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Archives for : February2012

Virgin Mobile Usage Android App: Version 2.0 Released

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I’m excited to announce that I’ve finally been able to push out the update for my Virgin Mobile app that I’ve had in the works for at least 2 months. I have been really keen to get it out, but held off until after it had been tested as much as possible, to try and reduce as many bugs as possible.

I’ve listened to overall feedback from comments on the Android market. It now looks better, functions better, and, well, let’s just say it is much better than what it was. If you used my one before and didn’t like it, definitely try it again.

Changes include a new interface, new widget, billing support (view bills,) and most importantly, an improved backend that uses a database to store information. This won’t be noticeable to users at first, but over time it should be: the app should be more reliable, and display better data. The version before hand was riddled with bugs, and many of them were unavoidable due to the way that I stored the data. It got so bad that I decided the best way to fix everything up was to ditch the old system and implement an improved system.

I hope you like it, and remember, I’m encouraging those who use this app to donate to World Vision if they are considering making a donation. Donations are going to go to a lot more use there than they will going to me!

Visit the Market Page

Experiences with Google E-Books

I never thought I’d be a person that would read books on an electronic device (given that I don’t read that much fiction, though I do read quite a lot of non-fiction.) Just the thought of reading from a back lit screen made my eyes hurt. If I did, it would have to be on an e-ink screen. I also don’t like the idea of not really “owning” a book.

Well, I thought I’d give it a go and catch up on some books that I didn’t read in my childhood (which I should have.) I have to say, reading on my phone was no where near as bad as I expected. I read about 5 (short to medium length) books in about 4 week ends (a bit over a book per weekend,) and I didn’t get any headaches (which I expected.) The only thing I made sure to do was to turn the brightness all the way down and rely more on another light source.

As for the feeling of not owning the book, I figured, they were only $5 each, I’m happy to pay that to read it just once, and if I loose it after that, well, I can always buy a hard copy if I really want. That said, they are in my Google account, so I could always read them again. The one downside is you can’t give them away or sell them, especially if you know you aren’t likely to read them again… Maybe more libraries should try and get on the e-book wagon.

That said, I don’t feel I could have a textbook as only an e-book. There is just something about having a physical book that makes it a lot easier, because a textbook you’re likely to be jumping around a lot, flicking pages, wanting to put book marks everywhere, post sticky notes in, and if you’re so inclined, write in them (I try and avoid this though, and if I did it would definitely be in pencil.) That said, I wish more books would offer a service where you could get both the physical book and the e-book for a discounted price, because they both have advantages (the main one for an e-book is that you can search for phrases.)

What are your thoughts on e-books? Love them, hate them, or in between?

XKCD password: are longer passwords really that much better?

Source: XKCD

Source: XKCD

One of my favourite webcomics, XKCD, posted a comic regarding password strength, and how its better to use a long, but easy to remember password, over a shorter but more complicated password. I find that Randall (the author of XKCD) generally does some good research on all the concepts that he writes comics on, and I find that I agree with most of them, though this one particularly took my interest. Whilst I don’t disagree that longer passwords are going to be more secure against traditional brute force attacks, I want to look further into how much better having a longer password is.

Issue 1: Entry of the password
Mobile devices these days are more popular than ever, and its going to continue to increase. People are constantly asked for their password, and have to constantly type it in. Whilst the password “correcthorsebatterystaple” (the example used in the comic,) may be easy to remember, it’s also long to type it. If you have a different password for every website you use (which is a good idea,) people are going to find it hard to justifying typing in a 25+ character password for every website they visit.

Issue 2: Brute force isn’t really the main way to get passwords
Yes, the method used in the comic would make it very secure against a traditional brute force attack. That said, I suspect that brute force attacks are not really successfully used that much beyond dictionary attacks or passwords equal to or longer than 8 characters. There are other methods such as key loggers, malware, system vulnerability and social engineering (I have seen first hand someone emailing their username and password to their email account in response to a phishing email they received.) These methods can generally result in more passwords being discovered for the same amount of effort (if the goal is just to harvest passwords and isn’t targeted.) The length of a password doesn’t matter in instances like this.

Issue 3: Most online systems won’t allow passwords that long
OK, so this is more of a reason of why it’s not practicable rather than why it doesn’t really make a difference, but in short, quite a lot of online websites have a limited on the number of characters for a password. This isn’t a problem with the user though, I think that online systems should all allow for at least 32 character passwords.

Issue 4: Other security measures will/should kick in
Any website with good security measures should have a system in place that will bar login attempts for a particular account after a set number of unsuccessful attempts. In the case of having a long password because it makes it harder to brute force, a system like this would make that argument void. Any website that doesn’t have a system like this in place probably isn’t one that I’d want to have my personal details with.

Exceptions
There are exceptions where using passwords that the comic suggests would actually make an actual difference: encryption. This is because if someone has an encrypted file, it’s a lot easier to do brute force because the only limitation is the speed of your computer… you can’t be locked out of an account after any number of unsuccessful attempts, you don’t have to wait for the server to respond, and so on and so forth. In fact, TrueCrypt recommends having a password of at least 20 characters.

Conclusion
I am all for having a good password for every website you visit, but having a long one may not make that much difference for many online sites.

UbuntuOS is back… Sort of

I have required the domain name ubuntuos.com, a domain that I owned 4 or 5 years ago but unfortunately let it expire. Anyway, I now have it again. Not sure what I’ll do with it, so for the time being Ill point it here to my personal blog.

One thing I do have to admit though: I haven’t really used Ubuntu that much recently. Middle of 2011 I did have it installed on my desktop, but I always had Windows dual-booted (my desktop was built for gaming, so there was no way I wasn’t keeping Windows on it.) I had problems with dual-screens and Ubuntu and, well, Windows did everything I wanted. I wasn’t able to successfully get Ubuntu installed on my laptop (because I would use it on my laptop, since it’s not a gaming laptop.) I will get back into Ubuntu in order to keep the blog around though.