Readers sound off.
Looking for a Fix

Mick—thanks for your Paranoid Penguin columns; I always open my new issue of LJ right to it to see what you've got in store each month. The “Hardening Sendmail” article [LJ April 2002] was another winner. I just wanted to point something out regarding your recommendation not to run a sendmail dæmon if only sending mail. I used to do just that but found something unfortunate: if a send attempt fails, then sendmail could queue it for later delivery. If the sendmail dæmon wasn't running, well, “later” would never come. I wouldn't know about the failed delivery (especially without the usual informative messages from sendmail after four hours, and after five days). So, I run sendmail (postfix, actually). If you've got a better solution, I'd love to hear it. And I'm sure other readers would, as well.


Mick replies: Thanks for the kind words! You're right, if sendmail isn't running as a dæmon, queued mail will remain queued indefinitely. I should have mentioned that common practice is to set up sendmail to be run from cron periodically with the -q flag. For example, this sample crontab line (adapted from one in Olaf Kirch's Linux Network Administrator's Guide) invokes sendmail in “flush queue” mode every 15 minutes:

0,15,30,45 * * * * /usr/sbin/sendmail -q

Obviously, that has to be in the crontab of an account authorized to run sendmail this way—usually root. And depending on how much outbound mail you deal in, you may not need to run sendmail every 15 minutes—hourly may suffice. Postfix most definitely rocks, by the way. And my friends who use qmail *really* like qmail.

P3P Complexities

I was surprised to see your article about P3P in the April 2002 issue of Linux Journal. Since 1999, P3P has been shown to be orthagonal to privacy, despite claims made to the contrary. I don't really see that the W3C has done a lot to allay fears of P3P. P3P is overly complicated and is geared toward collection of user information, not protection of it. The only serious difference between P3P and non-P3P sites is convenience in giving away your personal information. It's not even a legal help: just because a company does something illegal does not mean the average Joe can do anything about it.

The protocol could be greatly simplified and need not have any information about the user at all. Also, even if the protocol forces contact information to be given to the user, there is no easy method for the browser to determine its validity, and it is no guarantee the company will listen. In other words, “same ole same ole”, but more complex. A protocol that really is designed to protect users' privacy will never need to know anything about users except their privacy preferences. There is absolutely no need for other information, yet P3P includes a large amount of detailed and personal user information. You have to ask yourself why this has been made so complex and so heavily geared toward data acquisition.


Larry replies: I have already received comments to the effect that P3P doesn't ensure privacy. Certainly nothing I said was meant to indicate that it is a perfect solution to the problem. I just thought then, and still do, that automated privacy protections are far more protecting of the average internet user than the “click here to read our privacy policy” that is so typical nowadays. Whether people will use even the automated tools, or whether companies will honestly comply with their promises, are open questions. I do know that if a web site promises me privacy through its, and my, P3P settings, and it subsequently releases private information about me contrary to my express preferences, I'll sue. And if an average-Joe user comes to me with a situation like that, I'd consider handling the case as a class action lawsuit and demand attorney's fees.

Minimum Distro?

I have been a Linux user since Red Hat 4.2 and picked up my first LJ about two years ago. I have always poked about in all the different directories and have always wondered “What is really required here?” I mean, what is the minimum requirement for a working Linux distribution, without any user apps, just something that loads, prompts for a login, then takes you to a shell prompt and lets you log off or shut down. No lynx, no elm, no sendmail, no anything. I have always thought it would be a great personal educational undertaking for myself to attempt to create my own distribution...but I've no idea where to begin.

—Blake Tullysmith

Yes, you can build a tiny distribution with just a kernel and a shell. You might want to start with Brian Finley's “Brian's Own Embedded Linux” and remove software from it. BOEL fits on a floppy, and two articles about it appear on embedded.linuxjournal.com. See www.linuxdevices.com/articles/AT9049109449.html and www.linuxdevices.com/articles/AT5974781081.html.