In this episode we’ll try to eliminate some misconceptions about why a VPN is important and how S/MIME email is cross platform. Dr. Matt tells us about a free OSX VPN client called Tunnelblick from code.google.com. Kirschen Seah from FreeRangeCoder.com reviews Airstash from Wearable. How Howard in the Apple store told us his story of tragedy and triumph, and why I’m feeling good about having THREE backups with CrashPlan. Ken Wolf reviews Buffer from BufferApp.com. If you don’t have Clarify yet, it’s part of the $10 Macheist bundle for only 2 more days. In Chit Chat Across the Pond I had the great pleasure of talking to Stewart Cheifet, TV host of the Computer Chronicles and Net Cafe, and now at cheifet.com.
Hi this is Allison Sheridan of the NosillaCast Mac Podcast, hosted at Podfeet.com, a technology geek podcast with an EVER so slight Macintosh bias. Today is Sunday April 21, 2013 and this is show number 415. I had SUCH a great weekend. As many of you know, Steve and I share the same birthday (I’m 4 hours older than him). Because of that neither of us has ever done a surprise birthday but this year I had a great idea. I contacted our crazy friends Dean and Suzanne from Chicago and asked them if they’d fly out here to surprise Steve. I got my friend Diane in on it with me and we decided that as far as Steve knew, Diane and her husband Bill were taking us to the M-Grill Brazilian Steakhouse in downtown LA on Friday night. Unbeknownst to Steve, Dean and Suzanne flew in on Thursday, and spent the night and next day with his sister Q who happens to live right around the corner from us. I ordered a limo to pick up first Diane and Bill, and then Dean and Suzanne, and then over to our house. When it arrived, of course Steve assumed Diane had ordered the limo (she does that kind of crazy thing) but when he got in, there were Dean and Suzanne. It worked out GREAT!
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Dean and Suzanne spent the rest of the weekend with us – so we’ve pretty much been laughing since Friday at 5:30! Steve and I normally exchange presents but I pointed out that this year I got him PEOPLE. It was an absolutely fabulous time. I put a link in the shownotes to the video from Steve first seeing the limo up till he sees Dean and Suzanne. Ok, enough goofing around, just had to tell you about that, let’s talk about some tech.
In this week’s show, we’ve got some more about home VPNs because there’s been a lot of interest and some questions about it. Then Kirschen brings us a review of the AirStash from Wearable, we’ll talk about Howard and his backups at the Apple store, and then Ken Wolf reviews Buffer. In Chit Chat Across the Pond I had the great pleasure of talking to Stewart Cheifet, host of the Computer Chronicles and Net Cafe that were on the air from the 80s till 2002. You definitely don’t want to miss that!
The VPN setup Donald gave us is generating a LOT of buzz, it’s been a lot of fun to see how many people are giving this a try. This week I got an email from an actual professor in computer science from an actual university. Let’s hear from Dr. Matt:
I have used the OpenVPN for a long time, and I have found that Tunnelblick has worked very well compared to when I started. I know you linked to it in your show notes, but I think you should re-look at it. It is free, and if you would use it, you would have an entirely free VPN setup.
Well this sounded swell so I googled Tunnelblick and found it over at code.google.com. When I launched Tunnelblick the only thing I had to change to get it to work was to go into the advanced preferences and tell it NOT to use it’s own tun/tap drivers. I’m wondering though, if I hadn’t already installed the tun/tap drivers per Donald’s instructions, would I have gotten to skip that step?
I encourage you to try Tunnelblick for free and if it doesn’t work for you go ahead and spring the $20 for Viscosity.
Now is probably a good time to drop in a recording from George from Tulsa on the same subject.
George from Tulsa on Encryption and WiTopia VPN
In show 412 Bart taught us how to implement email encryption. But from John’s unanswered question in the comments, it seems to work only between Macs. And, as David Allen asked, I wonder what happens when the certificate self-expires a year after issue. That’s why I’m sticking with Keka to encrypt 7zip files for Windows or Linux, and OS X’s own Disk Utility to make DMG files for fellow Mac users.
Well George I’m glad you mentioned this because I can see how it might be easy to misunderstand this. The process Bart explained is definitely not a Mac only thing. The S/MIME protocol for sending and receiving signed, and/or encrypted email is an industry standard, nothing to do with Macs. StartSSL.com is a cross platform, web-based tool to get your certificate and private key. We did only teach about using the Apple Keychain to install it on a Mac, but you can definitely do this on Windows and Linux.
As far as David’s question about what happens when the certificate expires in a year, you must have missed it last week when Bart explained exactly what happens. If the certificate expires, you can’t open those encrypted emails, which is exactly why Bart suggests only encrypting when you need to, and when you receive an encrypted email, if you need to keep the info long term, get it out of mail.
Encrypting the files themselves is a good alternative as you describe, and cool that you found a cross-platform tool to do that, hadn’t heard of 7zip. Sending .dmg files on OSX might be overkill – remember I taught the one line Terminal command to zip and encrypt a single file or folder on OSX? Ok, I’ll let you keep going now!
In 413 Don Burr tells us he decided to set up his own personal VPN server rather than pay a commercial service he might use a few times a month. The highly reviewed Mac and iOS friendly WiTopia is as cheap as $4.16 a month. That brings an easy software install and many gateways in the US and around the world. A service, like WiTopia, adds to your privacy by masking your browsing behind the service’s IP address. That’s a lot different than a home VPN that links out using your own ISP and IP. LifeHacker.com VPN Review
Very cool you found an even less expensive VPN tool – but we wanted free and to have it in our own control. If you’re not up for the extreme geekiness of the home VPN solution, $4.16/month for WiTopia sounds pretty good.
I had WiTopia for years but recently let my subscription lapse. That’s because Google obsoleted most VPN security advantages when it implemented mandatory secure log ons and most web services followed Google’s example. You’re just as secure using Gmail or Google Drive or Google’s free Chrome Remote Desktop as you are using a VPN. (Google Implements HTTPS, HTTPS / Gmail, Secure Google Search, Chrome Remote Desktop Security)
Which doesn’t mean you are secure, because the big risk of using an open network is the hole opened by just connecting. If your system is vulnerable, it can be pwned as soon as it connects. Whether at Starbies or at work. Before you can access a secure website, or activate your VPN, ya’ hafta’ log on to the wide open WiFi network. (Just one Open WiFi Danger: the Evil Twin)
Ok George, I have to interrupt you again here. You had a cheap solution for VPN but you got rid of it because you had security on Google…but then you point out correctly that the rest of your system is vulnerable on open wifi networks.
Remember HTTPS provides end-to-end encryption so it is indeed safe on public wifi. In fact, HTTPS uses the same encryption most VPNs do, SSL/TLS. Now, this is only true if you ALWAYS go DIRECTLY to the HTTPS URL, and don’t go insecure first and wait to be redirected by the site. Also – for random browsing, you will not be on HTTPS for everything, so you are still at risk from malware injection as you read the WSJ etc.. It’s not just about protecting what you send out, but also about protecting the integrity of what you get in! The chances of someone pwning your system in the 5 seconds it takes to connect to VPN are incredibly small. The chances of being attacked when you’re on for 2 hours in a hotel are much much higher. Not using a VPN when on public wifi is like having those bad guys sitting on the couch next to you looking into your system. A free or paid VPN is the best protection you can get.
Several years ago I saw a demo of monitoring software that installed silently over a network and then captured and reported every keystroke, screen refresh, email, chat, and IP address. Similar software is now sold direct to the public. You can be sure Blackhats, FEEBS, and corporate security have even more powerful tools. (PCMag.com Reviews Monitoring Software, ManageEngine.com using the Firewall to Monitor Employees)
US law gives employees no right to privacy when using an employer’s computer or network. So connecting your iPad to your work WiFi on your lunch hour makes it and what you do fair game. Even your personal cell service could be connecting over an employer installed repeater you don’t know stands between you and Ma Bell. (PrivcayRights.org – Your rights at work, Kim Komando – Your smartphone at work, Wikipedia on Cellular Repeaters)
There’s some scary links in the shownotes which I hope you’ll check out. But maybe not at work, even if you have a VPN.
You’re right George that in the US companies have the right to see anything you’re doing on their network. In fact, one of the reasons I minimize what I do on the work network. Also keep in mind that a vast portion of our audience here is not in the US and from what I understand Europe has much more strict privacy policies than we do here. In any case, sitting at work, on the work network, just because the company has the right to sniff your traffic does not mean the can. If the traffic your’e sending is encrypted, it’s encrypted. They still have the right to try snoop, but it will be impossible! On work-provided devices they could install their own SSL certs, which can then be used to intercept SSL/TLS without triggering any sort of warning at all, but if it’s your devices, then the encryption holds, that’s the whole point of encryption – without the keys you can’t get in! The examples you give of non-SSL stuff being intercepted are true and all fair game, but all 100% irrelevant to HTTPS or VPNs.
I’m glad you recorded this George because I think we got deeper into understanding because of it and perhaps quash some misconceptions. Ok, enough about security, let’s have some fun. Back in January, we had the pleasure of hanging out with Kirschen Seah at Macworld and shortly after that she put a review into Dropbox for us – which I completely missed way back then! Well good news, she reminded me about it and we have it for you today.
AirStash from Wearable Review by Kirschen
Hi to all the NosillaCastaways! I’m Kirschen Seah from FreeRangeCoder.com and I’ll be reviewing the AirStash from Wearable. First off, what’s the problem to be solved? Well, you’ve decided to go without a Mac and carry only your trusty iPad or iPhone to a conference and someone says they’d like to give you a PDF to read and a Pages document to edit. You say, sure, just e-mail them to me. And they say, well, I have it here on my MacBook Air, do you have a USB flash drive? And you left your Mac at home… Or you have a carful of kids each wanting to watch different movies and TV shows on their iDevices, but they haven’t got the videos already stored on their devices, but you just happen to have the files on a handy secure digital card.
Now, with the AirStash, you can do all that, and more! The device is 3.5 inches long, an inch wide and half an inch thick, much like an oversized USB flash drive. It has a slot for a Secure Digital card on one end and a USB A plug on the other. You insert the SD card, which can be a regular SD, SDHC (high capacity), or SDXC (extended capacity) card, for up to a staggering 2TB of storage. The AirStash works like a regular USB flash drive using the SD card for data storage. When you insert it into your computer’s USB socket, it mounts like a regular USB drive.
The difference is that the AirStash is also a WiFi-enabled data storage device. The current model A02 supports 802.11b, g, and n over 2.4GHz, with WPA2 and WEP 128 bit protection. There’s a power button on the top of the AirStash. When this is pressed and held for 2 to 3 seconds, the status indicator turns green. Release the button and the status indicator will blink three times to indicate that the WiFi signal is on. The AirStash sets up its own network with a default name of “AirStash” and has a DHCP server to assign addresses to your devices. To turn off the AirStash, press and hold the power button until the status indicator blinks green three times rapidly, and then release the button.
So what network services does the AirStash support over WiFi? It comes with a web server so you can access the files on the device via the handy web address http://airstash.net via a regular web browser. You can even use the web browser to upload files to the device. There’s also a WebDAV server for computer, tablet, and phone apps which support that protocol – and there are quite a few, including OS X itself, Apple’s iWork suite for iOS, iThoughts, and GoodReader. And finally, the AirStash has a media streamer – if you have media files on the SD card which can be played from your computer or device, using something as simple as a web browser will let you pick the video or audio file and stream that from the AirStash. You can even load an SD card from your camera and then view the photos you just took, without needing to store them in iPhoto on the iPad for example.
Up to 8 devices may connect simultaneously to the AirStash. Simultaneous video streams can be supported for DVD quality standard definition video for up to three devices. The same limit applies also to audio streams, and AirStash’s support page indicates that it may be possible to stream to more than three devices but results may vary.
AirStash has also released a universal iOS app – which lets you browse and view files, as well as playback media files on the device. It even remembers where you left off last time. You can also use the app to configure the AirStash WiFi settings, such as network name (also known as SSID), network security passwords, and more. There’s also a corresponding app on the Android store.
The AirStash is charged much in the same way as any iPhone or similar smart device – just plug it into a USB charger, such as the iPhone, iPad, or even 12V car USB adapter and wait a couple of hours. You can even use a powered USB hub or one which is attached to a computer. The status indicator will flash yellow while it’s charging and will turn off when it’s fully charged. One charge is good for 7 hours of WiFi operation. If you plug it into a USB charger, you can continue to use the WiFi features, but plugging it into a USB hub will only allow the AirStash to charge and be used as a USB flash drive.
Now for the price. An AirStash costs $130 with an 8GB SDHC card and $140 with a 16GB card on Amazon. I opted for the 8GB model since I could get a larger capacity card. There are other WiFi enabled devices out there but the AirStash is the only one which uses SD cards for data storage, thus providing quite a bit of flexibility for media swapping. If you do decide to get one, do remember to use Allison’s Amazon affiliate link! (8GB AirStash, http://www.airstash.com/)
Once again, this is Kirschen from FreeRangeCoder.com and I’ll see you in the bitstream.
Wow Kirschen – this is even cooler than I realized when you told us about it while we ate those yummy falafels across the street from the Moscone center. The good news is that the price has dropped – the 8GB is only $117 at Amazon right now and the 16GB is only $140. I’ve been wanting something like this ever since I reviewed the Apotop device that was supposed to do this but was cludgy and slow. The problem it solves for me is that I want to take GOOD photos on my DSLR but I want the fun of being able to tweet them quickly instead of waiting till I get back to my computer. I know I can use the camera connection kit to pull them into my iPad but for some reason I never think to do that and I’m pretty sure that won’t let me selectively browse to just grab one or two photos the way the AirStash does. Having it work to stream video too is ultra cool as a bonus! Very cool pick and great review as always, keep them coming! next time I won’t wait 3 months to play it, I promise!
Howard and his backups at the Apple Store
I’ve started to think maybe I’m one of the crazy ones now, sucked into Katie Floyd’s madness. I have a USB full backup at home, another one at work, and then of course CrashPlan for cloud backups. She’s a good influence I suppose? I guess I never did finish the story on what I think of CrashPlan, did I? After 3 and a half weeks, my 300GB of data was finally up in the cloud and backing up to CrashPlan. Early on in that time period I started backing up Steve’s Macbook Air which has less far less data on it (since his heavy lifting is on his iMac that Kevin (big_in_va) made me buy for him).
Things went swimmingly until one day I got an alert from CrashPlan that his device hadn’t backed up in 3 days. I learned how to resume the backups, restart the backups and reconnect to their servers using a handy little command line tool they give you but I could not get his Mac to reconnect to their servers. I shot off a support request and after 3 days hadn’t heard back.
I tweeted out a complaint about this to CrashPlan and they got back to me right away and helped me connect to the right people. Don’t know how it didn’t work the first time but at least I had people helping me. The bad news was that they suggested I just start the backups over from scratch. I didn’t like that solution since if that were to ever happen on MY system it would be a disaster. Instead I argued with them back and forth for several days, and one day his mac was able to connect to their servers again. I wasn’t very happy with their service and when I got the opportunity to fill out a survey, it was scathing. I was rewarded with a bonus month or two of CrashPlan service, which was nice but still left me queasy about a critical, paid-for service.
Fast forward to this week. I’ve been happily getting notices every week or so telling me how our backups are doing, all showing 100% and the size of the backup, until I got one warning me that my Mac hadn’t backed up in 3 days. Yikes, not this again! I did the reconnect, restart, resume dance again and they wouldn’t start back up. Then I went into their logging tool and noticed that exactly 3 days ago, they updated the software and that’s when the backups stopped.
Shot an email off to support at CrashPlan, and within about 45 minutes my new little friend Marc got back to me. We went back and forth a few times, and even though at one point he misunderstood and thought the problem was on my end, after about 5 email exchanges, he discovered a misconfigured setting on their end from the upgrade and I was able to restart my backups.
So I now have 2 datapoints on CrashPlan’s tech support – one dreadful and one fantastic. I’m hoping the first one was an aberration and from talking to my backup-fanatic friends I think it is. In any case, it makes me super happy knowing that I’m backed up in three places.
There’s a reason I’m telling you this story right now though. Steve and I were at the mall, and as one does, we stopped by the Apple Store for no reason. While goofing around we met a nice gentleman named Howard who told us a story of tragedy and triumph on his backups.
Howard is a smart man, he has two backups, one on site and one offsite. Unfortunately he was burgled, and since he had just run his backup, his external drive was still connected to his Macbook when the robbers stole it from his home. For most people this would be tragic because most people have between 0 and 1 backup. For Howard though, the loss of the device was bad but at least he knew his data was safe because of his offsite backup.
Except. When he got a new Mac and plugged in that backup, the drive was dead. Again with the tragedy. He took the drive around to places like MacMall and they all wanted to charge him an arm and a leg, and with no promise of any data recovery. Undaunted, Howard looked for a solution. He found a place called LA Laptop Repair who said they’d look at it and see if they could repair it for $89. They even said that if they couldn’t figure out what was wrong that he’d get his $89 back. And the triumph of the story is that it was only a bad power supply on the case! So Howard was happy and got his data back for only $89.
Now I have to say I’m not feeling like a backup nutjob any more, because with THREE backups Howard would have been fine, right? Another lesson to keep in mind is what Katie always preaches – CHECK your backups periodically to make sure they’r still working. I’m happy for Howard though and if you’re in the LA area, keep LA Laptop Repair in mind for emergencies.
Ken Wolf reviews Buffer
Hi Allison, this is Ken Wolf from Manhattan Repertory Theatre with a review of a web app that I absolutely love. But first, let’s start with the problem that needs to be solved.
Just recently at Manhattan Rep, we decided to jump into the Social Media arena full force to try to promote some of the plays that we do here and also to bring in new producers into our theatre. So I started posting passionately to our Twitter account and to our Facebook account, but to be honest Allison I just didn’t have the time to be tweeting and posting all day. It made me nuts. I have too many important things to do and the problem with Twitter and Facebook is that it is all kind of real time, especially Twitter – it’s real time, so I have to post all the time if I am going to connect to people because otherwise it goes away.
BUFFER was the solution at BufferApp.com. Buffer is a web service that automatically posts to your Twitter, Facebook and Linked in accounts. AND with Buffer you can automatically schedule WHEN your tweets and posts will be posted. Here is how it works. You log into your Buffer account using your Twitter, Facebook or Linked in login.
You then, pre-place your tweets and posts in THE BUFFER, and then you go and schedule when you would like to have them be tweeted or posted. You can set up a series of times to post everyday, or you can set up different posting times for every day of the week. You can attach pictures and links just like any other Twitter or Facebook client. It is super easy to do and super fun.
It is free for up to 10 posts a day, but I chose to go with the AWESOME PLAN, where for $10 a month you can schedule as many tweets, Linked in posts or Facebook posts as your heart desires.
It is just a beautiful solution to our Real Time problem. Now, usually on Sunday night, I create my Twitter and Facebook posts FOR THE ENTIRE WEEK and I do 9 a day! So I pre schedule 63 posts to both Twitter and Facebook. And I am done for the week!!
Also they have a Buffer iPhone app so I can add on the spot Tweets to my BUFFER from anywhere. And it works great. The web interface is fun because you can drag and move your Tweets up and down your Buffer to change the order, and it works really well. They also have really cool analytics feature which I really don’t fully understand. It shows each Tweet and if it was Retweeted or Favorited and then it shows a number in something called POTENTIAL. I have no idea what this number means but it LOOKS official and important. And the analytics go all the way back to when I first began with this service in February. It is just crazy fun.
The only problem I had with it, was Facebook once burped and refused to accept my posts. Buffer app then told me to try and post less, so I did, brought it down to 9 a day and it worked. I have no idea why, because I didn’t know Facebook limited posts but maybe it does limits posts from automated apps like this I have no idea. And I did have one problem when Twitter failed, but it was because Twitter failed, not because Buffer didn’t post.
So if you need a way to automatic some or all of your Social Media info, check out Buffer. My Twitter handle at Manhattan Rep is @ManhattanRep. I tweet out motivational tweets about creativity, acting, directing, and LIFE, and then throw in a few promotional tweets. Please check it out. Allison and Steve…. Have the happiest of Happy Birthdays!
Thank you so much Ken we did have happy birthdays! Buffer sounds really cool. What I like is that you’re using it for good and not evil. Seems like it would be easy to be spammy with it but you’re not. You’re doing thoughtful tweets, you’re just writing them all at once and having them spit out over time. I struggle with what time and day to announce things too – if I do it first thing in the am for me, it’s the middle of the night for New Zealand and they might miss all my wit and wisdom. Thanks for the review and the great ideas.
Clarify in the MacHeist Bundle
I hope you’re listening to this very early in the week, because I wanted to tell you about the latest MacHeist bundle which only has 2 days left as of Sunday. This might be the best bundle I’ve ever seen – first because it’s a mini-bundle with 10 apps for $10. Secondly Clarify from BlueMango Learning is in the bundle! Clarify is normally $30 all by itself, so this is a steal even if it only had Clarify in the deal. The other apps that caught my fancy were Path Finder which I’ve been meaning to buy for about 5 years now and somehow never seemed to get around to it. The MacHeist mini bundle also includes AirServer, which is a lot like Reflector that I use that lets you view on your Mac whatever you have on your iOS device via AirPlay. There are so many uses for that – if you want to demo something from your phone onto a projector, or via a screenshare, this is a great tool, or you can even do a screencast of an iOS app using something like Screenflow to capture your screen while AirServer sends the iOS screen to your Mac. iStopMotion from Boinx is in the mini-bundle and I’ve heard a ton of great stuff about Fantastical, a new calendaring app for the Mac I’ve been meaning to try.
There’s even more in this bundle than we have time to talk about but rush over to macheist.com and get it for $10, enjoy Clarify and then see what the other apps do! Lots of NosillaCastaways have tweeted me that they did it this week!
Chit Chat Across the Pond
In Chit Chat Across the Pond we’ve got Stewart Cheifet, host of the Computer Chronicles and Net Cafe that were on the air from the 80s till 2002. These shows are on the Internet Archive at archive.org/details/computerchronicles and archive.org/details/netcafe. Here’s the outline of the conversation that at least I MEANT to follow:
- How did shows of such intelligence actually survive on mainstream TV?
- Curious that I never actually heard of them – I would have loved them
So do I have to have Stewart back again or what? I found him fascinating and I really want to hear more of his great stories. I got off of Skype with him and instantly called Steve to tell him what a great time I had. I know, I know, I say that a lot, but I really did love learning from him and hope to get involved in some of the stuff he’s doing now.
That’s going to wind this up for this week, don’t forget to go over to macheist.com and buy Clarify from BlueMango Learning in the mini-bundle for only $10. Don’t forget to send in your Dumb Questions, comments and suggestions by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow me on twitter at @podfeet. Check out the NosillaCast Google Plus Community too – lots of fun over there! If you want to join in the fun of the live show, head on over to podfeet.com/live on Sunday nights at 5pm Pacific Time and join the friendly and enthusiastic NosillaCastaways. Thanks for listening, and stay subscribed.