Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Encrypting ZFS drives on Linux using LUKS

This isn't really relevant to iPhones but then again neither was my last post on Kindle Fire sticks.  Today we're going to replace a failing hard drive in a ZFS pool, but this time the disk will be encrypted underneath ZFS, using LUKS.  I should have done this when I created the pool in the first place but I didn't know LUKS well enough back then.  With a couple years of ZFS-on-LUKS backup experience under my belt now I'm much more confident, so all new disks are getting this treatment, so that if I ever have to send a disk to the manufacturer for a warranty claim I won't worry about any of my data being exposed.  The rest of my HDDs are out of warranty anyway so there's no need to go back and redo them.

Note the prompt.  Most of this has to be done as root (the '#' prompt) but where root isn't necessary I'm doing it as a normal user (the '$' prompt).

Frankly this is as much for my own reference a for anyone else so if what I've said above is gibberish feel free to skip this post and wait for my next one.  Ready? Here comes the geekery...

  1. Run parted and create a new disklabel.  
    1. parted /dev/sdX (where 'X'... aww, hell, if I have to explain that you shouldn't be here)
    2. # parted /dev/sdh
      GNU Parted 3.2
      Using /dev/sdh
      Welcome to GNU Parted! Type 'help' to view a list of commands.
      (parted) p                                                                
      Error: /dev/sdh: unrecognised disk label
      Model: US HDD Docking (scsi)                                              
      Disk /dev/sdh: 4001GB
      Sector size (logical/physical): 512B/512B
      Partition Table: unknown
      Disk Flags: 
      (parted) mklabel gpt
      (parted) p                                                                
      Model: US HDD Docking (scsi)
      Disk /dev/sdh: 4001GB
      Sector size (logical/physical): 512B/512B
      Partition Table: gpt
      Disk Flags: 

      Number  Start  End  Size  File system  Name  Flags

      (parted)

  2. Create a partition on the disk starting at 1049kB. Why there? You want to leave a little bit of space for slight variances in makes and models of disk.  You can leave a bigger buffer, maybe even 1GB, but from what I've seen and read 1MB is enough.  Also, I name the partition after the manufacturer, model and serial number.  e.g: zraid-HGST_HUS696969ALAC64_PASTASTFU.
    1. (parted) mkpart zraid-HGST_HUS696969ALAC64_PASTASTFU 1049kb 100%
      Warning: failed to translate partition name
      (parted) p                                                                
      Model: US HDD Docking (scsi)
      Disk /dev/sdh: 4001GB
      Sector size (logical/physical): 512B/512B
      Partition Table: gpt
      Disk Flags: 

      Number  Start   End     Size    File system  Name                                       Flags
       1      1049kB  4001GB  4001GB               zraid-HGST_HUS696969ALAC64_PASTASTFU
      (parted)

  3. Generate an encryption key for LUKS and format your new partition with it. I'm using the same key for all of my z-RAID disks but you can use different ones if you want.  I figure if someone gets a hold of one of my keys they'll get all of them so why overly complicate things?  Make sure you save this key someone other than on the system in question.  Got a password keeper?  Good, put it there.  (If not, why not?!)  Or wrap it in an encrypted zip file, PGP it, etc and put it somewhere you trust and won't forget.  Have faith in a cloud vendor?   Well, you're a braver soul than I, but you can use that.  I keep meaning to look into something like tarsnap.  Suggestions? 
    1. # dd if=/dev/urandom of=/root/your.key bs=1k count=64
      # chmod 600 /root/your.key

    2. # cryptsetup luksFormat -c aes-xts-plain64 -s 512 -h sha512 /dev/disk/by-id/ata-HGST_HUS696969ALAC64_PASTASTFU-part1 /root/luks-zraid.key
      WARNING!
    1. ========
      This will overwrite data on /dev/disk/by-id/ata-HGST_HUS696969ALAC64_PASTASTFU-part1 irrevocably.

      Are you sure? (Type uppercase yes): YES



  4. Find the UUID for your new partition in /dev/disk/by-id then use that to mount it.  You could mount it by its ID but you'll need the UUID for /etc/crypttab so it's better to verify everything works this way.  The last parameter is what will appear in /dev/mapper and how ZFS will identify it.  That doesn't have to match the partition label but self-documentation can be a sanity saver. 
    1. $ ls -l /dev/disk/by-uuid | grep sdh1
      lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Jul 25 19:43 aa173e06-8675-309-abbababba -> ../../sdh1

    2. cryptsetup open --type luks /dev/disk/by-uuid/aa173e06-8675-309-abbababba --key-file/root/your.key zraid-HGST_HUS696969ALAC64_PASTASTFU

    3. $ ls -l /dev/mapper
    4. total 0
      crw------- 1 root root 10, 236 Jul 25 00:50 control
      lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root       7 Jul 25 19:49 zraid-HGST_HUS696969ALAC64_PASTASTFU -> ../dm-0
  5. Update /etc/crypttab so that the volume mounts at boot-time:
    1. $ cat /etc/crypttab
      zraid-HGST_HUS696969ALAC64_PASTASTFU UUID=aa173e06-8675-309-abbababba /root/your.key luks
      $

  6. Replace the old (failing, unencrypted, small, whatever) disk with the new one, using the new disk's encrypted volume, which is now mounted in /dev/mapper.  'ashift=12' tells ZFS to use 4k blocks instead of 512k, since most disks still lie about their blocksize.
    1. # zpool replace -o ashift=12 tank ata-ST3000DM001-1ER169_BADHDD-part1 /dev/mapper/zraid-HGST_HUS696969ALAC64_PASTASTFU
      #
  7. Monitor progress as a user other than root.  My old disk is failing hard and fast so resilvering is glacial.  I don't mind if it takes a few days, but at the current clip it's looking more like three months.  If that doesn't improve soon I'll fail the old disk manually and let ZFS rebuild the data from parity.  It's a RAID-Z2 so as long as I don't lose two more disks before recon completes my data is safe.
    1. $ zpool status
        pool: tank
       state: ONLINE
      status: One or more devices is currently being resilvered.  The pool will
              continue to function, possibly in a degraded state.
      action: Wait for the resilver to complete.
        scan: resilver in progress since Wed Jul 25 20:13:03 2018
          27.8M scanned out of 9.15T at 241K/s, (scan is slow, no estimated time)
          3.32M resilvered, 0.00% done
      config:

              NAME                                             STATE     READ WRITE CKSUM
              tank                                             ONLINE       0     0     0
                raidz2-0                                       ONLINE       0     0     0
                  ata-ST3000DM001-NEXT_DEADDISK3E              ONLINE       0     0     0
                  ata-TOSHIBA_MADCOWA400_YYZRGBBLAHA           ONLINE       0     0     0
                  zraid-HGST_HDN23455VALE614_HVYMETAL          ONLINE       0     0     0
                  ata-ST4000VN000-2AH302_NEWSGHDD              ONLINE       0     0     0
                  replacing-4                                  ONLINE       0     0     0
                    ata-ST3000DM001-1ER169_BADHDD-part1        ONLINE       0     0     4
                    zraid-HGST_HUS696969ALAC64_PASTASTFU       ONLINE       0     0     0  (resilvering)
              logs
                mirror-1                                       ONLINE       0     0     0
                  ata-OCZ-AGILITY4_OCZ-ZIPPYZIPPYBOOTUP-part4  ONLINE       0     0     0
                  wwn-0x255c302351400460-part4                 ONLINE       0     0     0
              cache
                ata-OCZ-AGILITY4_OCZ-ZIPPYZIPPYBOOTUP-part3    ONLINE       0     0     0
                ata-ST240HM000-1G5152_SGTSSDOK-part3           ONLINE       0     0     0
      $
  8. Celebrate!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Teaching your Kindle Fire Stick or Kindle Fire TV new tricks

[Interested in the quick-start program? Jump to the bottom.]

Disclaimer: DO NOT use this to watch illegal content.  Only watch things you're licensed to watch.

As of today, April 10, 2017, Amazon is selling the standard Kindle Fire Stick for $30 and its big brother, the 4k-compatible Kindle Fire TV, for $50.  Those are the best prices I've seen on these clever, little devices so if you've been considering one for a while now is a good time to commit.

"But Jason, I already have a smart TV, why do I need another device with another remote for my already-crowded table?"

Good question, inquisitive one.  First of all, it's cheap, light, simple and portable.  I have one in my travel bag so when I'm out of town I can plug it into the hotel TV and watch what I want, not the limited and/or expensive options the hotel offers.  I can't remember the last time I saw a hotel TV without an open HDMI port and if you can tolerate slow wifi this blog is likely to bore you to tears.  It'll do all of the usual smart TV stuff in one spot: Amazon Prime Video, HBO, Netflix, Hulu, CBS All Access, etc. But much better than that you can install applications like Kodi, which makes it easy to access a media server - Plex, for example.

"But Jason, I'm not a mega-nerd like you are, so I don't have Plex or any other media server!"

Ok, but isn't that part of the reason you're here.  That reminds me: must write a blog post on building a simple media server with that old computer sitting in your closet.  (spoiler alert: FreeNAS).  Then again, even with a full-on media server you still will only have access to the content on that media server.   (well, no - FreeNAS has plug-ins too, so keep an eye on the blog for info there.)  What if you want access to pretty much everything you can think of?  For that, you install an add-on to Kodi, like Covenant or Neptune Rising, after which you can watch almost anything: current TV shows, old TV shows, new movies, old movies.  I use Covenant and Neptune Rising.  Occasionally they're spotty so this gives you a backup when one decides to be difficult.  If you know of others please post a comment or email me!

"But Jason, isn't that complex and nerdy?  Do you have to, you know, type stuff?"

Yes, but only a little, and it's easy enough that you can do it.  Yes, you.  Seriously.  I know someone who did it without help and if that person can - ANYONE can.  Rather than writing instructions from scratch then keeping them up to date, here are some of the better ones I've found.

Step 1: Install Kodi.
Step 2: Install Neptune Rising, Covenant, or similar.

Optional but highly recommended: Get a VPN service.  That's out of scope for this post but if you're interested, let me know and I'll do one of these walk-throughs.  I did find this post on installing the VPN client directly on Fire TV but I haven't tried it myself so YMMV.

Usage is pretty simple so all I can add is be patient.  It can take several minutes to start playing but it's worth it.  

Friday, January 19, 2018

Buying Your First Bits of Cryptocurrency

Pardon our dust, we're expanding!

Since I haven't really used this for iPhone/iPad/iPod stuff lately I figured I'd expand a bit further.  Why? Why not!

So, what first?

I've been playing with Cryptocurrency since 2013, back when the mention of it brought blank stares, rolled eyes, expressions of my suckerdom or statements about how it's only useful for buying drugs, and worse, on the dark web.  Fast forward to now and Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ether, Ripple, etc are all over the news and those who laughed and scoffed now come loaded with questions.  Rather than sending that same email yet again I'll do a nicer job (I hope) and send some traffic here.  Ready? Ok.

There are enough good explanations of what cryptocurrency is (and isn't) online so rather than writing another I'll find one and link it here later if there's any interest.  Instead, let's talk about how you can get involved.

WARNING

Nothing I say here should be construed as financial suggestions, recommendations or solicitations to spend your money.  Cryptocurrency is wildly speculative and while it's been going up a lot lately it has a history of collapsing and losing up to 75% of its peak value.  Look at late 2013/early 2014 when $1200 Bitcoins dropped to $350 in a few weeks.  IF you choose to put money in, make sure it's money you can afford to lose.  DO NOT spend the rent,  your retirement, your kid's college fund, your other kid's piggy bank, etc.  You could make money.  You could also lose it all.  I'm absolutely serious.

Getting started

Watching it all

I highly recommend the iOS app Crypto Pro for watching the space and the 1400+ (as of Jan 19, 2018) cryptocurrencies out there.  It's only $5, easy to use and packed with information including a great news feed.  Oh, and the developer is one of the nicest people I've met by logging a suggestion for an app.  It also has an Apple Watch app if you're of the wearable persuasion.  You can also create a portfolio of your holdings so you can see, at a glance, how much you've made or lost.   Free apps?  I've looked at, but haven't extensively tried, a few so if you use any of these leave a feedback with your thoughts.  On iOS: HODL, Blockfolio, Coin Ticker, and if you want a real-time view of how prices change there's CoinCap (bonus points for the Minecraftiness).  I've used the Android apps even less so please let me know what you like. These seem to be good starting points: Cryptonator, BlockfolioCryptoCurrency Bitcoin Altcoin Price, CoinMarketApp.  

Turning dollars into bits

The first thing you'll need is a way to exchange dollars for cryptocurrency.  The easiest way to do that is to register an account Coinbase.com and download their mobile app for iOS or Android.  Complete the application process, link a checking account and/or credit card then you'll be ready to buy Bitcoin(BTC), Litecoin(LTC), Ether(ETH), and Bitcoin Cash(BCH) with dollars(USD).  That Coinbase link, by the way, is my referral link and if you sign up we both get $10.  You're free to skip it if that makes you uncomfortable.

A few notes:

  • It takes about a week to move dollars to Coinbase.
  • If you buy Bitcoin or other currency with money pulled from a credit card or checking account you'll pay the price at the moment you confirm the purchase but those coins won't arrive in your Coinbase account for a week.  
  • You can transfer money from credit/checking to Coinbase and leave it there for a future purchase.  If you use that money you also pay the price the moment you confirm but you get the coins in a few minutes.  
  • If you're buying for the long-term that delay shouldn't matter but if you want to be able to buy other cryptocurrencies (see below) on short-notice you'll want to have some cash waiting for you.

Picking your first purchase

Coinbase allows you buy four different coins with USD so which should you buy? It depends on your goals.  If you think one will appreciate faster than the others you should clearly buy that one.  There's a ton of information online about each coin's history, purpose, features, usability, etc so I won't go into too much detail here.  If your goal is to buy another cryptocurrency the best choices are Bitcoin and Ether since they're the most commonly-accepted coins on other exchanges.  Ether's network is less crowded so transactions are generally faster and the transaction fees are lower so that's what I would do, though the choice is yours, of course. 

Timing your first purchase

So, how do you know the best time to buy?  I'll make this easy: you don't.  You won't.  Don't try to time the market, especially if you're new.  I've known people (me? no, not me. of course not. *cough cough*) who will watch the second-by-second ups and downs, trying to hit the perfect low point.  First of all, unless you're buying a LOT of this stuff, it's likely to only save you a few dollars, at best. Second, don't be concerned with pennies or even a few dollars especially if this is for the long haul.  If you're comfortable buying 1 Ether at $1026 it shouldn't bother you if you actually get it at $1029.  That's less than 3/1000 of the total cost - it's like spending an extra 1.5 cents on a cup of coffee.  

Enjoying your first purchase

Watch your mailbox for the notice from Coinbase that your coins are available in your account (also called your wallet).  Bask in the glory of having joined the digital currency economy.  I've been saying for a while that cryptocurrency is now where email was in around 1992: Those who use it love it, everyone else rolls their eyes and 10 years later it changes the world.  You're now a part of that.

What next?

In my next post I'll tell you how to use that newly-bought BTC or ETH to buy other cryptocurrencies.  Stay tuned!


Monday, November 7, 2016

My podcasts

I listen to a lot of podcasts so I'm often asked what I suggest.  Rather than writing the same email, yet again, I figured this would be a better way to go.  I'm happy to entertain questions, comments, feedback, suggestions for new ones, etc.  This is a work in progress and I'll add links when I get a chance so check back!

Before getting to the podcasts themselves I highly recommend two podcatcher apps: Downcast, which I use for videos and Overcast which only does audio.  Downcast is having some issues with iOS10 but hopefully those will be fixed soon.  Both will let you play podcasts at faster-than-normal speed without making everyone sound like a cartoon character.  Overcast takes it one step farther in smartly eliminating gaps in speech, between sentences, etc.  I've been using it for years and the only time I even notice (other than in time saved) is when some music is playing.  Highly recommended. Now, on with the shows...

Computers / Networking / Techie
  • TechSNAP (Systems Networking Administration Podcast) goes into depth on computer/networking/security every week.  I've been working in the computer field for over twenty years and I still manage to learn something every week.
  • BSD Now - very geeky/techie podcast hosted by one of the hosts of Tech SNAP.  Mainly focused on Free/Open/Net BSD but a great source of overall information on networking, storage, etc.  Especially if you're interested in what's easily the best operating system (FreeBSD) and filesystem (ZFS) on the planet.
  • Mac Power Users- If you're a fan of Apple products (and why would you be reading this otherwise??) this is a worthwhile ~90 minutes.  Yeah, I'm the Apple nerd's Apple nerd but there's always something new to learn.  

Science / Education / News
  • Skeptic's Guide to the Universe - outstanding, snarky, smart podcast about science, focused on combating the bullshit that most people believe. They also play a great game weekly "Science Or Fiction" which I love. (Psst Just between us, I think I have a little podcrush on one of the hosts.)
  • More Or Less: Behind the Stats - published by the BBC (so, yes, their accents are awesome), they delve deep into use, and more often misuse, of statistics in the news. You will learn something. I promise.
  • Big Picture Science - more of a sciency roundup with a theme each week.  Great guests.
  • Talk Nerdy - hosted by one of the hosts from The Skeptic's Guide, Cara Santa Maria.   Hour-long interview that's almost always entertaining and educational, and it gives you a bit more insight into Cara.  
  • Science Friday - 2 episodes a week with deep dives into the week's science stories.  It's a bit corny at times but it's a great way to keep tabs on the latest research and engineering.
  • Radiolab Presents: More Perfect - if you think you know the US Supreme Court, you don't.  My wife is the lawyer in the family but I still found this absolutely fascinating.  
  • Revisionist History - Malcom Gladwell, who sometimes comes off as annoyingly smug - don't let that bug you, looks at historical events and people in a way you'd never expect.  Fascinating.
  • Science Vs.:  This is a must-listen, if for no other reason than the host's amazing Australian accent.  More to the point she looks deeply at items you thought were settled, like forensic science, hypnosis, antidepressants, Zika virus. 

News / Politics
  • Serial: You've probably heard of this one already and it's every bit as good as you've heard. Better, actually. 
  • Real Time With Bill Maher: Free even if you don't have HBO.  He's every bit as good as he's always been.

Entertainment / humor
  • Two Dope Queens - hosted by two NYC-based comedians, one of whom was on The Daily Show until recently.  Language is not safe for children but it's always damned funny.  And Phoebe has one of the best laughs you've ever heard.
  • The Nerdist - This could go in the techie category too.  Hosted by Chris Hardwick, of Comedy Central's @Midnight fame, this is one of the best interview shows I've heard.  It's less interview and more chat between friends. Chris gets his guests to talk about things you'd never expect and, without exception, I've come away with a new respect for every guest - even those I didn't think I really liked.  
  • We Got This With Mark And Hal - every episode the hosts go through a detailed battle between things to determine which is the best.  e.g.: "Best classic video game", "Best vintage toy", "Best Sense".  Fun, and not mentally taxing.  
  • Radiolab - I can't really explain this one easily.  Just subscribe.  Trust me.
  • This American Life - A surprising look at, well, whatever the hosts want.  Insightful, for sure.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Electronic Credit Cards

I pre-ordered a Coin from onlycoin.com about two years ago when it was just vaporware because it sounded cool. (How, exactly is a pre-order different from just an order. Discuss.) They were late in delivering but I finally got one last Fall so I've been carrying it (spoiler alert: and two of its successors) for a while and I've looked into its competition, partially because I love gadgets and partially because people ask me about the thing almost every time I use it. As far as I know everything here is accurate as of now, Mid March, 2016. If you're reading this too much later, well, all bets are off.

What I'm carrying now is a Coin version 2 which, oddly, their web site says is sold out. I would imagine they're either building more or coming out with a new version soon. They have a low-traffic mailing list available on their web site of you want to stay up to date.

All electronic credit cards have the same basic function: store the relevant details from multiple credit cards, let you choose between them on the fly and play nicely with old-school swipe credit card readers. They all lock automatically so no one else can use them and they unlock either with code your enter on front of the device or because they're near your smartphone. So if you leave it at a restaurant (or a bar, you know who you are) it'll lock itself within a few minutes so it can't be used by some of lesser morals. Banks *love* that feature, btw. They all link with a smartphone for adding/removing cards and they all know your name so you can't load other people's cards into it.
My Coin works with a swipe credit card reader about 80% of the time and it's getting better as they refine the software. V1 had problems with older readers and while v2 is a lot better it's still not good enough that I can leave all of my actual cards at home.

There's another card called Swyp (swypcard.com) which is due out this summer. In theory. Coin was almost a year late so don't hold your breath. On a similar schedule is Plastc (http://plastc.com).
Coin doesn't have an EMV chip like all new credit cards but it does have NFC for touchless payment so it works anywhere Apple Pay and Android Pay do. Only four times in the last year have I been unable to swipe my card because the merchant required a chip. Two times the touchless function in Coin worked, the other two times the terminal didn't have a touches sensor so I had to slide a normal card into the machine. Incidentally NFC takes less than a second while the chip takes 20-30s. (I can't believe the industry went to market with a system so much slower than what it's replacing.) Swyp and Plastc are supposed to have both a chip and NFC.

Coin's e-ink display smaller than Swyp's and that's smaller than Plastc's. Coin's screen shows only the last four digits of the card number and a four-letter nickname for the card that you get to determine. For example I have "CHSE", "DSVR", "WORK", "AMZN", etc. Not ideal but definitely good enough.
Coin has a built-in, non-rechargable battery which should last 1 year and when it dies they say you're supposed to buy a new one for $100. I don't expect them to actually make people pay for new ones, though since that's a great way to lose customers to a competitor, especially one with a rechargeable battery. Best of all that's borne out by my experience: The battery in my first Coin started complaining of low power after four months and they contacted me right around then, without my prompting, and sent me a Coin v2 even though it wasn't generally available yet. The display on that one went out five months later and they were really good about sending me a new one. All replacements were free of charge. The short lifetime of these things may be why they're not available at the moment but that's just my guess.

Plastc comes with a rechargeable battery and charger. Swyp is also rechargeable and they claim it will only need charging once a year if you use it four times a day. I have my doubts about the year thing but rechargeable is a big win.

Coin is/was $100, Plastc is $150 and Swyp is $90. They all have referral programs so if your friends buy with your link you get a few dollars. Coin's and Swyp's earn you $5. Plastc is $20 for the referrer and $20 for the buyer.

Overall I like Coin and love the idea. The original card was a bit slow (to unlock, to change cards) but v2 is much better. I'm eager to see what the others bring to the table.


Do you have one? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Recommended apps for new owners

I've been meaning to write this post for a very long time but finally got kicked in the arse by a cousin (Hi RJ!) so here goes.

Welcome!

Congratulations on your new iDevice!  No doubt you've heard someone say "There's an app for that" because, well, there probably is one, somewhere within the 300,000+ apps available. So how do you find good ones?  That's where I come in.  Below I'll highlight some of my favorites for anyone new to the iOS environment or even for long-time users looking for something new and cool.  And of course please post your own suggestions in the comments.

Note: Prices are all from memory so "$" means it's single-digit dollars, usually under $5, but I don't remember how much.  I'm not positive about the rest so please let me know what i missed

Entertainment
- TiVo, Netflix, HBO Go (if you have those services)
Spotify - I happily pay for the premium service but even for free it's awesome for streaming music.
SoundHound * Shazam (free) - tells you what song you're listening to.  Sometimes one works better than the other so I have both.
Seedio (free) - sync multiple iDevices if they have the same song saved on them so they all play at the same time.  Neat and great way to make the music louder.


Health & Food
Sleep Cycle (free) - put it in your bed at night and it'll track your sleep pattern.  Even better use it as an alarm to make sure you're woken up when you're not in a deep sleep.  For a non-morning person like me this is a big win
Argus or Breeze or MotionX (free) - I've been using Moves to track my steps all day every day but that was recently bought by Facebook and their new privacy policy is abhorrent.  I can sum up all of the legalease with "We probably won't sell your data now, but we may decide to later and if we do, well, too bad."  I'm deciding between these three.
Restaurant.com (free) - buy gift cards to restaurants at severe discounts. You can actually buy as you're walking in, which is very handy.  (Works great in NYC. Your mileage may vary)
Savored (free) - Find restaurants around you which offer a discount if you make the reservation through the app.  (Works great in NYC. Your mileage may vary)


News & Weather
Nooly or RainAware (free) - both show you down-to-the-minute weather forecasts.  Not perfect but better than you'd expect.
Weather Underground (free)- far better than the built-in app or The Weather Channel's.
Mactracker (free) - if you own a Mac or any other Apple device (*ehem*) this'll give you stats on everything they've made since, uhm, ever.
StarMap 3D (free) - shows you an interactive star map when you hold it up to the sky so you can determine if that reddish dot is Mars or your eyes going bad.


Photo/video taking and editing
- Editors - I have a bunch on my phone that I use for various things but only because I haven't sat down to list what each does and delete most.  In case you're interested: PS Express (that's Adobe's Photoshop), Fotor, TouchUp Lite, PhotoFunia, Photo Notes, Handy Photo, Snapseed.  Once I sort through these I'll update the blog post.  What follows are my strong recommendations.
Pro HDR ($4) - You must buy this.  It's either $2 or $4 and worth every penny 10 times over.  It takes simply stunning shots of sunsets and other environments where some areas are very dark and some very light.  The built-in app does a pseudo HDR, sorta, but this one does it for real.  Trust me - you won't be disappointed.  Accept no substitutes.
QuickPix ($2) - shoots pictures as fast as possible as long as you hold the trigger button.  Perfect for trying to capture that one shot where your child/pet/spouse/neighbor is trying to do something new/cool/dangerous/funny/exciting/moronic but timing is unpredictable.
Cycloramic (free) - if you have an iPhone 5 or 5s this will take a 360 degree panorama automatically when you put it down on a hard surface.  You won't believe it until you see it.  I don't think earlier phones and iPads will do it.
iPhoto & iMovie (free) - You know them on the Mac - get 'em on your iDevice.  If you don't have a Mac they're still worth getting because they're useful and cool.
Emulsio (free demo) - Stabilizes shaky video
PopAGraph (free, I think) - easy tool to play with pictures, like turning it all black and white but colorizing one part, or making a person pop out of the scene.  Powerful and fun.
Action Movie (free) - this one is silly but lets you add movie-like special effects to your videos: dinosaurs walking through the shot, missiles blowing things up, etc.
iMotion HD (free?) - create your own stop-motion videos.  Really cool.
123D Catch (free) - From Autodesck.  Create interactive 3d models of anything you can photograph.  It's almost like a 3d scanner in your camera.  Practically alien technology.


Productivity
- Banking (free) - surely your bank has an app and it's probably very useful.
- CamScanner (free) - take pictures of documents, deskew them, run OCR and save as PDFs.
- Pages, Numbers, Keynote (free) - if you're an Apple user these will let you view and even edit docs in your iCloud account from your phone as easily as from your Mac
- MagicPlan (free) - stand in one spot in a room and use the phone's camera to plot out the room's layout including walls, doors, windows, etc.  You won't use it daily but when you need it there's nothing better.


Shopping
Store apps: Amazon, Lowes, Home Depot, eBay, etc (duh)
Deal finders: Groupon, Living Social, Google Shopper, Amazon Local
Bag Of Woot (free) - I love woot and this will track all of their deals in one shot
- Shipping: Fedex, UPS
- Quick Scan (free) - scan a barcode or QR code to learn more about the product including pricing and availability.  Ever wonder how much that gift you just received cost?  Well, now you can find out. Better than my old standby, RedLaser.


Travel
Your airline's app - for tracking flights, etc. (duh)
Word Lens (now free) - real-time translating of printed words from {something else} into English.  Eerily accurate.
Say Hi Translate (free, I think) - translate spoken words.  Not perfect but very useful if you're traveling.
Altitude (free) - shows you exactly what it says it does.
WhatsBusy (free) - monitor how busy your local airport is.
Waze (free) - Excellent traffic/nav app.  Now owned by Google, FWIW.
Google Maps (free) - you know this one


Utilities
- Convert (free) - convert any unit into any other (compatible) unit.  e.g.: how many teaspoons are in a gallon?  Convert just told me it's 768.  It also works on area, time, data, power, temperature, pressure, etc.  Where was this when I was in high school???
- iHandy Level (free) - a level built into your phone.  Even more useful than you expect.
- Cloud: Dropbox, box.com, Google Drive, Tresorit, Bitcasa, etc - If you use these services their apps are very handy and free.
- Google Voice (free) - the only way to use Google Voice now.
- Namecheap (free) - I moved my domains from GoDaddy to Namecheap and couldn't be happier with them.  If you're interested I'll be happy to help, and I think I get $1 for every domain you move to them with my referral code. Woohoo!
- Speedtest (free) see if your internet connection really is as slow as you think
- Knock ($2-$4) - if you own a newer Mac this will let you unlock the screen with your phone by knocking on the phone.  Very cool.
- Carat (free) - battery usage monitor tells you which app/service is hitting your battery the hardest.
- Chrome (free) - Google's browser.  I use this and Safari - both work well, but I especially like Safari's integration with my Macs: I save a password on one and they all get it within seconds.  But Chrome works nicely too.
- Authy (free) - if you use Google Authenticator for two-factor authentication this is a drop-in replacement with some better features.  If you're not using TFA why the hell not?  Do you want to have your identity stolen?  That's what I thought.
- Gmail (free) - Google's native mail app.  Very good.
- Mailbox (free) - the best mail app out there, bar none.  I use this 90% of the time.  I'm happy to explain when I use the others - just ask.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Charge!

I know it's been a while since I updated the blog but I'm determined to post more often this year. I hope.  We'll see.

Let's start with a quickie.  If you have an iPhone (or other electronic device, of course) you need to charge it.  (And if you don't have any of those why are you reading this blog??)  Your device almost certainly came with a charger but one is never enough so you've probably bought more, right?  Right, I have too.  And just like me you probably didn't think much about the charger.  But you should have because they matter and you'll be shocked (a pun? Me?) how much.  This article, while very involved, is worth the time it takes to read.  You don't have to follow all of the tech details to come away with a better understanding of why a cheap charger is a good way to ruin your shiny new toy.  Or your house.

Check out the article and rethink that cheap POS you bought last time.