Do I need a VPN?

TechRadar looks at the simple question: “Do I need a VPN?” (Spoiler alert: Yes, you do). The real value in this article is that it explains just why you need to use a VPN, and what benefits there are when you have one. It also discuses the disadvantages of using a VPN, and offers advice on what to look for in a VPN provider.


With so many fly-by-night VPN providers popping up, it can be hard to separate the good from the not-so-good. Fortunately, there are a few key characteristics to look for in a VPN. First, make sure the server offers private browsing. Most subscription-based VPNs host their own network servers, which means they’re able to allow their users the comfort to browse anonymously. Most free VPNs, on the other hand, use open networks which are often unsecured and full of privacy gaps.

I personally use Freedome, with a fallback to KeepSolid’s VPN Unlimited. I’m a big fan of F-Secure products, so that’s why I like Freedome. VPN Unlimited is my fallback simply because I got a great price on a lifetime VPN through them.

What Is Malware?

This is a surprisingly in-depth article over at MalwareBytes regarding just what it is that makes software fall into the category of malware. Finding information or a short definition of malware is easy. Finding this much detail on what is malware, how can you tell when you have malware, how you get it, and more.


Other kinds of malware are a different story. Mac systems are subject to the same vulnerabilities (and subsequent symptoms of infection) as Windows machines and cannot be considered bulletproof. For instance, the Mac’s built-in protection against malware doesn’t block all the adware and spyware bundled with fraudulent application downloads. Trojans and keyloggers are also threats. The first detection of ransomware written specifically for the Mac occurred in March 2016, when a Trojan-delivered attack affected more than 7,000 Mac users.

This is well worth the few minutes it will take to read.

Our Youth aren’t watching as much TV

While this is probably generally a good thing, I’m sure television executives aren’t happy that TV viewership hours go down significantly as viewing ages go down:

Of course, I’d guess they are eating up that TV-free time with other screen-based activities, like watching game streamers, YouTube/Vimeo/et al, chatting, and so on. But wow, what a drop-off.

Homeopathic “medicines” Recalled Over Microbial Contamination

Thanks to Ars Technica for pointing out this recall of kids’ homeopathic “medicines” over microbial contamination concerns. The fewer homeopathic products on the shelf, the better the world is. Because homeopathy doesn’t work. Really – it just doesn’t work.

Insufficient Passwords

I love computer security. Worked in the field for half a decade, but got out of it when I moved to Memphis. Would love to get back into it, if I had the opportunity. So when I see stories like this Register article about a Western Australia Auditor General report on poor password security, I like to pass it along in hopes that others will learn a little something from it. 

Among these [60,000 easily guess passwords], ‘Password123’ was in use by 1,464 accounts, ‘Project10’ by 994, ‘support’ by 866, ‘password1’ by 813, and ‘October2017’ by 226, to pick only the top five worst offenders in popularity order.

Folks, the most secure password is one you can’t remember. That’s why I recommend a password manager. Pick one really good password to protect your master database, then let the password manager generate all your passwords going forward. Periodically change your master database password. Lather, rinse, repeat. What password manager? Well, I personally use LastPass. If you don’t want to pay for one, try out KeePass. If you don’t want to take my word for what to use, I can also advise you to consider any of these recommendations from LifeHacker (spoiler alert: they recommend the same 2 I do, plus a few others).

But the important takeaway from this story should be that you can’t do this on your own. You’ll probably mess up. People are bad at generating random passwords. People are bad at remembering hard passwords. People are bad at keeping track of hundreds of passwords (that’s how many I have – others may not use as many as I do). But computers are really, really good at this stuff, so let them do the heavy lifting here.

The Greatest Paper Airplanes

So you want to make a world-record breaking paper airplane? Well, here are the things you need to know. In case you are wondering, the current record holder is The Paper Airplane Guy. I can highly recommend joining his site, and if you are at all interested in making good paper airplanes, paying for his videos on Vimeo (join his Hanger and you’ll get the link there).

Update on ISP Issue

Well, I had a visit today from a technician for my ISP. He found the outside splitter was made for indoor use, so replaced that. Then, he disconnected an indoor  splitter and gave me a new wireless DVR box. End result is slightly better performance:

I am most happy with my results. And when the kids aren’t on, I actually tested at nearly 120 Mbps. We pay for a 100 Mbps line. No complaints now.

More on Poor ISP Speed, Latency

Since I posted last night about my poor internet performance, I thought I’d post an update today. Although I just reset my modem on Monday, I did another modem reset this morning. Unplugged the router for 3 minutes. Plugged it in. Waited for my system to connect, and ran a few speed tests. Here are the results using 2 different speedtest options:

I got some worse numbers, but ignored those as the system not stable yet. I ran a couple more tests and got about the same results. My connection is currently so spotty, I can’t even connect to my ISP’s website to chat or get the support phone number just yet. Maybe it’s time to shop for a new ISP?

Why is my ‘net Speed in the Crapper?

So I recently called my ISP to complain about some service issues and billing disagreements. Since then, my internet speed has been noticeably worse. I used to get 70-80 Mbps throughput on my line, which I believe is supposed to be rated at 100 Mbps. My latency is typically in the 20-80 ms range. I can’t complain about those numbers. However, since my speed and latency has been so clearly worse than normal, I did another speed test tonight – the first I’ve done in months. Here’s what I get:

With later testing, the speed improved to single-digit Mbps, but latency still turns up in the mid-hundreds of milliseconds across repeated tests. And no, there are no downloads going on right now to slow things. I checked.

Horrific Experiments

Popular Science with a story on 7 psychological experiments that were ill-conceived, unethical, horrific, or all of the above.

Project MKUltra
From 1953 to 1973, the CIA funded covert research on mind control at dozens of reputable institutions, including universities and hospitals. A source of inspiration to horror-fueled shows like Stranger Things and films like Conspiracy Theory, the covert project is today recognized as torture. In the hopes of revealing strategies by which the government could deprogram and reprogram spies or prisoners of wars, unwitting civilians were drugged, hypnotized, submitted to electroshock therapy, and shut away, sometimes for months, in sensory deprivation tanks and isolation chambers.

A Laser, Aimed at Earth!

So apologies for nearly a week of silence – I’ve been in training all week and busy at night so I’ve been barely online lately. Today’s news brings us the update that ICEsat-2 will be launching next month. This satellite will be used for mapping the earth, doing so by firing 10,000 laser bursts per second at the planet.

Firing 10,000 pulses per second at the blue planet, ATLAS will pick up “more than 250 times as many height measurements as its predecessor” (ICEsat, which ended its mission in 2010), said NASA Goddard project manager Doug McLennan.

I love sharing laser news, as the very idea of shooting lasers to do productive things makes me happy.

The Skim Reaper – a Credit Card Skimmer Detector

If you have heard about credit card skimmers, you probably know the advice to tug on a credit-card scanner before using it. That’s not really that effective against more and more of the scanners, as they are getting smaller, and more easily hidden within or on top of real scanners in such a way that a sharp tug just won’t reveal them any more. Enter the Skim Reaper, a scanner that works instead by checking for multiple voltage spikes such as those caused by a hidden reader.

We have partnered with law enforcement agencies to comprehensively characterize skimmers, with the goal of designing and delivering strong tools to reduce this kind of crime. As a result, we created the Skim Reaper™, which specifically targets overlay and deep-insert skimmers.

A better  brief explanation can be found at Ars Technica, one of the finest geek sites on the web.


SkimReaper is aimed specifically at overlays and inserts. It uses a card-shaped sensor with a printed circuit that, when powered, can detect the voltage spikes created by coming in contact with magnetic reader heads. If it detects two or more, there’s a skimmer in play.

While I have found no information yet on how to build your own nor how to buy your own Skim Reaper to keep yourself safe, I am sure that both a DIY guide and a pre-made Reaper purchase option will happen before too long.