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.

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.

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.

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.

The World is Warming

One day of Summer 2018 heat showing huge areas of daily and all-time highs.
A single day from Washington Post’s animated image of summer 2018 heat and record highs.

Earth is warming. Slowly, and not noticeably so to most people, but nevertheless it is happening. More ways to see this are available in this Washington Post titled “Red hot planet: This summer’s punishing and historic heat in 7 maps and charts” and published Friday. I expect some people will read this and have something of a “OK, the planet is getting warmer, but we aren’t causing it to happen.” I really can’t do any more to convince those people than post Skeptoid’s “The Simple Proof of Man-Made Global Warming” for their reading or listening pleasure.

You might think that carbon is carbon, and that if we find there’s more CO2 in the atmosphere, its source can’t easily be proven. But chemistry is a bit more complicated than that; there are different kinds of carbon, as there are of most elements. They’re called isotopes. One isotope of carbon is carbon-14.

The science involved isn’t really that difficult to understand. The knowledge that we are doing this and possibly making the planet uninhabitable for ourselves isn’t hard to gain. But getting some people to believe it sure seems tough. As denialists become fewer in the United States, we are hopefully moving to a period where we can make progress on reducing our effect on the planet, but we still have a way to go before we become part of the solution. But the general population is catching up to the scientific consensus, I think, which is a good thing.

The most frustrating thing, though, is that some folks knew 40 years ago, and rather than work to prevent this and make sure everyone knew about the potential harm, they kept it silent and made sure to profit from the ignorance of others. I know that this is just how big corporations work, but it still sucks. And I realize they did do research on the topic, but they could have brought humanity’s knowledge of the problem much further along than it is know if they had made a big deal of it in the 70s. That’s just me being a hopeless romantic, though.

They found that the company’s knowledge of climate change dates back to July 1977, when its senior scientist James Black delivered a sobering message on the topic. “In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels,” Black told Exxon’s management committee. A year later he warned Exxon that doubling CO2 gases in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by two or three degrees—a number that is consistent with the scientific consensus today.

Gettin’ all Sciency in Here

As a follow-up to yesterday’s brief bit on the Parker Space Probe, I thought it was worth taking some time to share more information about the project. This is some of the best we have going on in the scientific community (in my not so humble opinion), and I thought it was worth learning and teaching more about it. Watch live in the embedded video above, or read on for more details than you ever realized you needed.

The Parker Space Probe launch window opened this morning around 3:30 Eastern Time and extends to August 23rd. So depending on the weather at Cape Canaveral (Space Launch Complex 37, more specifically), the probe may already be on the way to the sun by the time you read this (I’m writing it a day before launch but posting around 7 hours post possible launch time).

Continue reading Gettin’ all Sciency in Here

Drive Fast, Speed Turns Me On…

Image stolen from the Engadget article to which this news item is linked

So if you ever wondered just how fast we puny humans can make things go, it turns out that right now something around 430,000 miles per hour is our peak achievement. That’s the projected speed of the Parker Solar Probe which will be launching tomorrow morning, just a few hours from now. I have more reading to do to come up with a more substantial post on the probe, but I hope to put something together tomorrow so you can get learned. Just know that this probe is going towards the sun to study solar winds so we can learn how to better prepare for them in the future. (Image stolen from the Engadget article to which this news item is linked).

The spacecraft will also reach speeds up to 430,000 mph, making it the fastest-ever human-made object. That’s nowhere near fast enough to reach Alpha Centauri within our lifetime — it has to travel around 7,000 years to reach the star closest to our sun — but fast enough to get from Philadelphia to DC in a second.

The Top 100 Women of History

Young Margaret Sanger

I heard one of the local radio station’s morning crew talking this morning about the women who changed the world and decided it might be interesting to see what some thinkers online came up with for their top 10 or top 100. The first list I found was this ThoughtCo. list of the top 100 women of History. My knowledge of historical women is pretty sparse, but I was happy to find I could at least recognize most of the women on this list, even if what I know about each of them is quite limited. I’ll be reading up more on the particular details of these women to expand my knowledge.

What’s most interesting about this list to me is that it isn’t something based on some small group of “experts” deciding who makes the cut – this is a list of women ranked by searches online. So while number one on the list may get disagreement from all corners (I’m sure of it, in fact), there is a reasonable basis for how she got there. 

Continue reading The Top 100 Women of History