A VPN, Tor, DNS, or just clear my cache

Stop and read this before you make a mistake

The newly passed legislation that gives your Internet provider permission to monitor your web browsing, and then sell it to marketers, is not new. In fact, before this legislation was passed, this has been the way things have been done for years. You see, the FCC rule to protect your browsing privacy has not gone into effect yet. So nothing has really changed, however, interest in Tor and Virtual Private Networks, VPN’s, has skyrocketed.

Rather than see you waste money or effort unnecessarily, I’d rather educate you so that you can make up your own mind.

1) A virtual private network or VPN, is an encrypted network connection where your browsing requests go through a private tunnel and come out somewhere else. This private tunnel is encrypted and thus only the exit node knows what you are asking for. The data within the tunnel is hidden. VPNs are the best of the available options to protect your browsing from your ISP’s spying eyes while allowing your full access to the functions of the internet. This includes media streaming, and file sharing.

This will likely cost you money and it is very difficult to tell who owns these VPN providers. So it is best for you to review these providers and use your best judgement if you opt to pick one.

2) The Onion Routing network, otherwise known as Tor, is a point to point encrypted tunnel that plays whack-a-mole with your packets. Your connection goes through the Tor software which encrypts it. Each point along the line that handles your packets continues this encryption with only the exit node, and those who control it, seeing the final destination and content of your browsing request.

A word to the wise: It has been noted that many governments have set up exit nodes for Tor connections and that includes the US government. Tor is also the only way to get to the dark web and I advise your strongly to avoid the dark web unless you know how to turn off scripting, turn off Java, turn off all active content as much of the dark web consists of serious exploits aimed at your PC.

Also, please remember that whoever controls the exit node controls your data. So plan accordingly.

Now, let’s talk about some bad advice that is out there on how to hide your browsing from your ISPs.

1) No — erasing your cache will not prevent your ISP from seeing your browsing habits.
2) No — using HTTPS for every site you visit will not protect you much either. While the data you send back and forth to the site you are visiting is encrypted, you should know that the visit to the site itself is known to your ISP.
3) No — changing your DNS server alone will also not do much to protect you unless you do that in conjunction with a VPN or Tor. What happens when you type in a URL into your browser is that a request is made to turn the letters your system sends out into a series of numbers that relate to the site your are requesting. DNS does this, however your traffic to your site must travel from your system through your ISP’s hardware, to the site you specified and then the data returns back on the same path but only in reverse.

4) Using ad blockers and using incognito mode do not provide you with any protection either.

These are just some of the things that are being talked about right now. If I missed something, or if you wish to ask any questions, please feel free to drop me an email.

Microsoft updates, KB numbers, and the support articles that go with them

Cujo the sheppard mix

Cujo the sheppard mix

By now most of you know about Windows 10 and if you are on Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 you likely have a white flag icon in your system tray in the lower righthand corner of your screen.

This flag comes from a Microsoft update, KB3035583. and it does a couple of things, one of which is to push you to move over to Windows 10. If you actually try to read what MS’s own update tool says that this update does, it is cryptic. There is no mention of Windows 10 nor an operating system upgrade that could be pushed to you without your knowledge.

So…when was the last time that you actually read the support knowledge base articles that go with the Microsoft updates that are being pushed to your system?

Most of the time the wording is innocuous. Other times…it can be vague and your own imagination will have to go to work.

Infoworld magazine seems to have uncovered info about the “important” upgrade that is basically “nagware”

http://www.infoworld.com/article/2906002/operating-systems/mystery-patch-kb-3035583-for-windows-7-and-8-revealed-it-s-a-windows-10-prompter-downloader.html

The wording of the update says, “This update enables additional capabilities for Windows Update notifications when new updates are available to the user. It applies to a computer that is running Windows 8.1 or Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1).”

But Microsoft seems to take advantage of their customers not reading what these knowledge base support articles are actually doing.

If you read the following article, also from Infoworld, you can see how MS has been pushing failed updates with old KB numbers months after their initial installation attempts have failed.

http://www.infoworld.com/article/3004441/microsoft-windows/microsoft-surreptitiously-reissues-botched-patch-kb-3097877-for-windows-7.html

So this wraps up the second short worded version of this conversation. More will follow—stay tuned!

Pa$$w0rds–good or bad without breaking your brain

Every year some computer security firm releases its list of the worst passwords that people are using. While I do not know the methodology used to compile these lists, I do know that I see these passwords used over and over again in both public and private sector arenas.

password image by Linux Screenshots on Flickr.

password image by Linux Screenshots on Flickr.

Why are people using passwords like 123password? It is likely because the average person, not techno-geek, has a hard time remembering what some ‘best-practices’ list decided was a good password. You know the one; there must be on capital letter, one lower case letter, one number, one special character, and the DNA signature of your neighbor’s cat (I just made the last part up).

Now this is a big deal because passwords are a big deal. They keep people from snooping on your computer, your email service, the websites you frequent, or even keep people out of your bank or credit card accounts.

Passwords are like diapers and politicians. They should be changed and often. Why? Because if you leave a password in place for too long you give an outsider a longer opportunity to crack it open and then gain access to your data/information.

So while password, letmein, 123456, qwerty, or something similar are examples of bad passwords, using a password like 3!dxt*RT2nr$xgg5t06 is a good password but not because it is complex. It is a good password because it is long however the human brain can only remember so much of this string, you have to go back and remember that you are trying to outsmart a computer and not a human being.

A human will guess words that can be found in a dictionary or will tell a computer to look for words that exist in a dictionary. In short…words that make sense to another human being. A computer does not care about dictionary words or special characters.

I will now enter the word “entropy” into this discussion. Entropy, while sometimes relating to thermodynamic relationships in chemical processes, also means a lack of predictability or reliability that can lead to a disintegration of order leading to disorder and thus a large positive run towards randomness. This is a good thing to have in a password or pin.

For instance…your four digit PIN that you use on your debit card has a number of possible combinations of 10^4 (numbers 1-4 give us 10 and since there are 4 of them, that gives us the number of possible combinations) possibilities.

And that 16 character string of special characters, upper and lowercase letters, numbers and your cat’s DNA marker? Well that only nets you an entropy, randomness score, of 119 bits. However, if you were to take the last names of your two favorite teachers, the model of your first car, and your first home phone number..that entropy ramps up to over 200 and that would take the most power computers, hundreds, if not thousands, of years to crack that password…and by then you should have changed it more than two times to something else.

Some examples of good strong passwords in this model are: hulusucksbecauseofcommercials , bernsteincoplandRodeoin38time, spotroverslurpeepepsi

The main purpose of this blog entry is to illustrate to you that a secure password can be one that is long, and strong but more importantly, something that you can easily remember. Just do not use the names of your kids, your pets, or other personal information that you might not want disclosed to the general public.

Which memory card for your DSLR?

The Sandisk Extreme Pro 64GB Class 10 280GB oer seciond SDXC card

Need for speed? That 280MB/sec rating may not be the number you are looking for.

When you think about your camera and your memory card needs, do you think bigger and faster is better? Wait a minute..not so fast. Some cameras cannot handle newer SDXC formats, some cameras cannot take advantage of the 128MB/sec read rates or faster, and sometimes smaller and slower win the day.

My example..I have and still use a Nikon D90. It works, takes great photos and works with all of my lenses so why not right?

Well the first thing to note is that I shoot in RAW format, meaning NEF files for the Nikon (Canon uses a CR2 format, Panasonic uses a generic RAW format) are going to be a different size as you get more megapixels. So my D90 takes RAW photos in about 10-11 megabytes per image. While my D7100 uses a 28 megabyte raw image. Your camera has a common raw file size average and you should know it.

Now…for my D90, I never use anything bigger than a 16GB SDHC card. Sure it will support a 32GB card but I get into a grey area I try to avoid.

If I have 28 GB worth of images on the card and it fails, I am going to be mad. However if I only have 7-10GB of photos on card, I will still be angry at the loss but it won’t be nearly as bad as with 32GB. See?

Now a word about speed. Most cards will put their fastest speeds on the card and that is usually the speed a device can READ from it. What you want are cards that sync up with your camera speed. If you shoot at 7 frames per second and have a 90MB/sec write speed on your card, you might be able to eek out a few more shots before your camera’s buffer for the number of images it can hold, runs out.

So..ignore that 250 MB/sec listing on the card and look up the write speed for that card. Odds are it is going to be less than the read speed for that card.

That’s a quick lesson. If you have questions, please let me know. Next time, the quickie lesson will be over picking lenses to take on a trip.

Do you really need an 802.11AC wireless router for your home/home office?

802.11ac is the newest wireless networking standard on the market.

802.11ac is the newest wireless networking standard on the market.

They are here and on shelves everywhere… and they are the newest standard for 802.11AC wireless routers for home and small business.

Outside of having the standard set of rules for WEP, WPA, WPA2, and WPS encryption modes, it adds a stronger security framework. Take the Asus RT-AC66R WiFi router, available in most stores for around $200 (the price you pay may vary from $295 down to $165).

This particular router does stateful packet inspection, detects denial of service attacks, provides access control, parental control, network service filter, URL filter, and a port filter. All of these security features have to be understood by the end-user, though, in order to be effective.

Asus  RT-AC66U

Asus RT-AC66U

So why would the average user run out and buy one of these new devices? The answer is plain and simple and the same reason why so many people want a Bugatti over a Yugo–speed! Yes…the maximum theoretical speed of an older 802.11g wireless router is around 54Mbps. This is fast enough for most loading content from most web sites or to view streaming media over an Internet connection.

An 802.11N wireless router will get your data transferred over your home network’s connection at speeds around 100-150 Mbps throughput. To give you an example of how fast that is, consider downloading the latest drivers for your computer from the manufacturer’s website. There is a 250 MB file and your average download speed on the connecttion to the manufacturer’s FTP server is somewhere between 1-2 Mbps. If this were a straw being used to slurp down a shake, then think of it as you are using 1/64th of the straw for the shake and the other 63/64 parts are empty waiting for another shake, a soda, some beer, or whatever it is you wish to fill that up with.

That is one way of looking at bandwidth.

The reason why it is so much faster is that 802.11AC uses up to eight (8) MIMO (multiple in/multiple out) connections and each connection utilizes up to 180MHz per connection. Couple this capacity with using 256-QAM, a method for twisting the signals so that they can handle 256 different different signals that are being twisted/manipulated of each of these 256 streams and you come up with the capability of hitting close to 7Gbps bandwidth. To give you an idea of what that is, if you paid a small fortune and ran fiber optic data lines inside your home, you will be using close to 10Gbps and that is maximum theoretical speed.

If you home cable modem tops out at 20Mbps then that leaves a large amount of bandwidth of your network untouched. And since, right now, nothing inside your laptop, desktop, tablet or smart phone can come close to using all of that bandwidth, and given that the full potential of this technology has been touched, we have a ways to go before this is going to be incorporated in your computer or personal device.

Currently the Asus RT-AC66R is one of the fastest AC standard routers on the market and it tops out at speeds between 1300 and 1700 Mbps. This is a long way away from its maximum potential of 8 MIMO streams at 180MHz but instead it currently is using 4 MIMO streams at approximately 80 MHz for a combined total of 1750 Mbps. The limits now are the routers and the wireless cards in our computers and smart phones.

So do you need one of these devices? Maybe not now. Most of the best uses for this bandwidth will occur within the local network as the end user begins transferring video and photo files from one machine to another and the realization that what today takes 45 minutes to move will take approximately five minutes in the next two years or so. Right now, AC wireless cards are planning on being used in notebooks, desktops, and smart phones sometime in 2014 and 2015. So save your dimes, save your time and learn how to use a cable connection on your laptop to take advantage of the next to 3 Gbps data transfer speeds of a hard wired network connection.

If you have questions, let me know!

So you want to give a camera to someone this Christmas?

You need to learn how that person would use a camera. So ask these questions either of yourself or of the person you are buying for:

  • Where do you normally find yourself saying “If I only had a camera?”
  • Can I/they learn how to adjust aperture, focal length, or shutter speed?
  • Would they be better off with a point and shoot or do they need a DSLR?

Once you can get a handle on those items, you can then adjust your purchase and remember…the bigger the opening of the lens, the more light that lens lets it.

So a camera that looks like this:

A photo of the Nikon Coolpix P100 camera

The Nikon Coolpix P100 has a larger aperture which lets more light in

Takes better photos than a camera like this:

A photo of the Nikon Coolpix L22 camera

A Nikon Coolpix with a small aperture (opening)

And don’t let price deter you. Spend the extra $50-150 and get a camera that will show you a lifetime (or at least 2-4 years) worth of excellent photos!

A New Nikon for Newbies

The newest Nikon, the D3100 against a blue background

Nikon's newest newbie-friendly DSLR

My how time flies. It was only 13 months ago that Nikon announced its new flagship camera designed for beginners, the D3000. It is a 10.2 megapixel camera with an APC chip which excels as being a beginner’s camera. The camera has been overshadowed by its predecessor, the D40, the upper-end D5000 and the even higher priced D90.

Now Nikon has introduced to the world the new D3100. So what has changed? Let’s see…according to the folks at DPReview.com, the new DSLR has four additional megapixels topping out at 14.2 megapixels. This addition means larger file sizes. How big are the new files? Well that purely depends on your format. If you shoot in a raw format, it could make your file sizes a couple of megabytes larger however, it still is nowhere near the 77 megabyte file sizes of the Canon Mark III series.

It has live view which means that you can use the LCD monitor as a viewfinder and compose your image like you do as when you use a point and shoot digital camera.

In many ways this new camera seems to mark the new standards for Nikons updated line for 2010-11. You can bet that many of the same improvements that we see in this camera will make their ways up the line for at least the consumer grade DSLR’s. So this means that I expect to see similar jumps in the D5000 line and maybe even the D90 line however I would not expect to see this in their pro-sumer catagory which, to me anyway, starts with the Nikon D300s which already has most of these upgrades in this $1500 model.

The best part of this camera is that it can shoot videos at 1080p using any of the existing range of Nikon lenses. (You can see the details of those lenses at Nikon.com or at DPReview.com or any other review site). It also has a wonderful new HDMI output so you can plug that camera into your plasma, LED/LCD, or other high definition telelvisions and view your work before editting it or burning it to DVD.

The camera has more than 2 megapixels in quality

Did you get a new DSLR for the holidays?

You knew it would happen. You got the camera you wanted and it’s a beginner and maybe the lens(es) that come with it are not exactly what you were hoping for but believe me, they will work well while you learn.

The first thing you need to do now is find a challenge for yourself on that camera. Go out and use it and shoot images of something. Kids playing in the park, deer eating your neighbors’ flowers, maybe even hit the local sporting facilities and shoot photos of athletes doing their thing.

Just use the camera.

The next thing you should do is learn the main rules of good photography and composition that you can get from here:  http://www.picturecorrect.com/tips/photography-the-rules-of-composition/

It’s important to learn how to take photographs well. It gets boring seeing the same setup on every single photo. First rule…do not center every photograph and go on and get close to where the action is. Headroom is one thing but footroom and composition is very important.

Let’s talk about another area of focus…tools. Right now the only tool you need is you. You are equipped with everything you need to take good photographs. You do not need to buy a $200 tripod nor a $10,000 lens nor a $1000 flash. Step back…buy those things only when you need them and if you’ll use them more than once.

If you’re only going to use the camera component once or twice, consider renting. What? You can rent lenses, flashes, and tripods? Yes…and you can even rent another camera.

Just do a Google search for camera rental and check out the vendors. You can also check in your community. Stores like Camera Exchange in San Antonio, rent equipment and should you decide to buy it, they apply some of your rental fees to your purchase.

Next time…I’ll update you on when you can go wildflower hunting and where you can get the best clusters. Hint: you will need to get in a car and drive. Sorry…your backyard isn’t going to cut it unless you live on a farm.

Deciding on a new camera

I have a nice Nikon D40 DSLR camera that I have had now for almost two years. While I certainly am not ready for a D700 or D300s, I would like to get input from you as to what kind of camera I should get next.

I am leaning towards the D90 or maybe a used D300 if I can get the price right.

Since I shoot a lot of sports and nature stuff, I would like it to have a fast shutter speed for continuous shooting, >4 frames per second in burst mode but I’ll be practical about it and can hang with this one a little longer under someone knows of a better camera down the pipeline.

When is enough access for electronics companies?

It started with Netscape 2. You would visit a site and in order to remember your settings and other information that would be annoying to reenter over and over again, so the web site would place a cookie on your computer which stored all the details of your previous visit(s).

Then came tracking beacons and phone home applications that were placed on your computers. Now we have the case of Amazon’s reading device, the Kindle, which not only tracks your reading habits; it’s not happy enough with that ability. Now Amazon has the ability to remove content it does not think you should have.

Today, MSNBC has a story¬†about a 17 year old advanced placement class student who lost all of his work and his copy of George Orwell’s 1984 when Amazon discovered that it had been selling an illegal (pirated) version of 1984. While it is not the teen’s fault that Amazon was lazy in checking the authority of the person offering the electronic copies of the novel for sale, it is also not up to Amazon to simply turn on its tracking devices and wipe the book off of you e-reader.

What bothers me is the level of control companies have over our lives. OnStar can turn off your car while you’re driving it. Microsoft has the ability to turn off your PC while you are using it. Music “rental”..ahem subscription sites, remove your ability to play music that you have paid them for. Other sites, like Yahoo music, go out of business and then turn off their authentication servers which prevent you from playing back material that you have paid for and thought you had every right to listen to.

The truth is, since Microsoft came up with the idea of licensing, your ability to enjoy media in a format that you have paid for has been significantly diminished. Media companies have retained more control than ever over your movies, music, and reading material. If you want to break this trend, you’re going to have to sacrifice.

Quit buying entertainment. Quit going to the movies. Quit wasting your money supporting businesses just because you might like what they have to offer. When you make a purchase you are supporting their bad policies that make honest people into criminals.