Can we have online journaling while maintaining privacy?

November 27th, 2016

I've been blogging for over 11 years now, for better or worse. I cringe a bit when I look back at some of my older posts, but I'm loathe to delete them, because it's who I was then. I've also maintained a Livejournal (LJ) or Dreamwidth (DW) account for almost as long, where I've made posts of a more personal nature. How did I decide where to post, where the dividing line was? It came down to two things: 1) How personal the post was, and 2) where my intended audience was. Back in the mid-00's, many of my friends and acquaintances had public blogs, but were no on LJ. That meant that if I wanted them to know how I was doing, I had to post for the world to see, even if that meant future employers with boundary issues would see those posts out of context. As the blogosphere slowly deflated and I entered Boston-area social groups where LJ was more common, the choice became easier. Then Facebook rose to supremacy, and I chose not to jump off that particular bridge... but now it's much harder to have an online social life.

I really miss that, but Facebook is not an option. How can we return to the days of easy journaling? I'd like to lay out what I see as (a) central problem, then ask you for ideas in solving it.

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How to move personal publishing to the desktop

May 11th, 2011

You can do everything "in the cloud" these days, from blogging to posting photos to running servers. Most impressively, you can now also lose control of your files and personal information with unprecedented ease, or simply lose it, period. This is exactly the worst possible feature for the personal publishing use-cases of cloud computing. Possibly the most distressing aspect of cloud-based publishing is that it firmly designates the intangible network as the primary resting place of one's data. (I will note here that this aspect is itself what I am using to define "cloud computing" for the purposes of this blog post.) If the first place you put your creations is some hosted service on the great wide interwebs, you're playing with fire.

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Force SSL for Wikipedia (for advanced users)

May 22nd, 2010

I like using HTTPS whenever possible. Usually this is as simple as adding a single letter to a URL, but some sites have separate domains for SSL. The Wikimedia sites are a great example of this; they share the domain secure.wikimedia.org and use the first elements of the path to specify the site.

(Edit 2016-11-25: Nowadays, you can just use the HTTPS Everywhere browser extension for Firefox, Opera, or Chrome! And you don't need to use a separate domains anymore.)

Now, I could have set up a Greasemonkey script to redirect me once I hit an unsecure Wikipedia page, but then it's too late. (I'm usually going directly to the article via web search results.) I could also use Greasemonkey to rewrite URLs in web pages, but that's a mess. Instead, I wanted to intercept any requests to unsecure Wikipedia and redirect them on the fly, before they even left my machine. Here's how I set up my browser to always use SSL for Wikimedia sites:

  1. Have Apache with virtual hosts and Mozilla Firefox with FoxyProxy
  2. In my default virtual host:
    <Directory /var/www/>
    	RewriteEngine On
    	RewriteBase /
    	RewriteCond ${HTTP_HOST} !.*mycomputername.*
    	RewriteRule . rewriter.php [L]
    </Directory>
  3. And this file at /var/www/rewriter.php:
    <?php
    
    $host = $_SERVER['HTTP_HOST'];
    $path = $_SERVER['REQUEST_URI'];
    
    // ensure path is not of form http://...
    if(strpos($path, '/') !== 0) {
    	$start = "http://$host/";
    	if(strpos($path, $start) === 0) {
    		$path = substr($path, strlen($start) - 1); // include slash
    	} else {
    		die();
    	}
    }
    
    if(preg_match('/([a-z0-9]+)\.wikipedia\.org/', $host, $m_domain)) {
    	header("Location: https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/{$m_domain[1]}{$path}");
    	die();
    }
    
    ?>
  4. Then set up a proxy in FoxyProxy, early in the chain, called "rewriter". Set it to a SOCKS 5 proxy at localhost:80, using the whitelist regex http://[a-z]+\.wikipedia\.org/.*

Obviously, the setup as written here only gets Wikipedia, but it could easily be expanded to Wiktionary, Wikibooks, Wikimedia Commons, and other sister sites.

I'll delete any tech-support questions in the comments area, so don't ask them. This guide is for advanced users only. Discussions of potential improvements are welcome.

Destroy your Facebook account

April 4th, 2008

As you may be aware, Facebook only provides a way to temporarily deactivate your account, not delete it. Less well-known is an innocuous little form buried deep within their site where you can submit a deletion request. Below I include the link, as well as a sample letter.

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Proper implementation of friend groups: Request for input

December 17th, 2007

In my quest to bring the features of Livejournal (and other proprietary social networks) to the open, public internet, I'm stuck on how to properly implements friend groups. Friend groups determine which users are allowed to see your more sensitive blog entries. I've pulled together a description of several alternative models, and I'd like some input.

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