Sunday, November 16, 2014

Secure Communications

Like you, I was devastated to learn of the NSA (and associated services) finding there way into protocols and toolchains and algorithms that I've trusted for years. I was recently pointed to an open source project that gives me hope around securing my wire communications again; Streisand.

The underlying connection stack that sits between you (your laptop, your mobile phone, your iPad, your whatever-IP/DNS-enabled device) and the network at large is increasingly exposed to wrongdoers. As talented software/hardware developers increase in numbers, and toolsets/frameworks explode, pulling together toolkits to steal/re-route your network traffic/information (e.g. credit cards/passwords) gets easier by the day.

Streisand is an open-source project that, relatively easily, allows you to setup the backbone of secure communications, using a variety of encryption technologies/tools/protocols. Coupled with a cloud instance provider, and a open source VPN client, you can protect your IP traffic all the way down to the wire via a virtual network somewhere, completely disassociated with your personal identity. You can inspect every line of code yourself in each package, so only you are to blame if you leave a pesky buffer overrun in the mix for exploitation. You can use your own tokens/keys, so you don't have to worry about malicious/overused/weak tokens/keys being used to encrypt/decrypt your traffic.

As the debate around net neutrality continues, trusting ISPs to do what you expect with your IP traffic gets harder and harder. Obfuscating that traffic gives me at least *some* control. I also like knowing that no matter what country/hotel/coffee shop/office building/etc I'm in, no-one else can decipher my communications over the wire.

There are a variety of "cloud services" that offer your own preconfigured VPN server in the cloud, but using someone else's service kind of defeats the point.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Day In Pictures; A(nother) Tuesday

Catching up with Gayle.
Mid-morning psycho-therapy with Jillian. #alignment

Lunch with Kyle.

Picking up the little one from school in absolutely gorgeous mid-afternoon Fall light.

Talking ATLAS Institute with Mark Gross over beers.

Boulder discussion with Robert Garber over beers (2nd round). I screwed up focus badly in this shot.

Pre-event dinner with April.

Debriefing the evening with nanny Natalya.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

iOS to Android Migration Complete

Punchline if you don't want to read further: I'm successfully using a compact Android phone (for now), but I want an iPhone 4S with NFC, running iOS.

Well, I did it. For the first time since Apple released an iPhone, mine (latest, iPhone 6) now sits discharged on a shelf, and an Android phone (Sony Xperia Z3 Compact; NOT rooted) sits in my pocket. I think the biggest reason I was able to decouple from Apple was that over the past couple of years I had weaned myself off of iTunes (once an awesome idea/model/framework, but now a lame relic of times past). Rdio for music. Tivo for TV. gmail for mail. google calendar for calendar. I never watched movies on my phone.

I bought a Sony Xperia Z3 Compact which runs Android (I'm running it on ATT's network (which I'm not supposed to be doing)). I ran Sony's Bridge software for Mac and transferred everything (and I mean _everything_; it even does App matching (perfect matches for those that exist, and suggestions for those that don't) from my iPhone to my Sony.

Neat things so far with Android.
  • Apps install _really_ quickly.
  • Service access permissions are nice and clear. Before an app can install, you have to grant/deny various permissions (e.g. accessing location or account information).
  • Auto-complete just works. Apple's always failed to auto-complete the things you really want to auto-complete (like email addresses).
  • Bluetooth just works. Pairing and re-connecting works as fast as it should and you never wind up in no-man's land searching for one radio or the other. Some of this upside could be due to Sony's Bluetooth radio/chipset. No way for me to know that right now.
  • Back button. Every app and OS window has the notion of needing to go "back," but iOS doesn't make this an accessible, OS-level, UI metaphor. Android does; which is super handy.
  • Tap-to-Pay and general NFC stuff (e.g. transfering pics from my Sony camera) works great.
  • Unlock your phone with your face.
  • external MicroSD card support. just by more storage when you need it.
  • micro USB connection for power.
  • Google Voice (or whatever they're calling their equivalent to Siri) is incredible!
Things I'm not liking with Android.
  • The scroll acceleration on the touch-screen doesn't feel right. It could just be that I'm so used to iPhone's, that it's feeling off.
  • It lacks a unified app notification framework. This means you have to chase down how each app does notifications (push, visual, audio, vibrate, etc). This is annoying. iOS does a fine job pulling this altogether in one consistent manner.
  • Encyrption handling when mounting. I encrypt everything (Internal & External memory card), and external apps (e.g. OSX when you go to mount the Android phone) struggle to interface with the phone. Sony's Bridge software does a decent job of letting me read/write from the Desktop, but this should be seemless (as iOS has made it) and everything should just look/feel like an external drive from the OS, whether encrypted or not. This could be a Sony issue and not an Android issue, I'm not sure yet. Oddly, Sony's Bridge software doesn't allow for encrypted backups to desktop; that's just plain lazy.
  • Unified full-handset backups are a PITA. There are services on Google Play that support cloud backups of everything, except Photos. Apple's done a damn good job at just backing _everything_ up in the Cloud so I never have to think about where my "system" is backed up, vs. where my "media" is backed up.
  • The voice interface doesn't allow for sending SMS via voice. I'm a heavy user of Siri. "Tell Joe I'll be there in 10 minutes" is something I do a dozen times a day. Typing out simple text messages is so 1800s. Voice command support needs to be better.
I was surprised that nearly every single application I was using on iOS had an Android counterpart.

I'm a heavy Google-apps user. So much of my world is stored in the Goog/cloud, and Google is so integrated into Android, that all the basic stuff like Calendar, Contacts, and email, "just work" (and in some cases much better).

Stuff I'm missing
  • Airplay screen mirror/share stuff
  • iMessage
Three things made the transfer _really_ smooth
  • Sony's Bridge software (worked fine with iOS 8 and Apple OSX Yosemite)
  • Last week I ditched Apple Contacts/iCloud Contact sync in favor of Google Contacts. To do this, I exported all my Apple Contacts from iCloud (after setting up iCloud sync), and imported them into Google then de-duped (mostly automated, but I did make a manual pass at some of the important contacts). I disabled the Contact and Calendar transfer with Sony Bridge as I didn't need those parts.
  • Google == Android and much of my digital world is on the Goog.
I feel like handset computers are purely a hardware game now. I moved off of iOS because the iPhone 6 sucked, but I wanted NFC (I'd waited years for Apple to produce h/w with NFC support, then when they did, it was this massive brick of a piece of h/w in the iPhone 6 (no... I'm not even talking about the 6+... the _6_)). If Apple can produce another beautiful handset, I'll probably switch back to that.

Curious to see if this lasts. My preference would be an appropriately sized Apple handset (e.g. iPhone 4S) running iOS, that has NFC. Apple is so friggin' late to the game with NFC; big industry miss on their part; sad. I'd already be back on my 5S, but... I need NFC.

Monday, October 6, 2014

iPhone 6 Suckage

The iPhone 6 sucks and here's why.

  • you can no longer realistically use the phone with one hand. if you've always been a two-handed smartphone user, you'll probably be fine. however, if you, like me, struggled your way through the iPhone 5 body with one hand, longing for the iPhone 4 size the entire time, you'll find the iPhone 6 is finally just way to big to manage with one-hand.
  • it is so big you can no longer take a picture with one hand. you can't pull it out of your pocket, get it out of lock mode, and position it for picture taking; with one hand. one of the things I love about smartphones/cameras is the ability to take quick pics of something happening. that often means taking a pick when my other hand is doing something else. driving, holding my kids' hand, holding onto handlbars of a bike, holding my coffee, whatever. and don't bitch at me for multi-tasking or driving w/ my phone. everyone does it... you do too.
  • taking pictures with the volume-up button is really hard now because the sleep button is opposite the volume-up button. that means when you're trying to snap the pic, you wind up putting the phone in sleep mode.
  • adjusting the volume is really hard now because the the sleep button is opposite the volume buttons. that means when you're adjusting volume you inadvertently put the phone in sleep mode.
The camera itself is awesome, and the screen is gorgeous. Neither of those things matter though if you can't physically manage the device itself. I'm sure mine will shatter in the next couple of weeks as my phone-dropping frequency has shot way up.

Yes... I heavily use the double-tap-home-button kludge to try to drive the UI into one-hand mode. It can be helpful (crucial in some cases), but it doesn't address the major issues.

At some point I might write a post about all the crappy bugs in iOS 8 too. Steve... I miss you in so many ways.

I'm on a quest for a small form factor Android smartphone now. Bummed. I never thought I'd see the day.