2010-01-29

Who is at 617-588-0005?

Today I got another call from 617-588-0005 today.

I seem to be getting a lot of them, but I finally tracked down who and why. You see I don't ordinarily pick up calls from people I don't know due to telemarketers. But whoever claimed to be calling from 6175880005 was persistant, and so I answered.

It turned out to be a friend who lives in Europe. Yep, it is a US phone number, but he was calling through Skype. It looks like Skype is using 6175880005 for calls from those that otherwise don't have a real phone number.

2010-01-27

iPad Thoughts and Dreams

Well we all just learned about the iPad. Here are my thoughts:

  1. Clearly a Kindle killer, and a killer of many iPod Touch competitors such as the Zune.
  2. A compelling alternative to NetBooks
  3. All that's necessary for your typical home user.
  4. Aggressive 3G capabilities and pricing.
  5. Do I need another device? I already have a laptop and a smart phone. Really? A third device? Can I get rid of one, please?
  6. What is going on with MacOS X? Three versions? Mac, Phone, Pad? How and when will these platforms converge? Is this Apple's way of transitioning off the Desktop paradigm and into a new one?

2010-01-22

Backup Drives for your Mac

The hard disk in your Mac can fail at any time. And they often do. I'd guess that the chance of any computer owner having a hard drive failure within the next year is 10%, regardless of the age or brand of the computer.

If your hard drive fails, the odds are very good that you will have NO HOPE FOR RECOVERY. All your photos, music and documents are likely to be GONE FOREVER.

Backup is key if you don't want to permanently lose all your photos and music and other important bits of data. Here's how to do it on the cheap.

Simple and Inexpensive Backup Devices For Your Mac

The easiest way to back up your Mac is via the built in TimeMachine backup program. But to use it, you need to buy an external backup drive first.

An external drive used to backup a MacBook

My recommendation is to buy a USB 2.0 backup drive with 1 TB of storage. They're inexpensive (under $100), they have substantial capacity, and they're very easy to use. Personally, I love the inexpensive but very good IOMega Prestige.

There are other options, but they generally cost more money:
  • An external drive with FireWire interface. Firewire drives are generally a bit faster than USB 2.0 drives. If your Mac has a Firewire interface, an enclosure with USB AND Firewire interfaces like the Buffalo DriveStation is a good choice. But drives that include Firewire can cost $15 - $50 or even more than a drive with USB 2.0. And Firewire doesn't provide all that more performance. In addition, with USB 3.0 coming around the bend, spending a premium for Firewire today seems questionable at best.
  • You can assemble your own external drive. You can buy an "internal" hard drive and an empty "hard drive enclosure". Then you mount the drive into the enclosure and you've got yourself an external drive. In theory, this can save you money. But I don't think it's worth the hassle - a pre-assembled external drive can actually cost less than buying the individual components, and problem diagnosis and warranty processing isn't nearly as easy when dealing with multiple sellers.
Using the External Drive for Backup
Once you have your external drive, power it up and plug it into your Mac's USB port.

Time Machine will automatically detect the drive and ask you if you want to use it as a backup device. If you say "yes", Time Machine will make a backup of your documents, photos and so-forth onto the external drive.

The first backup will take a while - but after that, subsequent backups are much faster.

Time Machine will only back up when you plug in your external disk... so make sure you do. I like to back up once per day, but it really depends on how much you can afford to lose. If you back up once per week, you could loose up to the last week's worth of data. Maybe that's OK, maybe it's not. It's up to you.

2010-01-16

WIFI Security

My neighbor was asking me yesterday what kind of security I thought he should set up on his home WIFI router.

My answer: it depends!
  • Best: WPA2 with AES
  • Good: WPA or WPA2 with TKIP or AES
  • Very Poor: WEP
Pretty simple, eh? No, not really.

Many old routers and laptops have a crusty old WIFI adapter that won't support the modern protocols. And therefore it is often necessary to use a lesser security protocol.

A lot of old wireless hardware only works with the WEP protocol. Some older 802.11g hardware can use WPA and WEP, but cannot use WPA2. Modern 802.11g and 802.11n hardware supports all protocols.

My general strategy is to do an on-site equipment survey to see what kind of wireless hardware is in use. If there are any devices that require a lesser protocol, I talk to the client to see if it is reasonable to replace or eliminate the old adapters.

My neighbor turned out to have two old laptops with 802.11b adapters that only supported WEP. Therefore, we configured his network for WEP. Once he replaces those old cards with modern 802.11g cards, he'll be able to upgrade his network to the recommend WPA2 w/AES.

As for my home network: I ended up retiring all my old wireless devices that didn't support WPA2. Wireless hardware is quite inexpensive, so it wasn't expensive to do so. Now I exclusively use WPA2 with AES, in conjunction with a long, sophisticated passwords.

2010-01-13

Belkin F5D7230-4 v2000 and DD-WRT

I recently upgraded my Belkin F5D7230-4 v2000 802.11g router with DD-WRT.

For those not familiar with DD-WRT: It's alternative software for a large number of routers. This replacement firmware provides a boatload of features and capabilities that let you maximize your router's potential. After all, the core of a router is a computer.


I didn't have much luck with it with the original Belkin-provided firmware. But with DD-WRT it has been fantastic: fast and stable, with a good range of features.

I was surprised that router is supported by DD-WRT - the v2000 has a limited amount of memory, but sure enough it was on the official support list. With only 2 MB of on-board flash storage, it can't do everything. But with DD-WRT it can do way more than many new, expensive routers.

Limitations of the V2000 with DD-WRT

You should know that there is a limitation with this particular router and DD-WRT. For technical reasons, the old "Cable Modem" port doesn't work. This implies a loss of functionality. But there is a work-around if you can do without wired clients like I can.

And, of course, messing with firmware isn't easy and can damage your router. So proceed with caution!

Steps

This is what I did to install and configure DD-WRT on this router:

  1. I downloaded the DD-WRT firmware. I chose the biggest "Bv2000 Micro-Plus_SSH SF" version, as downloadable from here: dd-wrt.v24-13491_Bv2000_micro-plus_ssh.bin
  2. Next I installed the firmware file using tftp, as described here: DD-WRT install
Enabling the Ethernet ports

At first DD-WRT thinks that your router is a v1444, which has slightly different ethernet hardware. But it isn't - it's a v2000. So to enable the ethernet ports, DD-WRT needs to know that you actually have a v2000.
  1. From my computer, I wirelessly connected to the dd-wrt router SSID
  2. With my browser, I went to http://192.168.0.1/ and set the username to "root" and the password to a good password.
  3. From a terminal command line, telnet to 192.168.0.1
  4. login with the username/password you set above
  5. Run the following commands:
nvram set Belkin_ver=2000
nvram commit
reboot
After the reboot, the LAN ports will be enabled. You should be able to connect an ethernet cable to the router and get a DHCP address and administrate the device.

Enable the ports as WAN

Sadly, the "cable modem" ethernet port of the v2000 remains disabled due to that pesky DD-WRT limitation. What to do? Use the quad ethernet ports for WAN:
  1. Go into the web administration interface.
  2. Choose the "Setup" tab.
  3. Choose the "Network" tab.
  4. Set WAN port assignment to "eth0".
Now ethernet ports 1-4 are associated with the "WAN" side of the router. The original singleton "cable modem" port is useless. The WIFI is associated with the LAN side of the router.

These ports 1-4 operate as switched ports on the
WAN side. Don't use the "cable modem" port.


Now, plugging the cable modem into any of the ports 1..4 results in the router obtaining an address! Yay! It works!

Finally, after getting all this stuff working, I finished configuring the device:
  • Set up wireless security on the router
  • Configure SSH, DDNS, remote admin, etc.
Conclusion
I have to say that my Belkin is much more reliable now - in fact, I have yet to reboot it. Pretty awesome. I do miss having LAN ports available to me - hopefully someone with deeper knowledge of the device will provide the software necessary to control the ports in the way the device's creators intended!

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