Moving

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

All further posts will be on blog.freemor.ca

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.

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 disingenious DNS offering

December 5, 2009 at 23:00 | Posted in Privacy/Security, Tech, thoughts | Comments Off
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I saw an announcement about Goggle offering DNS and wandered over to see what value-added scheme they had come up with. To my surprise at present it is a very vanilla DNS offering. A modern implementation of DNS to be sure but still very vanilla.

Don’t get me wrong. Vanilla is what you want in a DNS. Landing Pages and other “features” are seen as a broken DNS offering by many in the tech field (a good old NX domain will do nicely thank-you).

So, I found myself pondering.. If Google isn’t offering anything new why offer DNS. The answer is simple and obvious. TRACKING.

The moment you log in to a Google property they know who you are and can associate your IP address with your account. Heck if you are the type to click the “Remember me” or “keep me logged-in” buttons you don’t even have to log into a Google property any page with google-analytics can probably read the Google cookie and bang… Google knows your IP address and can tie it to your account.

Now if you go ahead and use their DNS server they can see that the DNS request came from your IP address which they can associate with your account and thus they will know EVERYWHERE you go on the web.

But wait.. there’s more. DNS is used by more than just the browser. They will know what messenger you use and how many hours you ran it for. If you are using a SIP client. What E-mail servers you use. How often you check them. If you are running Skype. What P2P software you use. What software on your system is checking for updates and how often. The list goes on and on.

I have become increasingly leery of Google and their pervasive tracking over the years. For me this is a step to far and shows Google’s real intention to try and track everyone everywhere. (Chromium O/S is just more of this tracking madness).

A while ago I wrote about kicking the Google habit. Now I think it is time for me and anyone that values their privacy to kick Google to the curb. My Gmail account will be set to auto respond to people to inform them of my new Address and after a week or two it will be shut down. I am going to close my Google account permanently and I’m going to file a formal request to have all my info deleted.

I hope that others do the same. It is time to stop the invasion of our lives in the name of profit. I refuse to sell my soul for a few value added treats. You should too.

Epiphany – the overlooked browser

September 2, 2009 at 16:10 | Posted in Cool, Tech, XO | 2 Comments
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When I switched to gNewSense I decided to go ahead and use Epiphany as it is set as the default browser. I am pleased to say that I was quite surprised by this browser. I admit that I was a little sceptical about using Epiphany. I figured that a lot of websites would break and that it would lack a lot of the functionality that I had become accustomed to with Firefox.

When I first started using Epiphany it seemed a little light and seemed to be lacking some of the features I had thought it had. I double checked and found out that the Epiphany plug-ins were not installed so I put those in. Once I did that it had ad-blocking on par with what one finds in various Firefox plug-ins. The plug-ins also offered several new features/functions some of which I’ve yet to play with. It would take more space then I am willing at this point to spend to enumerate them all but there is something for everyone.

In studying up on Epiphany I have found out that the plug-ins are almost trivial to write and I may take a crack at one down the road.

Epiphany renders sites quickly and accurately. It is much lighter then Firefox. I was so impressed by its performance and lightness that it is now the default browser on my XO’s Ubuntu install.

Although it lacks the ability to clear all data on exit it seems to flush cookies when you exit and the option to clear all the other data is trivial to find “edit->preferences->privacy->clear”. and does indeed clear thing up nicely. The only thing I feel it is lacking is the NoScript plug-in.

I would definitely recommend Epiphany to anyone that is looking for a fast, light, extensible, and friendly browser. I feel that this browser has been sadly overlooked and that too many Gnome based distros are doing users a dis-service by installing Firefox as the default browser.

So go ahead and give Epiphany a try.

Live Free (A.K.A living in gNewSense)

September 2, 2009 at 15:09 | Posted in Cool, Life, Tech | 2 Comments
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A while ago I migrated my main laptop to gNewSense. It’s been a couple of weeks now so thought I should post my thoughts and experiences. The first thing I have noticed is that my machine seems to run faster. Not hugely so, but it definitely has more “perky” feel then Ubuntu Jaunty did. As I mentioned in my previous post moving to all Libre (or “free as in speech”) software has had a few challenges. I currently can watch just about zero flash video. Not a great loss really, and also in line with my flash reduced diet. I’m guessing version-next of gNewsense will be a little better on the flash as it will have a newer gnash installed . However as I personally dislike Flash I’ll just wait till Epiphany has html 5 support.

As gNewSense is currently based on an older version of Ubuntu than what I was using there have been a couple of minor regressions. Rhythmbox is having a old problem with some podcasts that was fixed in the more recent versions. The podcasts work. the file names just end up a little messy. Again not a biggie.

The repositories still need a little cleaning up as there are a couple of packages listed (like Revelation) that can’t be installed because they have dependencies that were removed due to the fact that they were not Libre. I know these little wrinkles will get ironed out but the above example was a little annoying to me as I was using Revelation to store my passwords and part of my process before installing gNewSense was to look in the repository and see that it would have the packages I needed. Again, not a show stopper, just annoying. I have moved my passwords to a fully Libre program and all is fine now.

The only real gotcha I ran into is that I use encfs to store personal files and one of my encfs folders (a more recently created one) had been made with encfs 6 and gNewSense has encfs 5 which was surprisingly (I jest) not forward compatible.. This meant that I needed to jump through several hoops to fix this.

The process looked like… create a new encfs folder (with gNewSense encfs 5). boot into ubuntu live, install encfs, mount both the old and new encfs folders, copy from the old encfs6 to the new encfs5 folder. delete the old encfs folder, boot back into gNewSense. Again more hassle then show stopper but something that I would have been easier to take care of before installing gNewSense.

Aside from the above few annoyances some of which are strictly migration pains and thus very temporary. I am really enjoying gNewSense. It is what I want my Linux to be. I enjoy knowing that nothing in my system promotes the problems one sees with closed source. I am one of the crowd that feels that binary blobs will if not stopped will take on a life of their own. If hardware manufacturers get the message that closed source drivers are acceptable that will be all they will produce. If however we (the community) send a clear message that we will not use closed source drivers and by extension the hardware it drives Manufacturers will produce open source drivers. Manufacturers are driven by the bottom line. they want to sell their hardware.. If given a clear message they will produce what the market demands.

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