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Private Internet Access Pulls Out of Russia

pia-logo2_12xgPrivate Internet Access (PIA), my VPN of choice, just made a gutsy move that any of us who use the service are applauding, and one I’ll wager will also pay off with heightened awareness of their service.

You may have heard about a new “anti-terror” law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law this past week. At its core the law dictates that communication companies doing business in Russia will have to keep a record of their users’ calls, text messages, photos, and internet activity for six months, and store ‘metadata’ for three years, according to the International Business Times.

Since PIA’s servers in Russia keep no logs—and key to the PIA service is that do not log any traffic or usage by customers on any of their servers—the Russian government seized their servers!

This is what was sent out late yesterday to PIA customers:

To Our Beloved Users,

The Russian Government has passed a new law that mandates that every provider must log all Russian internet traffic for up to a year. We believe that due to the enforcement regime surrounding this new law, some of our Russian Servers (RU) were recently seized by Russian Authorities, without notice or any type of due process. We think it’s because we are the most outspoken and only verified no-log VPN provider.

Luckily, since we do not log any traffic or session data, period, no data has been compromised. Our users are, and will always be, private and secure.

Upon learning of the above, we immediately discontinued our Russian gateways and will no longer be doing business in the region.

To make it clear, the privacy and security of our users is our number one priority. For preventative reasons, we are rotating all of our certificates. Furthermore, we’re updating our client applications with improved security measures to mitigate circumstances like this in the future, on top of what is already in place. In addition, our manual configurations now support the strongest new encryption algorithms including AES-256, SHA-256, and RSA-4096.

All Private Internet Access users must update their desktop clients at https://www.privateinternetaccess.com/pages/client-support/ and our Android App at Google Play. Manual openvpn configurations users must also download the new config files from the client download page.

We have decided not to do business within the Russian territory. We’re going to be further evaluating other countries and their policies.

In any event, we are aware that there may be times that notice and due process are forgone. However, we do not log and are default secure against seizure.

If you have any questions, please contact us at helpdesk@privateinternetaccess.com.

Thank you for your continued support and helping us fight the good fight.

Sincerely,
Private Internet Access Team

Thank you PIA team for keeping us safe and taking a stand against repressive regimes like Russia.
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Microsoft’s “Skype Meetings” Fail

skype-meetingsHere is how to acquire a perfectly good technology, Skype, and morph it into such a horrendously bad user interface (UI) kludge as to make it a running joke in tech circles. Virtually everyone I know is quitting Skype and is using an alternative*.

I’ve used Skype for over ten years. The Windows and Mac versions were never the same, but they were both standalone clients and it was relatively easy for me (on a Mac) to coach someone (on Windows) on how to use the platform and I frequently used it for collaboration. Not anymore!

The UI on Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, the Web and now this God-awful-excuse-for-meetings, Skype Meetings, are each different and seem to change frequently. The only way for someone to coach someone through getting set up and using Skype in any form is to actually have that version (and device) in front of them. Otherwise it’s basically impossible to tell someone what to do and what to click to get the thing to work (or do something simple like screensharing).

If you don’t believe me, click on these screenshots from Google images showing the explosion of UIs for Skype:

Don’t believe me that it is hard to coach someone on how to use Skype? Windows has standalone clients (XP, 7, 8) and Metro UI in 8.1 and the new Win10 version, but ALL OF THEM ARE DIFFERENT so try telling a friend, family member or colleague the process of setting up their audio input and speakers and then sharing their screen with you. Go ahead….I’ll wait.

Oh…you couldn’t do it, heh? Then try finding and sending them a URL for their particular version. Oh….there are at least half a dozen places on the Skype site to find how-to information so that doesn’t make it any easier.

My guess is that Skype Meetings is supposed to change all of that by leveraging Skype’s audio, video and screensharing in to a single platform. If my experience trying to get setup today is any indication, THAT certainly won’t happen!

[Read more…]

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Suburban Chev’s Completely Worthless Live Chat

suburbanchev

Saw a commercial last night about a General Motors “up to $X cash back” on several of their cars, including the 2016 Chevrolet Volt. The $7,820 cash back would take the “Premier” model price-point drop down around the current 2017 entry-level model’s price.

So before heading over to our local dealer, Suburban Chevrolet, I was at my computer doing some other stuff so thought I’d try out their live chat and just ask about availability. There was no 2016 inventory on their website, but dealers know they have a limited window to dump last year’s models and will swap out vehicles when needed.

This live chat was such a complete and utter waste of time that I am drop-jawed American car companies still use such plaid-sport-coat sales tactics and it felt like I was car shopping in the 1970s.

Just so you know, the live chat was all about qualifying, and obtaining an email or phone number, instead of answering ANY simple question (one they should know, of course).

Read how this third party chat group evades answering anything… [Read more…]

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Bitcoin: Is It Time To Get In?

bitcoin

Is it time to buy in to the cryptocurrency bitcoin? Is now the time when you should expend time, energy and effort to become a “bitcoin miner“, get a bitcoin wallet, or is bitcoin risk still too high?

At one point in late 2010 I read this article in Slashdot about bitcoin and started poking around to learn more about it. As I thought about this new digital currency in downtime during the holidays that year, I strongly considered getting in to bitcoin mining and was even online looking at hardware to buy.

My enthusiasm was muted, however, since all of us were just coming off the global economic crisis of 2007-2008. After having struggled to keep our business afloat, slashing costs and personnel, and getting into lines of business solely to generate cash—my trust level in entering in to the fray surrounding an unregulated, digital currency with a bunch of unknowns was pretty dang low.

It is also likely I probably would have not made much—or had seen my bitcoins stored, and then lost, at Mt. Gox—but even a few dozen bitcoins mined in early 2011 (when each one was worth US$1.00) means selling them at today’s value of $684 each would have yielded a nice little gross of nearly US$25,000.

Sounds like a lot of money, right? Not so fast there cowboys and cowgirls. The bitcoin space is still the wild, wild west and a tenderfoot often got shot or died of thirst crossing the desert. [Read more…]

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Why My iPad Pro 9.7″ is Perfect

ipadpro

Apple announced the new iPad Pro 9.7″ and looking over its tech specs I knew I had to order one…and did right away….and it arrived March 31st. I’ve now used it daily for over a month and the “wow” factor has died down somewhat, so today seemed like the perfect one to jot down my impressions.

Why My iPad Pro 9.7″ is Perfect
OK. Perfect might be too strong a word since there really isn’t such a thing in technology. Devices and tech overall is a continuum and the moment you buy something that sinking feeling that, “…if I’d only waited until…” comes over you as you realize the next iteration of it will be better, cheaper and faster.

For me, the reason I’d use a superlative like “perfect” is because it is so much better than any other iPad I’ve used before. It’s very fast; best battery life ever; the screen, and Apple’s True Tone display technology, is stunning; and when paired with the Apple Pencil it finally lets me take notes like I was writing on paper without all the futzing around making sure my wrist wasn’t leaving digital ink marks all over the page.

apple-pencil2Seriously. That note taking capability is my killer-feature. It is something I’ve wanted to be amazing and perfect from day-one with iPad but it was not. Handwriting sure is now though! There are several note-taking apps I use but have settled on these three and each has their one defining feature for me:

1) Notes Plus: Has built-in character recognition that’s pretty good if your handwriting is legible (I print vs. cursive so it works great)

2) Noteshelf: Numerous features I love and use often like Dropbox backup, but the stationary (in-app purchases) templates are remarkably useful

3) Microsoft OneNote: The handwriting is under “Draw” so is really for sketching (no character recognition) but I use OneNote for organizing so many aspects of our three businesses (as well as my many side projects) that I like having it work well on iPad and the Draw capability is a bonus.

But Steve, Can iPad Pro Improve?
Like I said above, the next version will be better, faster and probably the same price instead of ‘cheaper’, but it’s likely I’ll have this one for at least two years. Especially since I spent over $1,000 on it and accessories (gulp) and I don’t use it as a primary computing device anyway due to its limitations.

Where I think the big value will lie is with removing more of those limitations within iOS itself. As you know if you’re an iPhone or iPad user already, there are inherent security model aspects to iOS that are quite stringent when it comes to apps sharing data with one another (i.e., you cannot). Because of those security concerns, almost every highly productive task I can easily perform on my iMac or Macbook Pro requires several additional steps and apps to accomplish on iPad.

Those multiple steps just make me mad and frustrated all the time and this “nearly perfect” iPad only removes a fractional amount of that frustration due to its speed. But one thing is certain: Apple will continue to improve iOS along with their devices.

Should You?
Should you buy the ‘Pro’ or stick with the regular iPad? Only you can decide on what you need, but if note-taking or sketching is something you will do often then the Pro model is it. I’ve had mine for nearly six weeks now and I feel delight every time I use it…it’s that good…and I’m using it frequently throughout each day, every day.

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Eeros Wifi System’s Backdoor

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Started to research the eero Wifi system today after a tech buddy’s endorsement this past week. My wife and I would love to saturate our 3500 sq ft home with 5ghz Wifi signal, instead of our remote spaces only getting the 2.4ghz, and the eero super-simple setup and mesh networking seems VERY intriguing.

The eero system is described by the company as “self-healing” because it “phones home” to their servers to update as it learns from other people’s installations. Amazon reviews were glowing and my wife was excited, but I said I had to research their security model before buying.

After poking around a bit I then read this post by a guy I follow Brian Krebs (he’s the guy that broke the Target breach story) and he seems convinced. But reading what the CEO said in Brian’s interview with him, and people in the comments, confirmed my suspicion: eero uses public key cryptography but *eero* holds the key. That means they would be able to gain full access to our internal LAN (and all devices on our network) or be compelled to hand over the key for access by who-knows-whom.

Guess we’ll pass.

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Over 3 Years Later, OVH Attacks Keep Coming

My GOD am I ever weary of the scumbags who invest their time, energy and effort in acting like script-kiddies attacking WordPress sites. It’s exploded in the last few weeks and, once again, the lion’s share of attacks are coming from that haven for black-hat hacker wannabees, OVH in France.

Over three years ago I wrote, “Brute Force Attacks Coming From OVH in France” after I’d reached out to Octave Klaba the “founder, chairman and cto” of OVH. He didn’t care then and I’m certain he won’t care now, but you’ve got to check out this stream of attacks today in less than a minute to see why I’m so agitated:

ovh

Again, Klaba made it very clear to me all those years ago that he could care less about online abuse like this which is why I’ve redirected all the standard URLs for these attempts so they go to Interpol. Maybe some Interpol sysadmin will wonder why they’re now receiving so much traffic from OVH and at least make an inquiry. This shit has to stop.

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NewCo Shift: Covering What’s Next?

John Battelle at the Web 2.0 Conference 2005 Credit: James Duncan Davidson/O'Reilly Media, Inc. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

John Battelle at the Web 2.0 Conference 2005
Credit: James Duncan Davidson/O’Reilly Media, Inc. 
Used under the CC 2.0 license.

In 2006 I had a brief conversation with John Batelle out at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco. Batelle, a serial entrepreneur, author and journalist, has been at the forefront of many future directions and I think he’s on to something once again.

We’ve all seen the obvious shifts that have occurred since the internet became a commercial reality and other forces that have been accelerating now that the world is increasingly connected. News is instant so local TV news, daily newspapers, magazines, and radio are struggling so much we can hear the death rattles.

Communicating with one another is easier than it’s ever been. We can see, read, hear and experience new developments and innovation as fast as those electrons move through internet ‘pipes’ (and even though the entire internet weighs only as much as a strawberry).

That communication capability means that the time for new developments and innovation to occur continues to compress. What used to take months or years now happen in days or weeks.

But it’s not just communications capability. It’s also the push for not just profits, but for making a positive impact on the world, to be sustainable, to bring meaning and purpose to work, and to make capitalism leap to the next level of impact globally. (See this, this, this, this and this to see what I mean).

Technological developments and innovations are now so mainstream that they’ve faded into the background and are expected (my running joke, when people knock an Apple or Tesla announcement as not being BIG ENOUGH is that “…they didn’t introduce a holodeck or replicator so people were disappointed“).

newco-shiftNewCo Shift
Batelle has an insightful post The Tech Story is Over which discusses how mainstream tech has become and argues that:

I think the answer lies in the reinvention of capitalism. We’re on the brink of an entirely new approach to business, one built on shared principles of integrity, transparency, and sustainability. If we succeed, the world could become a far better place.

What I didn’t know was that Batelle had a larger vision to create a curated site of deep thinking surrounding this premise called NewCo Shift:

We’re thrilled to debut NewCo Shift on the new Medium for Publishers platform today. If you haven’t heard of us yet, NewCo Shift is a multi-channel business publication, with a central home right here on Medium (if you want to learn more, you can read this overview). We’ll be publishing on a weekly and daily cadence, and interacting with the tens of thousands of readers and followers who care about the largest shift in our economy since the industrial revolution.

Batelle’s not the first one to come up with this premise but Batelle is uniquely plugged in, has the track record to deliver a world-class product, and knows how to build buzz. It will be interesting to see how this might become the WIRED magazine of the next decade or two: a publication everyone reads because not doing so means you’re out-of-the-loop.

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Why the “Wireless Passcode” AT&T?

UPDATE on April 2, 2016

attIt’s been quite awhile since I’ve had to call AT&T but I wanted to ask a question today since my wife is headed to Puerto Rico and was wondering if there was a roaming charge when she was in this unincorporated U.S. territory.

Calling in to customer service surprised me since I asked her, “Does AT&T charge roaming for mobile use in Puerto Rico?” but the rep wouldn’t answer until I gave her my name (since she could see my mobile number) and then the surprise: “What is your wireless access code?”

Huh?

I had no idea what this was and she explained that we couldn’t do anything over the phone without it, or in-store if I didn’t have a government issued photo ID with me. I WAS JUST NEEDING AN ANSWER TO A SIMPLE QUESTION for God’s sake. But no matter, we were stuck so I hung up and figured “the Google” would satisfy my needs.  [Read more…]

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Why is Skype’s Audio Quality Suddenly So Bad?

UPDATE on March 26, 2016
skype-logoNearly every Saturday morning since 2008 my pals and I from Minnov8 have recorded our podcast using Skype. We’ve been using it for our tech podcast recording and are now up to 355 shows so far. But over the last three months Skype has become absolutely unusable. The hiss is horrible, dropouts rampant, and we gave up and went to Google Hangouts last week. That audio is stunningly perfect and pristine.

So why not just bag Skype and use Google Hangouts instead? The issue for us using Hangouts for recording is being able to feed various audio sources into that recording and also isolate each track. With Skype and two computers (my iMac and Macbook Pro) connected to a Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 it was easy to do so AND record in real-time in Logic Pro (which really minimizes my time having to do a bunch of post-production on the audio). People were always amazed when they heard the quality we could achieve from a few people doing home recording, but we’re all geeks and know what we’re doing to achieve professional results.

Our ongoing question these last few months has been, “What the hell is going on with Skype and why does it sound like sh*t?” We suspect that it is due to Microsoft’s continual mucking around with the once-effective peer-to-peer audio routing to accommodate web and mobile calling, along with all of their other Skype-related initiatives. Here are just a few of the things they’ve rolled out in just the last couple of years:

too-loud2While none of that explains what has happened to the audio quality in peer-to-peer group calls, perhaps it’s no surprise that the computer-based desktop client—or Skype’s underlying, and formerly great, SILK-codec‘s audio quality—has taken a backseat to just entering a bunch of new markets and supporting a bunch of devices?

Or maybe they’ve widened the ‘backdoor’ for the NSA? Whatever the reason we’re intending to quit Skype forever because the quality of the audio is what matters to us and to our listeners! It’s just so bad that we are unwilling to continue wrestling with Skype.

What’s your experience?