Random Acts of Technology

25
Mar
2019

Facebook Did It – They Lost All of Their Credibility

There is an interesting article over at Forbes today detailing how if you thought Facebook hadn’t lost their credibility yet on privacy, they certainly have now. For about the past six years, Facebook has been storing all the passwords you have used in clear text within an internal database that all of their staff have had access to. Yes, that means anyone in Facebook could have gotten into your account, or possibly just taken the whole database and dumped it for the world to have. Facebook is a little fuzzy on if anything nefarious has been done with this data or not.

The large implications, as the article’s author points out, is that this constant disclosure of personal data is desensitizing us to the serious implications that they truly have. Ultimately this could result in other companies taking the stance that there is no need to secure data any longer because no one really cares if it is protected or not. It comes down to us, as consumers and as the owners of this data, that we demand companies be held accountable to keep it safe. Either that, or we need to actively stop using these services. I don’t know how likely that will be in the case of an organization like Facebook since people are so invested in it that leaving is almost impossible to comprehend for many. Yet this is what is going to be required if these companies are going to be forced to change. Otherwise nothing will change and your data will be available to anyone, anywhere, anytime with no ability to control its spread.

The question then becomes, how important is your data, your private information, to you? Do you value it and if so how much? If the value is high then inaction is no longer acceptable and you must begin to advocate for stronger protections around that information. How can you advocate for this? Check out the resources below:

And of course, you can always write or call your elected officials to demand action on regulatory change.

25
Mar
2019

Long Live Clippy

I couldn’t help writing about a story The Verge recently wrote about the introduction of Clippy animated images and then the subsequent removal of them in the Microsoft Teams communication platform. How many more indignities does the poor paperclip need to endure at the hands of its creator? It was clear that the developers at Microsoft just wanted to relive some of the glory days of Microsoft Office and let some of us office workers do the same. Why their brand people had to go shutdown such a glorious resurrection of the world’s most annoying paperclip is beyond me.

For anyone that would like to join the effort to push Microsoft to bring back the Clippy stickers in the Microsoft for Teams platform, you can go and upvote the request on the Microsoft Support site.

25
Mar
2019

Rechargeable Headphones – When Wires Are Good

There is new article in The Atlantic about the looming problem of users who purchased Apple AirPods when they first were introduced and they are now suffering from battery issues. Of course anyone who has used a Lithium Ion battery in the past ten years knows this was bound to happen sooner or later. PiPo batteries wear out, loosing their ability to hold a charge bit by bit each time they are drained and recharged. Then there is always of the issue of LiPo batteries developing a “memory” if they are not drained fully before being recharged as well.

The article is really more about the issues that arise as more LiPo devices are discarded due to battery life issues and what to do with the waste but that is not going to be my main topic here. While the waste is a concern, as well it should be, my argument is that this type of issue is the perfect reason why consumers should go back to realizing that sometimes, just maybe, wires aren’t bad. Just imagine a world where your headphones would work for as long as whatever they were connected to would work because they were *gasp* physically connected to the audio device! Not only would we solve the issue of having to deal with LiPo waste but the days of your headphones’ battery dying before you wanted to them to would be a think of the past.

Then there is the audio fidelity of wired headphones versus wireless headphones. Don’t get my wrong, I love my 3M Workphones that connect via bluetooth so that while I am sitting on the lawn mower I can listen to some tunes without wires hanging out of my pockets. However, When I want to listen to legit music in a way that I get the best audio quality possible, I plug in my headphones to my device and listen the old fashioned way. If I really want to get fancy, I also plug them into my headphone amp as well. Generally when I do this I am listening through my pair of Audio Technica m50x, Grado, or Mitchell & Johnson headphones to get the best sound I can. While none of these are Planar headphones (some day I will spend the money to get a pair) they are all much better sounding than almost anything you can find that are wireless at this point (don’t even get me started on Beats).

So come on people, break out your lightning to 3.5mm adapters and plug in those headphones! Let’s all get back to our audio roots and be eco-friendly at the same time.

28
Dec
2018

pfSense + Ubiquiti = <3

So I have a new weekend DIY project to work on over the next several days. I just bought a new pfSense firewall appliance along with some Ubiquiti WiFi access points for the house. I decided that it is time to get serious about securing our home network since we have so many IoT devices around these days.

At this point I have ordered the hardware and am beginning to get things planned out. for the install. I will continue to document the experience here as I go.

Hardware

  • QOTOM-Q190G4-S02 Barebone Industrial PC Gateway Router for pfSense – Intel J1900 4 Gigabit NICs
  • Crucial 8GB Single DDR3/DDR3L 1600 MT/S (PC3-12800) Unbuffered SODIMM 204-Pin Memory – CT102464BF160B
  • Dogfish Msata 120GB Internal Solid State Drive Mini Sata SSD Disk
  • Ubiquiti Unifi Ap-AC Lite – Wireless Access Point – 802.11 B/A/G/n/AC (UAPACLITEUS)
  • Ubiquiti Unifi Cloud Key – Remote Control Device (UC-CK)

Installing pfSense

First thing’s first, I had to open up my QOTOM PC and install the RAM and mSATA SSD in on the board. This was very easy to do, all that was required was to remove the four case screws using a Philips head screw driver. From there, the RAM and mSATA job just slide into their respective slots on the motherboard. You will need to hold the mSATA drive in place with a screw as well that is already on the motherboard when you open the PC case.

Once all of this was set, I downloaded (https://www.pfsense.org/download/) and burned a copy of pfSense to a DVD and connected a USB external DVD-ROM to the QOTOM PC along with a keyboard, mouse, and VGA based monitor. I powered everything up and… failure. The PC hung at the pfSense “booting” prompt. After some quick Google searching it was clear I was not the first to experience this with the latest version of pfSense. The short explanation is that the version of freeBSD that pfSense uses doesn’t like some graphics chipsets so the console hangs. To get around this you need to add the following line to your boot settings:

set kern.vty=sc

Once this was done everything very well. Installation proceeded without any other major issues. I essentially took all of the defaults in the installation and had the installer partition my SSD automatically.

pfSense Console Options

The QOTOM comes with four ethernet ports so you will need to tell pfSense what to do with all of them once the PC boots for the first time after installation. When the system has booted you will get to a menu with a list of console administration options to choose from. You will need to select the menu item for assigning interfaces for pfSense system. The console program will then walk you assigning your WAN, LAN and optional interfaces. In my case I did the following:

InterfaceUsage
igb0WAN
igb1LAN
igb2Opt 1
igb2Opt 2