I hate it when I’m blocked using my VPN

vpn2

Like many IT people, I use a VPN when I’m surfing the internet.  Granted I post a ton of shit on my blog, twitter, and Facebook but sometimes you just want to go about your business without people logging you right and left.  There are literally tons of articles out there saying that in order to stay secure, you need to use a VPN to protect yourself from hackers and other unsavory people.  Recently I’ve started to get blocked on websites that I use quite frequently because they want to know that I’m not a hacker since hackers use VPN.  Umm no shit hackers use VPN, they don’t want to be traced either but that doesn’t mean that everyone that uses VPN is a hacker.

There are tons of ways to ensure security, one of the best ways is through 2 factor authentication which is what Google or Facebook uses for their sites.  I can surf them all day long using my VPN without a problem but places like hotel sites and banks are becoming restrictive.  If I’m using public wifi (which is very possible since I stay in a lot of hotels), theres shit to get done but I don’t want anyone snooping so I use a VPN but those sites don’t let me use a VPN.  I mean come on thats pretty freaking stupid.  I want to be secure in the transactions I make while staying safe but the vendors I use won’t let me use VPN because they think I’m a hacker.  Thats a pretty poor security policy right there.

Even when I’m at home I’m using my VPN and I even secure my my router so its hard to get into but I’m paranoid like that and want the extra protection.  There’s no reason for anyone to know where I’m surfing or what I’m doing online since thats my business.  SSL and HTTPS might be secure but if someone is snooping on the open internet, your credentials will get get stolen somehow.  I would love to change vendors but thats just way too much hassle.  What I do find interesting is that if I use VPN on my iPhone and use the app for my vendors they’re fine with it.  Seriously I don’t get it but I’m going to happily use my VPN to stay safe and to keep the bad people away.

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Firefox FAIL!!

Ahh Firefox, you have failed me time and again these last few months and for the life of me, I don’t know what happened to you when you were upgraded to version 3.6.

I’ve been a heavy user of Firefox since it was introduced a few years back and for quite a while its been a great web browser.  I like all the extensions that I’ve been using with Firefox but lately the latest build of Firefox seems to be freezing an aweful lot on just some regular web pages.  I don’t do a lot of heavy browsing, I just use it for running Seesmic for my Twitter feed and then Meebo for IM.  I use it even less at home since I use my iPad more for browsing than my computer at the moment.  I was filling out a form this morning I don’t know how many times before I got fed up and switched back to the old staple, IE8.  Say what you will about IE, it just works which is why I’ve been keeping it around (well its not like I can get rid of it being a WinTel guy)

I know there are other alternatives like Opera, Safari, and Chrome but I don’t know if I’m willing to jump onto another web browsing platform.  I guess we’ll see if Firefox continues to fail me or not.  If it does, I’ll start looking around for another platform to replace Firefox and as usual I’ll keep IE as my trusty backup.

Testing my feeds

Update: It seems that my new configuration is working.  I can’t check Facebook to confirm that feed but the one for Twitter is working just fine.  Huzzah!!

In order for this blog to reach the masses, I use Twitterfeed and Feedburner.  This is just a test post to see what happens.  Lately my blog posts have been posting twice in Facebook and Twitter for some odd reason and I think its because of my Twitterfeed configuration.

Normally I would put this thing on a timer and see what happens at the end of the day but I’m into instant gratification so here it goes!!

Flash for mobile devices needed!

After using a number of different mobile devices over the years there is one thing that is always missing, Flash support. Flash allows for some really cool and dynamic websites but they can’t be run on the current crop of mobile devices, even the iPhone doesn’t provide this type of support. Windows Mobile has a browser called Skyfire that can do it but the website has to go through their servers first and the web experience isn’t nearly as good as the iPhone.  The native browsers for iPhone, Windows Mobile, and even Android don’t provide this native support for Flash sites and you just see this little place holder where the awesome content should be.

Enabling Flash and Silverlight (the MS competitor to Flash) for mobile smartphones would be fantastic. I would be able to see some of the cool content on some of the more dynamic websites out there like Flickr, MLB Game Day or the embedded videos on sites like Engadget or Gizmodo.  More importantly, I could play some cool online games like Farmville or games on Yahoo Games which are Flash based as well.

I have heard over the years the same complaint from websites like WMExperts and TreoCentral that regularly review new smart phones and the question of Flash support always comes up, especially on whether or not it will finally be in the next update from MS, Apple, or Palm. I will admit that Flash sites are pretty memory intensive (my personal website used to be in Flash) but after all these years you would rink that MS, Palm, and Apple would have included this by now.  There are some third party options but they don’t seem to have the spit and polish of some of the more well developed players like Pocket Internet Explorer and Safari for iPhone.

I guess the only thing that I can do is continue to suffer without it and hope that Windows Mobile 7, webOS 2.0, and iPhone 4.0 include Flash and Silverlight support. Whoever conquers this hurdle first will probably be the front runner when the time comes for me to get a new phone in 2010.  I’ll continue to watch the tech blogs and smart phone websites for any news of this function finally coming out.  Now if someone could find a way to get Windows Mobile 6.5 on my Treo Pro I’ll be happy as a clam!

Mint.com Improved!

Mint.com is a personal finance website that I’ve been using on and off for the last year or so.  I’ve normally favored Yodlee Money Center because they had more tools available but Mint.com is certainly improving themselves for the better.  It also helps that they have their own application for the iPhone/iPod Touch.

The biggest improvements that I’ve been able to see is their budgeting and trend analysis areas.  I used to use MS Money for years and tracked every little expense by downloading my transactions and categorizing them.  For the past two years I’ve abandoned Money because it just didn’t seem to make sense anymore.  The power of Money was the budgeting and trend analysis on spending and income but since Mint.com has introduced these things, I’ve been able to set these areas up again.

Mint.com already had a basic budget tool but it wasn’t very robust, the new implementation is a bit better and makes things much easier to see.  Mint’s power has always been presenting things in a visually appealing manner and this implementation is no different.  Here is a link on how to budget with Mint.  The cool thing is that it does the following which is new:

  • Auto categorize transactions and add them to your budget
  • Track spending and income over time to view spending and income trends so that informed decisions can be made on how to change your lifestyle
  • Set goals for spending and saving
  • Live monitoring of your budget with email or SMS alerts

The live monitoring of my budget is really useful, it tells me when I’m about to overspend or when I send in a bill payment without me having to fire up an application that sits on my home desktop.

The trend analysis graphs are much improved since the first iteration of the product.  It can show how your net worth has changed over time, what you’ve been spending more money on, etc.  Money Center does the same thing but isn’t as visually appealing.  The graphs are helpful in tracking how I’m doing overall and where I need to start cutting expenses.

A few things I would like to see on Mint.com are features that are on Money Center.  The first is a calendar that shows when all my bills are due, the second is the ability to group accounts and only show reports on that grouping, adding reward accounts and tracking how many points I have in each one.  Other than that, the app is much improved and I hope they can make further improvements in the future.  I’ll continue to use Mint alongside with Money Center but it might over take Money Center if they keep on adding excellent improvements like this last update

Blog Automation – Getting your blog to update your Facebook status

As I’ve been experimenting with WordPress and some new services to get my blog out into the interweb I think I’ve been relatively successful with my current method so I thought I’d share it just in case anyone wants to give this a try.  Here is my current set up but depending on who the blog is supposed to reach, some of these services won’t be required or it just might become popular enough on its own that this won’t be needed.  Anyway, here we go!

Services:

First off there are a number of free services that will be needed to make this happen and in order to select the services you need a goal is required.  My ultimate goal was to get my blog to update my Facebook status without me having to do it manually by blogging then going to Facebook and adding a link.  After doing some research into the problem I was able to come up with a solution that is working really well.  First off I’ll list the services I have to make all this happen and all of them are free.

  1. WordPress – Blog
  2. Facebook
  3. Twitter
  4. Twitterfeed
  5. FeedBurner – Optional

OK, first things first, you need to sign up for all these services and I’ll say what service does what.  Most of them should be familiar already such as Facebook and Twitter but Twitterfeed and FeedBurner might be a little new.

WordPress – Pretty simple, this is where all the blog posts go.  What is blogged about doesn’t really matter.  I post things about technology for the most part and things that occur in my life.  I have been writing in my blog since 2005 give or take about various topics.  It started as a news page for my website but now its what I use most to write about things that interest me or that I think others might want to read.  It also helps to keep my writing skills sharp.

Facebook – Ahh the huge social network that everyone is on.  Pretty easy as well, this is where most of your friends, family, co-workers, ex’s, pretty much everyone you know is on this thing and is probably on your friend list too.  The big thing with Facebook for me is the status updates since this is where all your blog posts are eventually going to end up complete with a web link to the post.

Twitter – Another social like network that limits your updates to 140 characters.  This updates people on what you’re doing but unlike Facebook, the entire planet can see it and not just your friends like in Facebook.  This is the intermediate area where your blog is going to be published.  I’ll explain that later.

Twitterfeed – This is the service that makes everything possible and helps the snowball that is your blog post to pick up a ton of speed.  As the name implies this integrates with Twitter and your blog.  This is kind of a set it and forget it service but its extremely useful.  It will generate a tiny url for the blog post so it fits in a tweet to Twitter.

FeedBurner – This service is optional.  It gathers statistics about your RSS feed for your blog to let you know who’s viewing your blog.  Pretty nifty if you’re concerned with stats up the wazoo.

Now that you know what everything kind of does, its time to bring the web together and get stuff posted.

The first thing that needs to be done is to get Twitter to update your Facebook status.  There is an app in Facebook that will link the two accounts together so that whenever you tweet, it reflects that straight away in Facebook as a status update.  This is very useful since I can tweet using a text message from my phone without going to the web.  I would test this out a few times just to make sure its working correctly.  Facebook can still be updated manually but this won’t be reflected in Twitter.  Just keep in mind that once enabled, whatever you do on Twitter is done in Facebook.

The second thing that needs to be done is to setup Twitterfeed.  Twitterfeed is a service that takes RSS feeds and sends them as tweets to Twitter.  All blogs come with some form of RSS address and this address is what goes into Twitterfeed.  Twitterfeed can look for new posts every 30 minutes or so for the latest post and tweet it.  At the same time, Twitterfeed adds a url link so that people can go to the post.

For those that love statistics, FeedBurner is the way to go.  It shows in a report format who is reading your blog, how many hits it gets a day, who is subscribing to it, etc.  All that needs to be done is to put the RSS link from the blog to FeedBurner and then it will start tracking stats.  I think the stats that WordPress gives you is plenty but this is for those that want a bit more.

Pretty much thats it!  For those of you who need to know the process flow it goes like this:

  1. Blog post -> Twitterfeed
  2. Twitterfeed -> Twitter
  3. Twitter -> Facebook

And that is how all my blog posts find its way on to Facebook.  I’ve seen a big jump in readership but I think it also depends on what I happen to blog about.  Thats it for now.  More inspiration will come after the weekend is done.

Testing out Scribefire for Blogging

I’m continuing my blogging experimentation with WordPress by trying different blogging editors.  The latest one that I’m trying is Scribefire which is a plugin for Firefox which I use as my primary web browser.  This isn’t actually new to me, I’ve used Scribefire before when I was still using Blogger but I always went back to the regular web interface because it was just easier.  That was quite a few versions ago so I decided to get the latest version of the plugin to give it another go.

The interface is pretty simple and it has most of the editing capabilities that I could ask for.  I like that it lets me preview what my blog will look like and that it can download some of my previous posts so that I can edit them if I want to.  There is a neat feature that lets you broadcast your post to some of the more popular services like StumbleUpon and Facebook.  I already broadcast out via Twitter so I don’t have a real need to do so using that feature.

There is a preview feature that is really cool, it works the same way as the one in LiveWriter which I was trying out a few days ago.  I’ll continue to try out each one and then decide which one will be my offline blogging tool.  Who knows, maybe I’ll just do it in Word or something but thats kinda cumbersome as well.  Time to publish this bad boy and see how it looks!  Now if I could only find the “Save as Draft” feature I’d be all set.  OK never mind I found it when you hit the publish button!  LOL!