“A nearly impenetrable thicket of geekitude…”

Technology Stir Fry, the blog

This is Technology Stir Fry: the blog.

The most recent ten posts are shown below. For older material, you might like to browse by tag or browse by date.

Signing Mail, 2022 Edition

Posted on June 16, 2022 at 18:10

About three years ago, I said:

I have been signing outgoing electronic mail, on and off, for many years.

It’s getting harder.

The S/MIME certificate I bought back then is about to expire, so I needed to renew.

The trend, let’s say, continues.

Tweets and Toots

Posted on April 27, 2022 at 17:05

Some thoughts on Twitter, its acquisition and the likely consequences. Also, whether Mastodon is worth looking at as an alternative or as an adjunct.


Posted on February 18, 2022 at 19:19

Haircut age: 2 years.

Haircut style: Tibetan White Yak.


SKS Key Servers Gone

Posted on July 5, 2021 at 16:53

SKS key servers gone

As a counterpoint to my previous entry about key signing policies, I thought it would be amusing to juxtapose a note that, yet again, using PGP/GPG in the real world has become more difficult.

This time, it’s because one of the most popular ways of acquiring keys for other people — the sks-keyservers.net pool of key servers — has hung up its boots.

The site itself says that this was the result of “GDPR takedown requests”; this appears to mean requests to remove personal information under Article 17 of the GDPR, commonly known as the “right to be forgotten”. Of course PGP/GPG public keys usually include the owner’s name and e-mail addresses as part of the user IDs that are signed to make the web of trust work.

The way the SKS key server software works doesn’t allow removal of a user’s key: it’s designed to propagate every key known to every node. Manually removing a key from a node, even if that were possible, would be futile as it would simply arrive again from another node (or could be uploaded again by a third party).

If you’re looking for a replacement for the SKS key server pool, one option is to find a key server that is still in operation, such as “old faithful” at pgp.mit.edu which is unlikely to be swayed by requests based on the EU-centric GDPR. Some other servers are based on the more modern Hockeypuck software, although it’s not clear to me that it’s any less prone to the same issue that did away with the SKS pool. For the moment, I’m using pgp.re; we’ll see how it goes.

The other service that’s of interest here is keys.openpgp.org. This has been gaining popularity for a while as these days it’s configured as the default key server in a number of packages. It’s probably not going to run into the GDPR issue by virtue of its requirement that if you upload your key there and do nothing else, the user IDs on your key are not displayed on privacy grounds. To make your user IDs visible, you must explicitly request a management link to be sent to your e-mail address, then follow that and enable visibility for the e-mail address on that key. You can also delete the e-mail address from the key if you want.

Unfortunately, by far the majority (upwards of 90%) of the keys in my public keyring are present in keys.openpgp.org but without any user IDs. This makes them essentially useless unless you’ve previously exchanged a copy of the key directly; gpg for example refuses to even import public keys that lack a user ID:

gpg: key XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX: new key but contains no user ID - skipped
gpg: Total number processed: 1
gpg:           w/o user IDs: 1

If you find yourself in this bind, the only option seems to be to somehow figure out who the owner is (which is hard given that the user ID is missing) and then get the full public key from them directly (which makes the use of a key server close to pointless) or get them to go through the management process to expose their user ID. This can be particularly tricky to explain because, of course, everything works fine for them as they have a copy of the full key in their own keyring.

New Key Signing Policy

Posted on July 5, 2021 at 16:23

A few months into the current unpleasantness, it became pretty apparent that I wasn’t going to be doing much travelling any time soon. This made my PGP/GPG Key Signing Policy 2013-11-07 (which requires in-person meetings) almost entirely unusable for new signatures.

I still have a need to cross-sign keys with colleages, however, so I have put together a revised PGP/GPG Key Signing Policy 2021-02-25.

The new policy takes advantage of PGP’s ability to specify different signature certification levels depending on the strength of proofing performed (or on other factors; the specification is not precise with respect to the meaning of each level).

A level 3 certification (the only one I have used prior to writing the new policy) is still defined to require in-person physical meeting. I have however added the possibility of using the lower level 2 certification in the case of people who are already known to me who for one reason or another I can only meet on-line. The details are in the policy.

No FLoC Here

Posted on May 10, 2021 at 16:21

Every HTTP request to this site now includes the following header in the response:

Permissions-Policy: interest-cohort=()

Read on for the rant explaining why.


Posted on April 3, 2021 at 17:11

The photo’s a little bit fuzzy if you click to embiggen, but you don’t see one of those every day.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen one in town, in fact. A nice surprise.


Posted on February 23, 2021 at 11:15

I made my first batch of potato gnocchi yesterday.

Texture and taste were pretty good (when cooked, and sauced) but I preferred the photograph above.

No, in a year of lockdown, I have never tried to make Sourdough. Why do you ask?

Bad Hair Days

Posted on February 18, 2021 at 19:19

My haircut is one year old today.

Postal Voting

Posted on December 29, 2020 at 15:00

[2021-04-06: The deadline for registering to vote by post for the 2021-05-06 elections has now passed. More than one million people are registered to vote by post in those elections, up by around 250,000. So that’s good.]

(If you don’t live in Scotland, this is probably not very interesting.)

Elections to the Scottish Parliament are scheduled for Thursday 6 May 2021. There’s a small possibility that might need to be pushed back, and there are contingencies for that eventuality, but I don’t think it’s likely to happen unless things get really bad.

Neither do I expect things to get really good by that time, and if you feel the same way it’s worth reflecting that in the UK it is possible to vote by post in this election. You don’t have to give a reason; in fact, there’s nowhere on the form to put one. You do have to apply for a postal vote in advance, however, and the deadline for that is proposed to be brought forward for this election to allow for the expected higher volume of applications.

So, why not take a few minutes and do it now? The generic application can be found on the Electoral Commission site. You can fill out everything but the signature online before printing it out, signing it and posting the form to your local Electoral Registration Officer.