Article from Issue 164/2014

Updates on Technologies, Trends, and Tools

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Linux Pro Online * <U><U>

<B>Off the Beat<B> * Bruce Byfield

Review: Jono Bacon's Dealing with Disrespect Given Jono Bacon's experience as a community leader in free software, his latest book, Dealing with Disrespect, comes with high expectations.

GitHub Shows How Not to Manage a Crisis The allegations of workplace harassment at GitHub make for an ugly story if they're true and are ugly in another way if they are motivated by personal differences.

Productivity Sauce * Dimitri Popov

Bookmark Locations on Android with Geo Bookmark At first glance, Geo Bookmark looks like a rather pointless app, but this one-trick pony can come in rather useful in many situations.

Browser-Based File Sharing with ShareDrop The ShareDrop service can come in handy when sharing files and documents with machines on the same network.

Clean up Whiteboard Snaps The Whiteboard Picture Cleaner script is a nifty ImageMagick one-liner that can transform snapshots of whiteboard doodles and scribbles into cleaned up and legible images.

Paw Prints * Jon "maddog" Hall

goto FAIL -- Free and Open Source vs. Closed Source Proprietary Code The OpenSSL bug has generated an abundance of articles and TV reports about the validity, security, and quality of Open Source code.


Arithmagician By Anna Kobylinska and Filipe Martins

Hadoop 2.x and its associated tools promise to deliver big data solutions to anyone with unstructured data and the need for multidimensional data analysis.

SSHFS -- Installation and Performance By Jeff Layton

Sharing data saves space, reduces data skew, and improves data management. See how the SSHFS shared filesystem in userspace performs.

ADMIN Online

Encrypting Files, Directories, and Filesystems By Jeff Layton

The revelation of widespread government snooping has sparked a renewed interest in data storage security via encryption.

FreeRADIUS for WiFi Hotspots By Carsten Schnober

Use WPA Enterprise and a FreeRADIUS server to set up a user password solution for wireless users.

virt-builder Generates VM Images in a Flash By Oliver Frommel

The virt-builder tool lets you create new virtual machines in just a few seconds.

Anonymous Transcends the Internet; Takes to the Air

Reports say the ultrasecret hacker group has developed a means for communicating over encrypted radio connections. A new tool called AirChat, created by a developer who claims Anonymous affiliation, encrypts communication over radio waves. The system requires a handheld radio transceiver attached to a Windows, Mac OS, or Linux system running the AirChat software.

As a communication medium, AirChat is a throwback to the modem era, in which digital data is encoded and transmitted over an audio connection. The real innovation is the prospect of secrecy and the fact that it works without any form of wired connection. The system can simply access any unused frequency, making it difficult for government or industry to even know where and when to start spying, and if they did happen to pick up the signal, the message would be unreadable because of strong encryption. According to the developer, a user who does not have a suitable transceiver could still receive a transmission from a pirate FM station using a conventional FM radio.

The developers believe this technology could one day allow users to communicate for free without the need for Internet access, a phone line, or the mobile phone network, all of which are subject to industry and government control. Transmission rates are slow by modern standards, meaning that this medium is best for transmitting text-based messages and documents.

AirChat is still in development but appears to be performing well in tests. According to early reports, the software is rather complex at this point and is not something that a non-technical user could easily implement.

Coverity: Open Source Code Has Fewer Defects

The 2013 report from the Coverity Scan service shows that open source software has significantly fewer defects per thousand lines of code than proprietary software. Coverity's scan service, which is sponsored by the US Department of Homeland Security, provides free software testing services so developers can look for critical quality and security defects in their C, C++, and Java code. The scan service has been gaining popularity and now supports more than 1,500 projects.

The 2013 report compares the Defect Density (errors per thousand lines of code) for open source versus proprietary software. According to the report, Coverity tested 741 open source projects, totalling 252 million lines of code, and found a Defect Density of 0.59. The service studied 493 proprietary projects, totalling 684 million lines of code, and found a defect density of 0.72.

In past years, open source projects of up to a million lines of code had fewer defects than their proprietary counterparts, but projects with more than a million lines did not perform as well as their closed-source equivalents. In 2013, however, open source performed better at all levels – including larger projects. Coverity believes the reduced Defect Density for larger projects results from increased commitment and dedication from large projects such as NetBSD, FreeBSD, LibreOffice, and the Linux kernel.

The superior performance of open source at all sizes of projects clearly debunks the common FUD myth that concealing the source code improves security. Although FOSS coders might see this as a symbolic victory, it could have a real effect on the way the US government spends money on future software contracts.

Linux 3.15 Kernel Starts 10 Times Faster

Intel engineer Todd Brandt has apparently found a way by which a Linux system wakes up 10 times faster after a suspend-to-disk without playing with the power management infrastructure in the kernel. Kernel 3.15 has already included the patch.

His solution, which he describes in his project blog, is to optimize the driver for the ATA drives. The problem with the Resume function is that the ATA drivers wait until the ATA hardware is online. During this time, the kernel isn't doing anything but waiting for the hardware.

The new patch changes the ATA port driver to perform the wakeup command and then return immediately. The rest of the system can continue to operate without waiting for the ATA hardware. Brandt includes a similar patch for the SCSI subsystem.

These patches lead to a short period in which the system seems to have woken up from a deep sleep, but the disks are not yet available. Usually the user will not notice it, unless the suspend point happens to occur when the system is preparing to access the hard disk, in which case, the process would be similar to a wakeup without the patch.

Red Hat Rolls Out New PaaS App Store

At the Red Hat Summit in San Fransisco, Red Hat announced it will launch a new online store for third-party applications that run on the OpenShift platform-as-a-service (PaaS) platform. The new OpenShift Marketplace is intended for the public cloud version of OpenShift. According to Red Hat, the marketplace will include products from MongoLab, New Relic, ClearDB, Salesforce, and more.

The live Internet version is scheduled to appear across all availability regions sometime in the next few weeks. Vendors who are interested in using the market to reach potential customers can contact Red Hat to access the preview version.

Scientists Discover Link Between Alzheimer's Disease and Brain Cancer

A team of Scientists led by the Houston Methodist Research Institute used supercomputers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center to discover a common signal pathway that links Alzheimer's disease with an aggressive form of brain cancer known as glioblastoma multiform (GBM).

Cells regulate growth and reproduction by sending signals along pathways from the receptors to the genetic material in the nucleus. The study used the Lonestar and Stampede HPC systems, which are part of the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) network, to analyze the data from thousands of genes to look for common pathways that would indicate a link between the two common and deadly diseases.

Interestingly enough, the clue that led to the research is the recent discovery of an inverse association between Alzheimer's and GBM – the presence of one seems to indicate the absence of the other. The team guessed that this either/or quality could indicate that the diseases are triggered through a common signal pathway, and the process of triggering one rules out the possibility of the other. Identifying the signal pathway that triggers these diseases could one day lead to more effective drug treatments.

According to the Deputy Director of the National Cancer Institute, Dan Gallahan, "This work of Dr. Wong's is quite exciting in that it shows connections between two of the most intractable diseases in modern society. And while our focus is on cancer, the great hope is that as we make these connections, we can leverage that knowledge to find new targets and opportunities that can provide meaningful intervention for other diseases."

Linux Foundation Announces Core Infrastructure Initiative

The Linux Foundation has announced a new multi-million dollar initiative to fund "open source projects that are in the critical path for core computing and Internet functions." The new Core Infrastructure Initiative is in response to the recent Heartbleed OpenSSL crisis and other similar security issues involving open source tools.

The idea is to get a large amount of corporate-level momentum behind maintaining, securing, and improving the important open source utilities that form the foundation for the Internet. The initiative will provide the Linux Foundation with the funding it needs to support other core open source projects in the same way it currently supports development of the Linux kernel.

According to Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin, "Our global economy is built on top of many open source projects. Just as The Linux Foundation has funded Linus Torvalds to be able to focus 100% on Linux development, we will now be able to support additional developers and maintainers to work full-time supporting other essential open source projects. We are thankful for these industry leaders' commitment to ensuring the continued growth and reliability of critical open source projects such as OpenSSL."

Several big Internet vendors have already signed on to the project, including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Dell, IBM, Rackspace, Microsoft, and VMware.

New KDE Offers Better Semantic Search

The KDE community has announced a major update to its desktop application set. KDE Software Compilation 4.13 includes bug fixes and many new features. KDE developers have focused on building a new infrastructure for semantic search, and the Kontact personal information manager includes several improvements. The mail client KMail has better support for cloud storage services. (Instead of an attachment, a user can send a link to Dropbox, Box, YouSendIt, Kolab server, or another cloud storage service.) Kontact improvements include a cache to speed up most operations.

The document viewer Okular can now open multiple documents in tabs. KDE also adds a new mouse mode that displays a magnifying glass. The Kate text editor has several improvements, and a new application called Artikulate helps you pronounce words in foreign languages.

As of this writing, only the source code is available for most Linux distributions, although Arch and Gentoo users can already install the update directly. Users of other Linux distros will have to wait on binary packages, although work is already underway to integrate KDE 4.13 with package repositories and future updates.

Red Hat Chases Containers

Red Hat has announced public availability of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 release candidate. The near-complete release includes updates based on feedback from beta testing. This RC version gives customers and strategic partners a chance to start integrating RHEL7 with their own systems in advance of the official release. According to Red Hat, RHEL7 RC comes with expanded support for Windows AD, significant filesystem enhancements, and improved subsystem management through the OpenLMI management tool.

This announcement comes on the heels of several other announcements revealed at the recent Red Hat Summit in San Fransisco. Perhaps the most notable initiative out of the summit is Red Hat's new Project Atomic, an effort to develop a lightweight container host system for Docker container technology. Red Hat also announced the GearD community project, which will create and support development tools to encourage the development of container-ready applications.

Red Hat's plans to integrate GearD and Project Atomic with RHEL7 could mean that the trend toward container technology is the biggest story about Red Hat's latest Linux system.

New Browser Add-On Stops Unauthorized Tracking

The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) has created a browser extension for Firefox and Chrome browsers that automatically detects and blocks spy ads. According to the EFF, Privacy Badger "analyzes sites to detect and disallow content that tracks you in an objectionable, non-consensual manner." If a website attempts to track you without permission or attempts to install tracking images, scripts, or other information on your system, Privacy Badger will automatically disallow the content.

Cookie-blocking settings and features have been around for years, but tracking techniques have become much more sophisticated. Trackers now have spying techniques that go well beyond what you can catch by merely blocking cookies. Privacy Badger can stop the cookies, but it also detects and stops other, more sophisticated ploys.

Interestingly, the EFF says Privacy Badger will unlock advertisers and other third-party domains that make a strong commitment to support the Do Not Track option. Do Not Track (DNT) is an optional browser setting that notifies the website that the user does not want to be tracked. The DNT concept only works if websites respect it. The EFF asks that vendors post the Do Not Track Compliance policy and commit to respecting DNT in order for the site to be unblocked.

Privacy Badger is still at the alpha release stage, and the EFF is actively seeking feedback from testers.

Penguin Puts MATLAB in the Cloud

Penguin Computing is making the MATLAB numerical analysis system available through its POD cloud computing service. The popular MATLAB toolkit is used by scientists and engineers around the world, Putting MATLAB in the Penguin cloud will allow teams of users to access it from anywhere and bring high-performance scientific computing to users with limited resources in their home environment.

MATLAB adds another tool to Penguin's online HPC offerings. It also brings Matlab a step closer to the 21st century reality of the cloud economy. A ready-made solution in Penguin's POD service network will help extend the powerful MATLAB toolkit to new users and use scenarios.

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