Reading instructions…

There’s just two more sessions left this term for my “Internet & Web Architecture” class (tonight, and next Friday night).

The class has a weird name. I preferred calling it “Introduction to Systems Administration” or perhaps “Basics of Internet Infrastructure” but when you’re the adjunct (part-timer) and the PhD wants another title… you go with what the PhD wants.

Either way, the basis of the class is to teach the bits and pieces most classes ignore – setting up servers, virtualization chores, DNS, registering domains… and introduces students to a real-world issue: keeping track of credentials.

It’s this last bit which causes the problems… that, and that no one seems to want to read instructions.

Well, guess what. I’d rather not read them, either. Except I know what happens when you don’t read the instructions – it blows up in your face, and then you have to go and start all over again, and this time, read the instructions.

So reading instructions first turns out to save time.

But just try getting students to understand that…

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Keeping email private…

Whenever one of the market-anointed tech titans speaks, people start to pay attention to their privacy… or lack thereof. In this instance, the question received regarded email, asking about alternatives to Microsoft & Google offerings, as compared to a Swiss service ProtonMail. Get your beverage(s) ready, this is going to be a long one.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and I did not sleep in a Holiday Inn Express last night. This discussion is relative to my understanding of United States Laws and court decisions. Your mileage may vary. 

First – how much inconvenience are you willing to suffer to keep your email private? What are you willing to pay?

On the surface, ProtonMail (which prides itself on end-to-end-encryption, and being based in Switzerland) seems like the obvious winner, since there’s a free version. But there are issues here. First is the recently passed CLOUD Act (Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act, HR 4943, signed into law March 23, 2018) which allows for bilateral treaty-based exchange of overseas data between signatories. Note there is already such a treaty in existence with Switzerland. Proton’s off-stated “we only store encrypted data” claim is only good to the extent a user is not otherwise compelled to give up a password… or that the encryption is as described. Further, the only interface allowed to Proton is via web browser…

Gmail/Hotmail etc – “free” or “paid” – your email is going to be read by robots, mostly looking for advertising ‘bait’ or to build a better profile… (more on this later). Of course, these offerings win on convenience, and of course “free!”

Finally, there’s “roll-your-own” email. Invest in a server, configure your own email, have your own custom address pool, make your own filters and blocks, set auto-replies, run email lists… in simple terms, do everything the big boys can, but in your own way. All the mission-critical email for me has run on my own email server for more than twenty years. I use Gmail as a convenience, and am forced to use Outlook by various clients.

Now – let’s look at the legal implications on privacy, for the three offerings above. In the US, email privacy is governed by two major acts: the aforementioned CLOUD Act, and the ECPA (Electronic Communications Privacy Act, 1986). Most email communications falls under the [ancient] ECPA guidelines (assuming it is stored in the US).

The ECPA defines five types of communication for email. Three of those types require a warrant for access; two require a subpoena. Subpoenas are routinely issued by lawyers in the name of the court; penalties may be assessed for non-compliance. Warrants are issued by a judge, have stringent requirements for issuance, and are usually enforced by police agencies.

The ‘warrant required’ types of communications are: email in transit, email stored on a home computer, and email in remote storage, unopened, stored for 180 days or less.

The subpoena required types of communications are: email in remote storage, opened, and email in remote storage, unopened, stored for more than 180 days.

I run a combination server – it is IMAP when I’m away from home, and POP3 when I’m home. In simple terms – during a work day outside the house, or while travelling, I’m running the server in much the same mode as one does with any web-based system. The email is available via remote access (remote storage in ECPA terms). When I’m home, I have a POP3 client which downloads the email to a home computer, and erases that mail from the server.

In this mode, my critical email is always in the warrant-required states per the ECPA. Warrants are issued under standards more than 200 years old – it must be based on probable cause, describe the place or person to be searched, and for what evidence the search is being requested; all under oath or affirmation to a judge or magistrate. I feel reasonably secure.

Hope this helps the decision matrix.

ps – Gmail’s robots really kick in after about 200 emails are in the account. Want to baffle the builder? Set Gmail to operate in POP3 mode (delete after download) and watch the fun. (Running NoScript and disabling the Google Stats scripts also screws up the profile builder).

 

Status Update – Ye Greate Panic of 2018

Just in from the Weather Circus:

WWUS81 KPHI 211548
SPSPHI

Special Weather Statement
National Weather Service Mount Holly NJ
1148 AM EDT Wed Mar 21 2018

NJZ007>010-012-013-015-PAZ060>062-101>106-211800-
Warren-Morris-Hunterdon-Somerset-Middlesex-Western Monmouth-
Mercer-Berks-Lehigh-Northampton-Western Chester-Eastern Chester-
Western Montgomery-Eastern Montgomery-Upper Bucks-Lower Bucks-
Including the cities of Washington, Morristown, Flemington,
Somerville, New Brunswick, Freehold, Trenton, Reading, Allentown,
Bethlehem, Easton, Honey Brook, Oxford, West Chester,
Kennett Square, Collegeville, Pottstown, Norristown, Lansdale,
Chalfont, Perkasie, Morrisville, and Doylestown
1148 AM EDT Wed Mar 21 2018

...Major winter storm in progress...

A band of heavy snow continues across the area this morning, with
snowfall rates between a half inch to two inches per hour being
reported, especially in portions of eastern Pennsylvania. Snow
totals of four to seven inches have been reported this morning in
portions of the Lehigh Valley. Snow rates are expected to
increase in northern/central New Jersey in the next few hours and
will continue to be moderate to heavy in eastern Pennsylvania,
with travel becoming very difficult to impossible. Travel is
strongly discouraged!

Uh huh.

parking lot with dusting of snow

The Greate Nor’Easter of March 21, 2018

Yes, I’m writing this a day ahead.

I think this is going to be a colossal fizzle, a seriously missed forecast.

Place your bets. My feel – the Weather Circus is placing way too much faith in computer models on this one… we’ll get snow, but it’s not going to be the crushing disaster (at least in Somerset/Hunterdon/Morris/Warren area) they’re hyping. I expect six inches… maybe ten tops. But more likely six inches of very wet snow, along with some freezing rain and rain.

IF there was still significant snow cover on the ground (there isn’t at least around me) then it might be a bit different, but it’s mostly mud out there.

As usual, my big concern is for the runoff afterwards, what with the streams already running unusually high for the time of year.

In case I’m wrong, I prefer my crow medium-well with salt and a touch of hot mustard.

Additional Storm-related stuff…

Well now it’s snowing/raining/wind howling… and shortly I have to venture out. Wonder if the lights will be on when I return?

Jersey Central Power and Light outage map for New Jersey.

HART Traffic Alert (Hunterdon area)... when it works, it works well – when it works. Today (March 2) it’s working.

NJ 511 table of events: weather-related, “incidents,” detours. The map on this site is useless… don’t bother.

 

Too much water.

For this week, the flood watches are posted everywhere, as once again we face a deluge… this time with water levels running high, and the ground waterlogged. An inch or two of rain in a short time can cause a serious issue in the local area.

Of course this will happen on a Friday, with both high winds and rain extending into the evening… and on Friday evenings, I’m in a classroom with no windows to see what’s happening outside.¬†Luckily, the classroom building is on fairly high ground. In fact, the college is on comparatively high ground for the area. But it’s surrounded by rivers and creeks.

Over the years, the weather circus has become somewhat more adept at figuring out when we’re likely to have an excess of water. The area is permeated with stream level indicators, which generally update every 30 to 60 minutes (to several websites).

For this reference post, I’m linking to the National Weather Service Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service.

Take the link and you’ll get to a map, with lots of little points marked. Circular points have more data than the others, and the color of the points will tell you if everything is fine (green), with yellow being the warning, red being serious danger and purple… you don’t want to be anywhere near a purple indicator. (In September 1999 the whole page was purple from the effects of Floyd).

For my purposes, I’m interested in a handful of points, starting with the Burnt Mills location. If this gets above 10 feet, I’m going to have to go home a different way. So the next one of interest is North Branch Village. If this goes over 10 feet, the next step is to head east on Rt 22, then up 202/206. Bleh.

For students headed home to the west, if the Whitehouse gauge gets over 6 feet, Rt 22 begins to flood west of CR 523 (near the old Merck hq).

Heading south to Hillsborough, southeast to Bound Brook, or via Manville and River Road (bad idea in a flood watch!), the gauges linked in this paragraph are the ones to monitor.

Note that several of these sites attempt to forecast how high the water will get – take this with a very large cup of salt (a grain is nowhere near enough!). Be sure to check the time of update – sometimes these gizmos fail, right when they’re most needed.

Wonder where I put the rain hat?