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A lot of people decide against using Chrome on principle, because they don't want to feed all of their digital fingerprints to Google and their advertisers. I certainly agree with that, and Firefox has always been the browser of choice to sophisticated or privacy minded individuals. Unfortunately, as time went on, Mozilla has turned their key product into a carbon copy of Google's offering, at least when it comes to privacy.
If you've never run a network monitor to see what traffic your computer is sending out to the web, it's a very worthwhile experiment to do. You would be amazed at how often your browser contacts Google's servers. Let's make things very clear: Firefox is fully embedded with Google's services, it's Mozilla's main source of revenues. Let's see a couple of ways your traffic ends up in their data center, regardless whether you type google.com in your URL bar or not.
The main way Firefox sends data to Google is when you type in something in the URL or search bar. Every letter you type is sent instantly to Google, unless you went in to modify advanced settings. That means even if you make a mistake, or change your mind and then delete what you wrote before you press enter, it doesn't matter. Everything was still sent. This of course is to provide you with that instantaneous drop down menu that shows you results as you type, but it also means everything has to be sent out for this feature to work.
Even if you use Bing for searching, or if you don't mind search terms going out, every URL is also sent out to Google for something called phishing and malware detection, a service that scans web pages and detects potentially infected pages. That way, if you go to a URL that may be compromised or trying to infect your computer, a red alert page will show up. But for this to work, that means hashes of all your web visits have to be sent out as well.
Oh, and in case you're thinking of using the private window feature, also called incognito mode, then think again. Every browser handles private browsing the same way. The goal of this feature is to keep your stuff private from your spouse, your kids, or other people who may access your computer locally. It keeps that tab out of your local history search. But what you do in this mode has exactly the same impacts on the network side. Google still gets to see all of your search queries, every URL you go to, and interact with your browser in all of the same ways.
Finally, this week Mozilla announced that Firefox would integrate even more with Google. Now, every download you do will also be sent off to Google, in order to make use of their virus analyzing tools. That way, if you download something that Google thinks might be malware, Firefox won't let you access it. Again, a great feature if you need to be protected from yourself, but in order for this to work, it also means even more private data being shuffled out to the advertising giant.
I guess in the end it's up to you to decide how you feel about all of that. It's easy to just give up and go along for the ride, enjoying all of these benefits and not worrying about the privacy implications. Or you can take the opposite approach and go into settings, disable each and every one of those features, hoping you didn't forget any of them, and then hope your browser won't communicate with Google's servers anymore (it will, by the way). Don't use Firefox if privacy, at least from Google, is something you care about.
I think Mozilla could be doing a better job at this. It's the same thing as when they revamped the UI. Why is it that we need Firefox to become more and more a clone of Chrome? At the very least, there should be a comprehensive set of options for privacy, a page where it's explained clearly what goes on behind the scenes, and allowing you to turn all privacy-breaking features off with one button. But, I suppose that's not what is making Mozilla money, so I doubt we will see that anytime soon.
There's a lot of talk about market share, and how Apple has been slowly losing ground over Android, especially Samsung devices. There are lots of reports pointing towards a myriad of factors, from the slow release cycle of one new iPhone per year, versus the large number of Android manufacturers. Most surveys are also based on fairly arbitrary facts, like devices shipped or asking what type of devices people have at home, not necessarily what they use day to day.
In Montreal, there are several open wi-fi hotspots in the downtown area where a large amount of office workers congregate during lunch time. Since these are fully open access points, every device freely broadcasts its MAC address to every other device. So all it takes to get a comprehensive list of the devices linked is to connect to the wi-fi. I used Net Analyzer to perform a simple passive scan to see the manufacturers from devices connecting to 3 access points spread around downtown Montreal for 5 consecutive days during lunch time, and compiled the results:
Now I will say right away that these are not scientific, and are not fool proof. The unique sample size was 647. I would suspect that doing such a survey in tourism areas, or places outside downtown would give different results. But I thought it was an interesting experiment. First I will say that by far, people bring phones and tablets with them to public access points, not laptops. This is likely because again, these access points are mostly frequented by business users who work in downtown Montreal, not tourists who may bring a laptop with them. Then, despite the growing market share of Android phones, I was surprised to see that over half the devices who use Montreal public wi-fi are Apple based.
In my opinion, it's still the case that people who have the money to afford it, still choose Apple over Android as a majority. As a last interesting tidbit, among the Others category, I found various manufacturers I didn't recognize such as Xiaomi Technology, Aruba Networks and Compal. I also saw a number of Canon and Epson printers, and a single Apple TV.
Many companies are working hard to provide us with a single consolidated portal from which all our digital goods can be purchased, organized, downloaded and viewed. Whether it's Amazon with videos and ebooks, Apple with music and TV shows, or Microsoft with OneDrive and productivity suites. There are a lot of advantages to having all of our digital content centralized like this. It means easier organization, since everything is in one location. Updates are faster, since we only rely on one portal or app to access that content. And we only have one destination to access that content, or provide payment information to in order to buy new releases.
But centralized content also has one big downfall: You rely fully on a single source, or as the old saying goes, put all your eggs in one basket. We all know what can go wrong when the cloud goes down. If the particular service you rely on for your media, documents, music or storage goes down, and all your eggs happen to be in that particular basket, then you may be off to a bad day.
This is why I tend to believe in the power of the number two: Two different services for any one type of data. For example, I rely heavily on iTunes. I find that it's a great solution for movies, music, podcasts and TV shows. Regardless where I am, whether I have my TV, tablet or phone, if I feel like accessing some content, it's right there, available. Plus, I can get the latest releases right from home or on the go, without the need to wait for the local store to get that blockbuster film on Blu-Ray or DVD. However, I'm not one of those people who went all out and moved all their DVD collection to the cloud. I still have a significant amount of physical disks, and it's still growing, whenever I happen to find good sales on something I'd like.
I apply the rule of two to many more things as well. Video games for example is a prime example. While console gamers are just now getting into digital distribution, PC gamers went through that transition years ago. Most PC gamers like me haven't bought a physical copy in a long time, because they always cost more and aren't available as quickly. The only reason to get a physical box is if you want a collector edition with extra swag I don't happen to care about. Steam is by far the preferred platform, but even though it's very stable and incredibly popular, I would still encourage you to use the rule of two. Whether you use GOG, Gamefly, Origin or physical boxes, you just never know what is going to happen to a particular company or platform years down the road. Even spreading your assets between two different cloud providers is a useful endeavor. If the Steam cloud is down, then it's too late to realize you have nothing to play until they fix it.
Whether we're talking about entertainment, games, ebooks, documents, even things like where you keep your finances or any other type of digital content, I always try to use the rule of two. Some would ask, if I'm not going to embrace the convenience of a single platform for all my content, why use just two, why not spread things around to dozens of platforms? The reason is that this convenience is still useful. I found that opening two apps, two web portals, or looking in two locations for a particular piece of content is easily done. Three or more, and it starts becoming a chore. So if you're thinking about doing the same, what are some options you can use? I'm not going to do full reviews of every cloud service out there, but here are some brands you can start with:
* For files storage, there's physical media like removable HDs and USB keys, along with cloud services like Box.com, OneDrive and DropBox.
* For movies and TV shows, there's Apple iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, along with streaming services like Netflix, and of course physical disks.
* Gaming depends greatly on the platforms you use. For consoles, if you have the means for it, I would encourage going with the two big ones, Xbox and PlayStation, since they both have a lot of exclusives. For PC gaming, Steam is the obvious one but there's also Uplay, Origin, Gamefly and GOG.com.
* For productivity, if you're on Windows then I think Microsoft has a decent offering with both the standalone Office suite and Web Office, while Apple has iWorks and has a cloud version of Pages, Numbers and Keynote in beta. Of course Google also has Google Drive which is compatible with both PCs and Macs.
* Finances is not something you may have thought about, but many people rely on various digital services that their bank offers for things like keep track of assets, budgeting and so on. But then you can also use cloud services like Mint or Personal Capital to link those accounts and do your investment planning from a central location.
* Email, contacts and calendars also don't have to live in a silo. For example, many people have both a Gmail and Hotmail account, but you can link the two and send them back to your phone or computer, so you can access your appointments, to do lists, and contacts from anywhere, online and offline, something that just a few years ago was only possible in corporate settings using things like Microsoft Exchange.
There are of course tons more examples that can be given, but I think if one thing is certain, it's that the digital world will be converging more and more. But no service lasts forever, nothing is foolproof, and it's up to you to ensure you aren't left naked in the street when the lights turn off in a data center on the other side of the world.
The EFF has long been a proponent of encryption everywhere, and with recent revelations that nothing online is private anymore, I certainly am fully on-board with that stance. So even though my blog isn't exactly part of state secrets, I decided to go ahead and enable SSL, which means you can now read me at https://dendory.net as well.
Setting up a secure web site really isn't that hard and if you have your own site, I would highly encourage you to do so. There used to be two prerequisites for having SSL encryption. The first is a unique IP address, and the second is a certificate. Fortunately, thanks to a technology called SNI, that is no longer needed. A unique IP really was the most expensive part of the equation, often $5 a month or more, but SNI allows you to host a secure server on a shared host like I do. The only downside is that very old browsers (Internet Explorer 6, early Android releases and Java based feature phones) do not support it.
The second part is a certificate to provide the public/private key pair to your users. The price for those vary greatly, but most hosting providers have their own system that makes this easy. While you can go out to Certificate Authorities like Comodo, GlobalSign or Verisign, buy a certificate and then install it yourself into Apache or IIS, I personally opted for the $15 per year option that my provider offered.
It's known that the NSA and other spying agencies target TOR users, those who encrypt emails or even people who visit places like the Linux Journal, because thinking out of the box is increasingly being marginalized and profiled. But many believe that everyone should encrypt everything they do online. Only then will it become impossible for spy agencies and criminal gangs alike to snoop on our digital lives. So even if you think your blog posts or status updates aren't that secret, I encourage you to look into encryption.
A year ago, Apple announced that they would be offering two-factor authentication. For those who don't know, two-factor is simply a way to log into a service using more than just a password. You also need a code which is produced on a device you own, so that if someone steals or guesses your password, they won't be able to log in as you.
Most large companies such as Google and Microsoft pioneered this type of system, and Apple came a bit late, but as usual they implemented this system in their own, unique way. Unfortunately for me, at the time, it was only available across the US, and based on some comments, it seemed like some people reported issues with it. So I held off, until now.
Early this month, Apple announced that they would bring this two-factor system to all of their services, including the beta of iCloud on the web. So I decided it was time to revisit it.
The process is really simple. All you need is a phone number to confirm via SMS, and then you can select which Apple devices you want this to be available on. Unlike most two-factor authentication systems which rely on sending an email or SMS when you try to log in, Apple uses its own push notification system. So once the initial setup is done, if you try to buy things from the AppStore on a new device, or access your account, you will be asked to input a 4-digit verification code sent to one of your devices.
To get started, just go to the Apple two-factor page and follow the instructions. If, like me, you have quite a collection of movies, music and apps in the iTunes universe, you should enable this extra security today.
When thinking about startups, especially in the tech sector, typically Silicon Valley is what comes to mind. But in the past decade, many cities have attempted to replicate the successes of Silicon Valley. Montreal is perhaps one of the most promising scene for tech startups, and that much can be seen at the Montreal International Startup Festival, currently going on right now in the city's Old Port district.
Even though this event is happening in a mostly touristic area, and not in the center of commercial districts, the place is still booming with attendance. Over the 4 days that tents are up, founders and venture capitalists from around the country and even around the world are meeting to hear new ideas, fund startups, and share amongst themselves. The Startup Fest is several years old now and has been growing every year.
This year, over 3,500 startups are being featured and over 500 potential investors, with people from some of the largest firms interested in the technology sector, including Microsoft Ventures, HP, TSX Venture and more. As an example of how quickly things are growing, in an interview with BetaKit, the CEO of Founder Institute Adeo Ressi announced that his company alone is planning to help launch over 1,000 startups per quarter by next year.
While this year's Startup Fest is coming to a close, this is just one of many festivals surrounding Montreal's tech sector to happen this year. Montreal New Tech is yet another popular one, with more such events happening in many other Canadian cities as well. Going through Startup Fest was quite interesting, but if you missed it altogether, check out last year's presentation video.
I recently moved to a new apartment and now that I have everything unpacked and set, I decided to look into home camera systems. I've never had any home security solution before, but I figured there should be a way to do it cheaply. My requirements were to have a camera look on the entrance, save still photos whenever motion was detected, alert me of such events, and allow me to view the live feed remotely on my iPhone.
First, I looked at the commercial options. Local computer stores offer all sorts of professional solutions for $50 all the way to $200 or more, depending on the features you want. I looked at one in particular, a D-link $50 network camera that comes with a mobile app. Unfortunately, that's considered a cheap option and as such it doesn't include a lot of features such as cloud storage of the footage, or push notifications when motion events occur.
So instead, I decided to build my own solution using a webcam. There are a lot of home security applications using webcams, but many of them are expensive, while others don't provide much features. After trying a few, I settled on iCam. It comes with two modules: iCamSource is what you install on your PC, and the iCam iPhone app costs $5. I set the iCamSource software on my home server and ran it. The interface is extremely easy to configure. You simply set a username and password, options you want for motion detection, then start it.
The software will use UPnP to automatically reach the Internet through your router. It also uses the iCam server to sync your login information in order to link the iCam mobile client. The app allows you to not only connect remotely and see the live feed, but it sends you push notifications when a motion detection event occurs, and you can access your full backlog of images. Every time the camera detects motion, the iCamSource software will save a custom amount of still images to a new folder with the time stamp. You can review them all from the mobile app, and delete them from there also, which is really nice.
Finally, since iCam is peer to peer, meaning the stills are stored on the computer itself, without a way to back them up to a server, I installed DropBox on that server, and pointed the folder for iCam into the DropBox folder. This means if someone were to break in and steal the camera and computer, the stills will always be synced to the cloud. Overall I'm very pleased with this setup, and for $5 (plus the webcam which I already owned), I don't think I could have found a better solution.
Like many people these days, I use cloud storage in order to access my files from everywhere, from PC to server, tablet and phone. This includes a number of PDF files that I accumulated over the years, whether they be scanned comics, bought documents converted for archival, or others. However, the process of carrying files from my cloud storage to a PDF reader back and forth isn't the most efficient way to do it. Fortunately, Adobe has greatly improved Acrobat Reader these past few years, and included a free cloud service called Acrobat.com in order to easily sync PDF files between devices. So I decided to give it a try.
First, the good: Acrobat.com cloud service is easy to sign up for, either with an existing Adobe account or with a new one. They give you 5GB of free storage, and the interface is consistent between the desktop Acrobat Reader, mobile apps, and the web. You can access your storage from all of these locations. You can upload the PDF file you're reading in any of the Acrobat Reader apps, or access any of those files to open it. The web client also allows you to drag files directly onto the page to upload them.
However, as I started to use it, things quickly started to fall apart. First, I was surprised to find out that there is no display of how much space you use. Then, I found out that large files would upload, but then not show up at all. A 99MB file would not show up, even if it uploaded without error. I'm not the first to notice strange behavior like that either. The same would happen if I tried to upload multiple files at once using the web interface. You could select 20 files and then only 18 would show up.
Another weird behavior is deleting files. If you delete a file, or if you have one of the previous issues where files don't show up, trying to upload a file of the same name or rename one will then fail. Deleted files still exist in the cloud evidently since you cannot put a file of the same name in its place. Oh and any kind of file operation has to be done through the web interface. Even though you can access the Acrobat.com filesystem in Acrobat Reader, you cannot download files to be available offline, which seems like a big omission.
Overall, I didn't end up using the Acrobat.com cloud very long. These issues showed up multiple times in a matter of days. Cloud storage is all about storing files, so if it can't do that reliably, it's not worth using. Also, Adobe has a nasty habit of changing its cloud solutions quite frequently. The predecessor of Acrobat.com cloud is Adobe Workspace, which isn't that old but already is being retired by the company. Who knows what Acrobat.com will look like in 2 years.
In the end, I would suggest sticking with mature solutions like Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive.
This week the last episode of The Wolf Among Us was released. This was a 5 episode series from the same company and in the same vein as The Walking Dead, which I reviewed previously. I loved season 1 of The Walking Dead and so far season 2 is going great, but the Fables world portrayed in this game is not something I was familiar with. I decided to give it a try anyways purely because of the developers making the game.
I would say that this series is very much similar in concept to their previous title, and has a lot of the same qualities and issues. I mostly play games for the story, and this one is clearly a story focused game. The choices you get to make are interesting, although in the end they don't matter a whole lot to the overall plot. Even though I didn't know the comics that this series is based on, it was very easy to get into the story from just playing the game.
Graphics are very much like you would expect from a comic, and voice over works well. The story is a bit cliche, but that's to be expected from such a classical world. Finally, each episode provides a good amount of content and makes you want to play more, although I did find the last episode to be shorter than the others. I would give this an 8/10.
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Hi, my name is Patrick Lambert and I'm a freelance content creator living in Montreal, Canada. I have over 15 years of experience in technology and am A+, i-Net+, MCSA, MCTS and Linux certified.
I've written for...
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Movies: Star Wars, Planet of the Apes
TV shows: The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones
Devices: PC, iPhone, iPad
Games: Half Life 2, KOTOR, Fallout 3
MMOs: World of Warcraft, SWTOR
- Steam - My Steam profile
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- Crypt - Free online encryption and hashing service.
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- 3D Models - The 3D models I've done and released for free on ShareCG.
(C) 2014 Patrick Lambert