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A Comcastic-ally bad idea

If you haven’t heard about it, Comcast has plans to build a wifi network for its subscribers, on the back of its other subscribers’ routers. What’s worse is it’s an opt-out service. If you don’t hear about it and say something, you’re a hotspot for any other Comcast customer who happens to wander by.

I’m not a Comcast customer. I’m in Charter territory, and I’m not a Charter customer either. But I have so many problems with this it’s hard to know where to begin, so I sure hope other ISPs don’t copy this.Read More »A Comcastic-ally bad idea

Curious conspiracies… or maybe just progress all at once

In the wake of Truecrypt’s sudden implosion, someone sent me a link to this curious blog post. I can see why many people might find the timing interesting, but there are a number of details this particular blog post doesn’t get correct, and it actually spends most of its time talking about stuff that has little or nothing to do with Truecrypt.

What’s unclear to me is whether he’s trying to say the industry is deliberately sabotaging Truecrypt, or if he’s simply trying to make a list of things that are making life difficult for Truecrypt. His post bothers me a lot less if it’s just a laundry list of challenges, but either way, the inaccuracies remain.Read More »Curious conspiracies… or maybe just progress all at once

The droid I’m looking for: The $129 Moto E

On Tuesday, Motorola announced the Moto E, a new low-end, $129 phone. Sporting a dual-core 1.2 GHz CPU, a single-core GPU, 1 GB of RAM, and a micro SD slot for expandability, it’s a modest phone for modest needs. It won’t be much good for gaming, but it’ll be a nice upgrade over my aging Samsung Galaxy S 4G, and I can take it to T-Mobile, where I have an unsubsidized, bring-your-own-phone plan. Not having a subsidized phone plan saves me about $100 per year, which pays for the phone. When the phone dies, I’ll buy whatever’s available at a comparable price then, which will be better than the most expensive phone on the market right now. There wasn’t anything out there like the Moto E in 2011 when I bought the SGS4G.

I’m probably the kind of person Motorola had in mind for this phone. I use my smartphone but I don’t live on it. I use it to check e-mail, occasionally look something up on the web, use it to download and listen to podcasts, and I have a few apps loaded on it to take advantage of having a dual-core computer in my pocket, but I don’t game or use social media on it. I also don’t use my phone as a status symbol. Give me two cores and a gig of RAM, and I can do everything I need or want to do.

I’ve been tempted by several of Blu’s supercheap phones, but their 512 MB of RAM was a dealbreaker. This costs $40 more than the Blu Advance I’d been eyeing, but to my mind it’s worth it. It ships with 1 GB of RAM, which is more usable, and Android 4.4, which is better suited to the Blu Advance’s skimpy memory than the OS Blu ships with it. Plus it’s guaranteed to get at least one update from Motorola. On top of that, Motorola ships its phones with a better screen and more durable build quality than Blu does. And, given Motorola’s storied past, the Motorola name is worth at least something to me.

I’m also sure the phone will sell well enough to get an aftermarket following, to extend its life even further by delivering future Android releases to it. The Moto G has good aftermarket ROM support, so I would expect the Moto E to follow.

The U.S. release date is June 3. I have better things to do than wait outside for a store to open to get one on that day, but I may very well get one sometime in June.

More about Pfsense, the alternative to the crappy consumer router

I spent some time over the weekend playing with Pfsense, and I can’t say much about it other than it does what it says. I didn’t throw a ton of hardware at it–the best motherboard I have laying around is a late P4-era Celeron board, and the best network card I could find was, believe it or not, an ancient Netgear 10/100 card with the late, lamented DEC Tulip chipset on it. Great card for its time, but, yeah, nice 100-megabit throughput, hipster.

If you actually configure your routers rather than just plugging them in, you can do this. Plug in a couple of network cards, plug in a hard drive that you don’t mind getting overwritten, download Pfsense, write the image file to a USB stick, boot off the USB stick, and follow the prompts. Then, to add wireless, plug in a well-supported card like a TP-Link and follow the howto. Read More »More about Pfsense, the alternative to the crappy consumer router

My impressions of the TP-Link TL-WR841N

The TP-Link TL-WR841N (and the similar TL-WR841ND) is a lower-mid range router that routinely sells in the $20-$25 range. Although many people consider it an off-brand, TP-Link has had a following in the enthusiast community for a couple of years. I’ve been prone to recommend them because they have a better track record than many of the bigger-name brands of continuing to release firmware upgrades that fix security vulnerabilities. If you’re going to buy a router and leave it stock, you’re better off with a TP-Link than anything else.

I only used the stock firmware to load DD-WRT on it though, so about all I can say is that the TL-WR841N runs DD-WRT really well.Read More »My impressions of the TP-Link TL-WR841N

Android Kit Kat lands on the Nook Color

I didn’t know if it would ever happen, but experimental nightly builds for Android 4.4 (Kit Kat) have arrived for the venerable Nook Color. I installed it tonight.

Since I’ve previously run other versions of Cyanogenmod on the Nook Color, the upgrade was pretty straightforward. I had to reboot to recovery, update my recovery because my existing recovery was old and incompatible, reboot again (to recovery of course), which put me in Clockworkmod 6.0.4.5, and from there I installed the Cyanogenmod 11 zip followed by the Google Apps zip.

Newly flashed Android devices sometimes take some time to settle in before they’re really usable. On this 1 GHz, 512MB device, Kit Kat does seem faster than any of the Jelly Bean builds (Android 4.1-4.3) I’ve tried to run on it, but it’s not as quick as my Samsung Galaxy S 4G running Android 4.0.4. I’ll give it a little time.

DD-WRT as an access point

There’s an addition on the back of our house, probably added in the 1970s or 80s, where the wi-fi reception is exceptionally poor. Something about the walls makes it tricky, and I also suspect we get some interference from the neighbors behind us. I solved the problem with a cheap router running DD-WRT as an access point.Read More »DD-WRT as an access point

A $99 tablet that doesn’t stank

‘Tis the season for cheapie tablets. They’re everywhere, and they cost $89, $79, even $59. About the only place I haven’t seen one is at a convenience store. But you don’t want them. They’re always underpowered and cheaply built, so they’ll be frustratingly slow to use and the hardware is likely to start failing after a year or so.

But this weekend I saw a budget tablet that hits all of the minimums, for $99, at an unlikely place: Aldi. Yes, the discount grocery store. It’s called the Medion Lifetab.Read More »A $99 tablet that doesn’t stank

Hacker chasing, circa 1987

I’m catching up on reading. Next on my reading list is The Cuckoo’s Egg, (Amazon link), Clifford Stoll’s memoir of chasing down a computer hacker in the late 1980s. In it, he describes a very different world, ruled by mainframes and minicomputers, where Unix was something special, IBM still made PCs, but desktop PCs and Macintoshes only received occasional mention, and academia and the military owned the Internet, almost literally. And, oh, by the way, the Cold War was still raging.

The remarkable thing about this book is that it’s an approachable spy thriller, written in 1989, that explains computer security to an audience that had never seen or heard of the Internet. You don’t have to be a security professional to appreciate it, though it’s a classic in the computer security world–many people read it in the late 1980s and early 1990s and decided to get into the field.Read More »Hacker chasing, circa 1987