Category Archives: opensource

how to protect your privacy online

Who Are You Looking At?

With the whole NSA PRISM storm blowing over the internet I thought it would be nice to compile a list of free and open source software I know that can help in safeguarding your privacy as an alternative to proprietary software or online cloud services which are not to be trusted with your personal data.

Hosting everything yourself is one way to go like the folks at unhosted.org suggest, but it isn’t free as it will a) cost you some money and b) usually quite some time to set everything up. Not everyone has the technical knowledge to do this either, so a list of open source software and trustworthy services for the masses would be great.

Turns out prism-break.org is just that kind of list, so that saves me the trouble of compiling it myself. Nice. Here’s another one with mostly the same items on it. Mostly.

Photo by Caneles, cc-licensed.

windows rescue kit on a usb stick

Attempt Repair Install

While cleaning up an old machine I was first using CCleaner from Windows to wipe some partitions because DBAN crashed for some reason on it. To clean some of the Linux partitions on the drive which Windows can’t access, I dropped them so I could re-add them as NTFS partitions for further wiping. Problem was I forgot those partitions where also hosting my master boot record, so when I rebooted to confirm my partition changes… I ended up with a unbootable system.

Oops.

Now I had to find a way to wipe those disks from Linux, but first I still wanted to get access to my WinXP setup. I could have just nuked it from orbit (read: boot from a Linux Live CD and shred it) but I was just wondering if I would manage to get it to boot again, just in case I do this on a system that really matters some day. So I started browsing to the ISO’s available on the Universal USB Boot installer and ran into the awesome Trinity Rescue Kit.

I installed it on a very small USB drive (265MB) I had lying around and managed to rewrite me a Windows boot record with the tools supplied from the text-based menu. Nice! I also noticed that it has a bunch of disk rescue tools on board like a backup tool, full NTFS support, the Midnight Commander explorer for file recovery and a Windows password reset tool (hackedy-hack). On top of that it also has a virus scanner on board, ways to set up network file shares and good, detailed documentation.

This distro is certainly one that is getting a nice spot on my PC CPR tool belt. Without exploring all the goodness Trinity has to offer I’m sure it’s a huge time saver if you need to help out with a unbootable system or one seriously infected with trojans or virii. You can even use this to set up a headless file share server in no time if you want.

Good stuff.

Photo by lilbambi01, cc-licensed.

google reader replacement for geeks

Newspaper dog thinking RSS

Google Reader is quitting on us and there doesn’t seem to be an alternative if you don’t want something that tries to make your feeds look all fancy and shiny eye-candy-ish like Feedly or most of the alternatives I saw.

The things I loved in Google Reader are:

1. Accessible from anywhere (which means web-based basically), so desktop based RSS readers didn’t cut it.
2. I can use it from my Android phone, either with an app or straight from the website.
3. I can skim feeds quickly and star or tag articles I want to read later.
4. The read-later articles need to be imported into Instapaper, using something like IFTT.

I started looking at some open source solutions because I didn’t want to end up getting shut down again. In the least the services needed to allow me to import & export feeds easily in case it does bail out.

I noticed a few open source applications running on PHP that are interesting but only one of them is still actively developed and has a decent user base. So Tiny Tiny RSS is what I ended up testing out.
It’s pretty close to Google Reader (which makes sense because it’s an RSS aggregator and reader after all) but it isn’t pretending to become it, or implement every GR features. It’s sailing its own course, but since it’s pretty damn close I thought I’d give it a shot.

So here comes the geeky bit:

Since this is a web app and not a web service, you have to host it yourself.
So this means getting the code, uploading it to your server, setting up the database and configuring it.

If that didn’t scare you off, all of this is nicely explained in this lifehacker post and on the TT-RSS installation notes. So you’re pretty safe there. Recently the software was updated to enable it to run on a shared hosting server, so you can basically run it anywhere from now on.
If I wouldn’t have my own hosting I’d try to get it running on a NearlyFreeSpeech site to try it out for cheaps. You can set up a PHP site quick and cheap over there if you have the know-how.

There’s and Android application on the market you can try for 7 days for free to connect to your instance of Tiny Tiny RSS (after you open up the API settings in the configuration) and it works great. It costs only a few bucks so I figured I was willing to pay that to the author of this fine piece of work that’s available to the world for free after all.

It also supports starring and tagging posts, and it allows you to expose your starred items as an RSS feed so you can pull that into IFTT for syncing with Instapaper.

There you have it. All requirements are met with free software (except the Android app bit) and a bit of geeky work on your part to get things set up and running. So far things are running great and I didn’t run into any issues yet.
You can set this up for multiple users, so if you have friends that are also orphaned by Google Reader you can share your instance with them.

Photo by stylianosm, cc-licensed.

securely wiping your hard drive without dban

Technologic

Well if DBAN doesn’t cut it for some reason there’s always a more native Linux way to do this.

Step one is getting a Linux live CD, DVD or USB stick and boot from that. I used the Debian Live CD myself, which boots into character mode so you don’t end up with XServer not getting your video settings right.

Once you’re in a shell, you can use the shred command to wipe your HD’s data by overwriting it a number of times with random data. I found that out by reading a post by a lad named Jason on the topic which was a nice help. I only had to add the “sudo” call in front of the command to actually allow it to get write access to the disk on Debian.

First figure out what partition/drive you want to wipe by running:

cat /proc/partitions

Then, in my case, I had to run this to wipe sda:

sudo shred -fvz -n 6 /dev/sda

The -fvz basically means, [f]orce write permissions, [v]erbose output so you can see the wiping progress and write [z]ero’s on the last run to hide the wiping. -n 6 tells it to do 6 runs of random data writing.

Using DBAN is still the easier way to get this done, but if that’s causing you trouble you can use this as a backup wiping measure.

Photo by Hugo Chinaglia, cc-licensed.

donating bandwidth to open source

Skogafoss waterfall, iceland

If you’re like me and you have a big fat internet pipe entering your home then you probably have a lot of unused upload bandwidth at the end of the month. In fact, if you have one of those flat-rate unlimited bandwidth kind of packages which you lucky foreigners seem to have in abundance, then you have (in theory) a lot of unused bandwidth… always.

So how about using some of those gigs for a good cause? How about seeding some awesome and freely available open source software and content so others can get faster access to it. That wat you save the lads hosting those big ISOs from their servers some bucks by taking the load off their upload stream.

The solution is simple, boot up your favorite torrent client (uTorrent for example) get a few torrented downloads for the open source causes you feel like contributing to and seed away!

Good stuff to give bandwidth to are:

  • The Ubuntu Linux operating system. Seed the iso’s of the latest version.
  • Other free OS’s such as Debian, Suse, FreeBSD or whatever flavour you fancy.
  • Google’s Project Gutenberg, sharing a  DVD worth of free and open ebooks. It feels good to share a library of content from your machine, trust me. Also great to browse through yourself btw.
  • The free content (cc-licensed mostly) from clear-bits. Pick some stuff you want to check out yourself, music, video’s, games, anything and just remember to keep that torrent up for seeding. You won’t have a lot of downloads on these usually as they are only fetched sporadically, but keeping the seed up is like giving the other a thumbs up if you like his stuff.
  • Recently archive.org also put up a lot of its content in torrent form.

Be sure to check back on those OS releases now and then so you don’t end up seeding a dusty old version, but other than that, your torrent client is giving back without you having to do any effort. How sweet is that?

Photo by Massimo Margagnoni, cc-licensed.

getting good stats without google analytics

I Spy Cynthia K

Google is huge and scary these days isn’t it? I mean they track our ass all over the place and I was actually helping them to do so. On my blog I was using Google’s free Analytics service to keep track of who, when, where and why people came to my blog.

The stats are pretty, easy to understand and extremely extensive. The downside is that all these stats end up in the massive Googleplex data center and are without doubt neatly analysed and lined up with your regular Google searches through that cookie that identifies you no matter if you’re logged on or not.

No me gusta.
So I removed that line of JavaScript from my pages ét voila, no more Google snooping on my watch. Problem is I liked those pretty graphs and lines and I sort of missed taking a peek at them now and then to see what pages where the most interesting and what crazy search results people where using to get to my blog.

Then I ran into something called Piwik. It’s free, open source and it does pretty much exactly the same thing as GA, but stores everything in your own private MySQL DB. It installs as easily as WordPress on your web server, and to activate it you just insert the JavaScript snippet it provides you with. A few seconds later you’ll be getting pretty graphs and figures and spend countless hours spying on your blog’s visitors with the real-time results.

Sweet!

Photo by Flood, cc-licensed.

how to edit mp3 id3 tags with free software

waveforms, precious little waveforms

So you’re putting those cool mp3’s online filled with great music. But when people download them, all they get to read off their fancy smartphone, iPod or mp3 player’s display is an ugly ass file name. Bummer.
Wouldn’t it be sweet as pie if you’d see an album title scroll by, maybe even an artist name, or a track title for example? Think of the possibilities! Well, thanks to the awesomeness of ID3 tags and  some freely available open source/free software this will soon be within your grasp! If you keep reading of course.

Here’s how you can do that after downloading and installing the open source audio and video player VLC.

  1. Open up VLC into playlist mode (View > Playlist).
  2. Drag a file into the playlist.
  3. Right-click it, and choose “Information”.
  4. Edit the properties with your infoz. Make it sounds awesome.
  5. Click the Save Metadata button when you’re finished. That’s it!

Don’t like VLC? Well how about the free, not quite open source, but never the less equally awesome music player extraordinaire Foobar2000:

  1. Start Foobar2000, and open an mp3 file in it.
  2. Right click the mp3 file in the playlist, select Properties.
  3. There you have it. Just edit the fields, and click OK to save. You’re done. Can you feel it? Awesome isn’t it?

But maybe you also want to edit your files in a bit more potent type of sound editor. Well, the FOSS audio-editor Audacity can do just that for you. You have to setup Audacity with the Lame mp3 encoder first however, and requires you to save the mp3 under another file name. Not so handy to edit tags quickly, but if you’re doing some editing and mastering on your mp3’s first you can use this baby to add the necessary tags right here.

  1. Open the mp3 file in Audacity.
  2. From the File menu, select Export.
  3. Select where you want to export the mp3. A screen will pop-up where you can enter the ID3 tag info. Easy peasy.

So there you have it. 3 options to edit those mp3 tags without having to spend a penny software.
Foobar2000 is definitely worth checking if you’re in need of a good music player anyway, and VLC doesn’t hurt to have around either as that baby plays about any video format ever invented.

Be gone ugly ass file names I say! Be gone!

Photo by altemark, cc-licensed.