Ottawa keeps your data SAFE!

Note: If you've already read my Unemployment Insurance Browser Spoofing post on Worth, don't bother reading this. It's a copy/paste of the whole damned thing.

Right now I am, as they say, "between jobs." For years I've contributed my taxes to the unemployment insurance pool but have never drawn from it. Today I began the long and grueling process of applying online for UI benefits.

It took me almost two hours just to make the darned government website accept my choice of browsers. As you know, I am the only person on the planet who thinks both Windows and IE are a bit...insecure. Certainly the Canadian government thinks they're safe! So safe, in fact, that they won't let me fill out their forms online using Opera.

See, browsers send a string to the servers they visit. Mine sends this by default:
Opera/8.51 (X11; Linux i686; U; en)
But that's bad. It's not Internet Explorer!

Okay. I can tell Opera to pretend it's Internet Explorer by clicking a button. Then it reads:
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; X11; Linux i686; en) Opera 8.51
Now it looks like Internet Explorer, but still not enough. The website sniffs out that "Opera" at the end and says "your browser is insecure." Ottawa still won't risk it.

Cripes! Okay, fine. I've got Firefox installed, so I'll try that. It's more popular than Opera, so maybe the government will accept it as "safer." Here's the string Firefox sends. Note that there's no mention of Opera in there anywhere:
Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux i686; en-US; rv:1.7.12) Gecko/20051010 Firefox/1.0.7 (Ubuntu package 1.0.7)
So does Ottawa want to deal with me now? NO! I get a new message telling me Linux is insecure and unsupported. OMGWTF?! Do you know how hard it is to even find a virus scanner for Linux? It's like trying to find a snow shovel in Egypt. There's no market for them because there are no viruses worth worrying about.


I searched around on the net and found a Firefox extension (User Agent Switcher) that will spoof not only the browser type but also the operating system name:
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1)
Bingo! I'm in.

After an hour and a half of diddling around I finally convinced them that I was no longer using Opera on Linux. Instead, I made them think I was downstairs on the family Windows PC--riddled with spyware, viruses, keyloggers and lord knows what else--logged on with IE. Now I'm on a secure connection, boyo!

They don't like Linux? Or Opera? I'll bet their servers run on Linux. Their IT guys would probably rather eat glass than run their site on a Windows server. And I'll bet they all go home at night and browse using Firefox or Opera or even Lynx rather than use IE.


(Note: This isn't a pro-Opera/anti-Microsoft post, so don't go there. It's a pro-good-design/anti-idiot-webmaster post.)


GIMPShop and Alien

First of all, thanks to Johnny for pointing this out. Here's his e-mail:
"I was listening to Leo Laporte on the radio this morning. A caller was talking about Photoshop and The Gimp. Anyway, Leo mentioned The Gimp and Gimpshop. I guess Gimpshop is a hack to The Gimp to make the menus look and work like Photoshop. Of course, I thought of you! Have you heard of this? Here's the link"
Naturally I had to give it a shot.

Caveat: I don't know Photoshop from my ass. I (used to) use Paintshop Pro. I'm not sure exactly how much Gimpshop compares to Photoshop interface-wise.

Hardcore Linux folks may be annoyed to learn that I don't like The Gimp (until they realize that my opinion shouldn't matter to them). Despite the power I keep hearing it has, I can't get past the interface enough to do more than fiddle around with it a bit. So I figured I'd try this Gimpshop thing out to see if it would change my mind.

If you use Ubuntu, or any other Debian-based Linux, you'll notice that Gimpshop isn't in the repositories, so you'll have to install it at the command line. You'll also find that the only two official distributions are source code or an RPM package. I'm not at the stage where I'm comfortable compiling from source yet, so I decided to fiddle with the RPM instead.

You can install many RPMs in Debian/Ubuntu/Whatever using the rpm utility available in the repositories, but you probably shouldn't. That's beause apt/aptitude/dpkg/whatever-you-use won't know about it, and ideally you want these programs to know about everything on your machine so they can fix things when something goes wrong.

Instead of using the rpm utility you can use Alien to convert the Gimpshop.RPM file to a Gimpshop.DEB file. Alien is available in the repositories. It doesn't always work out of the box but it's worth having around. In this case, it worked fine.

So go install Alien, then download the RPM file from freshmeat here.

Now go to your download directory and do this:
(You may have to precede that command with "sudo" on your system.) It'll churn for a while and then, if all goes well, tell you it's generated a .deb package. You can install (and uninstall) this package using dpkg.

Type this to install it:
sudo dpkg -i PACKAGENAME.DEB
Note that Gimpshop is currently based on GIMP 2.2.4, so it may downgrade your more recent version. Your choice.

That's it. You're done. Fire up The GIMP and see if it acts a bit more like Photoshop. Some folks swear by it. I can't really tell the difference but, like I said, I don't know Photoshop very well. I'll keep it around, though, giving it a chance to grow on me.

Either way, even if I were still using Windows and PSP, I don't photoshop much these days. My monitor is slowly dying, getting to the point that I can't see details I know I added to certain chops a year ago.

Thanks for thinking of me, though. :D


Opera on Linux

IF you use Opera, and IF you use Linux, and IF you use Gnome, you may have noticed that a lot of filetypes you used to be able to open with Opera for Windows (as opposed to save) simply don't...open anymore. You've got to save the file, navigate to the directory using a different program or in the terminal, and then open it from there. A pain in the ass, and one of the things I don't particularly like about Opera for Linux.

It took a lot of searching to find the solution (guaranteed only for Opera 8.51 running on Ubuntu 5.10 using Gnome, but I'll bet it works elsewhere with Gnome, too):
  1. Open the Preferences menu [ALT-P]
  2. Click the Advanced tab
  3. Select "Downloads" in the left-hand pane
  4. On the right-hand side, click the "Handlers for saved files" button
  5. Under both "Files" and "Folders" change the program from "gnome-open exec" to simply "gnome-open"
  6. Click OK on your way out of the menus
Now, clicking on a file located on your hard drive will actually open it using whatever your Gnome default program is, just as it should in any browser on any platform.


A Not-So-Quick Comparison

Mrs. G and the kids use a different computer than I do, and it runs Windows 98. Yesterday the hard drive decided to finally stop fighting the inevitable and gave up the ghost. Nothing could be done to salvage it nor the data on it (and boy are my wife and daughter pissed about that). I was forced to buy a (moderately) new hard drive for their machine.

I tried hard to convince Mrs. G to let me install Ubuntu, but honesty forced me to admit that Linux sometimes has trouble with webcams, and even when it doesn't the chat programs that run on Linux don't fully support them. Okay, that's not completely true: there's a chat program called Mercury that does a good job, but it's a Java app which would run slower than molasses on their PC, and it seems a bit buggy.

Anyway, a webcam with my daughter's name on it happens to be sitting under the Christmas tree. She'll use it primarily for chat. So no Ubuntu for them.

To make a long story short, I had to rip out the old drive, install the new one, reformat it and install Windows from the ground up.


Guess how long it took to get the family PC running with Win98 plus the few programs for it everyone considers necessary--like Word, Mailwasher, Irfanview, Winamp and TextPad--starting from the fdisk stage (because the used drive needed to be converted to FAT32 so Win98 would see it).

You can safely assume I'm comfortable enough with fdisk that I don't have to sit there for an hour deciding what to do with it. You can also safely assume I've reinstalled Win98 on that machine a zillion times before (because a Win98 installation only has a half-life of six weeks) so I don't lack practise. You can further assume that I long ago burned a CD full of drivers and whatnot for that specific hardware configuration so I don't have to go hunting all over the net for them every time. You can also assume I had a box filled with MS-Office, Wacom, and HP printer disks, etc., within easy reach.

Have you made your guess as to how long it took yet?

It took seven friggin' hours to reinstall Win98. SEVEN! FRIGGIN'! HOURS! And it would have taken longer if I'd had any backup data to restore.

Granted, I could have chosen not to install Diskeeper, AVG, AdAware, and SpyBot. It would have saved 40 minutes or so. But sane people don't skip those steps on a Windows machine, especially a Win98 one.

Wanna guess how long it took to install Ubuntu a few days back, plus the programs I consider necessary--like OpenOffice.org, Opera (whose mail client is pretty good at filtering spam), picture viewers, XMMS (a Winamp work-alike) and a bunch of text editors, plus a crapload of games, media players, graphics editors, database managers, chat and IRC clients, programming tools, etc., which are good to have but not, strictly speaking, necessary--starting from the partitioning stage?

You can safely assume I've never partitioned a Linux disk before, so I stumbled around some while trying to decide how to go about it. You can also safely assume I've installed Linux only twice in my life, once many years back and once in August, so I seriously lack practise. You can further assume I don't have a disk filled with drivers, nor any disks filled with office-suite software, printer disks, etc., within easy reach*.

Have you made your guess as to how long it took yet?

It took about two hours (counting the time it took to restore from my most recent data backup). ONLY! TWO! HOURS!

Granted, I could have spent more time looking for the Linux equivalents of programs like Diskeeper (Linux doesn't need a defrag program, so it would have taken a bit to find one), AVG (I hear they have a Linux version, though I doubt many people bother with it.), AdAware, and SpyBot (I've never heard of spyware on a Linux machine, but I'm sure it'll make the news when it happens). If I were so inclined, searching for them would have added a few hours until I gave it up as a fruitless waste of time because there's no need for things like that in Linux.

Huh. 2/7 the time to install an OS which is rock solid stable and secure. Funny, that.

I hate Windows with renewed, flaming passion.

I hate that I can't update a Windows98 system without first updating the browser, unlike Linux. I hate being scared to connect to the Net in order to download said browser updates because the only way to do that is with my not-yet-updated-and-thus-insecure browser (see the vicious circle there?), unlike with Linux. I hate that I must seek out updates for every installed program individually rather than having one small always-running program keep track of everything on my system, which notifies me when updates are available. Like in Linux. I hate having to search the Web for a program rather than having a trusted central repository filled with tens of thousands of them, one that I can access with one mouse-click, like in Linux. I hate putting my trust in some dork/corporation that might be able to program, that releases an application riddled with holes which nobody but the Black Hats know about, because the dork/corporation won't share the source code. I hate that a hole in any program exposes the entire system to abuse, unlike with Linux.

I hate that little pop-up with the checkbox beside "Always trust software from Microsoft."

Yes, I've gone from a rather strong dislike of Windows to outright loathing.

For what it's worth, though, I don't much like the fact that I sometimes forget I have to click an icon to eject a CD with Linux instead of just reaching for the button on the case.

Somehow I manage.

* Actually, I lied. 95% of that stuff is already on the Ubuntu install CD. What isn't is grabbed from the net automatically.

If you're thinking "But what if I don't have a net connection, bucko? What then? Aha, I've gotcha there!" then realize the situation is no different than it is with your Windows CD. 95% of the generic drivers you might need are on it, too. It's the specialized ones that aren't. Because of that, installing either OS without Net access is a potential pain in the ass.

The difference, however, is that Linux will fetch those specialized drivers from the central repository as soon as it realizes it needs them. Windows makes you go online to Google for them. How did people install Windows before search engines were invented?


HOWTO Upgrade From Ubuntu Hoary to Ubuntu Breezy

1. Open a terminal window

2. sudo su

3. cd /

4. tar cvpzf homebackup.tgz /home --exclude=/home/porn (Backup the home directory, but not the dirty pictures)

5. tar cvpf pornbackup.tar /home/porn (Backup dirty pics and movies using no compression--it's faster, and you can save them to "the other disk")

6. tar cvpzf etcbackup.tgz /etc (Backup this directory filled with things you may have tweaked and forgotten about, keep handy in case something doesn't work right)

7. Burn the above three files to CD or find some other way to save them.

8. Insert Breezy CD and reboot.

9. Partition hard drive to taste. This time, put /home on its own partition so you can skip the above steps next time you upgrade. Applaud your foresight, while conveniently ignoring your lack thereof when you first set up Ubuntu four months earlier.

10. Go for coffee.

11. Answer a few questions.

12. Remove CD, reboot, let computer find updates.

13. Fire up browser, go here, read carefully, and download Automatix.
Edited 2005/12/07: Automatix is no longer supported by its creator, though it is still available for download at the above link and may be picked up again in the future. Should the most recent version (3.4.8) disappear from that location, ask me for a copy.
There is a forked version of Automatix called EasyBreezy available at this location. I haven't used it and can't vouch for it, but it may be a viable alternative.

Edited 2006/01/29: I can no longer recommend using Automatix. There may be security issues, which the author refuses to address. Do not use Automatix without a full understanding of the issues involved. I have struck through the references to this program.
14. Run Automatix, which will automatically reinstall 90% of the things you used every day but forgot how you installed them in the first place. Be sure to check Install Opera.

15. Untar homebackup.tgz and pornbackup.tar into a temp directory and copy /temp/home/yourname/.opera/ to your /home/ directory, thus restoring your all-important Opera settings, bookmarks, e-mail addresses and messages. Now do the same for your dirty pictures.

16. Copy over any other directories and files that are important to you, and hang on to the rest. You'll be glad when, three months later, you need that my_resume_2005-10.doc file.

17. Don't do anything with etcbackup.tgz, just keep it around in case you need something from it.

18. Light a cigar and strut around the room while sneering a little. You've just upgraded your operating system.

(Note: If you don't have dirty pictures, steps 4, 5, and 15 will still be useful for backing up your Photoshop portfolio. But you do, don't you? And you backed them up, too, didn't you? You dog.)