2013-12-15

Unlocking the Verizon iPhone 4S - MD278LL/A

Before you buy that unlocked Verizon iPhone 4S, you might want to read this.

After considerable research, I conclude that Verizon's "unlocking" program does not actually unlock the iPhone 4S.

Instead, Verizon's program seems to merely bless specific non-American 3rd party SIMs to be used with your iPhone.  It looks like American 3rd party SIMs from AT&T and T-Mobile USA are locked out forever, even after the Verizon "Unlock".

In fact, within Apple's "Wireless carrier support and features" knowledge base article ht1937, Apple itself says that Verizon "offers unlocking on certain iPhones, some with certain restrictions."

That's certainly ominous.  It reads like Verizon might be willing to unlock the deadbolt on your iPhone, but the security chain is still attached so only some SIMs can come through.  To me, that isn't an unlock.  That's a lock with exceptions.

Do you want to use an AT&T or T-MobileUSA SIM in your Verizon iPhone?  That's Verizon's choice.  And from everything I understand, Verizon will say "no" - they will not unlock the SIM for these carriers.  Your iPhone is still locked.

Even though its your phone.

And you paid for it in full.

And you've been a good customer for years.

And the device has all the technology it needs.

Maybe the best way out is to get yourself a brand new, inexpensive "contract" smartphone like this inexpensive Nokia on T-Mobile.   I use something like that as my travel/emergency phone.

2013-12-07

Do WIFI security cameras work? This EasyN one works for me!

I bought an inexpensive WIFI security camera - an "EasyN F-M166" - for my vacation home.

Does it work?  Well, yes it works very well!

Via a web browser on my Mac, I can view video, tilt-and-pan the camera, and control things like the infrared lighting.   It doesn't need any special software or plug-ins for my Mac, and I can even view the thing from my iPhone.

My EasyN WIFI cam, mounted upside-down on my porch ceiling

I have the camera mounted outside, in a protected area of my porch.  I'm not sure if it'll survive cold weather, but it still works OK even though it has been as cold as 15° F.  After a power failure it reconnects to WIFI just fine, so I don't have to worry too much about it getting disconnected from the Internet.

Via a web browser on my Mac, I can view video, tilt-and-pan the camera, and control things like the infrared lighting.   It doesn't need any special software for my Mac, and I can even view the thing from my iPhone.

Surveillance of a doorbell-pusher via the EasyN - as seen from my iPhone

With the camera's built-in web software, I've configured it to email me pictures every time "movement" is detected.  So I don't actually need a web browser to use the cam - I just get email with photos attached whenever anyone shows up at the house.  I -love- this feature.  Once in a while I'll get a moth or a bird or something, but that's the price you pay. Although the camera's web software is pretty ugly, it works very well; the software hasn't crashed yet despite running for the past 6+ months.

The camera sensor isn't nearly as good as a "real" camera, but I'm still very happy with it.    I haven't gotten the microphone to work on it, but I don't use it that way.

For under $50, it's a pretty darn good security camera.  You can find the EasyN F-M166 on Amazon.

2013-11-28

Time to think about Time seriously!

Attention programmers!

Good logic lasts forever.

Many of you were not in the programming business in the 1980s.  Back then, we realized that Y2K was on its way and there was a lot of code that would break with dates beyond 1999-Dec-31.

At the time we were looking to save storage - heck, I supported systems that stored the year in 4 bits, because  it was a huge memory saver, and 16 years of operation was a long time.  We simply expected that our systems would be retired before then.

But come the 1990's, we realized we were still running programs written in the 1960s, and someone would have to address all of the date calculation problems.

Turn the clock ahead to today and we see that in less than 25 years the classic 32-bit Unix clock will turn over.    And the storage problem no longer exists like it once did.  In the past we often tried to squeeze in a full Gregorian date (Y-M-D) into 15 or fewer bits.    Today, using 24 or 32 more bits to store a Gregorian date seem completely reasonable and will greatly outlast our era.

Best practice demands that our code of today will work perfectly with dates into and beyond 2038.  As programming matures as a business, we should be validating clocks and times and dates well into the future, at least beyond 2101.

Are you signing a contract for software services?  Demand proper testing for this problem today.  Code easily lasts for more than 25 years, and so not demanding proper date handling behavior is irresponsible and a dereliction of your professional obligations.  Period.

Our software will be running in 80+ years into the future?

Why not?  Buildings and bridges are designed and maintained to last for centuries... we hope.  Logic lasts forever; why dispose of otherwise good work?

LED Light Bulb - First experience

There are a certain set of bulbs in my building which need to be on 24x365, so I figured this would be a good place to try an LED bulb.  The bulb is in an open ceiling fixture and is never turned off.

I recently bought a Cree LED Light Bulb to try out in one of these fixtures.

The bulb cost me about $10, and gosh darn it - it looks and behaves a lot like a regular incandescent bulb.  It is bright enough for my use, and draws a mere 6 watts - that's a ton less than 40 watts, and even 33% less than the 9 watts of a similar CFL.

Doing the math the electricity costs me about $8 a year to keep it lit, versus $12 in power for a 9 watt CFL or $50 in power for a 40 watt incandescent.  So payback will be very fast.

So far I have about 10,000 hours on the bulb.  I'll report if and when this bulb fails, but according to the specs I should expect to get about 6 years out of this.  And that's great, because changing a bulb in this location is a royal pain.

Next time I'll consider installing one of those 3 watt bulbs.  And to imagine just 10 years ago these fixtures were loaded with 60 watt bulbs.  The cost savings is just incredible.

Now if anyone has a tip for replacing an old-school GX32 style CFL with an LED without a lot of labor, please let me know!


2013-05-03

Airport Express - best WIFI base station yet.

I was looking for a good and inexpensive "simultaneous dual band" 802.11n router on the market that I could upgrade to DD-WRT or Tomato firmware.  The short story is that there isn't one that I could find - all of them are either "single band" or not DD-WRT capable.  At least not for cheap money.

So I went in the opposite direction last month and bought myself an Apple AirPort Express. No, it doesn't support DD-WRT, but it is a simultaneous dual band device, and the price is about $95 - which is very reasonable compared to the other "non-lousy" WIFI access points on the market.

I've been using DD-WRT for years, and I've refused to buy a router that didn't support it.  DD-WRT gives me a lot of flexibility and power that you can't get with stock firmware.  So going in the opposite direction with the Express was certainly a change of behavior.

In contrast to my DD-WRT devices, the Express is much easier to configure and use. It is actually a near-zero brain power operation to get an entire network on it.   And it is extremely reliable and very fast.  It covers my three level, 4000 square foot home perfectly well... and my 23 WIFI devices work perfectly with it.

The DD-WRT things I miss is short but significant: I miss the traffic utilization charts.  I miss logging into my router over SSH and doing UNIX things there.  But I love the fact that I don't have to waste my time configuring my router, and the Express has built-in has remote administration capabilities that are a pleasure to use.

In the end, I love the Airport Express.  It isn't a replacement for DD-WRT, which I often use as an "always-on Linux host".   But the Express is a simple, rock-solid device.  Unlike DD-WRT, it hasn't crashed on me yet, and doesn't need a periodic reboot.  It is the best WIFI router I've used.

2013-03-24

On Accounts and Passwords

I have some well-formed opinions on account security.  They have evolved over time as I have better understood the risks.  Unfortunately, I think the following list is good for all users everywhere.

The basic principle is to assume that nothing is secure.  Even if you keep your username and passwords secure doesn't mean that your bank, ISP, or Email provider keeps its systems secure.


Login Practices
  • Always check for proper HTTPS/SSL security.
  • Never use a link published in an email.
  • Use disposable accounts whenever possible.  Your account for your knitting forum shouldn't have any relationship to your account for your bank.
  • Only access sites with a good reputation, and a reputation that they need to uphold.

Password Practices

  • Never use the same password more than once.   If a hacker steals your password from DumbCo, you don't want that hacker to try that password at BigBucksBank.
  • Change your passwords.  People steal encrypted passwords.  Over time, they could crack those encrypted passwords.  By changing your passwords occasionally, you diminish that attack vector.
  • Use two-factor authentication whenever possible.
  • Never let anyone know your passwords.
  • Long and complicated passwords are better.
  • Avoid on-line account managers that result in a large store of passwords.
Email Practices
  • Keep your email accounts very secure.  If you can reset your passwords over email, then so can a bad person.
  • Use more than one email account.  Don't use the same email account for your knitting forum or Facebook that you use for your bank.
  • Never open or read junk mail.  Assume that it will infect your computer.
  • Never trust email from your friends.  Their accounts could have been compromised.
  • Avoid webmail services
Computer Practices
  • Minimize the number of devices you use.  The more devices you use, the more work is required to keep them secure and the higher the odds are that one of them is compromised.
  • Trust less trustworthy computers less.  Your home Windows XP machine is more vulnerable than your iPad.  Be more skeptical of less secure environments.
  • Never log in from an unknown machine.  That means you should never trust the computer in the hotel lobby, the computer at school, or even the computer at work.  Assume that there are keyloggers and screen-sharing technologies on each device you use.
  • Do not let others use or maintain your computer without strict oversight.
  • Use a quality browser that has anti-phishing capabilities.  Keep that browser up-to-date.  Avoid browser plugins.
  • Encrypt your computer's hard drive, and use a long and complicated password.
  • Put a password on your computer's login screen.  Do not let users share accounts.
  • Do not give day-to-day user accounts administrative privileges.
  • Shutdown your devices when not in use.
  • Scan for malware on all of your devices often.
  • Keep your software and OS up-to-date.
  • Do not install any software that hasn't been fully validated by a reputable party.
  • Be very hesitant in giving administrative rights to any software.
  • Back up your devices often, and keep control of your backups.  Keep your backups elsewhere (assume your neighborhood will burn down).
  • For encrypted files, use very long and complex passwords in order to minimize the odds that someone will be able to crack the file in years to come.
  • Use WPA2/AES security on your home WIFI network.  If your devices don't support WPA2/AES, upgrade your devices.

General Practices
  • Keep an off-line list of your accounts so you can easily take action if one account is compromised.
  • Watch over your account activity.
  • Be very concerned about account access issues or "odd behavior".
  • Remember that your network is compromised - your ISP, in combination with web site providers can access nearly all your network communications.
  • Do not trust the manufacturer of your home wireless router, handset, operating system, or third party software.  Again, all your data runs through these devices.
  • Never trust a 3rd party that can send you an email with your password within it.
  • Keep in tune with security vulnerabilities and compromises.


2013-01-27

On CFLs and Lumens

In my building I have a eight light fixtures that need to be lit 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Some of these fixtures have a single socket, others have a dual socket.

Original Plan: Twelve 60 watt bulbs, $756 in electricity per year

Originally, we were running 60 watt incandescent bulbs.  They provided more than enough light, but cost us a ton of money in electricity.  Further, they had a lousy life, needing replacement several times per year - a lot of labor when you are paying a maintenance company.

More Efficient Plan: Twelve 13 watt CFL bulbs, $163 in electricity per year

About 5 years ago, we switched to 13 watt CFLs.  These bulbs, on average, lasted nearly 3 years and saved us about 70%.    We still had way more than enough light.

Current Plan: Eight 7 watt CFL bulbs, $60 in electricity per year

Two years ago we stepped up our game.   We realized that we would get adequate light from 7 watt CFLs, and that multi-bulb fixtures only required a single bulb.  That means four sockets went to zero watt bulbs!   We used to pay 12 times more for lighting this space.

Other options and concerns:

Q. What about the quality of the light?  Are 7 watt CFLs really bright enough?  Don't they dim?
A. The quality of the light and the lumens produced is great for the space, even after years of service.

Q. What about CFL "start up" time?
A. Irrelevant in this case - the bulbs are almost never switched off.

Q. Why can you switch the bulbs off?
A. Given the use of the space, our insurance company requires 24 hour lighting.

Q. Why not go LED?
A. Perhaps someday, but the price point of LEDs wasn't good enough when we made the most recent change.

Q. Do your CFLs really last for so many years?
A. Absolutely, perhaps due to the lack of switching.

Q. Isn't it a waste to throw out otherwise working bulbs?
A. Yes, and we didn't.  We use them in other locations where they aren't in use 24 x 365.

Q. How do you know how long your bulbs last?
A. We date them with a Sharpie when we install them.

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