Ultimate Plumber

We can all agree that the Linux command line is wonderful. It's often easier to use than the desktop, because it lets you do all kinds of things without the mental burden of coordinating pointer movement with multiple clicks across different panes and windows. Instead, you can construct simple commands to do simple jobs, one at a time. Creating folders, moving files, searching for things, and editing configuration files can all be done easily. But when you want to do more than one thing at once, it can then sometimes become easier to use the desktop. One reason for this is that the command-line tools that can help, such as pipes with the "|" symbol, are a little difficult to use, and you can't always be confident about what will happen when you press Enter. And of course, the command line has no undo feature so the jeopardy is real.

This is where the Ultimate Plumber (aka up) can help. It's a command-line tool that makes pipes dramatically easier to use. It does this by making them interactive in the way you construct a command and in the way you view the output. You start by piping your initial output into the up command. From there you can use Page Up and Page Down keys to browse through the output. But if you look carefully, you'll see there's also an input box at the top of the output that will take further commands. You can enter any Bash commands into this and press Enter again to run them. The output will immediately update to reflect the output from your new command, but unlike on the command line, you can continue to edit the command and add further pipes while continuously updating the output. This lets you confidently construct complex commands, which can then be saved when you quit the up environment with Ctrl+X.

Project Website

Use command-line pipes interactively with the Ultimate Plumber tool – also known as up.

Secure communications


We often recommend the tool Wormhole for informal file sharing between machines. It uses end-to-end encryption and can be easily installed by both parties. It's as easy to use as sharing a temporary passphrase through a secure channel. But it's also very basic in the features it provides, and it's relatively unproven. We recently looked at a far more ambitious solution, Retroshare, which adds all kinds of secure communication channels, such as chat and forums, alongside its file-sharing functionality. It also supports Tor for maintaining online anonymity. But it is probably over-engineered as a replacement for Wormhole, which is where OnionShare might help. OnionShare is an application that helps you spin up one or more secure communication channels over Tor and promises to keep your data 100 percent safe and private. Unlike many applications that make similar claims, though, OnionShare has the best possible kind of provenance. It was created by Micah Lee, the (then) staff technologist at Glenn Greenwald's investigative journalism portal, The Intercept, in response to Greenwald's widely reported difficulty creating his own setup to communicate securely with Edward Snowden.

With just a couple of clicks, OnionShare can set up local portals to help with sending a file, receiving a file, chatting anonymously, and even setting up a website from a client's fully anonymized Tor-compatible browser. Clicking on Share Files, for example, allows you to drag and drop anything into the main window and instantiate an aggregated share, which generates an anonymized Tor address that can be accessed from any Tor-compatible browser. Host a Website does the same, only with HTML files that the client browser will interpret as a website, and both the Chat Anonymously and Receive File functions operate in the same way. It's an easy and foolproof way to access these secure facilities and highly recommended if you ever need something like this.

Project Website

For many, including journalists working in difficult parts of the world, secure and foolproof communication can make the difference between life and death.

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