The Blog of Tom Webster

Chronic Ranter, Reviewer, and Developer. I speak only for myself, opinions are my own.

The Move to OctoPress

  2013-01-30 02:02:00 PST

As you may have noticed (or not), things have been down, or not updating, or a test site for a while. I'm in the process of moving my personal blog over to OctoPress. I really like the idea of managing everything in the terminal, and having GitHub host all of my content. It will also be nice to be able to post from anywhere, as long as I have a text editor handy.

I am in the process of manually converting everything over from Blogger (the automated scripts have done bugger-all for me), starting with the most recent posts and working backwards. So you'll see content pop up here and there, filling in past posts.

DNS Issues

  2013-01-23 01:51:00 PST

Sorry about the site being down for a while. I moved my domain over to hover.com, and completely forgot to update the DNS settings....

Samsung ARM Chromebook Review

  2012-11-20 02:08:00 PST

Samsung ARM Chromebook Review

I've been a fan of Chromebooks ever since Google shipped me the CR48. For what seemed like a pretty under-specced netbook, the potential was really the main thing that hooked me. I used the CR48 religiously until I upgraded to the new Samsung Series 5 (3G/Atom). It became my main computer in college courses, doing pretty much everything I needed a computer for, minus a few programming assignments. For those types of projects, I relied on LogMeIn to get me through, but it wasn't a great solution.

With the old Chromebook, I encountered quite a bit of slowdown when streaming some high-def content or streaming music and browsing image-heavy websites (non-recovering Reddit addict here). I had to make a rule for Chromebook use, no Gmail in the background if I wanted to keep things running smoothly. For the most part, this wasn't a huge problem, but over time it starts to get grating. I'm happy to report, as I write this review from my new $250 Samsung Chromebook, that I am streaming music, keeping an eye on Gmail, streaming 720p from YouTube, Redditing, and writing this review in Docs (Drive?) with only a few hiccups here and there as new songs and videos load, not even enough to be an issue. If there's any general-purpose computer that could make me believe in the power of ARM, its this.

The good news is that Google has finally done away with the under-powered 'feel' of the old Chromebooks. This computer feels fast, and in reality, that's the only thing that matters. It finally feels good to use. If I were Intel, I'd be reviewing the battle strategy right about now.

As far as software goes, the stable build of Chrome OS is nice enough, its still mostly cloud based, although the majority of what I use Drive for works offline. I had to restart the system to switch to the Dev channel, and Chrome OS restored my tabs and windows to the exact location where I had them open on the screen, that's pretty cool. You can even pin files for offline access (think pinning Google Books or Music in Android). Chrome OS also has support for VPN connections (L2TP/IPsec [PSK or User Cert] and OpenVPN), although as of this writing, I haven't had the chance to test this functionality.

Now, lets get to hardware. Initially, the build quality feels a bit plasticy and cheap, although this wears off once you get your hands on the keyboard. The whole machine is incredibly lightweight, so much so that it feels more like a toy or display model than an actual computer. Its light enough that carrying it from room to room with one hand almost feels natural. The keyboard is rather nice to type on and feels very natural. The whole system has a very sleek look of it. With a slightly-shiny silver paint job and a matte black keyboard, it really has a professional look going for it. Google Goggles even thought I was taking pictures of a Macbook Pro. I can only imagine how cool it would look with a backlit keyboard. Battery life seems less than other Chromebooks I've used (from my averages, about 6ish hours of high usage / high brightness), but I don't see this being a problem. The power adapter scares me a bit, it uses a very thin plug that seems like it may get bent out of shape if a wayward child or dog ran at it from the wrong angle, but time will tell on that point. In this build, Samsung decided the majority of ports would be better places on the back of the system, and given the sleek design, I'm inclined to agree with them. Full-size HDMI, 1x USB 2.0, 1x USB 3.0, SD slot (with a really nice auto-flap that you can't break off), 3.5mm Audio Out, and Sim Slot. The Mali-T604 GPU really shines when streaming 720p video. I watched an entire movie streaming from Google Drive with 2 performance hiccups, much better than previous models. Next year, I'm placing my bets on ARM.

But this is a Chromebook after all, and Google is all about building open platforms, so lets talk dev options. Samsung did away with the physical 'jailbreak' switch in favor of a key combination to launch into recovery mode. I can't say I really blame them, as long as the feature is well documented (and it is). Even the boot flash is writable (if you remove the write-protection screw from the bottom first), much better than taking the CR48 apart to put it into write-mode. Theoretically, you could hack the software on this as much as you wanted without prying apart the case once. This is absolutely wonderful. Check out the developer page for everything from component information to disassembly guides to dev mode guides: http://www.chromium.org/chromium-os/developer-information-for-chrome-os-devices/samsung-arm-chromebook

All in all, for $250, you can't really go wrong. This is an outstanding build for the money, and I finally feel that Chromebooks have hit the price point where they are considered more than a joke or a nerd product. Friends of mine have actually purchased this model at retail stores because the price was right. I do still dream of a day when you can buy a Chromebook for $100, and it looks like Acer is moving that direction already.

Check out the gallery for some pictures of the machine: https://plus.google.com/photos/114490039330264150159/albums/5812848961089473681

Eject the Warp Core: A practical look at filesystem segregation and encryption

  2012-05-10 19:00:00 PDT

Here's my presentation I gave at Ohio InfoSec Forum today about the "Ejectable Core Backtrack Machine" and how filesystem segregation and encryption can help keep your data out of the wrong hands.

To get the full experience, open up the speaker notes to read along with what I'll be saying. It won't replace actually being there, but hopefully it'll help you grasp the concepts.

Future considerations (from InfoSec):

tmpfs instead of /tmp Find a way to disable direct memory access on the kernel level (firewire and PCI can exploit this)

Tom's Tutorials: TrueCrypt - Easy Mode

  2012-04-19 12:59:00 PDT

I've been looking to post some more tutorials on various tech things, so here's the first. In this video, I explain getting started with TrueCrypt. Just the easy stuff for now, how to create normal and hidden volumes. Later, I'll explain full disk encryption and hidden operating systems.

If you want to subscribe to the playlist, you may do so here.

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