Author Archives: elmaryea

Android Auto

Most cars these days offer some form of phone syncing capabilities. Usually, though, they don’t offer much support beyond hands free phone and text. Any app support is often native to the software and doesn’t interface with the app on your phone. Map support is either a separate navigation system in the car or limited to direction readout from the phone, with no accompanying visual.

Android Auto give you all these capabilities and more. Although initial native support was small, currently almost 87 2015 cars come with it built in and there are plans to expand that number to almost 150 for the 2017 models. Many major aftermarket headunit brands include Android Auto as well, including Pioneer, Kenwood and Alpine.

Google developed Android Auto to comply with common safety standards including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In order to do this, all apps supported by Android Auto must be checked by Google to ensure that they comply with those standards. They currently list 53 compatible apps on their play store which can be found here. A great example of this safety focus is text messages: no texts are displayed on the screen, instead they are read back to you. In addition voice commands , including “OK, Google” commands, are heavily relied on to maximize its hands free capabilities.

Right now in order to use Android Auto you have to plug it into your car via USB cable. When this happens all interaction is either through your car’s stereo or via voice commands (it’s unclear whether the phone’s microphone can be used for this or if the car has to have one). Google recognized this convenience and announced in May that they would be working providing Android Auto just through the phone. The interface would still look relatively similar, and all the voice commands would remain.

Although the platform is still relatively young, it looks like a promising app for drivers. At a time when distract

5 Cloud-based Applications You Can Host at Home

Do you have an old laptop lying around that you don’t know what to do with? Are you concerned about your data given recent tech company security breaches? Or maybe you’re just bored and want to fiddle around on some computers. Either way here are five free applications that you can host yourself:

  1. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/60/Nextcloud_Logo.svg/1200px-Nextcloud_Logo.svg.pngNextcloud – For those who don’t have access to unlimited cloud storage, or those who aren’t comfortable not being in control of their files, you can host your own cloud storage. Nextcloud provides similar functionality to storage providers like Google Drive and Box allowing for file sharing and online editing. There are client apps for all major phones and computers and even provides the option to enable a calendar app. Although Nextcloud is relatively new, it is based on Owncloud which is relatively established, although not quite as modern.

  2. https://forum.gitlab.com/uploads/default/original/1X/277d9badcbd723e913b3a41e64e8d2f3d2c80598.pngGitlab
     – For the developers out there that don’t want to pay for private repositories there’s gitlab. This is a very mature product that is packed full of features like Gitlab Continuous Integration, code snippets, and project wikis. Gitlab can integrate with many external applications as well such as Visual Studio, Jenkins, KanBan and Eclipse. For those that don’t have a free computer to run it on, they also provide hosting for both repository storage and continuous integration runners, although those options do cost money.
  3. https://tr4.cbsistatic.com/hub/i/r/2013/10/04/f874e321-e469-4527-be52-9a568fa20d8d/resize/770x/af17703c07c5ff25c9f4c64b36aba944/dokuwiki.logo.jpg
    Docuwiki
     – If you constantly find yourself looking up the same information or you just want a place to organize notes Docuwiki is the app for you. It supports a markup formatting style, multiple namespaces to organize your information, and diff report viewer to see view page changes. If the outdated UI doesn’t really appeal to you then Confluence is another option. It is geared more towards the enterprise environment, but for $10 (one time, not a subscription) you can host Confluence for up to ten users.

  4. Mail-in-a-Box
     – There are a lot of email providers out there, but if this is something you’re interested in hosting Mail-in-a-Box is a great solution. Although the setup of the the application itself is fairly easy, there isn’t much customization that can be done. For a more robust solution iRedMail might be the way to go. Note hosting email can be tricky, and generally is not possible from home internet connections.
  5. http://www.etny.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Subsonic_Logo_Large_v21.png
    Subsonic
     – All the audiophiles will appreciate Subsonic, an alternative to Google Play and iTunes. You can now store all your music yourself rather than being restricted to the Google or Apple music clients. With apps for all computers and phones you can listen to your music wherever you are. Subsonic includes support for playlists, most major music file formats, and customized themes.

Your computer won’t boot…now what?

You finally sat down to start that paper you’ve been putting off, hit the power button on your laptop and nothing but a folder with a question mark shows up. Or maybe you just got back from the library and just want a relaxing afternoon online. However, when you wake up your computer, all you see is a black screen and text reading “Boot device not found.”

When diagnosing issues where your computer won’t boot, there are a few different diagnostic tests that you can run to determine what is causing the issue. These can vary depending on what kind of computer you have. For all manufacturers, the first step is determining whether or not the computer turns on. With laptops, check whether or not any lights come on. If it is unplugged, try making sure the battery is seated correctly and plugging it into the power adapter (be sure to use a known-good wall outlet). If none of these work, the most likely cause is failure of the main logic board.

If your computer does turn on at all, this could mean there is a hardware failure. Usually if the computer doesn’t turn on at all this means there is some kind of power failure. It could be as simple as your battery dying, which can be solved by charging the laptop with a known good power adapter. On the other hand, this could also be caused by a motherboard that has failed.

The other hardware point of failure is usually the hard drive. In this case Windows and Macs will give two different errors. Macs will boot to a folder with a question mark. Windows could show a number of different screens depending on the manufacturer and how old the machine is. Usually it will look something like the following:

The last point of failure for boot failure is the operating system. If the operating system has been corrupted, it can cause any number of errors to be shown on startup. On Windows machines this usually results in a blue screen of death. To fix this, usually the hard drive needs to be wiped and Windows needs to be reinstalled (after making sure your files are backed up). Macs, on the other hand, have a few recovery options, the most useful being disk first aid. Holding down Command-R while the machine is booting will bring up the recovery boot options:

Regardless of what happens when you try to turn on your computer though, there is always a solution to fix any problems that might happen. Determining where the point of failure is can be the difficult part. Once you know that, it’s much easier to make a decision about fixing the computer.

The Web’s Move to SSL

These days, there is a lot of talk about cyber security, secure web browsing and tips to keep your information safe. One of the best ways to do this is to stick to websites that use an encrypted connection. Browsing completely secure can only truly be accomplished through websites using something call SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer. This allows an encrypted connection to be established between the web browser that you’re using, and the website you’re accessing. This kind of connection is usually indicated by a green lock and HTTPS in the URL bar of your web browser.

google1

A note about URLs starting in https: a green https is good; a red https, usually precluded by a warning that the certificate shouldn’t be trusted, is questionable at best. The way that ssl ensures a secure connection is by installing a certificate in your browser that is signed by a trusted entity, such as VeriSign. When this occurs, you’ll access the page and the lock and HTTPS will be green as shown above. However, anyone can create certificates, and if they aren’t signed by a trusted entity, your browser will warn you.

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This doesn’t mean that your connection isn’t encrypted, it still is and no one will be able to see your information in between your computer and the website’s server. What it does mean, is that the person or company who owns the website isn’t necessarily to be trusted.

In April, about 1/3 of all web traffic was encrypted, in large part due to Google, Facebook and Twitter. With Netflix planning to make the switch to HTTPS, some research indicates that this could jump to as much as 2/3 of all web traffic by the end of the year. On the subject of Facebook and Twitter, though, is yet another type of encryption that further secures your data: end-to-end encryption.

This mostly relates to private messaging between you and someone else. Examples include email, Facebook or Twitter messages or even text messages. End-to-end encryption allows all your data to be encrypted not between you and the website you’re using, but between you and the person you’re messaging. This ensures that Facebook or Twitter or Google, etc. can’t see your private messages. While this advanced privacy tool isn’t yet available for most services, there are browser extensions and add-ons that can provide this for you. As far as texting and even phone calls go there are a number of apps available for both iOS and Android that are designed to provide private communication.

So while truly secure internet access isn’t inherently provided with an internet connection, it is relatively easy to secure your web activity by making sure that your data is encrypted. This could be through secure sites, browser add-ons, or mobile applications, but whichever method(s) you use can go a long way in ensuring your data stays private.

RAID: Its Uses and Benefits

RAID, an acronym for redundant array of inexpensive disks, essentially outlines a way to organize data such that it can be accessed efficiently and reliably. There are various ways in which the data can be organized and various numbers of disks needed depending on which option you choose. There are six basic types of RAID configurations, and a few variations on those. The most common of the following arrays are RAID 0, RAID 1 and RAID 5.

  • RAID 0 (2+ Drives needed): Data is striped across the drives. This type of configuration generally used to increase performance. Drives of different sizes can be used, however the larger drives will be limited to the size of the smallest drive. One downside to RAID 0 is that if one drive fails, then all the data on all the drives is lost. On the other hand this offers good read and write times and no storage is lost for parity data.
  • RAID 1 (2+ Drives needed): In RAID 1 the data is mirrored on the drives. This means that the number of copies of the data is equivalent to the number of drives in the array. The write time for the array is limited to the slowest drive, however read time may be increased. Since the data is duplicated if one of the drives fail the data is still preserved. Read and write times are similar to that of a single drive.
  • RAID 2 (3+ Drives needed): Raid 2 introduces error correction. At least two of the drives are used to store data (striped at the byte level) and the rest are used to store error correction code for each byte stripe. This type of array is rarely used.
  • RAID 3 (3+ Drives needed): In this configuration data is striped at the bit level, as in RAID 2, however the error correction used in RAID 3 is stored in something called a parity bit. The parity bit is added to the data stored and is checked when the data is accessed to make sure it is correct. As with RAID 2, RAID 3 is not commonly used.
  • RAID 4 (3+ Drives needed): RAID 4 is essentially the same as RAID 3 except that the data is striped in blocks, not bytes.
  • RAID 5 (3+ Drives needed): In this array every disk used to store both data (which is striped in blocks) and the parity blocks. The image below shows how the parity blocks are distributed across the four disks. If a single disk fails, the data can be rebuilt from the distributed parity information.Data can be read very quickly from this array, although write times can suffer because of the need to write the parity data.
  • RAID 6 (4+ Drives needed): RAID 6 is similar to RAID 5, except that each parity block is duplicated. Each disk therefore contains two parity blocks along with its data, as opposed to one.

When talking about data striping, there are two ways of segmenting it. With byte striping, the first byte is stored on one drive, the second on the next and so on, looping back to the first drive if needed. The same process occurs in block striping, except the size of each block is bigger (size determined when the array is setup).

Common variations of RAID setups include RAID 0+1, RAID 1+0 and RAID 5+0 which allow for the combination of advantages from different RAID setups.

  • RAID 0+1 takes the striped data and duplicates it on another set of disks. This requires at least four disks: two for the striped data and two for the mirror of that striped data. If drives in one mirrored set fail, that can be rebuilt from the other set, but if they fail in both, then array is lost.
  • RAID 1+0 creates a stripes set of mirrored disks. Again, this requires at least 4 disks: The first two disks are set up in RAID 1 (mirrored) and the second two disks are set up in RAID 1 (mirrored), however the two different sets of disks hold different stripes of data.
  • RAID 5+0 requires at least 6 drives. The RAID 0 level stripes data across different sets of disks (at least two sets) and each set of disks contains at least 3 disks set up in RAID 5 with the distributed parity blocks.

A common misconception is that RAID arrays can be thought of as a substitution for backups. While in some cases data can be rebuilt from a single failed drive, this is not always the case. RAID setups were designed for increased accessibility of data. If a power surge toasts the computer or the motherboard malfunctions all data can be lost. RAID setups also don’t protect against user data deletion (accidentally deleting a file). The primary advantage in choosing a RAID setup is getting better performance out of drives and improved protection against single drive failure.

Phone Data Encryption

Data Encryption on phone is not a new concept, however in recent years there have been some issues regarding how it affects phone performance and its use as required by operating system manufacturers.

The two main phone operating systems, iOS from Apple and Android from Google, use a device address for encryption. Each device has a unique address based on the hardware part number (similar to a MAC address), and the encryption for the phone is based on that number. Google and Apple don’t have access to those numbers and therefor don’t have any way to access your information. New phones currently have device encryption enabled by default, in contrast with their old standard which provided it as an encryption but left it disabled by default.

In addition to the default encryption, there are numerous apps dedicated to phone encryption. Most general purpose security apps, such as those offered by Kaspersky, AVG and Norton, also provide data encryption. Sometime text message and password encryption is a available too.

Windows phones also have device encryption available. The main difference Microsoft’s encryption method is that it is software based as opposed to hardware based. Unfortunately, since the encryption is employed via EAS (Exchange ActiveSync) the only way to employ this is through a Microsoft email account. And since encryption is determine by information Microsoft has access to, they also have access to the encryption key on the phone.

There are a few downsides to the hardware based encryption, at least as far as Android’s recent update to Lollipop is concerned. First, data encryption is only enabled automatically if a new phone is bought with Lollipop on it. However if an old phone is updated to Lollipop, encryption remains disabled by default. Also, for those using SD cards, Android can’t guarantee that data stored on the card will be encrypted as some phones allow this and some don’t.

So while data encryption is important there are many different options depending on native OS and various apps available for the phones. Above all though, device encryption is a moot point if the device doesn’t have a password.

File Navigation with Windows Command Prompt

Although the file explorer in windows works well, occasionally it becomes necessary to create, execute, delete and move files using command prompt. This could be necessary due to a specific issue with the windows file explorer or a more deep rooted problem with windows itself. Regardless of the issue, there are a few basic commands that can help when using command prompt in this capacity. Continue reading