Canonical Voices

What Chad Miller talks about

Chad Miller

I’ve spoken before (Barcamp Orlando, 2007) about how we, as a culture, do not protect data as well as we should.  We value physical things more than we value data, even though some of us spend far more of our lives creating and using data.

One way we can lose data is through theft of the hardware it’s on.  We can think about the value of encryption, not only in how much positive value some information has to you (how much is a random string worth, really?), but also in how much negative value it would have if someone else had control of it (like when your bank password is in the hands of someone else).

Ubuntu can’t help you value your data more, but it can help remove some of the negative impact of someone stealing your hardware.  Though a single directory was available only to advanced users back in Ubuntu 9.04, now all users can take advantage of having all personal data encrypted! That’s right — you entire home directory can be encrypted.  There’s a great article written by Dustin Kirkland that elucidates how to begin to use encrypted home, even for established users and systems.

I thought I understood the migration process more than I really did, so my first attempt failed.  I worked on it until I understood it, and so maybe someone will find a high-level summary of what I learned to be useful:

  1. Start ~/Private dir encryption.  Copy all of your home into it (excluding the “Private” therein).  Unmount the encryption.
  2. Make a new directory outside to hold config files.  Move your ~/.ecryptfs  into it, so there’s no chicken-egg problem in loading the config files.  Move your ~/.Private ciphertext into it also.
  3. Make a new directory that will be renamed to your home directory later, which will hold almost nothing except a symlink to the config files and symlink to ciphertext dir.
  4. Move your home out of the way, to back up.  Move the new tmp into place.
  5. Then, at log in, it reads the configs, finds the ciphertext, mounts this on top of your home, and all works as it should.

That is of course, just an overview of what one does, and should only help one grapple with the concepts, not help one actually do anything.  For more helpful advice see that article above.

Encrypted home directories are new in Ubuntu 9.10 and are very easy to use if starting a new user from scratch.

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Chad Miller

One thing that may be daunting to users of platforms that, shall we say, holds the hands of new programmers and comforts them even when unwarranted, is the idea of beginning a new project for GNU/Linux.  Knowing where to start is not trivial, largely because the ecosystem is so mind-numbingly varied and huge.

With Ubuntu 9.10, there is a new way to start projects, a program called “Quickly”.  I will not be for everyone, but it aims to make a large fraction of projects easy to begin.  As the wiki page of Quickly describes,

Given the richness and variety of the Linux platform, programming on Linux should be easy and fun. However, it’s not easy and fun because it is too hard to learn. It is too hard to learn because there are too many choices, and too much information to wade through. Quickly strives to make programming easy and fun by bringing opinionated choices about how to write different kinds of programs to developers. Included is a Ubuntu application template for making applications that integrate smoothly into the Ubuntu software infrastructure.

Anyone considering a new project on Ubuntu should first know about Quickly.  One can learn a lot from Didier Roche’s 9-part tutorial about Quickly.

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Chad Miller

Ubuntu 9.10 (“Karmic Koala”) has some neat new features, and I want to bring your attention to a few in turn.  I am not taking credit for any of them. I didn’t have much to do with any of these wonderful features, unless I mention it.

First, Ubuntu 9.10 boots fast.  Compare the speeds of the last two MSFT Windows versions to the last two Ubuntu versions. That’s interesting, eh? When you sit down to use a computer, you have something in mind you want to do. Every second of your life the system wastes is a second you might forget what you want to do. We hate wasting your time.

There’s more, too.

The booting software that ships in Ubuntu 9.10 is still safe, stable, and slow, relative to what else the Ubuntu folks have made. If you have a non-solid-state, regular old rotational disk-drive, then you can shave off maybe another 20 seconds by using a more specialized linux kernel and read-ahead implementation. How? It’s dead simple! From a terminal (Applications, Accessories) run these three commands:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-boot/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

When that is better tested, it might be installed by default.

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