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Stay Secure With The Always Improving Signal App

Staying secure with our communications is finally easy and, only recently, Signal added a computer-client for Mac, Windows and Linux which ties to your smartphone’s Signal app and works flawlessly.

Using encryption for your critical communications has always been a challenge, even for those of us who are hard-core technoweenies. But all that changed when an American computer security researcher and cypherpunk named Moxie Marlinspike created the Signal protocol and later an app called Signal (which is available here for iPhone, Android or desktop/laptop computers).

Signal is widely regarded as the most secure and easiest to use encrypted texting and calling application. It’s a vital tool for journalists, whistleblowers, and ordinary citizens. But it is also so good that the U.S. Senate approved the use of Signal by its staffers due to its end-to-end encryption and bulletproof security.

Even WhatsApp, the communication app that boasts well over 1 billion users, leverages the Signal protocol as the underpinnings of their wildly successful messaging platform.

Why should you use it? With Signal you can send high-quality group, text, voice, video, document, and picture messages anywhere in the world without SMS or MMS fees (obviously you need an internet connection on your phone or computer). But rather than re-hash all the reasons why you should use it, take a peek at a post I wrote in October of 2016 that will detail Why You Should Use the Signal App.

Don’t just take my word for it though:

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Note to Online Publishers: STOP THE AUTOPLAY VIDEOS AND BLARING AUDIO!!

Ever been in a public place, go to a web article in your browser, and suddenly AUDIO STARTS BLARING FROM AN AUTOPLAY VIDEO!?!

Me too. All it does is PISS ME OFF so I will immediately tweet to leadership of whatever publication is the offending one. They never reply. As it turns out, the tech industry is doing something about it as is a new Coalition for Better Ads.

Hopefully publishers will wake up and realize that if they make the experience all about them and their advertisers WE, the readers, won’t come back….ever.

I don’t use ad blockers in my main browser as it interferes with web work I do. Sometimes I forget to mute my audio which, of course, I don’t want to do since I might miss notifications on my work machine.

How to stop this autoplay and unable-to-exit popups crap? There are a few ways suggested in this article:

The interesting thing is that advertising groups are furious at Apple for blocking ad-trackers and Google has warned the industry that they’re going to be adding an ad-blocker next year in their Chrome browser.

Again, publishers are their own worst enemy and unless they wake up and change their approach, the tech industry will do it for them.

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Be Aware of the Biggest Change in macOS High Sierra: APFS

After upgrading to macOS High Sierra on my MacBook, I also
converted my 512GB SSD Time Machine backup drive to APFS

Upgrading to macOS High Sierra? There are enough new features that it certainly seems worthwhile, though you’ll actually notice little difference in the upgrade since most of the changes are under-the-hood in car-speak and not necessarily visible.

Though mostly hidden from view, you do need to be aware that Apple has implemented APFS — the Apple File System — and it’s a ‘mandatory’ change when you upgrade if your Mac’s internal drive is a solid state one. (NOTE: If you have a Fusion or spinning hard disk drive (HDD), an upgrade to macOS High Sierra will not update your drives to APFS but the new operating system will be installed).

What does this change in the file system mean for you? It’s the wave of the future for Apple and works with iPhones and iPads so sharing files will be more seamless in the future. APFS is also a ‘modern’ file system optimized for fast, solid state drives (SSDs).

If you upgrade any Mac with an internal SSD, the Apple File System will automatically convert your drive and its contents (and yes, it will preserve your FileVault encryption if implemented since APFS fully supports FileVault). Like magic it just happens and the upgrade was surprisingly fast.

As far as I can tell (or from what I’ve experienced thus far) there are no “deal killers” by upgrading to macOS High Sierra, but you should be aware of what changing to APFS means.

Here are some things you need to know if you are upgrading:

a) Apple: Prepare for APFS in macOS High Sierra

b) OWC’s blog post: Translating Apple’s New High Sierra & APFS Compatibility Document

c) For those more technically-minded, here is an Apple File System Guide on Apple’s developer site that gets in to more detail.

d) Still on the fence about upgrading to macOS High Sierra or want to know a lot more? Ars Technica has the best in-depth analysis of the new operating system I’ve read yet.

At this point I’ve upgraded my MacBook to macOS High Sierra but not my main, production iMac since I cannot afford any hiccups with it. Still, I’ve seen absolutely nothing yet that would deter me from doing so, but on my main production machines I always wait at least a week to ensure there aren’t any “gotchas” with a new OS release. It’s likely by early next week I will have upgraded my iMac to macOS High Sierra too.

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Make Your Own Site-Specific Web Browser "App"

Need to tell you about a very cool Mac app (Windows version coming soon) that has transformed how I manage my online work and even social media interactions.

The app is called Coherence, now in version 5, which I hadn’t heard about until I stumbled across it this past week and downloaded the trial version. I liked it so much I purchased the Family License 20 minutes later!

The app allows you to create site-specific web browsers that function as their own self-contained Chrome browser application. Why would I want to have a bunch of separate web browser apps on my Mac instead of just opening up 10, 15 or 20 tabs in my Chrome browser? Besides slowing down Chrome and using up lots of my computer’s memory, I have a need to keep things separate:

  • MANAGING ACCOUNTS: With four GSuite accounts (a personal one and three for our various businesses) I could just log in to all of them in my main Chrome browser, but that would mean choosing accounts before going in to Google Drive, calendar, or other GSuite apps, a huge pain in the butt and often confusing. Having one site-specific browser for each GSuite account is fabulous and makes managing all of those accounts a breeze!
  • DEVELOPMENT: With our Innov8Press business I’m constantly logged in to multiple accounts and like to keep everything contained as I work, especially since I’m often logged in to a client’s web services (e.g., Mailchimp; Salesforce; Dropbox) and using a Coherence-made browser makes it simple to not have to login and logout over-and-over again as I go through my workday.
  • KEEP TRACKING TO A MINIMUM: Rather than use a plugin to keep Facebook (and others) from tracking my activities all across the web, Facebook has its own browser and everything runs within it. I even have a “Media” browser with bookmarks to publications I view in order to again, make it harder for third-party tracking companies to follow me around while I browse and use the web.
  • UNIQUE, DISCRETE APPS: I often play Pandora in a browser on my desktop so it’s really nice to be able to do so in a separate browser app vs. having to have the highly insecure Adobe Flash installed so I could run Pandora’s Adobe Air app. I also have a browser app for YouTube/Netflix/Hulu streaming apps as well as one to use with UberConference. Again, it makes my workflow so much more manageable.
  • EXTENSIONS: One last, highly useful aspect of of Coherence 5 is being able to load extensions. For example, in most of the Coherence browser apps I’ve created I’ve included my LastPass password manager extension. That way I can login to a client’s sites (or my own) as needed. Since sometimes I also need to view a client’s site from the standpoint of a user in the U.K. or countries in the E.U., being able to connect a given site-specific browser via the Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN to one of the PIA servers in one of those countries really helps (especially being able to perform Google searches in those countries in order to tweak SEO).

There are lots of other use-cases I’m sure you can think of, or will soon discover, on your own and, at the very least, it’s definitely worth considering. You will find the pricing here:

  • Coherence 5 for macOS 10.10 and Above – Single License $4.99
  • Coherence 5 for macOS 10.10 and Above – Family License (5 Licenses w/ 10 Activations) $24.99

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NOTE: I should mention that I have used FluidApp for several years, the site-specific browser creator which makes a Safari-like (i.e., WebKit) browser. There are some features in it I like, but it’s not as flexible as Coherence 5 and I find being able to add extensions and use a Chrome-foundation browser meets my needs better.

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Listening Point - Part Two

Listening_PointIn the summer of 2014 I made my first visit to Sigurd Olson‘s Listening Point and wrote about it here. On my 2016 road trip and photo adventure I made another pilgrimage to Listening Point, this time in attempt to be there by myself with no, or minimal, interruptions. I wanted to just “be” and listen…exactly how Olson described his experience of this place in his book of the same name.

It was a success (except for the guy across the lake who fired up a chain saw just before I left) and I’d love to be able to stay in the cabin one night…but that’s out of the question. Still, it was enough to stop there and experience this place, and think about Olson and his legacy, one more time.

Below is a video of the place so you can get an idea of what it is like and a link to my Flickr photo album of Listening Point.

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Taking Photos? Use a "Real" Camera Instead of Your Phone

lakesuperiorUsually my annual “Steve’s Road Trip” adventures are out west to the mountains, or down to the desert southwest, but for the second summer I’m headed to the north shore of Lake Superior before summer gives way to the fall. I’ll also go up to Ely for a day (and stop at former National Geographic photographer, Jim Brandenburg’s gallery) and so I can also head over to Sigurd Olson’s Listening Point and take some photos. (You can read my 2014 post about my first visit to Listening Point here).

When I mentioned my trip to a buddy of mine he asked, “Are you going to shoot with your iPhone?” I thought he was joking, but in the past we’ve talked about the “photography revolution” since smartphone shooting has essentially killed the “point and shoot” lower end camera market, and ad campaigns like Apple’s Shot on iPhone make it seem like anyone running around with their iPhone will get National Geographic-worthy photos (reality check: you won’t).

So that begs the question: Do you shoot important photos with your smartphone? [Read more…]

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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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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.