Tag Archives: computer

I love multiple monitors

I got a new monitor today (well, actually a few days ago, but today I put it where I want it).

I heard somewhere that people of my generation (I forget what we’re called, the generation before the millennials) have on average two screens in use at any one time: perhaps a TV and a PDA, or a computer with two displays. I, right now, have four. Plus two more that could be turned on if I wanted to.

  • In use:
    • 1 new 27-inch widescreen LCD computer monitor
    • 1 old ~20-inch 4:3 aspect ratio LCD computer monitor
    • 1 17-inch laptop LCD
    • 1 ~5-inch PDA
  • Not in use but visible from where I’m sitting:
    • 1 old ~21-inch 4:3 aspect ratio LCD computer monitor, currently hooked up to a Raspberry Pi
    • 1 6-inch e-reader

Just a few years ago, I could barely imagine using more than one screen at a time. Now four feels comfortable. Soon I will want more.

Apps I Use: Security Software & Hardware (Part 1)

In light of the recent huge DDoS attack against Dyn, which Brian Krebs reports (getting his information from Flashpoint) were apparently carried out using a Mirai-powered botnet, I thought it appropriate to highlight some of the security software and hardware I use to try to ensure that my devices don’t become part of the botnet.

My first layer of defense at home is my router. My current router is in serious need of replacement – its software is buggy and it requires reboots approximately once every month or two (far too frequent for a home router, if you ask me). That said, it’s still useful and here’s why:

  • port forwarding: Several of my devices use SSH to automatically synchronize files across my home network. I know SSH is overkill for that kind of thing, but it’s easy to set up. Two of those devices are Raspberry Pis, low-power computers which I run mostly-headless (I can connect a monitor and keyboard if needed) and I use SSH to control them from my laptop or phone. My point is, none of these things need to receive SSH connections over the Internet, so my router doesn’t forward the standard SSH port to any of them. One of the Pis is, on the other hand, used as a BitTorrent seedbox – other BitTorrent peers can connect to it most easily if I make at least one port of my choosing accessible from the Internet.
  • An unencrypted Wi-Fi network for guests: Until yesterday I ran two wireless networks from the same router: one with strong encryption for my family’s use, and one with no encryption for the convenience of guests and strangers. This separation of networks was to ensure that friends could access the Internet quickly if all they wanted was to watch cat videos on YouTube but would still have to talk to me if they wanted to network with my computers. The principle of least privilege is a key component of good computer security. Now I have chosen to disable the guest network to ensure that strangers’ devices can’t unintentionally use my Internet connection to join a botnet. There is little point in simply enabling encryption on the guest network because then guests would have to ask me for a password, the avoidance of which is the reason the guest network existed in the first place.

I am about to order a new router, specifically a Turris Omnia. It’s very expensive at $246 + shipping, but I hope it’s worth the price. Here are features I plan to use and which are not offered by the router I have:

  • “Advanced network monitoring”: I’ve been experiencing a frustrating problem lately: DNS servers are very slow to respond, sometimes timing out. The problem happens randomly throughout the 24-hour day, not all the time. It lasts for only a few minutes. It only happens at home (no problems when I’m at school, so far). It affects every computer on my home network. It probably isn’t related to the DDoS attack I mentioned earlier because this started at least a week earlier. I can find no way to troubleshoot the problem using my current hardware: my router doesn’t offer any kind of network monitoring/traffic analysis feature, and I can’t insert any of my computers between the router and modem because all of my computers have only one wired ethernet port. If I had a computer with two ethernet ports, then theoretically I could transparently capture and analyze every packet using Wireshark. Michael DeCesare described the problem well: “Moving beyond the acknowledged need to be better at patching devices, we must then ask if devices are protected by a robust perimeter security solution and are continuously monitored for suspicious behavior.”. My router is my perimeter security solution, and the one I have does not monitor for suspicious behavior.
  • “Active bandwidth measurement” [source]: Potentially useful for troubleshooting, but mostly I’d just watch the colorful graphs.
  • Software updates for the lifetime of the device: “Omnia offers unattended automatic updates to core components of the system for the lifetime of the device.” [source]. Even if the promised automatic updates never happen, this router runs an open source operating system. I could potentially install my own updated copy. I could potentially write my own updates. Imagine that! Being able to fix things yourself rather than waiting for some monolithic corporation to get around to it! Not that I expect to ever actually write my own updates – I’m busy enough with other programming projects – but I like knowing that it’s a possibility. My current router runs a closed-source OS and hasn’t received any updates for a long time. A lack of bug fixes can be a serious security problem, especially for something as central to your network as your router.
  • A “distributed adaptive firewall” [source]: I haven’t yet found any other router that advertises a feature like this. Read the source for a description; I’m not going to copy it here. While this sounds like a feature that would be useless for a small network like mine, I’m choosing to assume that it will be useful. One of the biggest mistakes you can make in the field of network security is to assume that just because you’re small/unknown, you must therefore be a low-priority target and you don’t have to worry about anything. It is laziness like that which makes you so valuable to crackers: they can easily crack into your systems, then use those compromised systems to DDoS larger targets.

Now, on to the devices themselves. This is an overview, not a complete list. Specific apps may be discussed in future posts.

  • Game consoles: My family has a Nintendo Wii, some DSs, and various other gaming devices. There is no anti-malware software available for these. None at all. We turn these off when not using them, but even that may not be enough: they’re not really off, just in a low-power state that allows them to download software updates. And I don’t think they’ve gotten any updates lately. Which means they are constantly connected to the Internet and running potentially unpatched software.
  • PDAs: As I’ve said before, I use the term “personal digital assistant” to refer to smartphones, tablets, and ebook readers. We’ve got a mix of Android, Ios, and Ubuntu devices. None have firewall or antivirus software installed (Can you recommend some security software? Leave a comment!). I tried to install AFWall+ on my Android phone, but couldn’t run it because it needs root.
  • “Real” computers: Again, different computers have different software. Raspbian on the Pis, Ubuntu and a few versions of Windows on the other computers. Our Windows computers run Norton Security Suite because it’s provided for free by our ISP. On Ubuntu and Raspbian I use Gufw as a firewall and do daily virus scans with ClamAV.

Crowdfunding projects I’m backing

As the end of the month, thus payday, approaches, it occurs to me that I’m backing an unusually large number of crowdfunding projects this month. I love crowdfunding: it’s a way that I as a consumer (I can be a consumer when I want to be!) can get a little influence over the products I buy: I spend money, perhaps a bit more than I would at a store, and in return I get the ability to communicate directly with the creators whose products I’m going to receive. Sure I am but one voice among many, but before crowdfunding it was hard to even have a voice. Plus I get the satisfaction of finding and funding products that either never existed before, or were previously too niche to be sold anywhere.

Most of these this month are on Kickstarter. Here they are, in no particular order:

System Shock

System Shock -- Kicktraq Mini

I have fond memories of playing the original System Shock even though I only bought it last year. It stands the test of time thanks to an incredibly well written story, a dark and foreboding atmosphere┬á (not easy to achieve given the graphical limitations of computers in 1994!) and a truly terrifying villain. I refused to buy System Shock Enhanced Edition because it’s Windows only. With this Kickstarter-funded reimagining of the game, Linux support is the first stretch goal and I have no doubt it will be reached.

Link to project


ZED -- Kicktraq Mini

Another game I’m buying due to nostalgia. I love the look of Myst. I love first-person adventure puzzle games. This is made by one of the same people who worked on Myst. Plus the downloadable demo supports Linux (but no promise that the full game will).

Link to project

Legendary Showdown: Gamer’s Quest

Legendary Showdown: Gamer's Quest -- Kicktraq Mini

I’m not that into card games, but I am into the comic Ctrl+Alt+Del. I’m really buying this for my brother since this looks like exactly the kind of game he’d enjoy playing. I’ll make it a birthday or Christmas present, depending on when it arrives. I know the estimated delivery date is October, but my experience with crowdfunded projects is that those date estimates are totally unreliable.

Link to project


SilentKeys: A Keyboard that Protects your Privacy & Security -- Kicktraq Mini

Any hardware that attempts to protect your privacy and security gets two thumbs up from me. This is the only project that I’m funding with no expectation of reward.

Link to project

Earth-friendly EOMA68 Computing Devices

Sorry, no graph for this one!

I have to admit, I’ve never heard of Crowd Supply before. I’m a little teeny bit worried about leaving my debit card data with them, but it’s worth the risk to support these earth-friendly computers. Plus they say they expect their Libre Tea Computer Card to earn the Free Software Foundation’s Respects Your Freedom certification. It hasn’t been earned yet, but the fact these guys are even trying speaks volumes.

Link to project

Looking for a cheap & hackable phablet

so my Kindle Fire tablet died a few days ago. Completely dead. Once it died I tore it apart to see if it had an SD card inside which might have private data (it didn’t have a card). Now I’m looking for a smartphone or tablet to replace it.

  • Must be cheap. Like $20 cheap. All I ever used the KF for was listening to podcasts and occasionally checking email, both of which I can easily do with my laptop. I carry my laptop everywhere anyway; the only benefit to using a separate device was that I could use it without having to pause whatever game I happened to be playing on my laptop. I like to game while listening to podcasts.
  • Should be a phone, does not have to be. I have a cameraphone which works well enough, but I do like the idea of having one device that does everything. I sometimes wonder why bigger computers don’t have phone capabilities. I mean, it used to be common to see physically large phones sitting on a person’s desk right next to their physically large desktop computer. Computers even used to have modems, by which phone functionality could be integrated into these general-purpose computers. I want cell phone abilities in my laptop: the ability to make and receive calls (all laptops now have speakers and microphones) and to type SMS text messages on a real keyboard (ok, I know you can do that: you can send them as emails, but you’ve got to know which carrier originally issued the phone number. E.g., my phone number was originally issued by AT&T, so if you wanted to email my phone you would send the message to [phone number]@txt.att.net even though I’m now a Consumer Cellular customer. My point is this functionality should be built-in and should require as little guesswork/research as it does when using a phone.)
  • Must be hackable. I believe in the concept of property and the first sale doctrine. When I buy something, I want it to be mine. Not Apple’s, Microsoft’s, or Motorola’s. I want to be able to install F-Droid and CyanogenMod and Clapdroid and anything else, without having to seek the approval of some company convinced that they own my legally bought and paid for device.

The fates myst be conspiring to rive my money from me.

The fates myst be conspiring to rive my money from me. How else could there suddenly be so may exciting Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns, and I have so little money to give?

I got my first own computer in 1998. Not the first computer I ever had, but the first that was officially my own. It ran Windows 98, had a 14.8 GB hard disk, and had a DVD drive and decoder card (remember those?) so I could watch movies on its gigantic 21-inch CRT monitor. That monitor weighed so much it left a permanent dent in my desk.

I loved playing computer games. At first I played old DOS games, things like QBasic Nibbles and Pharaoh’s Tomb. That was what I had, since my previous computer had been a DOS machine. Then my mom bought something new: “Ages of Myst”. It was a small box containing the games Myst and Riven. We played the games together, she and I. I fell in love with them immediately. Continue reading The fates myst be conspiring to rive my money from me.

New Android tablet

I just got a new Android tablet yesterday. It’s a relatively unknown brand, the ZaTab from ZaReason. I’ve been using it all day today, and here are my first impressions, in no particular order.

1- The automatic spell checker keeps underlining nearly every word I type. I know I’m spelling things correctly; the dictionary it checks against seems to have no words listed at all. What I’m not sure about is what to do about this. I haven’t tried looking for spelling dictionaries in Google Play or F-Droid, but I’m guessing it won’t be impossible to get a dictionary somehow. Maybe find a way to sideload it from my computer. Continue reading New Android tablet