Author Archives: kwokinator

Let’s Encrypt!

It’s been quite a while since I’ve updated this blog eh? It’s been quite the whirlwind but that doesn’t mean changes haven’t been made to the website through my “inactivity”. One thing you may realize is that all the pages and links that you visit are now HTTPS enabled.

You might ask: “hey, isn’t this super expensive? SSL signing is quite expensive!” To this, I reply to my dear readers, “not at all! In fact it’s free!!”

Enter Let’s Encrypt

As the public’s appetite for securing everything, especially after the Snowden revelation and the rise of cybercrime, everyone and their mother have been alarmed at how easy it is for nefarious actors to steal personal information on the Internet. This problem has only been exacerbated with the rise of the cloud, where everyone is uploading their data be it their homework due the next morning, taxation information or their personal photos, someone is uploading something that can be used to build a profile of them for identity fraud.

Unfortunately, most of the websites are not encrypted. Why is this? It’s because SSL certificates have been traditionally prohibitive to the average website operator. These certificates can range from $45/year all the way to $1300/year depending on what kind of website you’re operating. For most people, especially bloggers like me who don’t generate revenue from our websites at all, it doesn’t really make much sense to pay for an SSL certificate, even though security minded folks like me really prefer to encrypt everything but not feasible, we’re already paying for hosting and the domain name as is just to have an online presence.

So how do we solve this problem? Fortunately, there’s Let’s Encrypt.

Let’s Encrypt is a Linux Foundation project sponsored by major technology entities such as OVH.com, Mozilla Foundation, Cisco, Google, Automattic, Facebook and many more! The goal of this project is to provide free automated SSL certificates for websites for any size, to increase the security behind these websites even if they are not ecommerce websites.

Why Let’s Encrypt? Why even bother encrypting?

The main draw is that it’s free and that it’s automatic! What do I mean by it being automatic? Once you install the Let’s Encrypt Client, it will generate SSL certificates for you. Web hosts can even integrate Let’s Encrypt into control panel software like the world renown cPanel in order to allow shared hosting or VPS customers deploy SSL certificates with only a few button clicks. Even for those who run their own Linux servers can easily deploy SSL certificates with just 2 command lines!

So why is encrypting websites important? Even if you don’t process any credit card transactions, it can increase the amount of privacy and keep important information confidential. If you’re say running your own WordPress site, even without using a ecommerce plugin like WooCommerce, whenever you do anything on the backend, the data will be sent unencrypted through the network, this includes data such as login credentials. This can potentially be a big problem as people who may have their networks tapped, the credentials can be captured by malicious actors.

Yes, encrypting your site may not be paramount if you’re not processing credit cards, but why not add the security measures if they’re just a simple click away?

Learn more about Let’s Encrypt: https://letsencrypt.org/

Backing Up Your Photos to Google+

We’ve all been in this situation, your phone suddenly dies and it doesn’t have a microSD slot or you didn’t select the proper setting to save them to your microSD card. Photos are probably one of the most precious things that we store on our mobile devices and companies know this. As such, many cloud service providers like Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, Copy and etc. provide mechanisms for you to easily back these precious photos seamlessly and with ease.

Google provides such a mechanism with its Google+ Photos app that is included with every single Android device that is sold on the market today with Android 4.0+. Your Google account comes with a generous 15 GB of free storage which can also be expanded up to 30 TB with Google’s paid options. Unlike other cloud services, Google provides unlimited storage for photos and videos as long as they’re smaller than 2048 x 2048 pixels for photos and under 15 minutes long per video. So as long as your photo or video meets these requirements, it won’t count towards your Google storage quota. That’s rather generous as no other cloud storage provider offer this.

Table of Contents

Enabling Auto Backup on Android

  1. Navigate to the Photos app that’s preinstalled on your Android device
  2. If this is the first time you’ve launched the app, it’ll ask you to sign in to your Google account. Once the app launches, press the triple dot menu on the top right hand corner of the screen.
  3. Once you’re in the settings menu, select the Auto Backup button.
  4. Select the toggle on the top right hand corner to turn on/off the Auto Backup function of the Photos app. Under Photo Size, it gives you 2 options: full size and standard size. The difference between these 2 options is that when Full size is selected, the app will upload the photos at their native resolution, whereas the Standard size option will shrink the image to fit within the 2048 x 2048px limit. By choosing full size, any photos that are larger than 2048 x 2048px will be counted towards your Google storage quota. By selecting standard size, you will be well within Google’s unlimited photo storage option. For best quality, choose full size.

    In this menu,  there’s also the option to select on what type of connection to backup your photos. By default, the Photos app will only backup your photos automatically when you’re connected over WiFi. However, if you press the button, you can also choose to backup your photos over your mobile data connection. There’s also an option of Backup all which will backup all your media to the cloud and just only future media that you store on the device.

Viewing Photos on Your Computer

So now that you’ve backed up your precious photos and videos to Google’s cloud storage, now how do we get to view our photos and videos and/or download them to our computer? That’s quite easy too! You can easily view your photos on the web as the Photos app backs your photos up to Google+. All the photos you back up are for your eyes only, and only visible to others when you choose to share them. To view your photos and videos, go to: https://plus.google.com/photos!

There are 2 ways to download your photos, either as a single photo  or for a whole album. For auto backup, your photos are sorted by upload date. Each upload date is an album. As such you can download the whole day’s worth of photos in one click. To download your album in Google+ Photos, scroll to the date or album you want, when you roll your mouse over the album, it will pop up 3 buttons: Tag, Share and a downward pointing arrow. Choose the arrow and it’ll open up a menu. Choose download to download the album. It will automatically zip all your photos and present you the download dialog in your browser.

To just download a single image, simply press the image you want in Google+ Photos, the photo will then expand in the photo viewer. on the top is a menu of options, choose the More… button and Download Photo. There will now be 2 options, Original or Enhanced. Original is the original photo you took, it will look exactly like how you took the photo. Enhanced is with Google’s photo enhancements or the enhancements you’ve made in Google+ Photos.

Final Thoughts

With Google+ Photos and its seamless automatic backup mechanism, losing photos is now a thing of the past. You’ll never need to fear of losing those precious moments ever again. Let me know what you think in the comments below. How do you like Google+ Photos?

Kwokinator.com Finally Repatriated!

Last year I was talking about how there was a need for Kwokinator.com to be moved back to Canada after being in the States since its inception. Finding a cheap quality web host in Canada is rather hard as for some reason, they’re pretty expensive.

It didn’t help that many web hosts who claim to be Canadian aren’t actually Canadian web hosting companies, they’re often subsidiaries of larger US companies and put hosting accounts in US servers. There’s nothing wrong with hosting in the States, but since I was going to change web hosts, why not go Canadian?

Canadian Web Hosting

The web host I have chosen is called Canadian Web Hosting, a company based out of Richmond, BC on the west coast of Canada. Even though both web hosts provided servers on the West Coast, the new web host deploys cloud technology and uses an Apache-compatible web server software called Litespeed which is faster than standard Apache 2. This makes the web site load faster and makes everything generally more responsive.

WordPress Migration

As some of you may have noticed, the website has changed, it was high time that I moved the website to something that’s easier to work with. As such, I have made the decision to move the website from Drupal to WordPress. There was just too much technical issues with upkeeping with the Drupal system and it was getting heavily outdated as the Drupal installation was stuck in the 6.x series which had a lot of bugs and was a disaster to maintain.

I chose WordPress because it has matured to the point where it’s much more than a blogging platform and allowed me to easily maintain the Content Management System. I heard that Drupal 7.x is a lot better and I have had the chance to play with it. Unfortunately, the effort to upgrade to Drupal 7 is about the same as moving over to WordPress so I decided  to go with WordPress instead.

During the transition period, access to the old site will still be available. It can be accessed here: Old Website or on the navigation bar.

Changing DNS

I was recently notified that there has been Internet issues with my ISP and that a simple change of the DNS entry will fix the issue. If you're having this issue with your ISP, then follow along.

This tutorial is for Windows 7/8 as these two are now installed on most PCs, I will post a Mac version if there's a demand for it.

Windows 7/8

For Windows 7 Users:

  1. Press your Start Button
  2. Press Control Panel

For Windows 8 Users:

  1. Move your mouse cursor to the top right hand corner of your screen
  2. Once the Charms Bar comes out, press Settings
  3. Press Control Panel

For both Windows 7/8:

  1. On the top right hand corner, next to “View By”, change the dropbox from Category to Large IconsWindows 8 Control Panel - Category View
  2. Once in Large Icons view, it should look like this:
    Windows 8 Control Panel - Large Icons View
  3. Scroll down and select “Network and Sharing Center”
    Network and Sharing Center in Windows 8
  4. On the left hand side, select “Change Adapter Settings”
    Network Connections in Windows 8
  5. Find your network adapter (depending if you're using wireless or not)
  6. Right click the Adapter and press Properties
  7. Once your Properties window comes out, it will look like this:
    Ethernet Properties in Windows 8
  8. Select Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4) and press Properties
  9. The Properties window will show up as shown below:
    IPv4 Properties in Windows 8
  10. As shown above, select “Use the following DNS server addresses”. Fill in the following (Google DNS servers):
    Preferred DNS server: 8.8.8.8
    Alternate DNS server: 8.8.4.4 
  11. Press OK to this Properties window and the one underneath that.
  12. Internet should work now.

Hopefully this will resolve your issue.

Supercharging Android WiFi and 3G data speeds

During the past week, I have been playing with my Google Nexus S phone (I9020T), I finally took the chance to root it, install a custom ROM and a new kernel to take advantage of the entire hardware. Those who know me well, would know that I wouldn’t just stop there. I’m a tinkerer so I dove in and tweaked Android more, scouring XDA developers and started to tweak different aspects of my phone.

One neat little tweak I found was to increase the TCP buffer size that seems like it doesn’t fragment the TCP packets as much, thus allowing higher download/upload speeds no matter if it’s WiFi or 3G data speeds.

In order to do this, you must have a rooted Android device. I’ve personally only tested this on my Nexus S, but in theory should work on any Android 4.x device. You must first extract the build.prop in the /system folder on your Android device. On your computer, open your favourite file editor and insert these lines at the end of the file:

# Network Tweaks
net.tcp.buffersize.default=4096,87380,256960,4096,16384,256960 net.tcp.buffersize.wifi=4096,87380,256960,4096,16384,256960 net.tcp.buffersize.umts=4096,87380,256960,4096,16384,256960 net.tcp.buffersize.gprs=4096,87380,256960,4096,16384,256960 net.tcp.buffersize.edge=4096,87380,256960,4096,16384,256960

By applying this code, you increase the buffer size for the TCP connections. There doesn’t seem to be settings for UDP, but I’m going to dig into more of this when I have time. Do note, that you must reboot your phone in order to have these changes take effect.

Here’s what it looks like after applying the tweak:

Android TCP tweaks

First result is with the code above, second result is without the code above.

Let me know if this helps in the comment section below!

Operation Dai-Q Update 2

So progress on Operation Dai-Q has been great and today I have passed a new milestone. With everything cleared, I have successfully ordered the initial shipment. I'm still missing the CPU and USB 3.0 back plate which I will have to order with the CPU together. The CPU is still the Core i5 3570K and the new motherboard would be the Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H. After weeks of shopping around and consulting with friends and online colleagues, I have finally nailed down the final design of the rig.

The final full specification of the rig will be:

Name blutyphoon (Operation Dai-Q)
Motherboard GIGABYTE GA-Z77X-UD5H
Processor Intel Core i5 3570K 3.4 GHz (Ivy Bridge)
Graphics XFX Radeon HD 6870 Dual Fan w/ 1 GB GDDR5
Audio Auzentech X-Raider 7.1
Cooling

Zalman CNPS8700 LED

Power Supply OCZ ModXStream Pro 500W PSU
Memory Patriot 4 x 4 GB DDR3-1600 CL9 (PGQ316G1600ELQK)
Solid State Drive Mushkin Chronos 120 GB SATA III (MKNSSDCR120GB)
Hard Drive

Western Digital Caviar Black 500 GB 7200 RPM 32 MB Cache SATA,
Seagate Barricuda ES.2 500 GB 7200 RPM 32 MB Cache SATA (data drive),
SAMSUNG EcoGreen F2 1 TB 5400 RPM 32 MB Cache SATA (backup drive),
Hitachi DeskStar P7K500 320 GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA (tray drive)

Optical Drive ASUS DRW-24B1ST
Operating System Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard (RTM)
Build Date

May 2012

Decommission ETA 2017-2018

Operation Dai-Q Update

As the launch of the highly anticipated 22nm Ivy Bridge series of processors from Intel gets near, motherboards and pricing details for these chips have been flowing out on tech sites. Based on the information from retailers and tech sites, I have essentially spec'd out the next build.

Remember, this is meant to be a leap forward but not so much that it'll break the bank. It is anticipated that with this upgrade, there's going to be a substantial increase to system performance. For reference, this is my current rig.

Preliminary Upgrade Spec

  • Intel Core i5 3570K 3.4 GHz CPU
  • ASUS P8Z77-V LGA1155 Z77 chipset motherboard
  • G.Skill RipJaws X 4 x 4 GB DDR3-1866 CL9 RAM (F3-14900CL9Q-16GBZL)
  • LG DVD-RW 16X SATA (GH22NS90B)
The anticipated cost of the upgrade: $566.97 before taxes and shipping
Anticipated build date: Late August 2012
 

Since Ivy Bridge is expected to use less power to run, it is believed that I do not require a new power supply unit. Therefore, no power supply upgrade is required. As for a new heatsink/fan (HSF), I have yet to decide which fan will be purchased, I am still in the process of researching the proper fan for my use case scenarios. All other components types that were not listed on the preliminary upgrade spec will be kept along with the system.

Decommissioning of Penguin1

 

After 10 years of being built, penguin1, the first machine I built 10 years has been fully decommissioned and destined to the scrapyard. It was the first computer I had during my initial foray into computer science. This rig took much abuse from my variety of experiments and I almost blew out the motherboard several times only to find it was fine after the experiments.

penguin1 desktop interior

This is a toast to my old desktop which went through 6 years of constant service before its retirement from active service in 2008 when I replaced it with BLUTYPHOON. Starting off with Windows XP when it entered service in 2002, it has gone through many operating systems including but not limited to: Windows, MacOS X (Hackintosh), Linux (Fedora, Mandrake/Mandriva, SuSE Linux (pre-Novell and current), Slackware, Gentoo, Ubuntu and etc.), FreeBSD and NetBSD. It has saw many upgrades as well. It was fitted with two hard drives and my first experience with sound cards as well. There were many great memories with this system. Surprisingly, all this was only powered by a 300W power supply!

The one thing though that I didn't like about my rig was the use of Pentium 4. It was highly inefficient and drew a lot of power. It only used a bit lkess than an dual core as its TDP was 61.5W. Dual cores these days uses only about 65W (to drop when 22nm processes come in). Though, I have to give credit for the machine for surviving this long with only one fault which occurred after the system was decommissioned where the IDE controller on the motherboard was failing.

So as the system has been sent to the scrapyard, there will always be parts of it remaining. I have salvaged the RAM, graphics card and its main hard drive from the system. 

System Specifications at Time of Decommission

Name penguin1
Motherboard ASUS P4B533-VM
Processor Intel Pentium 4 2533 MHz
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce 6600GT
Audio Creative Soundblaster
Cooling

Intel Stock

Power Supply Generic 300W PSU
Memory Kingston 2 x 1 GB DDR-400
Hard Drive

Maxtor 120 GB 7200 RPM PATA
Western Digital Caviar 80 GB 7200 RPM PATA 

Optical Drive LG DVD-ROM 52X
LG CD-RW 48X 
Operating System Windows Vista Business SP1
Build Date

March 2002

Decommissioned March 9, 2008

One thing of note is that the system has actually survived two generations as BLUTYPHOON is going to go through a second overhaul and would essentially be a completely new computer by end of 2012 if it all goes well. So let's take a moment to reflect on such a great computer.