the itjerk

my adventures with technology

Category Archives: New Product

parental controls

I have a teen that refuses to do homework. You know, gets a “zero”. Thus, I take the phone away. However, teen needs a computer for homework. Fine. But you know when she gets on to the computer, she’s going to go to all those sites where “screenagers” waste their time. That’s fine. I’m going to show you how to block individual sites using OpenDNS and your Router. [Note that I’m going to use terminology for my Netgear, but chances are if you’re bothered to read this, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Also, while my Netgear router has a “Blocked Sites” function, it doesn’t work. Useless!]

DNS can be set in many places: local computer, router, modem. I’m not quite sure what trumps what, but I believe that’s the line. Using your router for DNS is better than using your modems – my AT&T modem does not allow it to change! Setting on an device level, well, that’s a lot of work. Also, I have to believe that most “screenagers” don’t know what DNS even is. So, here we go.

The first step is to open your router’s settings and go to Internet Settings (also called WAN). Set the Primary and Secondary numbers to OpenDNS, 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220. Now, all requests originating form your router will go through OpenDNS. I’m sure there is some chatter on whether using Cisco-owned product is all that good, but from what I’ve read, it’s one of the better choices out there for the home user. What you may give up in privacy, you’ll gain in secure web browsing.

The second step is to let OpenDNS know that request from your router are yours. Okay, that may sound all scary and Big Brother, but let’s not pretend that our web surfing is anonymous. It’s not. You buy your internet from someone, or are you really getting it for free from a leaky neighbor or a nearby Starbucks?

To sign up for an OpenDNS account, go to their website and sign up for a free Home account. All it requires is an email address. Once completed, open their Dashboard from a computer on your home network. Under settings, add your local network: it’s going to be the IP address of your modem. Give it name, and save it. OpenDNS will now associate requests from that IP as yours. Under Web Content Filtering, you’ll see two areas. The top is a predefined set for a variety of “undesirable” sites – if I had teenage boys, I’d sure as hell use this to block the “naughty bits”. The bottom section allows individual site blockage. Here’s what I wanted:

Give it about five-ten minutes (they say three) and those sites are as good as gone! While a web browser may give a different warning (usually a cert error), dig one deeper with nslookup, you’ll see what’s going on:

PS Desktop> nslookup snapchat.com
Server: UnKnown
Address: 192.168.0.1

Non-authoritative answer:
Name: snapchat.com
Addresses: ::ffff:146.112.61.104
146.112.61.104

And if you go to that IP:

Couple of points: First, you’ll probably need to run Cisco’s OpenDNS-Updater program as your ISP provides your modem with a dynamic host; exact same thing as if you were running a DynamicDNS service like DuckDNS. Second, a really smart kid could probably figure out how those sites are being blocked. My kid is smart, but if she was really that smart, she’d just do her homework in the first place.

One the web:
https://www.opendns.com/home-internet-security/

byopc 2022

With the arrival of Ubuntu 22.04 LTS, aka Jammy Jellyfish, it’s time to build a new Linux box. Hard to believe that another four years has already passed. I’m still happy with the old one, but the fans are a bit noisy, and I’d like to up performance. Note that this computer is an “always-on” dedicated music server for Roon software, containing a 4TB RAID1 with my music collection. And that’s just about all I use it for: ripping CDs to the library, running Roon server, the occasional DVD or CD burn, and of course, having the Linux environment at home to keep my itjerk skills up.

Over the years, I’ve found myself gravitate almost exclusively to the Windows environment for “day to day” computing. Why? It’s just fine for me. Other than running a few applications (mostly InDesign), the vast majority of my desktop experience is inside a web browser. Yours too, probably. And as someone that’s spent the past 20+ years in desktop support, I’m completely agnostic about Mac vs Windows vs Linux. Whatever costs less should be one’s top choice, not some brand fetish. Whether it’s a Dell or any Apple, Windows or macOS or Ubuntu, a properly maintained computer is both safe and secure. “Better” is subjective.

I’ve chose an Intel i3-10105 processor for the computer because a) it’s the cheapest I could find ($89) and b) it gives me plenty of “boost” from the current G4400 Pentium; more cores/threads/cache, faster clock, and only mildly less power efficiency (65w vs 54w). For the motherboard, I’ll need an LGA 1200 socket and a quick look at the Microcenter website yields the ASUS H510M-E Prime Intel microATX for $85. I’ll throw in a very fast 256GB NVMe M.2 drive for $32 for the boot drive and that’s about all I need. I have 8GB of DDR4 2133 RAM from the previous build that to reuse (along with case, power supply, etc). That’s a total bill of $202 for new computer “guts”.

The very first thing to do is ensure I have a backup of the RAID1. I’m going to transfer the RAID card and drives to the new mobo, which should go without a hitch (it did), but having a fresh backup gives me 100% peace of mind. I’m getting a new M.2 boot drive, so I’ll have the previous SSD to copy things over. Then, I’ll be sure to get a list of programs I’ll need to reinstall along with bookmarks, config files and my bash history (a wealth of knowledge!). With an initial minimum install of Ubuntu, I’ll need a few things, but mostly they and their dependencies relate to Roon, CD ripping and playback (notably Fre:AC and it’s config files!), plus a few DVD programs like Handbrake, DeeVeeDee and DVDAE. No need to bring extra software baggage to a clean install; if I forgot something, I can always install later.

One thing about the installation: maybe I’m getting old or maybe the lighting was just bad, but I did have to recheck some of my connections inside the case. RAM wasn’t clipped completely, USB header was off and I didn’t push the audio plug in all the way! The old SPDIF card I had doesn’t have the right pin config, so I’ll splurge $17 for a new one.

After downloading Ubuntu 22.04 LTS, I burned a DVD of the iso but it didn’t work. So I quickly made a USB drive and installation was fine. I did a minimal install, no encryption (PITA to enter a password and no way to do it remotely). I did get a couple boot warnings, but after I updated the mobo’s BIOS and the ACPI warning went away, while enabling VMX in the BIOS advanced settings corrected that. Still have “SGX disabled in BIOS” to deal with. One other thing, when the computer boots, it doesn’t display the RAID card’s screen. Hmmm.

Now on to Jammy Jellyfish!

Microsoft Surface Go 3

Yeah, I’m a jerk, I bought one. $379 from their website, delivered in a couple days. It booted into Windows 11 and all is good except screen sharing cuts out though after a minute or so. Wonder why? Sold the orignal Surface Go on eBay for $156.50 plus shipping.

new computers

My teenage daughters received new computers this Xmas. The younger one (freshman in high school) got the Surface Laptop Go. It was relatively inexpensive at $540 for a 10th Gen i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB model. I also opted for a Microsoft Complete package that runs $84 for two years. It has a touch screen, touch Windows Hello power button, 12.4″ screen with 1536 x 1024 (148 PPI) resolution. On the disappointing end was that it arrived with Windows 10 2004. After a round of updates, I had to use that Windows 11 Installation Assistant to get to Windows 11. Also disappointing is the 720p camera and lack of lighted keyboard. But for what she’ll be doing, web browsing, watching movies and (hopefully) schoolwork, it was a great solution. I just hope it’s durable.

The older daughter (junior in high school) made the pitch for an Apple MacBook Air, as she didn’t want “some janky-ass Surface computer that I’ll never like”. Fair enough, all of her friends have Apple computers. Ordered on a Tuesday evening, it arrived the next morning at 9:30am in an Apple Store bag, hand delivered to my door (for $9.00 extra). It was a base model, with M1 chip, 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD, costing $899 (with Education pricing). The Air has a superior Retina screen (though without touch capabilities) and a lighted keyboard (good to see that touch bar gone). I also opted for annual Applecare at $70 per year. Kids, right?

Those Dell Latitude 3190s? Not sure if I’ll scrap or sell them, they got some heavy use during the pandemic and you know, kids put stickers all over their laptops! But I did upgrade them to Windows 11 (one required me to turn on TPM in the BIOS) before doing a Reset this PC that (among other things) cleared the TPM before restoring the OS. That’s comforting.

windows 11

Windows 11 is upon us. A fleet of new Lenovo M70s prompted to upgrade out of the box, while my newish Dell Vostro mading me use the Windows 11 Installation Assistant tool. Given the clean-look of Windows 10, I was initially a little underwhelmed with the new look, but with all new OSes, I’ve grown love the new-found elegance that is Windows 11. I do have one little beef: PLEASE add a TaskBar Corner Overflow setting for SHOW ALL.

new macbooks – overspec’d is overserved

They’re in the store, those shiny new Apple MacBook Pros with the M1 Pro and M1 MAX chips, 10 Core CPUs, up to 32 Core GPUs, up to 64 GBs RAM and 8TB SSD. Go big, Apple hopes, so your $2500 laptop will end up costing $5000! With the iPhone’s 16-core Neural Engine too for all those pictures you’ll be taking with your laptop!

Look how easy it is to add an extra grand or two to a machine? Apple consumers are sheep! Apple Marketing FTW!

google discovery doesn’t work

One of the most useful features of my Pixel 5 is the “swipe right on the home screen” for my Google Discovery page. I use to find my most favorite pieces of information – box scores and upcoming games on the sports teams I follow. Except it hasn’t lately. The remedy is clunky: Go to Settings>Storage>Other Apps and delete the “clear google search data” for the Google app. Viola, they appear back, but only until the next refresh.

I had this issue a while back, maybe a couple years, and the solution was to remove all the items that I’ve hidden from my Interests. Not this time. In fact, the whole Interests is a little wonky too; sometimes items that I’ve search appear with the option to either follow or block. Only sometimes.

It’s a shame because this really is one of the most useful features of my phone. C’mon Google, listen up!

new dell pc

Recently I searched this website for information about my Windows desktop only to find BYOPC 2016 – is that computer really five years old? Indeed it is, so with little hesitation I set out to find a replacement. Why? Foremost, I believe in a four (4) year replacement cycle for desktop computers. Remember, there’s no badge of honor earned from your janky old computer. Performance, security, safety, peace of mind and your itjerk’s respect all factor in. Second, the computer is not Windows 11 compatible, which as an IT professional will be important for me. Finally, it was an inexpensive build, on the noisy side (cheap case) and low on storage (128GB boot drive). Yet as cheap as it was, it served me well, but now it’s time to move on!

As my primary desktop, it was quite easy for me to arrive at the decision to buy a new computer. Building computers is fun, but good, workable options are just inexpensive. Don’t forget, PC makers spend a lot of time designing well-engineered systems; that’s part of what we pay for. I don’t game, so I have little need for power or anything but a standard configuration, including one that is Windows 11 ready. Now, I haven’t had a Dell computer since the old Dimension C521 in 2007, but my recent experiences with my daughter’s Latitude 3190s (despite initial problems) brought me around again.

A quick trip to Dell.com yielded a Vostro 3681 in a small form-factor case, with 8GB RAM, 256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe Solid State Drive and an Intel 10th Gen i5-10400 processor(6-Core, 12M Cache, 2.9GHz to 4.3GHz) processor, all for $499 (after a $50 coupon code). The HDMI port fits well with my KVM, and it has an extra bay for a spare hard drive. Pandemic-driven built-in bluetooth and wifi card in most desktops (here via a second M2 slot) is handy as well. Plus it’s kinda cute, with that red front bezel.

It arrived quickly (Sat->Wed), and within no time I had an extra 8GB RAM installed, as well as the 128GB drive from my old computer. I signed in with my Microsoft account, and OneDrive did a pretty good job of getting everything in place. I did have to ensure that my Documents and Pictures folders did not connect to OneDrive, as I don’t want them to sync nor be in the Cloud. The perfunctory Windows (shipped with 20H2) and Microsoft Store updates were next, followed by Dell’s System Update. I had previously made a list of the applications I needed, so it was off to the races to download and install them. One thing I realized is that my old Quicken 2007 software is a real relic; getting that now requires an annual subscription, so I’m glad I still had the CD! Once I copied the data from my old drive over, I took it out and plugged in a 1TB “scratch disk” from the old computer that I have a bunch of misc files on. It’s an old SATA drive, so I may replace it with a SSD to keep the “silence” the Vostro 3681 provides.

Update: That 1TB “scratch disk” was actually a 500GB drive, and I did replace it with a 512GB SSD.

Nota Bene: Before you wipe clean your old computer, be sure to give the new computer a run through of your most important tasks. For instance, opening my book InDesign and printing a PDF copy yielded a couple missing fonts (which I had) and a PDF preset (which luckily I found). In other words, don’t be in a hurry to throw out the old!

All in all, it’s a silent, snappy little computer that more than provides for what I need in a desktop environment. Good on you Dell.

One the web:
Dell Vostro

hello windows 11, good-bye surface go?

That cute little Surface Go I purchased a year ago fails the Windows 11 compatibility test. Although it has TPM 2.0, seems the processor is off by ten: I’ve got the Gold 4415Y, but the minimum is Gold 4425Y. The PC Health Check app now says coming soon, so let’s see what’s going on.

WTF, Microsoft, pony up and make your hardware compatible!

iphones

Never got around to posting this, but I did buy my teenage daughters each the iPhone 11 for Xmas. The presentation they gave me, while grammatically a nightmare, was mostly compelling. I’ll share below. Good thing we have jobs, because those suckers cost me $1200, plus about $16 per month for insurance.
Google Family Link does NOT work with the iPhone, but I can get them to add their location to my Google Maps. I also set some parent restrictions on their phones with my AppleID.