Schneier on Going Dark

There's been an alarming increase in Law Enforcement's campaigning for mandatory backdoors in communication software. They are increasingly taking their case “to the people” with dishonest Op Eds intended to induce fear of terrorism and the other four horsemen.

Bruce Schneier, an actual expert on these matters, explains why even if Law Enforcement got their backdoors it would only make the terrorism problem worse. His article has links to some of the nonsense that the FBI and others are pushing so you can see what they're saying. Sadly, you may read Schneier's piece but most of the people being subjected to the onslaught won't so they'll be getting only the lies and distortions.

You may want to read the article following the one above as well. It talks further about the war of words raging between Law Enforcement and the tech community. Both are from Schneier's Crypto-Gram, a monthly newsletter on security matters. If you're interested in the area you should definitely subscribe. It's free and always has lots of good material.

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Super- and Sub-Word

I've blogged about this before but here's a handy chart to server as a reminder:

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The Network is Hostile

Matthew Green over at Cryptography Engineering has a depressing piece on the security status of the network. He says that the network is hostile and that that hostility is baked in by its design. Our packets travel through routers and intermediate machines that we have no control over and, indeed, we usually don't even know what machines or routers those packets pass through.

The situation is now known to be even worse than we thought. On August 15th, ProPublica published an article revealing AT&T's almost complete capitulation to the whims of the NSA. That includes allowing them to tie into and monitor major fiber-optic cables. The NSA, in internal documents, praised AT&T's extreme willingness to help them. Matt Blaze sums up the situation nicely in this tweet

This hostility means that ubiquitous encryption is an absolute necessity but even that, Green says, isn't enough because current protocols leak a lot of metadata that can be revealing to those who wish to mind our business. The NSA, Green reminds us, isn't the only state-operated entity that's interested in and has the capability to monitor our communications. Some are even worse than the NSA.

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I Want One

Some good advice from Troy Hunt:

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Calc Tutorial Video

Karthik C has a very nice video entitled Emacs-Calc: The Poor Man's Mathematica. It's a tutorial on some of the features of Emacs calc. He begins by covering the basic stack machine nature of calc and how to perform simple calculations. He quickly covers some—but by no means all—of the vector calculations, and then moves on to symbolic computations.

He shows to to symbolically solve various types of equations. This is tremendously powerful and mirrors the capabilities of Mathematica. He also demonstrates how to do symbolic differentiation and integration. Finally, he shows how to solve numerically when a symbolic solution is not available.

The video is just short of 49 minutes and covers a lot of ground but it still only scratches the surface. It's a really great introduction to what calc can do and even if you don't remember everything he shows you, the help system will remind you of the commands once you tell it what you want to do.

I use calc all the time but mostly for simple calculations so it's nice to have a video that reminds me of some of its more complicated capabilities. Of course, the manual is very complete if you need in-depth information. If you're just starting, you'll want Sue D Nymme's quick reference guide. It far and away the best quick reference for calc.

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Four Times

Pretty much shows the FBI is being a bit disingenuous:

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Wha?!?

I've recently experienced a canonical instance of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. Until the other day, I had no idea that Emacs had a built-in spreadsheet. Now, I'm seeing references to ses (Simple Emacs Spreadsheet) everywhere. It even has its own manual.

I use Org-mode tables and Babel for that sort of thing but it's nice to see that if you really want a spreadsheet, Emacs has one for you. One of the nice things about ses is that you use normal Elisp to calculate cell values. That give you both familiarity and flexibility.

This discovery probably isn't life changing but it is another example of how Emacs always has something new to show you. If you want to try it out, type 【Meta+xses-mode in a new buffer.

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Key Management

is the hard part.

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Repeated Links in Org Mode

The tireless Artur Malabarba has shown us how to make custom Org links for special purposes before (1, 2). Now he shows us how to implement Markdown links. The point here is that with Markdown, you define a link and associated ID once and can refer to it any number of times thereafter by mentioning its ID.

That's nice if you refer to the link several times in your document. Instead of looking up the URL each time, you can give it an ID and then use that ID each time you want to refer to it. This could be especially useful if you later need to change the URL for some reason.

Malabarba's implementation takes 3 simple functions, two of which are required by the Org Link mechanism. It's pretty easy and could be really useful for certain types of workflows. Take a look at his post for the details.

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Crossword

For all you puzzle constructors out there:

The cwpuzzle makes it really easy to typeset a crossword puzzle. If you want to try your hand but don't know how to lay out a puzzle, there are plenty of sites to help you.

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