Categories
Apps Browser Desktop Security

Password Keeper

I’ve been a huge fan of 1Password since the beginning. I bought several versions and upgrades for multiple machines and never regretted it.

Something happened with version 7 though, and I haven’t been as happy with the change.

What happened was subscriptions.  Now, I have a number of software subscriptions, very very few make me content.  If I stop, do I lose my stuff?  Can I stop and start again at the same price?  Do I have an option to pay up front and own my license – and more importantly, my data?

1Password makes it as hard as possible to answer those questions. They want you over a barrel.

Since I wanted a Windows version, there I was, over that barrel.  A purchase was too expensive and gave me fewer features, so I paid for a year ($35 USD) but yes, it was definitely worth it.  Fantastic integrations with everything (all browsers and mobile), online storage with browser access, and solid security.  But now something else showed up. 

That something is BitWarden.

BitWarden offers almost the same features, and is open source.  The 100% free version includes online storage, binaries for every platform (including Linux), a good browser-based interface, and amazing integration with everything.  You can even host the “online” portion yourself so you can use it in-house if you prefer, and never store your secrets on the cloud.

Some features are limited – like file attachments, one-time passwords and some other stuff require a subscription, but it’s only $10 USD a year.

File attachments I don’t really need.  One-time passwords (two factor authentication) is really important these days, and integration is… well, it’s nice.

It has undergone an independent security audit.  It’s reassuringly secure.  There is no warrant canary clause that I can see, though.

What’s missing, since you are paying less than a third of the price – if you choose to pay at all?

Vaults

1Password’s vaults are simple.  Create a bunch of them and share them as you like. 

BitWarden has a very convoluted and confusing version of this called “Organizations”.  The free version allows (just) 2 users to share access to one organization. Once you share it though, it blends all of the shared entries in with yours, with no way to filter it.  So if you have an entry called “Gmail” in both your home vault and the organization, have fun.  There is a small share icon next to the Organization one by that’s it.  It would be nice to have a search filter (to steal the VS Code syntax, something like @shared) or a smart list.

You can have “Collections” which are pretty much a security subgroup of Organizations and this allows you to… ok, no seriously… It sounds like it was designed for big companies, not family groups.  Even the terminology is frightening.

If you pay ($1/month) you can get up to 5 users.  Personally I would bump those up by 1 each level, 3 for free and 6 for personal.

1Password lets you move stuff between vaults with a right-click.  BitWarden, I have no clue.

Software Licenses

You can store license information in a secure note record, with all the details except icons, but they aren’t differentiated in any way.

Tags

There are none.  No extra filtering or grouping, one folder for each entry and that’s it.  You can mess around with an extra text field for each entry but this is all manual, nothing automatic here.

UI

There is no drag and drop! Want to put something in a folder? Open the record, edit the record, choose a folder, save. Do it again.

And those folders.  You’d think folders should be in a sidebar, kinda since that’s the default UI for folders in everything since, well, ever… nope.  They’re almost at the bottom of a list when you exit out of everything.

Favorites are at the top of that same big old list.

Super linear and clumsy, especially when you have a large screen like a tablet or desktop to work with.

Premium

Sharing and extra features are split between two different subscriptions.  It’s even split between annual and monthly payments.  When you get one you don’t get the other, you need both!

This does mean that you don’t pay for what you don’t need.  But you can end up with people in an organization some with premium some without.

Confusing.

Conclusion

Even with its many shortcomings, I can’t help but be excited about this product.  It’s more than a little confusing and lacked a little foresight but when you want to fill a password, boom it’s there. 

It’s about 80 cents a month for the full meal deal, and if you don’t want to pay that, you really don’t have to.  Security researchers even recommend that you use a separate app like Authy to maintain your passwords and 2FA information in different apps.

Maybe what I like most is that it answers those disturbing questions about subscription software.  If I stop, I don’t lose my stuff (file attachments, maybe?).  If I stop, I can restart at the same price.  I can own the license (for the basic features at least).  I can even host my own server if I want.

It’s free and it’s fantastic.  Spend some time (an hour, tops) and learn it, that will pay off many times over.

Categories
Apple Apps Desktop Other Shopping Windows

iTunes Without the iTunes Part

I have been archiving all of my purchased media for quite some time now, I like the flexibility of a digital copy, but also flexibility to view it how and where I choose (i.e. Plex).  That usually means a lot of disc ripping, and I have set up a decent system and workflow to do it.

Most of my movies come with a digital copy, usually on iTunes.  This is handy and useful, since I can stream to most of my devices that way.  Movies on iTunes sometimes have really good deals, and it’s tempting to grab something that way.  And once in a while, my physical media is damaged – sometimes incredibly slightly – and I am just unable to rip it.

Files contained in Apple’s digital library aren’t perfect though, since if I want to watch a movie at someone else’s place, it either means bringing my precious physical media (if I have it) or bringing a device to their place to watch it!  I can’t make a more highly compressed and smaller versions for those odd times I want lots of movie in little space.  It’s the inconvenience of DRM.

After a bunch of Google searches TuneFab M4V converter caught my attention.  They claim to be able to remove the DRM from my iTunes library and give me a high quality version I can use in more ways, including the above.  I thought I’d give it a try.  They offered either a free license (for high-volume bloggers) or a 30% off coupon for a review.  I’d probably review it anyway, so I’ll try for the coupon!

They offer the product on two plaftorms, Mac and Windows – separately licensed.  The first thing I tried was to download and install a version on my Mac.  When I ran it it came up with a message stating that High Sierra was not supported.  Since Mac OS has well moved on to Mojave as of this writing, I wonder if there’s a future in the Mac version of the app?  If you only have a Mac, be careful before purchasing this.  Apparently they’re looking into it, but for now… I hope you have Windows.

I downloaded and installed the Windows version.  The first thing I discovered when launching it was a big white screen like this:

Blank-ish screen
Yep, that’s most of it

You can’t see from the screenshot but the window is slightly larger than the available screen space, was not resizable and has its own non-standard window controls (close, minimize etc).  These window controls are glitchy and vanished after moving the window around a bit… the only way to exit the app was to Alt+F4 or right-click on the taskbar icon.

Their intention was to look cool and clean but honestly it causes some major issues.  (I have 3 monitors, so likely that was the problem.  I think they could fix it quickly by not centering the window across all monitors but only the active monitor).  TuneFab is not alone in falling into that trap, most Windows apps these days seem to want to blaze their own trail and make things look unique.

The options screen is very sparse as well – though it does have standard window decorations yay!  It’s not resizeable either.

2 options, it’s very roomy though.

Wait!  Don’t give up!

But I won’t be looking at this app all that often. I have a number of extremely valuable apps that are sadly pretty ugly.  So I’ll let the UI issues slide for now.  The TuneFab team is welcome to contact me to test some fixes for this.  The more important question is… does it work?

I click the very apparent “Add Files” button.  Ah, tells me I need to download a file through iTunes first before encoding.  Fair enough, it can’t work with what it doesn’t have.  I wonder if it would be possible through the iTunes scripting interface to get a list of movies in the library and trigger a download?  Still, another compromise I can understand and am willing to make.

So I downloaded a movie and clicked on “Add Files” again.  It tells me I need to have downloaded a movie.  But I just did?  Could they add a “Refresh list” button?  Eh whatever.  I restart the app and there it is, it shows up, along with other iTunes playlists listed in the sidebar.  At the bottom have appeared three buttons labeled “Add”, “Add All” and “Cancel”…

And… just as I was noticing this, my machine threw a BSOD.  Yikes.  Windows kinda makes it hard to cast the blame.  Is it a video driver?  Is it iTunes?  Is it this app?  All three together?  If it was Mac, it would almost certainly be the app, but I can’t exactly find out.

But BSODs happen.  We’re all friends and not looking to point fingers here, but try out an app.  I reboot and relaunch, select the movie and hit “Add”.  Nice, it comes up with video and codec information. 

Codec information
Looking good so far!

Off to the right (not shown) is a gear that gives you audio and subtitle information.  I had 4 tracks (AAC and AC3 in English and French) and all of the subtitles available.

Once I did all of that, I clicked “Convert”.  Since this is the trial version I only get the first 5 minutes, so let’s see.  It’s very quick on this machine (considerably faster than real time).  I’d guess it took about 20 seconds to run through 5 minutes of movie…  and boom the movie appears in the output folder!  Quality looks great and includes multiple audio tracks. 

I was able to take that file and run it through Handbrake for another resolution so yup the DRM is definitely gone!

The only option given in the Windows media player is to open a separate subtitle file (e.g. srt).  I ran CCExtractorGUI and the subtitles are definitely there.  I don’t use subtitles, but I know some of you really need them.

Value

Listed price is $49 USD, with a (temporary?) $5 discount, so $44 USD.  Is it worth this cost?

The polish on the app UI honestly isn’t great.  I expect more for an app this cost.  Maybe this is only an issue with the Windows version?  It appears they seem to be using Qt, and cross-platform toolkits tend to have these kind of issues.  I couldn’t test the Mac one so who knows?

But value for its functionality?  Let’s figure that out.

Well, if you figure a flexible backup of your existing iTunes movies is worth $11 each, it would pay for itself in 4 movies.  Or to look at it another way, if you can save $11 per movie by buying on iTunes instead of on disc, you’d break even in 4 movies.

Or, if you rip your movies, then maybe you can calculate the time it takes and average it out that way.  For me it takes almost 3 hours to rip and encode a Blu-Ray.  I don’t mind that much but this is much easier and faster – with the consideration that you still have to take the time to download a HD movie in advance.

So, it depends on your use and value of your time.  Personally, if it was $29 I wouldn’t even bother to calculate the time, it would be worth it.  Add another 10-20 bucks and it makes me stop and figure out things like this.

Wait.  If I get the 30% off coupon… (quick mental math).  DUDE.

Bottom line:

Once I got it installed and running, it was really impressive.  Very fast with excellent results.  The UI is very buggy but the engine works great.  If you want a DRM-free copy of your iTunes movies, this may be the way to get them.

Categories
Apps Linux Mac Networking Other

Rescuing Encrypted files on ACD

So Amazon is shutting out Linux users.  But what if I have a bunch of encrypted files there using old encfs and acd_cli scripts?

I can copy down the encrypted files using their client at any point, but how will I know which one is which?

I did the following.  First, create a temporary directory.  I did this in my $HOME on my Mac.  Find a way that still exists to mount the drive (I used ExpanDrive).  Once that is prepared, change to the mounted and encrypted ACD directory and run this command:

find . \( -type d -exec mkdir -p "$HOME/temp/{}" \; -o -type f -exec touch "$HOME/temp/{}" \; \)

Let it run for a while, it may take several minutes.  This will create in $HOME/temp the identical directory structure as on the remote drive, and the identical filenames – but they will all be zero bytes!  What good is this?

Thanks to the consistency of encfs, you can mount and decrypt this skeleton directory like this:

ENCFS6_CONFIG=/path/to/your/encfs6.xml encfs $HOME/temp $HOME/plain

Now, use some other tricks to find the matching filenames and you can manually download the specific encrypted files you want.

Categories
Apps Desktop Mac

MacDVDRipper Pro 5

I was a fan of RipIt and DVDRemaster a couple of years ago, I had a nice workflow going where I could convert my DVD TV series discs into MP4s for the Apple TV  (We have a lot of discs).  I discovered MDRP since then, and I have been very happy with it, just a few clicks to rip and convert in decent quality.  I love to see an encoder max out all of my cores, too 🙂

(As a side note, it seems that DVDRemaster got purchased by the company selling MDRP, so I suppose it’s a natural upgrade path for me)

Well, v5 came out a couple of weeks ago, but I couldn’t see much that was powerfully compelling about the new features – all they said was that it was now 64-bit and embedded switchable soft-subtitles.  And something very vague about converting after the fact.  Would that matter to me?

I decided to do a face-off with a single TV season disc.  The metrics here have “buckshot accuracy” but give me an idea.  I ripped 4 episodes in v4 and the demo of v5 and compared the time-stamps… it almost appeared like v5 was twice as fast.  Yes, about 12 minutes between two episodes in v4 and 6 in v5.  WOW.  Why are they not advertising considerable speed gains?  I know the computer could have been doing a bunch more during the first encode, but surely not that much!  I ran through a couple more box sets to be sure… and yup, I can finish a disc of about 4 episodes in roughly half an hour.  Even the fans on my iMac blew at high speed for the v4 conversion and remained quiet for the v5.

This is a totally worthwhile upgrade just for that rough test.  But, I discovered the other killer feature.  Previously, you could not use .dvdmedia packages as a source – which was a drag if I wanted to distribute the ripping task to other machines using say, RipIt.  This version though, uses them just fine!  Yeah!  I didn’t find a big improvement in distributing that process though, since the convert straight from disc is so fast it’s almost not worth ripping to an image and converting from that.

The upgrade was $10 and totally worth it.

Categories
Desktop Linux Networking

WD MyBook Live

I discovered the other day that my WD MyBook Live is a lot more capable than I realized. It is actually running some flavour of Debian and has a fair suite of default unix commands.

So what did I do with it? I didn’t go too wild… Due to the death of a previous MyBook (capacitor problems on the interface board, I think), I decided I wanted some mirroring capability on it with another drive attached to my server Linux machine. Fortunately, on the Live, I found rsync, ssh and cron, which seems like the power trio I needed.

First step, enable SSH. That was too easy, go to http://address/UI/ssh and check a box. Done! The instructions for logging in are there.

Next, log in by ssh and create a ssh key pair… Something like

ssh-keygen -t rsa

Use no password on this one, and store the keys in /root/.ssh – it seemed reasonable enough (do I need to tell you that you need to guard this key carefully, as it leaves the door wide open to your server?). Next, copy the public key over to the other machine…

scp /root/.ssh/id_rsa.pub username@servername:/home/username

And on the server

cat id_rsa.pub >> .ssh/authorized_keys

Test it out on the MyBook again…

ssh -i ~/.ssh/id_rsa username@servername

Boom. In.

Next, test out rsyncing. I found out that the directories created through the GUI and through file sharing are on /DataVolume/shares, so…

rsync -e ssh -avz --dry-run --delete /DataVolume/shares/storage/ username@servername:/path/on/the/server/storage/

It should pull in the key and do a dry run of the sync. If it works, try without the –dry-run switch and run the real sync. This will take some time depending on the amount to sync.

The switches are -e to execute ssh, -a to sync recursively and preserve permissions and symlinks, -v to be verbose, and -z to use compression. You can remove the -v portion before putting it in cron.

Speaking of which put the above successful command line into a shell script and copy it into /etc/cron.daily. Don’t forget to make it executable.

Very cool! The Live series of drives is now called the MyCloud, and is more powerful yet, including a stronger CPU and a USB host. It’s probably worth having at least one of these devices on a local network for part of a comprehensive backup strategy.

Categories
Apple Desktop iPad iPhone Mac

WWDC 2014

Apple had their WWDC keynote today, and announced, well, everything.

Their user experience is converging like I couldn’t have imagined before.  Continuity lets you transfer your work from mobile to desktop just by being close to your Mac.  You can answer your phone from your computer.

Mavericks looks awesome, despite my worry about flattening things.  I was worried it would look like Windows 8, but it looks terrific.  The screen fonts make my eyes sigh.

iOS extensibility has set my head spinning.  I can only imagine my what my Mail / Pocket Informant / Omnifocus workflow will look like early next year.  How will 1Password work with Safari now?  TextExpander and Drafts will now act like steroids for your phone.  Well, even more so.

Not talked about, but on the slide was Wi-Fi calling… which might mean free cell-phone calls.

A few “about time” features, of course, like AirDrop from iOS to OS X, interactive notifications, and reasonable iCloud prices.  I’m not about to gripe that those took so long, because hey, they’re here now.

Swift is an interesting announcement, it might mean much easier app development.  It might be just as easy to do a Swift app as a PhoneGap app now.  We’ll see.

One thing notably missing was offline Siri capability, which is a shame.  I understand why they didn’t do it though.  If they did, I’m certain they would have had to cut off the iPhone 4s and even possibly as far up the chain as the iPad Mini.  This is not something that Apple wants to consider doing right now.  (Update: apparently I completely missed the reference to Siri’s “streaming recognition” which might actually mean offline.)

Did you notice, Google got referenced about, well, once, if you count the big Android onscreen.  There was OneDrive, Box, but no Google Drive icon (interestingly, no Dropbox either).  Bing translate.  Even the webmail used in the demo was Yahoo!  Spotlight is now your go-to search, and that can use whatever engine Apple chooses to use behind the scenes – which is evidently Bing.  They allow you to change your default search provider to DuckDuckGo.  Apple is mad at Google, and now they’re playing hardball.

So much new, it’s going to be hard to wait until fall.

Categories
Apps Desktop Mac

Sorry iBooks, it’s over.

I’ve had it with iBooks, mostly because of its insane destructive syncing scheme.  Which isn’t syncing at all, is it?  See my logic below.

I want to read books with my two portable Apple devices, optionally with my desktop Apple computer.  I want to highlight, bookmark or annotate in one device and sync to any or all of the others.  This sounds like a job for iCloud, right?  You know, the Apple-invented cloud service for you know, syncing?

The iBooks developers haven’t got the memo.  You see, iBooks use your iTunes Account to sync.  So that means my wife’s independent library and annotations (on her multiple Apple products) are clobbered if I ever decide to sync collections and annotations.  This is because we share an iTunes account to purchase apps.  Note that it is quite possible to have a separate iBooks login and iTunes login at the same time – only on the Mac version of iBooks.  There is no option to select the iBooks store account on iOS 7.  You know, where you actually want that option.

The final straw was when yesterday I clicked iBooks, and it came up with a message “Hey I notice you are using icloud@account.com to sync.  Would you like to sync with itunes@account.com instead?”.  I did not want to do so, therefore I selected “Cancel”.  I watched as iBooks then deleted a book that I previously synced with my iCloud account.  I stand agape.  I boggle.  In what universe should “do not sync” ever change anything, never mind delete?

iBooks is fundamentally damaged.  So is the iOS eBook reader ecosystem because of its mere existence.  I have had enough.

Categories
Apps Browser Desktop iPhone

Google Play Books redux

I gave a quick review of Google Play Books when it first came out with user uploads.  (tl;dr version: meh.)

It turns out that the iOS version is the weakest of their representations.  As foolish as that is, I should have known.  Now that I have tried the Android version, I see some significant advantages.

  • On Android you can sort by “most recent” which is quite useful.
  • You can view your books in a list view (with small cover thumbnail).
  • You can search within your uploaded books for a specific title

Each of these is a glaring omission in the iOS version.

There is a somewhat circuitous way to solve another big issue I originally had – inability to download books again.  I found that if you select “keep on device”, you can browse to the /eBooks folder and find the ePubs right there.  Use a USB cable and it’s simple enough to copy it right off again.

Rendering is good (Kobo’s is slightly better).  Highlighting and annotations are quite good (except if you want to highlight something on the top line. Um?) but the biggest killer feature is SYNCING.  Google will sync your uploads and the annotations therein to the web, to your Android and iOS devices.  Kobo won’t do this, neither will Kindle.  iBooks, well, Apple hasn’t yet released iBooks even for desktop devices (as of this date), never mind on the web or on Android (which, as we know, will never happen) so that’s a non-starter, as pretty as it is.

Thus I am in the process of transferring all the annotations of my programming books from iBooks into Google Play Books.

Categories
Apps Desktop Mac

iWork for iCloud Beta

I just got to try it out. It’s… OK.  Definitely nicer looking than Google’s Docs offering, with some more conversion and graphics options, for sure, but some things elude me.  In Pages, for instance:

  • Tabs/margins? Dragging or clicking on the ruler does nothing.
  • Columns as shown on this page don’t seem to be possible.
  • Editing or creating paragraph styles is MIA, also highlighted on that same page.

Maybe they’re just disabled for the beta.  That’s fine and I don’t expect a lot from this product at this point.

What I do expect, in the near future is some news on whether iWork ’09 is the last of its kind.  Should I buy Pages now or wait?  I am very pleased with the iPad version but I want quite a bit more than this web app will offer me on the desktop.

Categories
Desktop Mac

OS X Mavericks and iOS 7

Most people are talking about the new look of iOS 7, but isn’t that why Jony (and the pre-show text) basically said that design is about more than looks?

I got a lot more excited about the internals of the new OSes this time.  I really enjoyed Snow Leopard’s advances, and actually Lion brought some important stuff to the table.  It looks like they’re taking another good look at OS efficiency and that will benefit everybody.  Same with iOS 7, Apple adamantly refused to allow global multitasking until now – so what’s new about their implementation now?  Did you notice that the clock icon shows the actual time… and even the second hand moves?  There has to be some hot realtime technology going on under those flat icons.

The only disappointment I have is that the iPad Retina (3rd gen) is excluded from any of the features (i.e. AirDrop).  That’s a little too soon to begin to orphan that one, I think.

Now we wait for the NDA to lift, and for Ars Technica’s killer reviews.