Thursday, August 31, 2006

Linux requires PhD in Astrophysics

I’m a simple guy. I like it when things simply work. This is why Linux is just not for me. I gave it an honest try … again. And again. And again. Each time, there was something else that I had to waste hours scouring the boards trying to find fixes for some obscure problem. My latest problem was trying to get all three monitors up and running. In Windows, it’s extremely trivial. In Linux, you need a PhD in astrophysics to figure it out. Turns out that for whatever reason, the nVidia driver and ati driver don’t like each other and won’t work simultaneously. After 40+ edits to xorg.conf, 30+ reboots after X11 hangs the entire machine, and several driver intalls later, I still had only two monitors showing. Sorry, but that third monitor is now useless. Then there’s my soundcard. It doesn’t work. Who knows why. My midi stuff – all three devices – won’t work. Scanner? No. Printer? It’s a paper weight. TV Tuner card? Sorry. Pocket PC support? Yeah, right. It’s not just hardware, either. I couldn’t even manage to install Flash in Firefox. Apparently my AMD processor isn’t supported. 3D acceleration wasn’t going anywhere fast. NOTHING FRIGGEN WORKS! I boot back into XP, and everything… EVERYTHING … works like a charm. I’m a computer scientist, not a hardware junkie. I just want to run my experiments, code on three monitors, and play games, not spend hours on end just to get a working configuration.

Now, to be somewhat fair, several hardware configurations probably work flawlessly under linux. My hardware configuration is a bit abnormal. My network card actually worked and I was able to surf the net on a working X11 display (which didn’t work after a fresh install – I had to scour the net just to get instructions for how to get my video card working, which the instructions were bad, so I had to find better instructions --- from the manufacturer --- and those didn’t work, so then I finally tried one last set of instructions, which somehow managed to work --- gah!)

Why would I want to boot into linux as a workstation, anyway? I’m doing some fun OS work and it’s kind of neat trying it on a real machine instead of a virtual machine. But alas, I’ll have to stick with a virtual machine or put together a really simple box that has absolutely nothing beyond a keyboard, a mouse, and a video card.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Hawaii in January? Maybe not :(

I have another chance to go to Hawaii again next January. I'm really struggling with the decision, though. My paper featuring the Root Evidence Sampling algorithm was accepted at HICSS, but I don't think that going in January just a few weeks before prelim round 2 is all that smart. I don't know.. I could probably pull it off. I feel really confident about the prelims, but if I miss on one of the exams, that's it for UDel. If I do go to the conference, I'd have to bring all of my study material and study non-stop after and before the various presentations. Let's just hope that my luggage isn't lost!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

You are what you search

Your thoughts, your intentions, your desires, your very self is truly expressed in what you search for on the internet. The average person, according to AOL's "screwup" data, searches for help, advice, or current events. And porn. Lots of it. But we'll overlook that. AOL recently published three months' worth of data on what people searched for, albeit with the identities changed to anonymous numbers. But several amateurs were able to effortlessly piece together the names behind the numbers simply by looking at the search history and pattern. Granted, this was on AOL's own server where AOL has a pretty good idea as to who is making the search to begin with, but the same thing could easily be done with any normal internet search engine, including everyone's favorite darling search company, Google.

Google admitedly stores your search history. Google's scientists and their algorithms pour over your every single search. All in the name of commercialism, of course. Never mind the fact that Google employs ex-NSA grunts. Google is not the only one. All of them do this. Yahoo, MSN, Excite, Alta Vista -- they all have dubious privacy policies.

These search companies have a lot of tricks at their disposal to create a complete profile of you. There's the obvious ones: cookies, ip addresses, images, embedded objects, and etc. There's the not so obvious ones: clustering, semantic analysis, geographic inference, and etc. Then there's the downright evil ones, such as cross profile mapping. The credit card companies already have a complete profile of you. When you buy something on the internet, they can easily share that information with a vendor, who can then easily share that information with the search engine that you used to find the vendor, which then adds to your online profile.

Sure, there's going to be a ton of noise in the data. But with a lot of tricks, that noise is greatly reduced. The companies will never be 100% confident of who is actually behind the keyboard, but they'll have a pretty good idea.

So what are these profiles actually used for? The soft answer is targeted advertisement. But God help us if Google is just a front for some government organization. The US government would be bad enough, but it could be worse.

I know I'm sounding pretty paranoid here - after all, it's just a search engine. But you are what you search. And how that information is used - or abused - is completely proportional to how easily identifiable you are through your searches. Check out if you'd like to hide behind a no-cookie, no-image, no-embedded-object, no-ip-collecting proxy.