Lighting our new home

I’ve been fascinated with lighting since building my first home in 2003. The ceilings in that place have more 6″ downlights than anyone would reasonably install. Continuous Xenon lighting was used under the cabinets in the kitchen and bar. I like a lot of light, and that home demands it with its high ceilings and lack of natural light in the main living spaces. We started out with horrible incandescent 130-volt BR40 reflectors in the ceiling fixtures. [Read More]

Replacing Dropbox with BitTorrent Sync

[Edit: December, 2015 – Since BitTorrent Sync hit 2.x, I’m no longer using it and I can no longer recommend it.] Too many times, you’ve heard a cloud storage/sync product described as “like Dropbox.” There’s Box, OneDrive, Google Drive, iCloud Drive, Bitcasa, SpiderOak, Wuala, Transporter, and I’ve missed a bunch. It doesn’t matter because they’re all pretty bad, and nearly all have the same problem, which is that any data you upload can be decrypted by the provider. [Read More]

TestDisk Data Recovery on OS X

One of the 4TB external USB hard drives I use for local backups started randomly disconnecting a few days ago. Today it failed completely. It’s a Seagate Backup Plus model, where the bottom of the enclosure consists of a small, removable shim that contains the USB & power connections and the USB to SATA converter chip. After trying different USB ports and cables without success, I decided to hook up the drive directly using SATA. [Read More]

Migrating virtual machines from Amazon EC2 to Google Compute Engine

My Amazon EC2 discount contract is almost up, and I’ve been playing with Google Compute Engine (GCE). Initial impressions are that it’s faster and costs less money, particularly if you don’t want to pay up-front for EC2 reserved instances. Google’s web console is more modern than Amazon’s, though slightly less sophisticated. Google’s CLI tools are much faster and don’t require Java. Google’s API uses JSON instead of XML. In terms of capabilities, GCE is not as advanced as EC2, but it’s vastly more powerful than Linode, Digital Ocean, and the like. [Read More]

Secure browsing on open Wi-Fi hotspots

I frequently connect to insecure Wi-Fi networks on my iOS devices and my Mac. Aside from the risk of eavesdropping and malware when connecting to these hotspots, they frequently block access to services, insert advertisements in web pages, or worse. To work around these problems, I’ve tried numerous virtual private network (VPN) services. My experience with most of them has been awful. They tend to connect slowly or not at all, and I frequently can’t access anything on the Internet once the VPN connection is made. [Read More]