VPNGate.net: The Free VPN Project and What it Means

There was a fascinating story on TorrentFreak.com today extolling the virtues of VPNGate.net.  It’s a project brought to us by the Graduate School of University of Tsukuba, Japan.  Essentially, it offers free VPN access to anyone in need.  The goal is to subvert censorship in the digital age.  For example, Iran and China block access to YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.  But internet users in those geographic areas can bypass their nations network filters by configuring their computers to route all traffic through an internationally based Virtual Private Network, or VPN.  For example, a Chinese college student could configure his laptop to use a VPN server in Japan.  When that student’s VPN connection is properly configured, all network access will be tunneled though that VPN connection.  Any web site he visits won’t show his Chinese ISP’s IP address in the logs.  The logs will records the IP address of the VPN server in Japan.

At its most altruistic level, this is a tool of free speech.  VPNGate.net offers a range of VPN server locations based in the United States, Canada, Japan, Russia, Italy, Czech Republic, and the UK.  You literally select a desired VPN end point, configure your computer, and off you go!  The project offers a wide range of VPN protocols as well.  The tried and true L2TP/IPsec is supported, as is OpenVPN, as well as SSL-VPN.  This means just about any personal computing device can use the service: Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android.  The project’s web site has documentation explaining how to configure each operating system.

First and foremost, proper configuration of the VPN tunnel is absolutely critical.  And I want to draw special attention to this point since many of the people who use VPN access on a regular basis don’t consider this.  The computers VPN configuration has an option to “send all traffic over VPN connection.”  Your OS might phrase it slightly different, but this is a critical setting.  If you want to obscure your digital traffic to the greatest possible extent, this option must be engaged.  If it is not, only some traffic will route over the VPN.  The rest of the traffic will flow out through your internet connection in a traditional manner and it is neither wrapped in encryption nor routed through the the international network.
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The Curse of One-Eyed Jack by J. Kent Holloway

one-eye-jack-iconWhat happens when Boone Creek Kentucky suffers a rash of unexplained disappearances and murders?  The superstitious town folk believe it’s The Curse of One-Eyed Jack.  Suspicion and dark secrets come easy to people with more than a little experience with the magic of the Appalachian foothills.  But none of it matters to Kili Brennan when her brother goes missing while leading an archeological dig in the nearby hollows.  Has he become a victim of One-Eyed Jack?

While Kili tries to solve the mystery of her brothers disappearance, the towns people are more concerned with protecting themselves from One-Eyed Jack.  And when Kili enlists the help of local mountain man, Ezekiel Crane, it’s impossible to tell if the odds of finding her brother have gotten better or worse.

From beginning to end, The Curse of One-Eyed Jack is a great mystery with supernatural undertones and twists that keep us guessing.  The story has a fantastic “grown up’s version of Scooby Doo” vibe to it.  The plot takes a series of fantastic turns, each leading closer to something ominous.  The stakes continue to rise and the mystery builds.  And, the entire time, there is a sense as if there’s something in the distant bushes watching, pulling strings and orchestrating events…  Maybe something supernatural, maybe not.
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Google Reader to Shutdown, Feedly a Real Contender

feedly_logo_iconLast nights announcement that Google Reader would be shutdown as of July 1st, 2013 was a crushing blow to some.  The web-based RSS reader app was a vital part of the daily work flow for many.  For many— though, apparently, not enough.  Google is pulling the plug.

This marks the first major public facing project Google is disbanding after investing significant time and resources over the course of several years.  Certainly some Reader users would ague that Reader’s development has been largely nonexistent for some time.  Several UI bugs were left to bother users for far too long.  All the same, the core functionality remained and allowed us all to rely on the service.  But no more.

The death of Google Reader will create a vacuum.  Though the demise of Reader was only announced last night, some are already calling it the deathblow for RSS.  Personally I think that’s sensationalistic and inaccurate   RSS has become a vital part of the web.  It’s become a core facility for the dissemination of information across the internet.   Perhaps not in a public facing fashion as the average internet user still doesn’t understand what RSS is or what it does, but it’s functionality is still critical to behind the scenes operations.  The most obvious of which is podcasting.  Right now, RSS cannot dry up entirely because podcasting is 100% reliant on it for subscription based distribution.
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Bad Apple: The iPhone No Longer Has the Advantage

It pains me, truly, but Apple has a real problem on its hands.  That problem is called Android.  Apple’s iPhone has essentially become the same 800 pound gorilla that Microsoft was in the 1990’s: it achieved critical mass and has become slow to adapt as a result.  While Google iterate quickly with every release of the Android operating system, Apple’s iPhone is now evolving slowly in comparison.  And that inability to evolve is costing Apple.

Software is only half of the what it takes to win.  Apple still has a great thing going with the iOS.  It remains the gold standard.  It’s the mobile operating system one can hand to a novice with confidence that they can find their way alone.  People who are not accustomed or comfortable with traditional computers can grok the iOS because it has a uniform user interface and controls which remain consistent from one app to the next.  This is an area where Android is, and always has been, lacking.  But every version of Android improves dramatically.  Apple needs to pay more attention to that threat.

The significant threat to Apple’s dominance, at the moment, is the hardware running the Android operating system.  Because, to put it plainly, some of the latest Android phones are down right sexy.  They have large, high quality screens and very fast, multi-core processors.  Hardware development is advancing quickly— far faster than Apple can counter.  And, for whatever reason, Apple seems strangely reluctant to make even the most obvious hardware updates to offset their deficiency.
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Book Review: Sick, By Brett Battles

sickSick is book one in the Project Eden series, and after reading it I can’t wait to dig into book #2.  Though this book is a lunching point for a series that currently features four novels, thankfully it’s a fully fleshed out and complete story in its own right.  Packed with action and unending suspense, the book starts with a scare and the wild ride only continues from there.

The book centers around the character of Daniel Ash, an officer in the Army who has recently taken his family and transferred to a base that has just been taken out of mothballs.  As the story opens, he wakes in the middle of the night to tragedy and finds himself in the center of a fantastic conspiracy.  As the story unfolds, Ash fights for his life and the lives of those he cares for.
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How Pinger Failed. Is This a Problem with Free Apps in General?

pinger_iconI had a bad experience with an iPhone app recently that I wanted to share.  Partially to warn others to keep an eye on their Pinger app, and partially because it’s a problem that could apply to other “free” apps.  We all need to keep in mind that free apps are free for a reason.  Nothing can remain free unless it can become self supporting in some way.  And when you look at the service or feature that an app provides, often there is infrastructure behind it with associated cost.  It could be a web server with a database, or in the case of Pinger, infrastructure relating to phone number allocation and VoIP gear.

Pinger is a free app for the iOS that provides users with a phone number that will ring through on an iOS device.  Phone calls can be made via VoIP.  But the feature I used was limited to SMS and MMS messaging.  This was all provided free to users.  Pinger makes money, in part, by up-selling its service when users make phone calls to non-Pinger number in select circumstances.

Understandably, Pinger expires a users personal phone number after 30 days of non-use.  30 days seems like a rather limited window of opportunity but that’s their policy and their decision to make.  My problem was that my number was taken away at the end of 30 days without so much as a warning.  In the past, I had received a message warning me that I was nearing the end of 30 days and would lose my number if I didn’t use the Pinger app.  So I would use the app and all was well for the foreseeable future.  I was confident that the number that many of my friends used the contact me was relatively reliable.
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802.11g vs 802.11n and the iPad: What Does it Really Mean?

wireless_iconMany of us have wireless devices that we connect to wi-fi networks.  Those wi-fi networks then connect to the internet via a broadband connection of some kind.  But many people fail to realize that the speed of their wi-fi is often much slower than the speed of their internet connection.  The truth is, if you’re just tooling around the web, surfing Facebook, or updating Twitter, that speed won’t matter.  But if you’re playing games or download files, you might be missing out!

For maximum performance and reliability, a wired connection is king.  Wireless is susceptible to interference from cordless phones, microwave ovens, baby monitors, even that FBI field van sitting down the street.  It’s almost impossible to tell what might be wreaking havoc with your wireless signal at any given point.  So, if you have the option, go for a wired connection if you have the opertunity.  Especially if you’re running a server of some sort in the house.  Particularly media servers, and devices serving up high bandwidth audio or video files.  Wi-fi networks are only half duplex, meaning data is either sent or received at any given time.   Wired networks are full duplex meaning that the network line sends data while at the same time receiving it.  When it comes to network throughput there is no question, full duplex is your ultimate goal.
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Pandora’s Temple by Jon Land

pandora_temple_90pixAs McCracken contemplates some of his past experiences, the reader gets a hint at the history this character has experienced throughout the series. But Land doesn’t dwell on McCracken’s back story. He drops just enough references to make things fun for fans of the series. And his references have me thoroughly hooked. I can’t wait to start the series from the beginning. Land’s writing is just that that engaging and his McCracken character is so richly nuanced that I want to experience the series from the start.

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If you are a fan of the series, you have to read this book. If you haven’t read any of the McCracken books, this is a fantastic place to start. It was my first exposure to the series and I am nothing short of impressed!

You can find Pandora’s Temple in Kindle format as well as paperback here.  Plus, Jon Land has a great blog available at JonLandBooks.com and you can find him on Facebook here.

Cursed Blessing by J.M. Leduc

cursed_blessing_90pixThe Endowment, a responsibility passed down through time to protect what we known as the fountain of youth.  This was a very good book with a great plot, suspense, and action.  But I offer a word of warning.  The book goes on something of a Jesus bender starting at about the 33% mark.  All of a sudden nearly all of the characters start talking or thinking about their savior and praying a lot.

So, this would be the kind of thriller ideal for a church book club or a reader of very similar faith.  For others, the shifting of gears might be a little jaring.
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What Did We Learn in 2012?

Looking at the site logs this morning I found a spike in traffic from last night.  Digging into the logs I found that The Guardian, a popular online publication in the UK did a story titled “Lessons the tech world learned in 2012.”  The story covers some of the big ouch moments that made headlines in 2012.  But it was lesson #8 that brought the spike in traffic to Maclive.net.

Lesson #8 was titled “If you want privacy keep off the net. Or at least encrypt your stuff.”  Needless to say, the finger was pointed at former CIA Director David Petraeus.  There was a lesson to be learned there.  But when the Guardian made note of the complexities of encrypting ones email, they linked to our post.  That’s where the surge originated.
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