Dorion Mode - A blog by Robinson Dorion.

March 16, 2023

The evolution of my OSen operation

Filed under: Ego — Robinson Dorion @ 19:15

So what's OSen anyways ?

We'll begin with box, and the plural is boxes,
but the plural of ox should be oxen not oxes.
A dreadful language ? Why, man alive,
I'd learn to talk it when I was five,
And yet to write it, the more I tried,
I hadn't learned it at fifty-five !(i)

As you may have gathered from the first link, OSen is variety speak for the plural of Operating System (OS). So here I'll recount the ones I've operated in my 33 years to date.

Sometime in the mid 90s, my mother installed a computer in the house with Windows. The initial driver was she was the executor of my Grandfather's estate. He died tragically on September 11th, 1992, and the bylaws of the estate prevented the assets from being disposed of until his youngest living offspring turned 50, which didn't come to pass until 2009. So while she was using computers at her work and even doing some programming there, we didn't have one in the house until it was a necessity. Apart from my father's studies for his MBA, I don't recall him using the computer with regularity in the house. I recall playing some games on it, but I was much more interested in the outside games and there was of course, regretfully, all that time I was being programmed by the TV. Those interests would prevail until I was on the cusp of turning 20 and having my bubble burst.

The next computer had Windows XP installed and came in around the turn of the millennium, i.e. 2001.(ii) I don't recall using it much until 2002 or so and mainly for chatting with local friends on AIM,(iii) torrenting music and surfing porn sites. Morpheus was the first p2p program I used. There was also Limewire, Ares and Kazaa(iv) and maybe another I'm not recalling at present. The first song I downloaded was Welcome to Atlanta Remix with Jermaine Dupri,(v) Ludacris, Snoop Dogg and Murphy Lee. What popped your torrent cherry ?

Not knowing much about computer hygiene (as evidenced by using Windows in the first place), XP didn't hold up too well in the mean Internet streets I was driving it through, so an iMac came in around 20004 or 2005, which either had v10.3(vi) or v10.4. I didn't know it at the time, but the X is OS X signifies its Unix roots. You see, Steve Jobs founded and ran NeXT Computers for ~10 years after he was ousted from Apple in the 80s. NeXT's OS was based on the Mach kernel(vii) from Carnegie Mellon University and the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD). While a Unix-like command line was available there, I never heard of it, let alone used it, for I was still blind, you see ?

Entering university the more expensive levels of the propaganda factory in 2008, my laptop was a Macbook installed with OS X v10.5. I still have the hardware, but Crapple's planned obsolescence combined with my cultural enrichment caused me to install Linux on it a few years ago. The Microsoft Office suite was installed there for uni needs. DVDs were still pretty big back then and I ripped dozens with a program called Instant Handbrake.

When I went pro early with Euro Pacific Bank in February 2012, I got a Macbook Pro with v10.7. I'm not recalling all the details, but there was some program they wanted me to run that was only available on Windows so I ended up running it in "Parallels". However, I had some hardware failure in the first couple months and, on Ashe's advice, I decided to sell the Macbook and replace it with a Dell running Windows 7. By then, Ashe had a decade plus running Linux. Interacting with him was probably the first time I really learned of Linux. He talked about some of the efficiencies of command line operation and scripting, but by then had decided to switch to Windows because he didn't want to deal with the various headaches that sometimes crop up using Linux, e.g. getting software installed or configured correctly or making sure there is Linux firmware support for your hardware. I don't see how trading the head and assaches of Windows is a win, but that's me.

When I left Euro Pacific in January 2014 to join Coinapult, the first thing they had me do/helped me with was install Ubuntu Linux on my machine.(viii) I could still click-and-cluck, but I was exposed to people using the command line and expressed interest in learning so they showed my around a bit and gave me some tasks where I could practice. One thing I did was deploy new changes in the development Git branch to the Quality Assurance (QA) server. This involved logging into the QA server via the Secure Shell (SSH) program and running some Git commands. Through my interactions with Coinapult before joining, they asked me to establish a GPG key for communications, which I did on Windows. In their operation, they used GPG via the Enigmail plugin for Thunderbird to encrypt(ix) internal email comms by default. The more technically inclined didn't explain that such usage of GPG was better than nothing, but still could fail in a variety of ways and was inferior in security compared to Airgapping. The classification was presented more, encrypted vs unencrypted, with not much discussion with regard to the costs/benefits of varying approaches to "how" or the small print. I'm not sure if that insight was deliberately withheld or if they didn't know about it themselves, but suspect it's more of the latter. Actually, come to think of it, Erik Voorhees did demonstrate an "offline" signing of a Bitcoin transaction using the Armory wallet, but he bridged the data between the online and offline machines with a USB stick, which is by no means ideal. He wasn't the most sophisticated from a technical standpoint in the organization (was using Windows and an exception to Coinapult's Linux rule), but the more technical people never gave a more sophisticated demonstration of best practices, go figure. Withheld or not, it was always my responsibility to figure this stuff out, which I've spent the past decade doing and then distilling into training program to save select people time in getting up to speed.

It's also worth mentioning that while with Coinapult, I got a Nexus 4 cancer phone.(x) I allowed myself to be sucked into Coinapult's deranged populist worldview and believed a fondleslate would be useful because I could have a Bitcoin wallet to show people while I was on the go and the topic inevitably came up. The Nexus 4 was chosen because Ubuntu could be installed there, but after seeing it was missing many thought to be useful applications, I had a friend install Android there. If I recall correctly, I went back to a Nokia feature phone for mobile voice and SMS in 2015, 2016 at the latest.

I carried on with Ubuntu until I started reading the The Most Serene Republic's (TMSR) Forum logs pretty regularly in January 2015,(xi) through which I was exposed to the idea that Ubuntu, aka African Linux, is a sad excuse for Linux and in practice is more akin to running Windows because while it's Open Source in theory, the complexities Canonical has over-engineered into it for the sake of dumb users make it quite opaque in practice.(xii) In reading the holy log and the libraries of the Lords, I inferred a positive evaluation of OpenBSD, which Mircea Popescu saved by financially backing at a time it was in dire straits. I somehow didn't understand OpenBSD's political failure at the time, but equipped with Absolute OpenBSD: Unix for the Practical Paranoid by Michael W. Lucas, I proceed to install it. Unlike Ubuntu, the installation was all done from the command line, which I had just enough skills at the time to get'er done. It gave me exposure to fdisk and various other programs. It recommends making about a half dozen different disk partitions, so it was good partition making practice, but these days I don't find it practical to have more than 2 or 3 partitions in most cases. The point is, by installing the operating system in such a manner, I was driving the computer for the first time,(xiii) rather than at best guiding it or at worst having it guide me. While I've not used OpenBSD for a workstation since probably 2016 or so, I continue to use it daily. By now the command line is like breathing, while you can always improve how well you breathe, once you've transitioned from a clicking-and-clucking mouth breather to a cli-nose breather you'll never go back.

Bitcoin has been the evolutionary pressure incentivizing me to strengthen my computer security, for with the freedom it provides comes great responsibility.

As I used OpenBSD and continued to read the logs, I decided Gentoo Linux would be a more practical deployment of my resources for workstation purposes. Gentoo is a Linux distribution which adheres more closely to the Open Source/Unix philosophy(xiv) compared to Ubuntu, Debian, Red Hat, etc which are quite monolithic and because Gentoo's system for installing 3rd party software is designed in principal around the operator being able to customize and compile his own software with the tools they provide. Gentoo got a very close look from Jacob when we decided we needed an OS where we didn't have to rely on any 3rd party compiled binaries, but ultimately didn't make the cut in that case. For those unaware, a binary is a file that has been compiled from the source code that humans read and write to executable code, ones and zeros, that computers execute. A problem with installing 3rd party compiled binaries is you don't really know what you're installing and running, thus you have counterparty risk that is very difficult to accurately price. I continue to run Gentoo daily and am in fact composing this article on it. I use it in the context of medium level security. I haven't updated the ports tree (Gentoo's system of installing 3rd party software) since I started using it 6 or 7 years ago, e.g. my Firefox is from the v40s vintage. It's where I ran Eulora1 and run Eulora2 and other programs that I care about that require a graphical interface.

For a while, I ran Gentoo as a host for more secure needs and installed a Gentoo VM using QEMU for less secure usage on that same machine. I realized it was over-engineered and not actually that sane. Today, I use a "public toilet" laptop which has an older version of Ubuntu for my lowest security needs, i.e. interacting with the unwashed masses as they are. There's a newer version of Firefox for websites I have less trust in and who broke backwards compatibility with my Firefox on Gentoo. I have an Android emulator installed where I run various messaging swamps for interacting with the sheeple addicted to them. I tried for a while to be IRC, SMS and Email only, but simply too much time is lost without the swamps for now. I bring this machine to cafes or other networks I don't have high trust in, but when I connect it to my own router, it's on a segregated network from my more trusted machines. Separation is sanity.

Now for the good stuff. Gales Linux is a production of JWRD Computing and what I use, combined with specialized hardware, for my highest security computing needs. It's where I run my Bitcoin nodes and manage my wallets and GPG keys among other miscellaneous uses. Jacob really deserves the lion's share of the credit because it's his two plus decades of computer programming and system administration experience that have been leveraged to make it exist. I've helped him think through various problems and weigh different options in the context of the business needs, I've made some of the gports (the system for installing 3rd party software on Gales) and I'm the first to test when there are changes made. It's still young and competes with other priorities, e.g. maintenance of the Bitcoin reference implementation, and thus there aren't as many 3rd party packages available compared to other systems. That being said, the design has many advantages compared to the competition, e.g. to quote the man :

mircea_popescu: "A feature that I liked a lot is that shell is the only scripting language in the default install of the distribution. Typically perl and python get pulled in unconditionally as a build dependency of a runtime dependency of some rarely-used default-installed utility, or are directly used to implement package manager, etc. With Gales, a decision about what scripting language to use can be made without constraints created by ready availability of python or others." << indeed this is mindblowingly beautiful, and as far as i currently know the foremost feather in jfw 's cap.

We went ahead with building it starting in 2017 because the alternatives we tried just didn't meet our requirements. We continue to add more packages and functionality and the design and designer from which development flows are a luxury few others have managed to afford. Go ahead and try it yourself, it's fun. Or say hello if you're interested in buying hardware with Gales Linux pre-installed.

Before I sign off for now, I should also mention the OS which had great promise and unparalleled backing that I never did manage to use, primarily through my own failure in managing the project. That project was called TMSR OS. Despite some heroic pronouncements 3 years ago in the wake of MP closing TMSR, I took the easy way and sank back into the shadows rather than leading a pivot. I'm not sure if I'll get over missing this opportunity, but I can die trying.

  1. If I live that long, I plan to learn to write it and some others too. [^]
  2. There's no such year as 0 AD, you know. [^]
  3. America Online (AOL) Instant Messenger [^]
  4. I'm not linking to any of them because I don't intend to use them and do the due diligence to see where they come from. I'm not linking to Wikipedia either. [^]
  5. The MBP -- Most Ballinest Playa -- IYKYK. [^]
  6. Crapple has pussy marketing codenames for their various versions, which I'm not inclined to parrot. [^]
  7. The kernel is the piece of software that sits at the core of an operating system and facilitates interactions between the hardware and software. [^]
  8. It was a BYOD operation. [^]
  9. I don't recall if signing was involved too. [^]
  10. Cancer phone, because they cause cancer in their users and are cancerous to the cultures they infect for providing a ready outlet for escapism ; dumb phone, because they make their users dumb ; fondleslate, because it looks like a piece of slate the sheeple are fondling ; certainly not "smartphone", for there is nothing smart about them. [^]
  11. I remember refreshing the #bitcoin-assets logger in real time when Gavin Andresen was granted voice there. [^]
  12. As things have devolved, most distros calling themselves Linux in these Modern Dark Ages are African. [^]
  13. Similar to driving a car, if you've never driven stick, you've never driven, you've at best guided it. [^]
  14. Small, contained programs that do one thing and that thing well. When leveraged by the knowledge of a skilled operator, the outcome is a powerful person, Intelligence Amplification (IA). [^]

1 Comment »

  1. Eulora2 ought to be included in the the preferred communication mediums listed above, i.e. IRC, SMS and email. A chat was had there relevant to how I finished this article :

    Diana Coman: Robinson Dorion - fwiw though I really don't think the tmsr os was somehow your failure
    Robinson Dorion: Diana Coman, thanks. I certainly didn't do anything to keep it alive though, despite having lots of support that I didn't use. I'm not beating myself up over it, but it didn't sem right not mentioning it in the context.
    Diana Coman: wrt tmsr os, it was more of a stepping stone falling on your head rather than at your feet, pretty much.
    Robinson Dorion: seem*
    Robinson Dorion: Diana Coman, hahaha.
    Robinson Dorion: it's probably also that I've not said *anything* about it in a structure way and so it comes in here.
    Diana Coman: quite likely, this is actually what's behind my earlier "would help sorting the others out" - because even this reads exactly like 'finally some things get aired and so some structuring can gradually come'
    Robinson Dorion: right.
    Diana Coman: but the point is that I don't really see anything to "get over" - experience to learn from, certainly
    Diana Coman: yes, some experience is very costly - all the more reason to not let it go to waste, I guess.
    Robinson Dorion: thanks for that reframe.

    Comment by Robinson Dorion — March 19, 2023 @ 18:31

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