Which carrier should I choose for my iPad?

If I have my current phone plan through Sprint [or whomever], is there a reason that I shouldn’t get an iPad through them?

No, no reason at all, if you have been happy with their connection.

By the same token, the iPad is a separate bill, so you have no reason or obligation to go with the same carrier on the iPad as you have on your phone. In San Antonio, I generally recommend AT&T, but y’know, they’re all bloody bastards who have finally caught up to semi-decent technology. There are only fine, subjective distinctions between any of them.

DNS, DoS, and recent cyber attacks

How concerned should I be in light of the recent cyber
attacks? Is my cable modem an “open resolver”? Can it be highjacked?

The short answer: I have configured most of my clients’ routers to distribute addresses for DNS servers provided by the OpenDNS project. Read on to learn how that protects you.

I had never considered the possibility of a hacked cable box, I suppose mostly because I’ve never heard a geek mention it. I just did a googling of “hack cable modem,” resulting only in discussions of how one might rejigger one’s own modem to elevate the connection speed or get free Internet, both of which appear to be quite prosecutable offenses.

I’m no hacker, but I have a decent handle on small-network security, and I have difficulty imagining the purposes to which a miscreant might put a cable modem. It can’t send data by itself, and your own local network is protected by the router that sits behind the modem.

So, onto discussion of the recent cyber attacks against Spamhaus.

As this article explains, the attack is actually performed on vulnerable DNS servers, such as those run by less vigilant Internet service providers around the world.

What’s a DNS server?

DNS is not hard to understand — it can be thought of as the phonebook of the Internet. When you ask your web browser to go to http://www.i-wish-elliot-spitzer-hadnt-been-such-a-schmuck.com…well, let’s use http://www.google.com as a shorter example…your browser first asks your computer what DNS servers it should use to look up the address.

In my house, my computer sends my browser to the OpenDNS Project’s servers or (We always have a second server as a backup in case the first one isn’t available.)

Then my browser asks the OpenDNS server where to find http://www.google.com. It receives a numerical reply, the IP address of Google’s Web server. Then the browser goes to that IP address and asks for whatever web-page information the server cares to give it.

How does this help hackers?

To understand the recent malfeasance, it’s called a Denial of Service (DoS) attack. This is one example:

Imagine someone hijacks one of these vulnerable DNS servers, so that when you ask for Google.com, you actually get directed to some other Web server. Now imagine everyone using that ISP’s servers having every single one of their browser requests directed to the same Web server. The unsuspecting server would get barraged by requests, and would have to start turning some of them away — denial of service.

Service breaks down, customers get angry, service loses money, attack successful.

The big ISPs in America protected themselves against these attacks a few years back. But even before that, when the attacks first reared their heads, I looked into the proscribed ways to protect oneself, and immediately started plugging in the OpenDNS servers into all my clients’ routers. Crisis averted, at least for us.

Hackers employ several methods to affect a DoS. As I understand it, the goal is not direct monetary gain, but perhaps a hobbling of an adversary, or even an expression of protest. DoS is a typical weapon of the hacker collective Anonymous.

As you can see on the OpenDNS page, using their servers offers other benefits and features, including faster replies to queries and configurable web-content filtering for those with tender sensibilities.

Bonus nerdy information

Google actually started its own public DNS service a little while ago. You can use the servers and in place of the OpenDNS servers.

They have put up a page explaining DNS security in more depth.

I hope you find this information in any way helpful or reassuring.

What’s with this Google Fiber?

Nu, what’s with this Google Fiber?

Google recently entered the ISP business, they held a contest in which one small US city would get gigabit internet for its citizens. Kansas City, both KS and MO, won. And they are lucky bastards.

First, definitions:

“Fiber”, a.k.a. fiber-optic a.k.a. FIOS a.k.a. fiber to the home, is simply a faster land-based internet connection.

In order of speed, we have had:
First dial-up, then what we have called “broadband,” including ISDN (rare in a home) > T1 > various flavors of DSL > cable > T3 > fiber-optic

Wireless broadband comprises internet connections delivered through the air.

Wifi strictly means wireless networking on a local network. Wifi doesn’t deliver internet to the home or business; it distributes network resources, including the internet connection or a server or networked printers, to devices at the home or business.

You can think of wifi (I guess it’s “Wi-Fi,” but I say that’s fucking stupid, as is hyphenated “e-mail” or capitalized “Internet”)…You can think of wifi as the same link in the chain as an ethernet cable, more convenient, more hip, less secure, less reliable, and possibly more expensive or possible cheaper.

Random bonus jargon: WiMAX is more comparable to Google Fiber or cable internet, a “last-mile” solution for Internet deliver to the home that hasn’t really caught on.

webopedia: internet connection types
wikipedia: internet access

Finally, and real crucially, gigabit means 1 million bits-per-second1, or 1Gbps. That’s a Dr. Evil-level number. Means fast fast fast. My home broadband connection, currently from Grande, is 30,000 bits-per-second = 30 megabit = 30Mbps. It’s satisfyingly fast. But gigabit will, reportedly, blow the face off all the internet to which we’ve so far been accustomed. It’s well above the norms of Japan or Europe, behind whom the US currently lags.

Google has always said, and loudly, that the more time that people spend on the Internet, the more money Google makes. Hence the Google Fiber contest, and the implication on their page that Kansas City is simply the first of many. I hadn’t seen the hardware they’ve developed, the stuff they pitch on their fiber page. Looks cool, at least.

Whatever the benefits for Google, faster internet is good for the nation.

1 Bits-per-second can be called baud. The term no longer appears much, but when dial-up was common, modems were measured in baud. Imagine a time when you might brag about your 2400-baud modem! So “gigabit” is a foreshortened term, but who’s gonna say “gigabaud”?

Troubleshooting an Internet connection

If your internet connection fails on your Mac, go to Apple menu > System Preferences > Network > click Assist Me… button. The red “Failed” markers will tell you a lot. If something is failed, that’s the thing that needs to be fixed.

A network connection works in a series, a chain of:

Computer > Router > Modem > Internet.

So if one bit is bad, there’s the break in your chain. But here’s a little more translation of the signs:

  1. If your computer says it doesn’t have an address, then it’s your router.
  2. If your router says it doesn’t have an address, then it’s your modem.
  3. If your modem says it doesn’t have an address, then it’s your Internet.

You are responsible for the computer and router, and your Internet service provider is responsible for the modem and Internet (unless your ISP is pinche AT&T, who makes you buy a modem).

To eliminate the possibility it’s not your computer you can, if you have a laptop, you can take it to a public wi-fi spot and see if it will surf. Another test would be to try to use your home wi-fi on your phone, iPad, or even Apple TV.

If you have narrowed it down to either your modem or internet, then next try restarting your modem. It’s easy: Simply unplug its power cable, wait for the lights to go out, then wait 15 seconds, and plug power back in. Then wait about a minute (or until the light on your Apple Airport router goes green), and try to surf.

If restarting your modem doesn’t fix the internet, the next thing to do is call your internet service provider. Phone numbers in San Antonio are:

  • Time-Warner: 210-244-0500
  • Grande Communications: 210-320-4600
  • AT&T (if you haven’t switched to a better provider): 877-722-3755

Posted via email from J2 Tech Blog

Simplify Media (also) shutting down

Service Termination

Apple has bought and killed Lala, and now Google has bought and killed my other favorite music-streaming and -sharing service, Simplify Media. I wrote about Simplify and Lala a couple of years ago, and while it was kind of clunky, I love Simplify greatly for letting me play my entire music collection on my iPhone, over 3G even.

Ah, well. I miss these for now, but I remain hopeful, buoyed by rumors and the nerd news, that the two behemoths are going to introduce their own amazing, fantastic, mind-blowing — and affordable — services to let me listen to all of my music, anywhere, anytime.

Fall is the rumor. Now would be better.

Posted via email from J2 Tech Blog

How do I work everywhere?

APC wrote:

I do some word processing on a laptop at home, and then need to do work on some of the same documents on my computer at work. So far, this has led to a jumble of back-and-forth emails and disorganized files. What’s the solution?

My favorite word of the year: Dropbox! Go to Dropbox.com, download the software on both computers. Create an account from one of the computers, and then sign into that same account on the other computer. Anything you put in the folder called Dropbox that’s now in your home folder on your Mac (or in My Documents on a PC), will appear in your Dropbox on alllllll your other computers — and iPhones, and iPads, or Android phones, and pretty much anything that can see m.dropbox.com

For what it’s worth, there are other services like Dropbox out there, including but not limited to SugarSync and Box.net, but through sheer simplicity and elegance, Dropbox has so far garnered most of the love. The iPad app is off. The. Hook.

Thanks for inspiring a blog post!

Posted via email from J2 Tech Blog