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Showing posts from 2014

iOS8 on iPhone 4S: Is it worth it?

Last week I decided to take the plunge and upgrade my household iPhone 4S's to iOS8.  The rumors on the street have been mixed, but I usually don't pay much attention to rumors because they are very often wrong.

I am very happy I upgraded.  All the fear-mongering about bad performance and bad battery life simply wasn't true for me.  I'm quite confident that those folks just had a bad app that they didn't know how to update, or a heavily-used 3 year old battery.  iOS 8 isn't going to fix your refrigerator, but it isn't going to break it either.

So what do I get?

First of all, I get a refined UI.  iOS7 was a great upgrade, but now iOS8 is simply smoother all around.  It erases all doubts I had moving from iOS6.

Family sharing is in place.  If you have a household with more than one device, this is a big deal for making Dad's life easier.  Or mine.

I get better battery management, with the incredibly useful Battery Usage feature.  Unlike the similarly na…

Excellent DD-WRT Router for Me: Netgear WNDR3400 / N600

My WiFi performance was suffering, and so I decided to do something about it and upgrade my router.

When I say my WiFi performance was suffering, I really mean it:  I live in a large high-rise apartment building and there are 100+ WiFi access points visible from my home office.  All of the contentious traffic was severely curtailing my WiFi reliability.  I was lucky to get 1 Mbit/second throughput.  Sometimes I was lucky to stay connected even with my WiFi router in the same room.

I decided it was time to go for 5 GHz, which is a WiFi band which is used less frequently and which has a tougher time traversing walls.  And of course I wanted DD-WRT support.  The set of features I was looking for included:
Trouble-free DD-WRT support 5 GHz 802.11n Support Simultaneous dual band capabilityInexpensive.  Maybe even cheap.  For me this means under $50.  Under $35 is even better! It sounds like an easy task to bring all this together: All of this technology has been around for over 5 years.  …

Let's make biking to work for everyone

I live in the city and generally take public transit to work.  But commuting via bicycle is always an option.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the bikes on the market aren't suitable for commuting.  They  require that you dress in "biking clothes" and take on a life style called Urban Biker.  No other form of commuting requires special garb.  It is one of the tremendous failures of every single US-based bike manufacturer:  Sales are paltry.  And so manufacturers focus on "cool fragility" and not the "useful".

Unacceptable bikes do the following:
Spray mud on your butt and backGet grease on your pantsAre too fragile to leave outdoors That's garbage, and the Europeans know it.  They have tons of city bikes, which are much like the bikes we used to have here in the states.  They are designed to help anyone of any age get around the city - to work, the grocery, or the library.

So in this article I list out what I want from a NOT FAKE Commuting Cit…

Your Privacy Quotient

We all have the expectation of privacy, right?  But how private of a person are you?

Here's how to calculate your privacy quotient!

Add up the following "points" as for each item below.  The resulting number will be used to calculate your personal Privacy Quotient:

Card Usage - Tracking your purchases

1 - Do you use store "rewards cards"?5 - Do you use a credit or debit card for most purchases?5 - Do you shop for and buy goods on-line?
Banking - Tracking your income and spending

1- Do you have direct deposit?1- Do you have a bank account?1- Do you have a mortgage or loan?
Internet - Tracking your relationships and opinions
5- Do you use an internet service provider?5- Do you use Web Mail, such as gmail?5- Do you use a social web sites such as Facebook?5- Do you use Google to search the Internet?Telephone - Tracking your location

5- Do you have and use a mobile phone?1- Do you have a landline?1- Do you have a home security system?
Transportation - Tracking your travels


Privacy theft via "free" apps

I'm a privacy advocate.  And so I get very tired of the myriad of companies that try to make a buck by selling my "profile" to the highest bidder.

Many (but not all) of the "free" apps available for your smartphone are simple privacy sieves.  Their primary purpose is to provide you with a little bit of value in exchange for a huge amount of your private data.

My case in point are 3rd party smartphone email and GPS apps.  There are hundreds available, almost all for free.  They provide a little bit of value, such as "a new way to use gestures to archive your email".  But these free 3rd party apps often take all kinds of data about you, such as:

All of your emailYour basic information (your name, home address, phone number, etc)Your location at all times, via your phone's GPS capabilityYour calendarYour entire address book
Of course, the companies state that they can do this in their "privacy policy".

And within that policy they promise tha…

iPhone 6 Release Party: Friday, September 26th, 2014

There are a lot of rumors out there in terms of when the iPhone 6 will be released.

Let's just cut to the chase, as evidence points to:

Friday, September 19th, 2014
Here is the evidence:
Apple will want the iPhone 6 to be released out of the gate as boldly as possible - with iOS 8.Apple explicitly says that iOS 8 will not be available until Fall 2014.Apple will likely want to make the iPhone 6 readily available to all customers by the Christmas Shopping Season - mid-November.  They'd want to eliminate any waiting lists by then.Recent prior releases of iPhones have been between September 20th and October 15th. Therefore, I predict that Apple will release the iPhone 6 sometime very near early fall.  This year fall begins on Tuesday, September 23th, 2014.

But wait, there's more!  Over the past few years Apple has put their device on sale starting on a Friday.

So given that additional fact, I refine my prediction to include only the following dates:
Friday, September 19thFriday, …

My iPhone is being remotely controlled by a hacker! (and how to fix it)

Who is remotely controlling my iPhone???

This is a personal story that scared the hell out of me.

On Monday I was awoken by my iPhone alarm telling me that it was time to get up to go to work.   I picked up the phone and looked at the day's calendar.  Ug.  I put it back down in its dock for a couple more Z's.

Seconds later, I heard it clicking.

I looked at my phone, and it looked like someone was typing on it!  Click.  Then a swipe.  And then more clicks.  One of my business apps was being operated, but NO ONE was touching my iPhone!  I was sure that a Hacker was remotely operating my iPhone, digging around for my private data!

This was shocking.  My phone stores a lot of good stuff - my email, photos, finances, passwords and all sorts of other goodies.  If someone compromised my phone they could know where I am.  They could operate the cameras, the microphones - in short, they could know almost everything about me.

It looked like the hacker didn't know what he was doing -…

Upgrading my white MacBook with an SSHD Hybrid Hard Drive

A couple of weeks ago the Samsung hard drive in my white plastic MacBook started to have problems starting up - the hard drive was failing.

A few years ago I "upgraded" my MacBook with a higher capacity 500 GB Samsung drive.  Since then, I've been a bit frustrated with my MacBook.  It simply never performed as well, and I just figured that after years of OS updates and demanding web sites that it was about the end of the road for this MacBook.

My first option was to buy a new computer.  My MacBook is from 2009 - and that's a bit old in terms of computing technology.  The MacBook Air is a great high-performance, high-quality machine, but  my old MacBook should be a reasonable performer too.  Perhaps the hard drive was a reason for my lousy performance, and so I decided to shop for a higher-performance drive.

Unfortunately, thousands of drives are available on the market, but which one should I buy?  I made a quick list of criteria:
Storage.  I want plenty of storage fo…

On Kilobytes, Megabytes, and other computer-centric factors

I started programming way back.  In those olden days I was working close to the machine - on machine language stuff (assembly languages).  Bits were important: shift left, shift right, AND/OR/XOR.  And memory pages were important too: fitting an important routine within a 256 byte page could really help performance.

These days life is different.  You allocate objects.  If you're storing a boolean, you create a boolean object.  Who knows how that's represented under the hood, but it certainly isn't represented in one bit of RAM.   Most people don't even use the bitwise operators offered through the programming languages given to them.  Sure, some do.  But most do not.
And so now we get into our prefixes: kilo, mega, giga, terra, and peta (and beyond, I suppose!)
Many people still want these prefixes to be based on powers of 2.  One kilobyte is 1024 bytes (2^10). One megabyte is 1024*1024 bytes (2^20).  Etc.  It's an OK system, but it really makes little sense. Why i…

A Calendar for Everyone

We all kind of dislike calendars that we aren't accustom to, and tons of folks over the centuries have thought they could do a better job.  And some people around the world see calendars as being a primarily religious instrument since Pope Gregory XIII's people pushed for the one we use today.

Here's my proposal, which combines the Herschel and a modified Holocene calendar.
Take on the proposal of Sir John Herschel, so that there are 969 leap days every 4000 years.Take on the concept of the Holocene calendar year numbering system, but modify it as such: The year number is an aggregate of the top 30 year numbers of the calendars of the world, modulo 100.  Then add 10,000.  My calculation comes up with the year 10043.  For you Gregorian fans, just subtract 8029.Retain the other structures of the Gregorian/Julian calendaring system, notably: month numbering, month length, weekdays.Call this the Earth Solar Calendar.Result:
A calendar that is not the Gregorian calendarA calendar …

My Computer Security Failures

I'm a security-concious guy, but I have screwed up before.  Here are my security failures over time that I know about:

1994: I downloaded and executed a program from the Internet.  The program spun through the Windows 3.11-based system, overwriting all files.  This resulted in significant data loss.

Root cause: User trusted untrustworthy software.  User failed to back up system.

2001: Fell victim to an SSH exploit on my Linux-based router machine.  The machine was compromised by a remote attacker and used to send spam.  The machine needed to be wiped and reloaded.

Root cause: Zero-day exploit vulnerability, and/or failure to keep on top of security patches.

2006: I gave administrative rights to my brother's au pair's Windows XP-based PC, under pressure from the au-pair who wanted to install software.  The machine was quickly overwhelmed by malware despite anti-virus practices.  The machine was kept in service after significant cleanup.

Root cause: The platform assumed users …

Save big money with Free WIFI?

Who wants to pay for Internet?  Maybe your neighbor has open WIFI!  Freedom!  FREE!!!

The problem is that your neighbor's WIFI should never be trusted.  Here's what your neighbor could find out about you:
Who you areWhat sites you visitYour daily scheduleWhat kind of devices you useProbe your devices for vulnerabilitiesRead many of the web pages you read as you read themSee how much mail you receive and sendManipulate what you read on the internet Now don't be surprised - your ISP can do these things too.  But at least your ISP has a reputation to uphold and (weak) regulations that they must legally conform to.  Your anonymous neighbor that you're stealing from?  They don't really have to worry about such things.

If you're going to steal Internet, use VPN.  VPN doesn't solve all problems, but it solves some of them.

Fixing my Wahl 9918 Groomsman Beard and Mustache Trimmer

Not everyone would bother repairing a $25 beard trimmer, but why not fix something for under $5 instead of spending another $25?

My Wahl 9918 Groomsman Beard and Mustache Trimmer has admirably performed its beauty duty for many years, but the time came when the battery just wasn't holding a charge any more.  Most people would just put the trimmer in the trash and buy a new one, but I figured I could repair my Wahl and save some money.

In fact, even higher end trimmer and rotary shaver brands, like Norelco and Remington, can be repaired using a process similar to the one I used to fix my Wahl.  Read on to find out how.

I opened up the Wahl by popping off the black plastic faceplate with a tiny flathead screwdriver, which revealed two screws.  By removing the two screws I was able to easily open up the unit, revealing the guts of the device.

The internals are rather simple: a motor, a simple circuit board, a switch, and a NiCad battery pack soldered into place.

I decided that the ba…