Moving

April 21, 2011 at 21:44 | Posted in Tech | Comments Off

All further posts will be on blog.freemor.ca

Music in the “Cloud”… Just say No

March 31, 2011 at 17:38 | Posted in Privacy/Security, thoughts | Comments Off
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Since Amazon’s announcement of their “Cloud” based music service (“Cloud Drive”) the blog-o-sphere has been all a buzz with this hot new idea.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I think “Cloud” services are a trap and only good for the person that is offering the service.

This is no exception. Most of these “Cloud” services are charging something like $10/mo for unlimited streaming. It might sound good on the surface but once you think about it you realize that…

  1. You’ll own nothing
  2. Your ability to stream will depend on connectivity.. Your bill will not (you’ll be charged $10/mo whether you could stream or not.)
  3. It is fairly trivial to set up your home computer to offer this same service for free and with all the music you already or will ever own.
  4. These services will most likely insert advertising into the music either now.. Or in the future once people are hooked.
  5. By connecting to their servers to stream your music these companies will be able to track all kinds of information about you.
    1. what you listen to
    2. where you listen from (device and location)
    3. How often you listen
    4. etc

Considering that with less than two hours work you could have exactly this for free why would anyone opt to pay $10/mo. to own nothing, be tracked and profiled, and advertised to. It is just a bad deal all around and people should just say no.

Note: In a future post (soon) I will detail how to set this up for yourself for next to nothing. Certainly for less then $120/year and your privacy

Die! Tablet Die!

March 16, 2011 at 17:12 | Posted in Life, Tech, thoughts | Comments Off
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Ok, From the title you can probably guess that I have a few issues with Tablets. More correctly with Tablet computing appliances. To be honest I can not say that I hate all Tablets or even most of them. So, Why the strong title?

What I object to is where “Tablets” are leading the general population. Instead of helping to empower people these devices will lead them further down the non-repairable, non-servicable, non-upgradable, non-hackable road. Further many of these Tablets come with restrictive operating systems and severe lockdowns that make it difficult if not impossible for the user or anyone (in some cases) to change the operating system to one of their choosing.

Lets look at some of these things and the possible motivation behind them.

Non-servicable/non-upgradeable

Now by non-serviceable I’m reffering to non-serviceable by anyone outside the manufacturers magic circle. Although I suspect that the the larger part of servicing these devices will be simple the act of replacing them.

Non-upgradable is fairly self evident but I’ll define it just to be clear. Here I’m rfering to the users ability to buy a larger hard drive, or more memory, or an expansion card to add desired functionality.

Desktop computers and to a lesser degree laptop computer allowed the end user to upgrade his machine with components of their choosing with little or no special tools. Standard interfaces such as ATA, PCI , PCIe, SATA made it possible for a user to go out and get a 80GiB replacement for the 40GiB hard drive in their maching easily. In most cases the act of replacing the drive was fairly trivial. The same could be said for many parts of the computer.

The vast majority of Tablets that I have seen are sealed boxes. No way to even get at the bits let alone upgrade/replace/repair them. This means that to upgrade most people will end up buying another model (pretty good deal for the manufcturer, eh) not so great for the consumer, the environment, the sweatshop labour that makes most of these devices, etc.

Non-Hackable:

I’m not refering to malicious hacking here. I am refering to the consumers God given right to peer under the hood of something they have purchased, something that they own and should have full control over (I’ll save the rant about the insanity of “Software liencsing” for another day). As the owner of the device you should be able to replace the software in it if you don’t like the software that came with it shouldn’t you? You should be able to write your own software for the device or hire someone to write it for you without having to sign huge contracts with the people that made the device. Shouldn’t you? You should be able to run any software you like from any source without the manufacturer of the device have to approve it. Right? It’s your device right? You own it.

Sadly, with most Tablets, not so much. Not only do most of these Tablets lack the required connectability to easily change to operating system, most are actually hostile to the process. This forces the consumer to buy app from the app store ($ for the manufacturer). Be tracked when using the device ($ for the manufacturer and their advertising partners). Be limited in what they can watch, listen too, read, etc (again more $ for the manufacturer as anyone wanting to get their content to all those consumers must make deals with the manufacturer).

All of this is partly due to the fact that computers have been moving away from hobby/speciality and into everyday appliance for some time. However it is more strongly driver by profit seeking corporations that would rather see a world burried in e-waste then fail to make double digit gains over last quarter.

These companies tout reasons like “Usability”,and “Secuirty” for the direction of the design. Those reasons are clearly false. Security does not come from dis-enpowering people and hiding how things are done. In a truely secure system you’d be able to show everyone exactly how the system worked and still be confident that it would remain secure. Usability doesn’t spring from digital locks and the removal of compatibility and interoperatability. If I can’t use it to do what I want how can it possibly be more “useable” then something that I can make do whatever I want?

I’ll be the first to admit that these device have nice eye candy, spinny, flashy, user interfaces. I’ll also be the first to tell you that when somethng starts to go wrong  those same soft and fuzzy interfaces fall flat on their faces and are next to useless for diagnosing and correcting even simple problems with the software let alone the hardware.

For some reason (marketing) these devices are like crack to many end consumers who see them as a cool replacement for their laptop. The truth is that these device will make a very poor replacement for a proper computer. I suspect that many people are going to wake up some time in 2012 with a very bad “Tablet Hangover”. And will wonder where their laptop has gotten off to. The problem is that if Tablet sales canabalize laptop sales too much the manufacturers will make an even bigger shift in that directin and we all may be wondering where the laptops/desktops have gone in a few years. Sadly our rights, freedoms, and the freedom of choice that we currently enjoy hardware wise may well have gone too.

So, until I see a tablet with a user replaceable hard drive, user upgradeable memory, many standards compliant ports (3 usb ports count as 1 type of port), and the ability to easily change the operating system or other softtware without restriction or legal complication I will continue to say:

“Die! Tablet, Die!”

Talkr.im Howto

March 13, 2011 at 15:24 | Posted in Cool, Tech, Tutorials/Howtos | 2 Comments
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In my last post I talked about my positive experiences with talkr.im. The only area I found to be a little lacking was Documentation. So, in this post I am going to run through how to use various features of talkr.im.

Getting Connected:

The first thing you’ll need is an XMPP client. There are many of these (see this list). You will want at least one of your clients to support XMPP Service Discovery. (In my case I use Psi on one of my laptops for this as the XMPP client built into the N800 lacks this functionality.) The other thing you’ll need is a talkr.im account. This part is easy just go to http://www.talkr.im/ , click Register, fill out the simple form follow the instructions and you have a talkr.im account.

Once you have the account you’ll need to set up your XMPP client. This varies from client to client but you’ll need something like this:

  • Username: yourname@talkr.im
  • Password: your password
  • Server: conference.talkr.im
  • Port: 5222
  • SSL/TLS: yes

Once you have your XMPP clients all configured and connected it’s time to start having some fun with Talkr.im’s more advanced features.

Gateways/Transports:

The transports/gateways to other IM services are fairly easy to you once you know how.

  1. Launch your XMPP client that supports Service Discovery.
  2. Use the Service Discovery option to find the Transport you want to use
  3. Select the Transport and choose the register option (double clicking will work for this on some clients other may have to right click and choose register).
  4. Enter Your Username/Password for the IM service you are setting up the Transport for (i.e. Yahoo ID/Password for the Yahoo Transport).
  5. If all goes well you’ll get a bunch of Authorization Requests as people from the IM service you entered the details for are added to your roster (friends list)
  6. Repeat the steps above for all the IM services you want to use
  7. The IRC Transport is used differently as it is more of a MultiUser Chat service then an IM (Instant Messaging) service. I’ll cover it below
  8. You can now chat to all your friends on far flung services all in one place. Enjoy

Note: You only need to use the XMPP client with Service Discovery support to set this up. Once set up even a very basic XMPP client will be able to chat with all your friends.

Setting-up/Using the IRC transport:

For me one of Talkr.im’s greatest features is the IRC (Internet Relay Chat) Transport as this allows access to almost any IRC server right from your XMPP client. There are a few oddities to get used to in using the IRC transport but you’ll get the hang of it quickly once you know how.

The Register option on the IRC transport allows you to Pre-configure your Nickserv Passwords and other connection options for various IRC servers I’ll cover that in a bit.

To join a channel on an IRC server you would use the enter chat/groupchat/room option on your XMPP client. More full featured clients will let you select the Host/room/nickname/password from a dialogue which makes life easy. If so, you’d fill in:

  • Host: irc.talkr.im
  • Room: Channelname%irc.server.name
  • Nickname: The IRC nick you want
  • Password: Your Nickserv Password if any

If you are using a more limited client like the one on my N800 you wont get a nice multi-field dialogue to fill out just the option for a room name. In that case you would enter:

  • channelname%irc.server.name@irc.talkr.im

In this case you’ll need to have used a more advanced client (with Service Discovery) to pre-configure your Nicks and Nickserv Passwords. Luckily you can configure Nickserv Passwords and other options on a per server basis. However you’ll be stuck with the same nick everyplace. (usually not a problem for most people).

Pre-configuring IRC server settings:

  • Use your advanced XMPP client’s Service Discovery option to locate the irc.talkr.im transport service.
  • In this case you definitely will need to use right click or something similar to get to the Register option. (The default option (double click) is set to open a chat room).
  • Once the Register dialogue comes up you’ll see two fields one for IRC Username which will be your nickname on all servers ( bit of a bummer)
  • and a second large field with esoteric stuff in it. This second field is where you configure your per server settings.
  • The field holds one long line that looks like this:

[{“irc.server.one”,”Encoding“,portnumber,”nickserv password for irc.server.one“}, {“irc.server.two“,”Encoding“,portnumber,”nickserv password for server.two“}].

  • OK looks complicated but lets break it down
  • Each set of {} holds the info for one IRC server.
  • All the {}‘s must be inside the []‘s
  • You need the . after the last ]
  • inside the first quotes you want the server hostname (i.e. irc.dal.net, or irc.freenode.net, etc)
  • The encoding field will be utf-8 for most people change it to a different encoding if required.
  • The portnumber field does not have quotes and should be set to the port for the IRC server (6667 in most cases).
  • The last entry is your nickserv password (again with quotes around it)
  • Remember this all goes on one long line.. do not hit enter/return in an attempt to make it look “neat”
  • It does some syntax checking and will only succeed if thing are right or close enough.

Note: Registering with irc.talker.im will not register the passwords you enter with the nickserves of the various IRC servers. You must go to the servers and set up the nickserv passwords first if you intend to use them. If you don’t use nickserv just set the password field to “” (an empty set of quotes).

I’m going to end this blog post here as it covers how to set-up and use all the Transports. Hopefully in a future post I’ll cover using PubSub, applepush, Jingle nodes, and file transfer proxies.

Enjoy.

P.s. once you get hooked-up I can be reached @ freemor@talkr.im (that is an XMPP address not an e-mail) I’d love to hear if this was useful.

Talkr.im – Connectivity in one place

March 12, 2011 at 18:38 | Posted in Cool, Free (as in Freedom) Software, site of the week, Tech | Comments Off
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A while ago I switched to using talkr.im as my main Chat/Presence server. Since the switch I have come to greatly appreciate the value of their service.

I should probably back up a bit and talk about how I use Chat and presence services. The first thing that I should note is that as a supporter and advocate for Faif (Free as in freedom) software I stick to XMPP chat/presence servers. Jabber.org at first, then the one offered by my mail provider fastmail.fm. The problem I encountered was that the service offered by fastmail.fm was based on an older XMPP server and didn’t play nicely with Identi.ca (more on that in a sec.). The other problem I encountered was that neither of them offered a way to keep in touch with friends who choose to use non-faif servers from a non-faif O/S.

Enter talkr.im. When I switched to talkr.im not only did it work flawlessly with identi.ca. Which is a major consideration as that is my primary reason for running a chat/presence client these days. It also had an MSN/WLM gateway which I can, and do use to keep in touch with those stuck, for what ever reason, in a non-fiaf world .

It also has an IRC gateway which recently became of great utility to me as I put my N800 on a diet and part of that diet was not installing rtcomm beta which loaded in tonnes of functionality I’ll never use, and as the name suggests is stuck in beta.

So, by using talkr.im and the basic XMPP client built into my N800 I can keep in touch with:

    My Identi.ca feed
    My friends on other XMPP services
    My friends stuck in Windows/MSN
    Anyone on any IRC server
    People on ICQ – I don’t but I could
    People on Yahoo – I don’t do this either
    Group chats on the talkr.im server.
    And more

Talkr.im even has room for me to grow into. They offer a jingle node that would allow video chat even through NAT routers. They have a Pub/Sub service I’ve yet to make use of, a user directory and other features.

One of the nicest things is that they are responsive to support requests. A while a go they had a minor outage. As this was a major diference then thier rock solid server availability I e-mailed to inquire as to the cause and expected duration of the outage. Their responce was fast,curtious, informative, and accurate. Not only that they even took the time to e-mail me when the server was back on its feet.

So if you are making the move to XMPP, or just moving to a new XMPP server I’d definitely recommend giving talkr.im a look. They are great no matter what your chat/presence needs.

Browsing at the Speed of Text

February 9, 2011 at 17:50 | Posted in Life, Privacy/Security, thoughts, Tutorials/Howtos | Comments Off
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I recently started using the ‘links’ browser for various things and was impressed with both the speed and the highly increased signal-to-noise ratio. Suddenly I could get to the information I wanted quickly and easily. This prompted me to set all of my other browsers to: no images, no scripts, no plugins

The difference was breathtaking. Suddenly I was back to the Internet I first fell in love with, a place where you can quickly find and share information. No blinking ads. No annoying scripted effects. No over done glitz. Just the info I was after.

I have found that I am getting things done much more quickly since my switch to text-only browsing.

The breath of fresh air that text-only browsing was got me nostalgic for the “old” days of the Internet when it was all text-only. I started using “Mutt” to read and send e-mail. I loaded up “Irssi” for IRC chat. I switched to a text only RSS feed reader for my morning and evening headlines/news. Again my productivity increased. So now I want to share how others can do the same. So try it out and see if your experience is similar.

The best place to start is probably the browser. For most people these days it is (sadly) the main, if not the only, way that they interact with the Internet.

I refer to a standard browser that has been configured to render only text as a “Stripped” browser.

To strip your browser find it in the list below and follow the steps. To un-strip it just reverse the steps

Internet Explorer:

Dont bother to try. IE is just too much of a mess and it’s likely you’ll break something trying to “Strip” IE.

If you are an IE user I’d suggest downloading Firefox or some other browser and “Stripping” it.

Firefox:

On Windows:
open Firefox
click tools -> options -> content
uncheck load images
uncheck enable JavaScript
click ok

click tools -> addons -> plugins
highlight each plugin by clicking on it and then click disable. (You’ll be able to “enable” them later)
Close the addons manager when done.

On Linux:
The same as above except the first options are under
edit->preferences->content

You now have a nice text only browser. Take it for spin and enjoy. Yes it will break some sites (YouTube naturally wont work) you may be surprised to see what sites fail to function. Many sites however will work just fine and be a lot easier to read.

If people know the steps to “strip” other browsers that I do not have access to please feel to post a comment.

If you have a browser not listed you basically want to search through the settings and do the following.

Disable all scripting
Set the browser to not load images
Disable (not uninstall) all media/rich content plug-ins

Once you have played with a stripped browser for a while you might get brave and decided to check out a true text-only browser like Lynx, elinks, links2, w3m, etc

I’d also suggest installing a second small/light browser to use as your stripped browser. As this way you can easily hop over to the other “Main” browser if you need to go to a page that just does not work right in a stripped or text-only browser.

As this post is getting a little on the long side I’ll cut it short and talk about doing other things on the Internet in a text centric way in another post.

More info on text centric use of the Internet can be found at the Ascii Ribbon Plus Campaign’s website. (Which I will also talk about in an upcoming Blog entry)

posted with Maemo WordPy from my N800

Getting Back to Blogging.

February 8, 2011 at 23:20 | Posted in Blogging, Life, Tech | Comments Off

I’ve been busy…
I’ve been away..
I’ve been exploring…

And soon (this week) I’ll be blogging again.

Upcoming posts:
———————

Why the world needs the Ascii Ribbon Plus Campaign
Browsing and more at the speed of Text
Freedom Box, The right idea for right now
A more inclusive net

More ‘Cloud’ fun.

December 18, 2010 at 12:42 | Posted in Tech | Comments Off
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I’ve been a little too busy to post regularly. Hopefully I’ll be having more time from on.

Despite all the busy, I have managed to continue to expand my ‘Cloud’ server’s functionality. I have recently added both an HTTP cache (Polipo) and a DNS cache (pdnsd). The latter grew out of my playing around with Steve Gibbson’s wonderful DNS Benchmark. I learned from this that my DNS of choice was not the fastest.

Pdnsd is easy to install and with minimal tweaking I had my DNS responces down to around 1ms. A response time that blew any remote DNS server out of the water.

The caching HTTP proxy, Polipo, was added because after watching the web habbits of mysellf and others in the house I realized that large amounts of time and bandwidth were being wasted pulling the same data over and over. So why not cache it locally and save both the bandwidth and lag.

As I got more familiar with Polipo I decided to use it’s ability to filter content to offlload the job of adblocking from my devices to the proxy (since my servers cpu usage tends to float around 4% there is lots of horse power available for blocking). With a little help from adblock2polipo I soon had a working ‘forbbiden’ file and now all devices in my home are ad and tracker free. This is especially nice for devices like the N800 or other hand held devices where adblocking isn’t always available or slows things to a crawl due to the limited processing power.

So now, thanks to my personal cloud, anyone using my wireless connection can enjoy blazingly fast, ad and tracker free browsing on any device. Also since it is trivial to create an SSH tunnel back to my server when I’m out and about. I can browse securely and ad-free from anywhere.

Floating about on my personal ‘Cloud’

June 15, 2010 at 12:24 | Posted in Tech | Comments Off

Well it has been quite a while since I last posted but life got busy and there have been a lot of changes in my technology setup. My main laptop/server was starting to show signs of it’s age and the constant and heavy use to which it was put. So I decided to replace it before there was a catastrophic failure. An important thing to do since it was acting as my Asterisk (phone) server as well as my web server.

Times like this give one a chance to evaluate ones current set up and make changes for the better. In my case I decided it would be best to seperate the functions of server and personal computing. So I bought myself a netbook that will live on a shelf and act as my server while I switched to using a combination of my Nokia N800 and OLPC XO for my personal computing.

This new set up has allowed me to make further changes that have pushed more functionality onto the server to facilitate the lighter devices that I’m now using on a daily basis and so I now find myself with a personal ‘Cloud’.

Frequent readers will know that I despise the ‘Cloud’ moniker but calling it a personal server although totally accurate would not convey the functionality it provides me to the non-technical crowd. The distinction also needs to be made that this is a ‘Cloud’ that is totally within my control, not some server on the Internet owned and controled by someone other then myself. I control the hardware. I control the software. Most importantly I control my data and personal information.

Now that I have clarified my use of the term ‘Cloud’ in this instance allow me to expand on the things a ‘Personal Cloud’ can provide. My old server set up was very much based solely around acting as an Asterisk/web server with SSH access thrown in only for the occasinal remote admining I may need to do. The new set up still hosts my Asterisk and http servers but it also now provides extra functionality on the LAN (at home) side including a VNC server, a media server, a Tor server so all my devices can use Tor without the need to run Tor on each device. I’m considerng adding a LAN side mail server that would fetch my e-mail and serve it to my various devices but as Fastmail offers IMAP access this seems an un-necessary duplication. I may also decide to start hosing my blog from the new server as that would increase my control over my data. However that would be a minor change as wordperss.com have good options for getting at my data. Although it would allow me greater flexability in what I put on my blog.

On the WAN (away from home) side I have a SSH server that uses public key authentication. This not only gives me access to my machine and files while away. It also allows me secure access to all the LAN side features via port forwarding.

I’m enjoying the flexbility that the new setup provides me and plan to do a couple of future posts on setting up a ‘personal cloud’ on the cheap.

This post was composed on my N800, while lounging on a couch with one of my cats. Ahhhh. the joys of mobile cmputing.

Google’s Cloud Printing… Just Fricking Insane…

April 18, 2010 at 11:24 | Posted in Privacy/Security, thoughts | 6 Comments
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O.k. people know I’m no fan of Google. In fact I’ve taken great strides to eek out a Google Free life on-line and off. People also know that I think the whole “Cloud” thing is the biggest pile of marketing crap in years, designed to put a nice spin, “oh! its soft! it’s fluffy! it’s free! it’s like a cloud!” on a huge step backwards to a time when people had to pay through the nose for server time to do any computing. “Cloud” is about stripping away your power and autonomy so that the owners of the “cloud” servers can sell it back to you.

This is exactly the case with Google’s cloud printing. They are going to make your life easier.. Or so they say.. and it’ll only cost you.. oh… all your privacy.

The first thing I’d like to clear up is a lot of people are claiming that this will do away with printer drivers and having to install them. If you read the documentation from Google this is plainly not the case, unless you are talking about an (at this point mythical) cloud aware printer. For “legacy” (a.k.a every printer out there today) printers you will not only need to install the drivers you’ll need to install a “proxy” on your computer to make the printer cloud aware. Oh and then you’ll have to leave the computer with the proxy on it powered up and on-line 24/7 if you want to use the print from anywhere anytime functionality.

Still a good deal you say? All that convenient printing and all you had to do was put a Google proxy on your machine and install printer drivers that you would have had to install anyway. Not so, Say I. You have to consider that now everything you print via this “cloud” is flowing through Google’s servers, and you can be 100% sure they will be scanning them and using what they learn to sell ads aimed directly at you. (Oh, and storing the info for who knows how long.)

As witnessed above I have two major problems with this whole idea and one that hasn’t be talked about yet. This takes a local and generally secure activity, printing, and turns it into an on-line and thus potentially insecure activity. It also is completely unnecessary. There already exists a “print from anywhere” over the Internet technology, and Hey, it doesn’t go through Google’s scan everything servers. It’s called “Internet Printing Protocol” and is supported by CUPS out of the box, and readily available on Microsoft machines too. You could set this up almost as easily and have all the joy of a Internet facing printer (including the security concerns). The ONLY reason Google isn’t promoting this is that it doesn’t send the data through their servers.

The third and as yet unmentioned annoyance about all this is that Google is clearly looking to have this technology “embedded” in printers and routers so people will only see the “print from anything anywhere” and not realize the cost in bandwidth, security, and privacy.

“This current requirement is why we are excited about working with the industry to build native support for cloud print services into their printers. We are also hoping some clever folks in the community will build proxies-in-a-box (like routers with print server abilities) so users get all the benefits of the proxy without needing to leave their PC powered on.”

Poor Chrome OS users are going to be bolted into using Google Cloud Printing.

” Google Chrome OS printing

Google Chrome OS will use Google Cloud Print for all printing. There is no print stack and there are no printer drivers on Google Chrome OS!

When users print from a web app that directly integrates with Google Cloud Print, then that works as described earlier with no involvement from Chrome OS. When users are printing a web page that is not making use of Google Cloud Print (such as a boarding pass, movie tickets, a magazine article, etc.), the app that is printing is the Google Chrome browser on Chrome OS. In this case, Google Chrome on Chrome OS is a native app that uses Google Cloud Print and common print dialog. The content to be printed is uploaded to the Google Cloud Print along with the job ticket information and then sent to the printer. More details are in the design document.”

So to sum up. Google Cloud printing:

  • Bad for autonomy (takes something you can do yourself and make you depend on Google for it).
  • Bad for privacy (sends what would other wise have been local data out to the Internet, scans it, stores it, and sends it back again.)
  • Bad for security (sends local data over the internet.Increases your “attack surface” but having the Google print proxy open to the net.).
  • Ignores IPP that offers many of the same features without Google in the middle.

Just plain BAD.

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