have been tolerable to me, but the drivers were simply not capable of sustaining life on this cranky hardware.
Linux to the rescue: I tried four distros. Those that should have booted in UEFI could not get past hardware detection. They all simply hung and did nothing. And frankly, all the 64-bit versions were noticeably slower than the 32-bit version of the same distro, so there was no reason to stay with 64. Also, please note I refuse to use any DE except XFCE.
Debian Wheezy: You’ll need the RealTek firmware package on a thumb drive before you start, and it has to be in the top directory. The installer will ask for it; with that, everything works out of the box. The stock
radeon drivers produces really slow display changes on some items, so you’ll want the Catalyst driver (AKA fglrx). However, you won’t be able drop into console mode. With Wheezy, the system seems overall snappy enough, but when you run stuff like Iceweasel, you’ll notice it bogs down a lot. It’s no better if you build Firefox optimized from source or install the official tarball. Seamonkey isn’t quite as bad.
Xubuntu 12.04: Everything installs nicely, but there has been a long-standing issue with the rtl-8188ce wifi chipset. Canonical elected not to fix it, but you can install the kernel backports for the wifi. At this writing the specific package name is
linux-backports-modules-cw-3.8-precise-generic-pae. Otherwise, your wifi will never stay connected. (No, I don’t mess with anything except LTS releases.) The automatically offered Catalyst driver works fine and is better integrated; I got a console. You have to chase down the instructions for re-enabling hibernate. Overall, it runs somewhat slower than Debian Wheezy.
OpenSUSE 13.1: This is the winner. Everything works out of the box. The built-in
radeon driver is much better these days and I never felt the need for Catalyst. It’s very snappy, so that dropping in and out of hibernate is relatively quick. Naturally, SUSE is very observant of the legal niceties about the font rendering patents, so you’ll need to hunt down the muzlocker repo and procedure. At this writing, there are no packages for 13.1, but the Factory branch works well enough. For now, this one is the keeper. It’s also the only distro where Midori as supplied was worth using, which is pretty light and quick against the other standard web browsers. One other oddity: There is a USB port on the left side of the machine on which the other distros kept choking, but SUSE handles it just fine.
I tested Scientific Linux 6 (latest release) and it would run okay, but fared poorly overall. That is, the screen paints were painfully slow with the bundled
radeon driver but if you use the fglrx supplied by ElRepo it tends to lock up the GUI quickly and often, requiring a hard reset. I didn’t try the build-your-own route using the download from AMD/ATI. I would wait until RHEL 7 comes out and either use that or wait for the clones to build their free versions.
I horse-traded for this laptop; it’s not something I would go out and buy even if I had the money. The only serious redeeming quality is the battery life, easily hitting 5 hours without recharging running on any Linux I tested.
Update: Perhaps I could waste a lot of time listing all the things about SUSE that require me to relearn just about everything I do on a daily basis, but after trying to get used to, I decided it simply wasn’t worth it. Now, while Xubuntu 13.10 does run as fast on this thing as SUSE did, it’s just too darned buggy and fixes for some important stuff aren’t going to happen. I checked the buglist of known issues and the attitude seems to be lack of interest on the things that bother me most. I’ll go back to Xubuntu 12.04 because I know it works and it’s less work than just about anything else.
Update 2:Xubuntu choked, refusing to use the PAE kernel and thus losing me a half-gigabyte of RAM. Dear readers, I have been slapped upside the head by learning some things I had missed previously. It changes everything. I found out the reason there is no console when running Wheezy is because of a package I needed called “firmware-linux-nonfree” — something not easily discovered when chasing Debian information. A ton of drivers, but in the typical Debian politics, has to be separate. It includes some firmware for Radeon. Once installed, I had no need for the fglrx driver. This means I’ll also have to rewrite the draft of my book on Debian for newbies.
A handful of questions regarding biblical morality arose in the past few weeks and none of them justify a post by themselves. As always, keep in mind the fundamental use of quantum moral reasoning.
Masturbation is a Western obsession; it hardly received notice in ANE writings, and even then typically as symbolism of something else. In particular, male masturbation was simply taken for granted with no particular moral approbation either way. The Bible assumes men actually need sexual release of some sort. There are provisions for doing it justly and plenty of warnings about injustice, but nobody batted an eye at any particular form of sexual satisfaction in terms of shock that it would happen. ANE societies took it for granted; they also took the consequences for granted. It’s not sinful to gain sexual release in itself; masturbation is not inherently wrong, but can be wrong within a bigger context.
A governing entity has full authority from God to take human life for a lot of reasons Westerners don’t accept. Western moral norms frequently stand in blatant rejection of God’s justice. Life itself is not precious in the Bible; sacrifice of one’s life is a different thing entirely. Volition is the defining issue, not the end of life. In the Bible, death is merely a circumstance. So, for example, within the context of what we see today, a government based on one philosophy should tolerate talk and even wide discussion of competing philosophies, but the moment someone agitates for political changes based on another philosophy, the government can punish them. If anyone takes any kind of action beyond words based on their competing philosophy, the government is quite justified in summary execution of those caught in the act. There should be no shrieking in horror at the idea; this is what governments are supposed to do. When you promote an alien political philosophy, you had better be ready for bloodshed, your own included. What you are doing is attacking the foundations of whatever passes for social stability.
On the other hand, a government refusal to protect according to published promises justifies killing government agents who try to prevent folks protecting themselves. That’s not to say it’s wise to kill them, but it fits broadly into divine justice. Hypocrisy can rise to the level of capital punishment in some cases, particularly in the case of those who hold the balance of power. Publicly admitting certain groups are favored is not a crime; prissy hypocrisy is. The West is inherently dishonest and this is the single greatest cause of offense against God’s justice. It’s one thing to observe that ANE societies typically engaged in hyperbole; that’s a literary device. It’s another thing when there is a fundamental expectation that someone will never do what they announce is public policy. If the intent is to herd people in any direction based on deception, that’s evil. Political spin is a capital crime in God’s eyes.
In the end, the summum bonum is not “objective truth” — a mythological thing that never has and never could exist. The ultimate good in God’s eyes is social stability. He does go on to define how best to achieve that, but He tends to tolerate for long periods, across multiple centuries, other ways of achieving the same thing. It may well be horribly oppressive, but if it meets certain minimum moral objectives within the broad image of social stability — primarily family stability — God won’t quickly move to end such oppression. A government that honors the sanctity of blood and covenant kinship can get away with a lot of stuff. Any government that violates that sanctity is doomed.
Particularly evil is any government or political philosophy that attempts to replace blood and covenant ties with some artificial construct, such as “community standards” and “social contract.”
What He calls you to do may vary within any given context, but if your concept of that mission is flavored by Western moral considerations, you will fail your calling.
(The updated version of this series can be found here.)
As noted from the start, this is DIY computing, but you aren’t alone by any means.
Ideally, you would make friends with a Debian user in meat space. There’s nothing like finding a fellow-traveler to keep you sane. Next most useful is just about any Linux user. Unfortunately, most serious Linux users are exceedingly partisan in favor of their own brand of Linux. It’s more a matter of their current pleasure than a realistic analysis of your needs. The zeal borders on religious fanaticism at times, so be warned.
To some degree you could run into the same problem if you joined some online forums, which is about the next best thing to a live human contact. You’ll need to spend some times reading the prerequisites, as such a busy forum can’t work if it’s littered with ill-considered noise and the same questions repeated endlessly. You can use the built-in search function to save time. It makes sense to simply read some of the problems posted and how folks reply, or how they may not. The official Debian forums are populated with some decent folks, but most of them seem oriented on system administration. Mere desktop use is but a minor interest there, but they will help you if they have time and know the answer. They do have a decent Beginner’s Guide posted permanently.
Each major branch of Linux development has a forum of some sort, dedicated to folks who use that one brand. There are other kinds of Linux forums and general computer user forums covering more than just Linux. Each has its own good and bad points. If nothing else, simply learning how to use a search engine really well is more than enough for a lot people. Linux users in general, and Debian users in particular, run all over the map in terms of personality. However, there is a preponderance of folks who are great with computers largely because they are so inept with their fellow humans. Just being an ordinary user who simply wants to get their work done may well put you at odds with people who find you insufficiently enthusiastic about the peculiar philosophy of Open Source Software and Linux.
Thus, most of the books and websites dealing with Linux tend to be highly tilted to the technology fan-boy crowd. This, while the greatest teachers are those who can remember not knowing what they teach, and are ready to help you cross this territory that is wholly new to you.
You really do need to learn more about the Linux commandline. There are times when you’ll simply have to use it because something went wrong and only via the CLI can you fix it. The same goes for Windows, Mac and a great many other operating systems (your author has had to use it on those others quite often). So let me recommend a couple of places that might be especially helpful. Linux Command is a nice, fairly short course in becoming acquainted. Here is a very brief description of some commonly used commands and the basic ideas. Finally, for a more traditional academic approach, the Unix Tutorial for Beginners from the Electronic Engineering Department of Surrey University in the UK is as good as it gets.
You have now begun to explore Linux. Get used to the mindset that you can do just about anything you really want, even if it may take some time. Once you get comfortable with this new way of thinking about computers, you’ll wonder how you ever got along the old way.
This is your computer; take charge.
(Readers are invited to comment on other issues and areas you think I should have covered.)