iCloak Stik – portable online anonymity tool

2e245a5325c4cff073637ca24910227b_largeThe iCloak Stik is a promised to be a portable anonymity tool, turning any computer into a private, safe, and untrackable way of accessing the internet.  It’s basically just software on a USB flash drive that boots when you reboot your 64-bit Windows or Mac computer, and promises to completely mask your IP address (using TOR or I2P), let you choose what country you’d like to appear to be surfing the ‘net from, creates a random MAC address for your computer (the physical ID of your network interface circuit), browse anonymously, wipe all trace of your online activity, prevent malware/spyware infections, and encrypt usernames and passwords.  Oh, and you can store files on the USB stick too (but I don’t think these get encrypted).  It’s really like booting into a separate, scaled-down OS – you won’t be using your normal computer apps.

In case you haven’t been following the news, it turns out the NSA has been spying on Americans regardless of whether or not they’re suspected of doing anything wrong.  The latest Snowden leak showed that of 160,000 intercepted messages, only 10% were from official targets.  Devices like the iCloak are targeted at people who view this as a violation of their freedoms and fourth amendment rights.  Of course, note that with Kickstarter, the names and cities of all backers is public information…so I wouldn’t be surprised that if you choose to be a backer, you’ll end up on an NSA watchlist somewhere.  Paranoid?  Not really.  People who followed links to articles on Boing Boing about Tor and Tails ended up on such a list.  Still, I figure by even writing about the iCloak I’ll get on that list…so I might as well buy an iCloak while I’m at it!

You can check out their Kickstarter page here.

Apple expands recycling program to cover ALL products

Apple has long offered gift cards in exchange for old Apple products that have some commercial value…but they’re now expanding that recycling program to include ALL Apple products, even ones that are worthless.  They won’t be giving out gift cards for your own junk, but they WILL recycle them for free, you just drop them off at any Apple store.

Apple is also touting some recent environmental advancements they’re making, such as:

  • Including both data centers and corporate campuses, 94 percent of Apple’s energy is from renewable sources
  • Apple is working with suppliers to recycle water with a new Clean Water Program pilot
  • All Apple cables used in China are now PVC-free
  • Apple has signed the CERES Climate Declaration
  • Energy initiatives at facilities in Cupertino have saved enough energy to power 1200 homes per year
  • Over 1000 shared bicycles will be available at the new ‘spaceship’ campus
  • Over 90 percent of material Apple recycles is from products other than their own

(via AppleInsider)

HDD reliability test results

ku-xlargeIf you’re smart, you want to buy the most reliable hard drive possible…but what would that be?  Enterprise-class drives are a common choice, but are they worth the extra money?  How do the different brands compare?  There’s a company called BackBlaze that runs a business backing up all the data from your computer, unlimited storage, for just $5 per month.  So, as you might expect, they go through a lot of hard drives.  At the end of 2013, they were using a total of 27,134 drives!  Fortunately for the rest of us, they’ve tracked HDD longevity and made the results public at their blog (very smart marketing move!).

There are some interesting conclusions from their testing.  First, they’ve found that if reliability is your priority, the extra cost of enterprise-class drives isn’t worth it.  What I find most fascinating is the graph that’s posted here, showing how Seagate, well, sucks.  In spite of that though, they’re still fans of Seagate and still buying new ones, as they explain in their blog.  In short, some Seagate driaves are OK, others have a 120% annual failure rate (meaning, they won’t even last a year).  If you want to be safe though, stick with Western Digital or Hitachi.

Current state of computer voice recognition

Despite what you see in movies, the reality is that computer voice recognition still sucks.  There’s a great illustration of this in the following video…designer Michael Silber had Siri speak some text, and that was then sent to Google Voice, which transcribed it into text.  That text was fed back into Siri..and the process repeated.  It’s much like the ‘telephone’ game that kids play, and the results are similar…the message quickly degrades into gibberish.

Drobo 5N – first impressions

Drobo5nToday was ‘new toy day’ in my office, as I took delivery of a new Drobo 5N (~$600 on Amazon).  I loaded it with three 2TB WD ‘red’ drives and a 32GB SSD accelerator drive and got to work.

Think of the Drobo 5N as a giant hard disk on your network (access it like any network share), with the added benefit of having redundancy in case of drive failures.  For example, I have three 2TB drives in mine, and it’s able to tolerate the failure of one drive, meaning I have 4TB usable space.  Pretty straightforward (but still not substitute for regular backups to an external USB drive!).  By creating different ‘shares’ (like folders on a drive), and creating user accounts on the Drobo, you can control access on a user by user basis.

I was really impressed with the initial unboxing…Apple users will feel right at home here (except the box and packing materials are black, not white!).  Very nice presentation, and the real surprise was that rather than being wrapped in a plastic bag inside, the Drobo 5N was tucked nicely inside a reusable cloth shopping bag (black, of course)!  Apart from the external cardboard box and a smaller one inside, the only other packing materials were two vacuum formed plastic inserts which were nicely marked for recycling.  I love seeing companies pay attention to the little details like they’ve obviously done here.

It took a little bit to get to a usable state, though that was mostly just waiting for it to configure itself…not surprising considering the storage space here, and not a big deal at all as user intervention was not needed.  After that, it was a simple matter of setting up shares and users.  All in all, great product so far…I’ll report back on it after using it for a while, as well as compare it to my other NAS drives, an HP Windows Home Server and an older Netgear ReadyNAS NV+.

UPDATE – mapping network drives was a bit odd with this.  At first I tried doing it with the normal Windows 7  ‘map network drive’ function but had some permission errors…so I then used the Drobo dashboard software to map the drives and sync the shares with my existing NAS.  The mapping didn’t reconnect next time I logged in to Windows…but I was then able to use the traditional ‘map network drive’ in Win7 and that’s working now.  Not quite sure what was going on before.  Apart from that, there’s little to report.  The Drobo 5N just sits quietly (very, very quietly) with a few pretty glowing green lights and serves up files when needed.  Exactly what it’s supposed to do.

Futile fight for network privacy

Businesses are fighting a losing battle in the attempts to secure their corporate networks. Email and web browsing, firewalls, USB drive attacks, and now, this innocent-looking power strip / surge suppressor.  It’s essentially a Trojan horse, housing a computer with every networking technology you can think of (ethernet, wifi, bluetooth, cellular), and loaded with software tools necessary to identify network weaknesses and penetrate most any network.  Good luck, IT managers…you’re going to need it as more and more devices like these proliferate.

Read more over at ZDNet.