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Comment: Re:With all due respect to Fermi.... (Score 1) 109

by Xenophon Fenderson, (#38836977) Attached to: 11 New Multi-Planet Star Systems Discovered

Here's my guess:

Nothing intelligent enough to capture our EM emissions lives close enough to have somehow replied by now. By "close enough" I mean within 50 or 60 light-years of us, although the limit might be smaller than that. (I wonder how strong some of our earliest radio and TV signals are, from the perspective of some alien's SETI program.) Smart/wealthy aliens living closer than about 5 to 10 ly could have visited us by now without requiring novel physics (e.g., nuclear pulse propulsion).

Each planet we find orbiting a star's habitable zone increases the likelihood of alien life, or at least alien life that uses biochemistry familiar to us - very exciting!

If intelligent life lives nearby, it might be really difficult to talk to it even after ignoring (or handwaving) the physical communications limits. I suspect that our ability to communicate with one another (or even with other species here on Earth) has much to do with having biochemistry and neural biology in common. That won't be true for species with a wholly separate evolutionary heritage. (Hell, it's hard enough to figure out how to talk with other smart species here on Earth, like dolphins or elephants.) Still, we could at least signal back and forth.

Comment: "Kill" is hyperbole (Score 5, Insightful) 424

by Xenophon Fenderson, (#38774530) Attached to: Y Combinator Wants To Kill Hollywood

If you read the announcement, you'll quickly realize that Y Combinator thinks that the industry as a whole is stagnant, and that it sees opportunities for innovation in the realm of entertainment outside of the Hollywood system. Hollywood is dying on its own; Y Combinator wants to invest in the next generation of mass media.

Comment: Adoption depends entirely on one's correspondents (Score 1) 601

by Xenophon Fenderson, (#38439490) Attached to: Do Slashdotters Encrypt Their Email?

The answer to the anonymous reader's first question is mercifully short: No, I don't encrypt my email, but I sign all email sent using my primary personal email address. Answering their second question requires greater detail, because it turns on how I and (more importantly) the people with whom I communicate use email.

I don't sign all email sent using any one of my personal email addresses (one mailbox with multiple aliases) because that would require issuing a unique certificate for each and every address. While that's possible, my PKI doesn't make it easy to create or manage that type and amount of keying material. (I'm not sure any PKI does.) I don't know if it's possible to include multiple email addresses in a single X.509 certificate, whether by directly including multiple email addresses in the certificate's DN or by some mechanism similar to the Subject Alternative Name extension, but even if it were, I add new email aliases to my personal email on a regular basis, which would require re-issuing my user certificate each time. Re-issuing my user certificate isn't practical, because to do it right, I think that I'd have to revoke the old version of the certificate even if I used the same keying material. I operate my own CA, so I wouldn't have to pay to re-issue the certificate (which would be the other way to solve this problem), but I wouldn't ask my correspondents to trust my CA certificate - too risky. Instead, each correspondent would have to decide (again, every time I add a new email alias) to trust my new certificate, which isn't really practical especially for correspondents who don't know me personally. I will cheerfully admit that signing my email is purely an intellectual exercise on my part because I doubt that any of my correspondents verify my digital signatures, never mind the fact that everyone I write on a regular basis uses web-based email clients that do not support S/MIME.

I don't encrypt my personal email because none of my correspondents publish certificates. I don't sign/encrypt my email at work even though my client issues its employees and contractors X.509 certificates, both because none of my correspondents outside the client publish certificates and because up until very recently I didn't have a smartcard reader (so I couldn't use the certificates that were issued to me). I can't sign/encrypt my corporate email because my employer doesn't issue certificates. Whenever one of my employers or clients has tried to deploy email encryption as part of a service provided to its customers, it's had to assume that almost none of its customers are even capable of standards-based email encryption (e.g., S/MIME), hence the proliferation of solutions like ZixMail.

I'd love it if I could encrypt every single bit of correspondence, but it just isn't practical.

Comment: Re:Same reason as Gentoo is not as popular.. (Score 1) 487

by Xenophon Fenderson, (#37987758) Attached to: In Favor of FreeBSD On the Desktop

Seconded, as a FreeBSD user since 3.x. I would never recommend it as a desktop operating system, and I have a really difficult time selling it as a server operating system, too, solely because of the ports tree. As an example, install FreeBSD 8.1 (the latest stable release) and add the binary GNOME packages during the installation. Then compare updating the base system (two built-in commands, a short download, plus a reboot) with updating GNOME (a built-in command to update the ports tree, one command to install a different package management tool from the ports tree, followed by a very long time waiting for GNOME and its dependencies to download and compile). That's the best possible case - where no package customization has been done and the various build- and run-time dependencies don't conflict. Unfortunately, the ports tree's dependency graph isn't consistent between FreeBSD releases, so there are plenty of degenerate cases, where for example the latest GNOME depends on a Samba 4.x executable and a Samba 3.x library that conflict with one another.

FreeBSD has plenty of selling points: a solid base system, fantastic documentation, great performance. With the right tools and discipline, the ports tree gives system admins a great deal of flexibility over how third-party software packages get configured and installed. But this ability to be highly customized costs administrator time and effort, and for many it just isn't worth it.

Comment: What one long-time VMware customer thinks (Score 2) 417

by Xenophon Fenderson, (#37950430) Attached to: VMware, a Falling Giant?

What do IT-savvy Slashdotters have to say about moving away from one of the more stable and feature rich VM architectures available?

That submitter Lashat is shilling for EMC.

I've been a VMware customer since 1999, and I must count myself among those disappointed by recent releases and pricing changes. Parallels, Microsoft, Citrix, and Oracle all have competitive offerings, at least two of which are substantially free software. If we hadn't invested so much time and energy into VMware at work, I'd seriously consider switching to HyperV or Xen.

Comment: What about direction finding? (Score 1) 84

by Xenophon Fenderson, (#37062814) Attached to: Feds' Radios Have Significant Security Flaws

I've always wondered about wholly passive methods for police activity monitoring. For example, how difficult would it be to combine a GPS position fix and a DF setup to track nearby police cars or foot patrols? That's assuming law enforcement and emergency services use dedicated radio bands for communication. I guess eavesdropping would provide further information, but even just a position fix could be useful in the commission of a crime.

Comment: Re:It's ridiculous. (Score 3, Insightful) 426

by Xenophon Fenderson, (#35274510) Attached to: Huge Amounts of Oil Found On Gulf of Mexico Floor

The modern farming and plastics industries wouldn't work without petrochemicals. There's a good chance modern medicine wouldn't work either, whether due to direct dependencies such as medicines derived from petrochemicals or indirect dependencies such as plastics used to manufacture medical implements, fuels used to transport the injured, etc. Worse medicine directly equals reduced economic output (more people sicker longer) and greater hardship (more people dead earlier), as well as increased opportunity losses (more geniuses sick or dead - look up Ramanujan some time).

Sorry, but you don't know what you're talking about.

Comment: I Want To Believe (in Tor) (Score 1) 152

by Xenophon Fenderson, (#35080198) Attached to: Egyptians Turn To Tor To Organize Dissent Online

I really want to support online freedom of expression, but I struggle to justify the operation of a Tor exit node or of similar open proxy services given all the potential abuses. I don't want to unwittingly further crime or terrorism. I also don't to waste my scarce computational resources on someone else's anonymous access to entertainment. I cannot ignore the fact that by allowing other people's traffic to transit my personal network connection, I am liable (or culpable) for their activities to a certain degree. For example, if someone threatens the president from my exit node, the Secret Service will turn my life upside down (and rightly so). Does anyone else share similar reservations about Tor or Freenet? I could restrict the sites accessible from my server (e.g., set up DNS so that only Google, Facebook, and Twitter resolve), but then the question becomes, how would I know which sites the activists need to access? Any suggestions?

Comment: Know your RFCs (was Re:who still uses telnet?) (Score 2) 238

by Xenophon Fenderson, (#35020574) Attached to: Hackers Bringing Telnet Back

Just to be clear, TELNET and TCP are not synonymous. The FTP command channel uses TELNET as a session protocol, transported by TCP with the server usually listening on port 21. Conversely, SMTP and HTTP are their own session protocols, probably because TELNET isn't 8-bit-clean. This is why netcat, which normally uses raw TCP sockets, has a command-line option specifically for interoperation with TELNET and TELNET-based protocols.

Best wishes,
Matthew

"There is nothing new under the sun, but there are lots of old things we don't know yet." -Ambrose Bierce

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