Category Archives: Tips & Tricks

Building a Home Server/HTPC – Part 1 (Hardware)

When it comes to your digital life things are different.  These days , we use smartphone , notebooks , tablets , desktop computers. Our lives are revolving around digital stuff and part of that is making sure all of your digital stuff is kept safe and sound, but along with that is making it equally easy to access.

 

HTPC - makes your dumb TV into a smart TV  Picture taken from pablotron.org
HTPC – makes your dumb TV into a smart TV Picture taken from pablotron.org

This is where the home server comes it . Frankly , it is  is nothing new – you might be running one already,(without you know). Home server is a PC that is going to run 24/7 , keeping all of your data , files , flims , music , photos (and even porn :P) .This PC would be running 24/7, so it is always going to be on. Don’t worry about power consumption , we would be going green That’s besides providing any network capabilities or streaming servers you might like to add such as streaming to your iPhone wirelessly , PS3  etc.

 

Initially , I thought of writing on how to build a home server ,but I am going to tweak it slightly for people who are going to build a HTPC or a hybrid. In this part , basically we would be spilling out the requirement and roughly estimate the cost that needed to build one of these beasts

Continue reading Building a Home Server/HTPC — Part 1 (Hardware)

Flashing ClockWorkMod for ZTE Acqua

This guide explains on how to flash ClockWorkMod for ZTE Acqua.  Generally ClockWorkMod is a third-party Recovery Tool that allows you to flash or upgrade your Android easily. You could basically unlock the potential of your android device. It allows you to perform a full backup of your device. On top of that it allows us to upgrade our Android version to 4.1.2. Yes , that’s right folks it is possible for us to upgrade to Android 4.1 and enjoy the new benefits as well. Even if you do not plan to upgrade , you could use this tool to easily root your device which unlocks a whole new chapter (more after the jump)

 BC5qNoICIAAudyh

Continue reading Flashing ClockWorkMod for ZTE Acqua

How To Root ZTE Acqua & Any Android Phones

Remember the review that I posted on ZTE Acqua. Yep , I am now using it as a secondary phone for my work purpose. Now , ZTE Acqua works perfectly as a normal Android phone , however I want to take it further. What’s the point of using Android phones when you are unable to customize it ? In this guide I show you on how to root ZTE Acqua and any other android phone that runs Android 4.0 and above. Before we get into how to root let us take a look at the purpose of rooting

 

imgres

Why Root ?

The purpose of rooting is  slightly different from jailbreaking (iPhone) . In iPhone , the reason why you jailbreak is to overcome the limitation of iOS itself , but the reason you want to root is to make the most of the phone itself. Mostly the reasons why Android device are rooted is to allow you to access the flash memory chip (the operating system). This allows us to modify core files. In my case , I’ve managed to install Xperia launcher on my ZTE Acqua as my default launcher. Plus it allows me to customize and remove bloated applications from the ROM. For instance , ZTE Acqua comes with some bundled stuff like Google+ , Chrome which are installed in ROM. I have managed to remove them and install Google Now.

KEEP in mind that rooting your device may void the warranty 

 

So how do I root ?

 

This simple guide shows you could root. This method works with most of the phones out there and I have tested and it works with my ZTE Acqua. The method seems universal for all Android 4.x phones. All you have to do is to follow this guide located at XDA-Developers. You would probably have to register first in order to download the file.

 

Just follow the simple guide , be sure that you have installed ADB Drivers for it and be sure to turn on Android Debugging functionality for the device. If you need help on turning it on , refer to this guide .

 

I have included a video tutorial [ Credits : BluechipJ]  for people who prefer a video step-by-step guide on how to root their device

 

So where do I go from here ?

XDA-Developers is a great place to check out if you haven’t been. You’ll find tons of customization and even tweak. For starters you may want to get Pimp my ROM [Google Play Store]application . You can pretty much tweak your phone , and may even improve your performance and even unlock hidden things in your phone.  In my next guide , I would probably share the things that I have tweaked in my ZTE Acqua if folks are interested

Windows 8 Storage Spaces – First Look

Windows 8 (and Server 2012) includes a ton of great new features  and one of the new features is (I’m not talking about the Start Menu , I still hate the new Start Menu Storage Spaces, a new Windows utility that allows you to connect multiple data storage devices , regardless of being Internal or External such as USB Hard Disks.

image0011351799015185

So What Is Storage Space ? What about benefits ?

Now Storage Space itself is not new , Microsoft first introduced Storage Space for Windows Home Server version 1 and it is known as Drive Extender  and it was developed by the Server Team (which should be reliable and good). The beauty of storage space is that you can combine all these hard disks and create “pools” such as “Pictures” , “Movies” , “Documents” and they work just like any other hard disk. Of course this kind of technology is not something new , in fact RAID (Redudant Array of Independent Disks)allows you to the same thing and it offers variety of different settings and in Linux , you would have LVM . What Microsoft is done is that they made it easier for to combine multiple storage system which spans across different mediums (Internal & External) which offers redundancy and performance.

In simpler terms , imagine you can create a 3TB of storage pool (and you have 1TB of hard disk but you have plans of buying 2TB hard disk later). So what you can do is that you can create a storage pool of 3TB of hard disk with your current 1TB. Now as the storage nears the capacity , Storage Pool would alert you saying that you are low on capacity and you need to buy more storage to store. It is simple as that. Now you may ask , what is the purpose of using Storage Space

Simple , imagine your steam game collection , now on a normal hard disk when you run of space , you’ll have to delete and move , now with storage space , you just need to keep adding more hard disk without worrying about relocating and other stuff. Your storage grows with you as you expand. Plus with the option of providing mirror , it keeps your data safe

 

So How Does It Work ? 

Just Like RAID , Windows 8 Storage Spaces offers three sort of configuration

Stripe Data (RAID 0) – Just like in RAID , Storage Space would stripe data across a pool (several hard drives) and what you get is improved performance as Data is now written on multiple hard disks , this would give you a boost in hard disk read/write performance. However keep in mind that if one of the hard disks in the pool fails , your entire data is gone

Mirror (RAID 1) (Two/Three Way) – Storage Space offers RAID 1-like mirroring. So suppose if you have two hard disks in your pool and you have created a Mirror Drive , basically content are duplicated across both drives. So suppose if one of the drives fail , your data would be still accessible on the other drive . Three way offers extra protection as data is duplicated across three hard disks not just two

Parity (RAID 3/5)  -Blocks are striped just like RAID 0 , but now you have a parity bit (parity bit are like fail over things , so for instance , if Disk 1 stores 0 and Disk 1 stores 1 , by using the principle of XOR , the parity disk would store 1). The beauty of is that suppose if one of your hard disk fails , your data is still safe. All you have to do is get a new hard disk , fit it in and it is automatically recovered. It uses the beauty of XOR , it is able to restore data in lost disk

 

Keep in mind that in order to use Storage Space , data on existing disk would be lost completely and Storage Space will not work on the hard disk whereby the operating system resides.

So which one do I use ? 

It really depends on what you plan to do. In my configuration (on Server 2012 which is my File Server ) , this is how I have did. What I did is that I have added all 3 hard disks to create a pool. From the pool , I have created three different storage system (virtual disks) for different purposes

Documents – To Store Important Documents such as work related file or scanned copies of my passport. I just want to ensure that the data is replicated to all of my 3 disks. I did a 3-way mirroring. I do not care about performance , as I just want the data to be reliable

Pictures (I should rename it to Movies/Old Stuff/Archive) – These are stuffs which I plan to store them but do not have any plans to frequently access them but I want to ensure that they are protected against a disk failure. So in an event of disk failure , the data can be reconstructed by swapping out the failed drive and putting in a new one. However keep in mind that using parity has heavy performance penalty , it is recommended to be used as drive which you do not frequently access because of the parity calculations

Stuff – I use Raid 0 here , the reason is simple , I care about getting extended storage space (combining both of my 1TB) . However I do not care about the things which are stored in this virtual volume , which mainly includes downloaded things such as Movies , Songs. Suppose if one of my drive fails , I would lose my entire collection.

 

 

ss1

These are my storage space settings. However in Windows 8 things are much more simplified , but the core principle remains the same. It is not complicated as how it is being done in Server 2012 but simply straight forward. Just go to Control Panel in Windows 8 and you can add drives very easily – bam

storage-spaces-4f066e6-intro

What are the advantages and drawbacks of using Storage Space? 

Now let us talk about the positive aspects of Storage Spaces

Flexibility – Storage Space provides thin providing that allows you to create a volume with the size larger than the total capacity of all your actual hard disk. You can create a 5TB hard disk by only having 1TB of hard disk at the moment. As you run out of free space, Windows prompts you to put in more disk before you are allowed to use the storage pool.

Easy To Use – Storage Space provides straight forward way of setting up your own pool. You don’t have to go to BIOS or do complicated things like how you would setup RAID. It provides easy to use interface in setting it up which makes it very easy to setup your own storage pool 

Provides Fault Tolerance – Storage Space provides fault tolerance against hard disk failures for end-users , this is pretty much like the earlier advantage. Now home users (like you and me) could have enterprise-like feature which is bundled for free. There is no need to backup into two different hard disk manually. Storage Space takes care of that 

There are some disadvantage of using Storage Space

Hard Disk Requires Formatting – To add a hard disk into storage pool , Windows will format existing hard disk , so if you have important data , you would have to move it out. It does not work with existing hard disk which already contains data 

Complexity in Recovering Data  – Well if your Windows 8/Server 2012 computer does not work. You are pretty much dead , you can connect these storage-space hard disk into another Windows 8/Server 2012 computer and pray that it sees it and you are able to recover. If you try to plug them in a Linux/Windows 7/MacOS computer , they are un-readable 

Performance Hit – It is not as fast as hardware RAID controller especially if you use parity as parity count pretty much hits hard on the hard disks and CPU (in order for it to calculate the parity). Now RAID controller offloads the calculation by having a dedicated CPU which does exactly that. Storage Space uses your computer CPU to do the calculation. 

Bottom Line

Microsoft provides simple and easy to use way for consumers (like me and you) to build storage space in ever expanding world of storage. You do not have to be a wizard to use it. The advantage of using Storage Space clearly outweighs the disadvantage. However having said that I would not use Storage Space for mission critical data. If you want the data to be safe at all costs , be sure to make another backup (such as to dropbox or to somewhere).

Further Reading

This TechNet  article covers all you need to know about Storage Space . I highly recommend you to read if you want to know more about Storage Spaces

Move the Users Directory from SSD to HDD in Windows 8

In this tutorial , I would like to share on how I have moved Users folder from my SSD Drive to my Regular Drive and as well as few other folders into another drive especially if you have a small SSD drive and if you like to your users folder (where Downloaded data, Documents , Application settings reside) to be in another drive (say your 1TB hard disk).  This does not involve anything to do with registry , instead we are using symbolic links. (more after the jump)

 

Continue reading Move the Users Directory from SSD to HDD in Windows 8

Hardening SSH Server

SSH  (Secure Shell) is already a secure protocol , these following tips which I have personally collected and tested . Hardening SSH makes it harder against people to get into SSH and do some nasty things. You should ensure that your ssh config . Generally it is located in /etc/ssh/sshd_config . This is a quick guide which I have written on securing SSH. Of course there are other serious guide out there. This is no fuzz , straight to the point guide (more after the jump)

 

Continue reading Hardening SSH Server

Two Way Authentication for WordPress

Security is no doubt is important. We have all heard about WordPress/Blogs getting hacked whereby the hacker would compromise someone’s blog. It can be nasty thing , especially if the hacker decides to post explicit pictures or steal valuable information that you may store within your blog  , or worst he/she could silently include some sponsored links without you knowing to generate hits to their site. Of course you have heard of the usual security tips such as secure your web-site , use a strong password and things like that.

 

Two factor authentication – something you know and something you have (picture taken from http://norlandonline.com)

Background

In this post I would like to explain on two-factor authentication and how it can help to secure your WordPress. Before that , you need to understand to know a thing or two on information security. I am not going to you to bore you with a lecture , but rather give you a simple explanation. ATM (Automated Teller Machine) s a good example , for instance if you want to withdraw money from an ATM, firstly you need an ATM card (duh !) . That alone does not grant you the permission to withdraw , instead you are asked a pin. So if you are a bad guy trying to steal money from ATM , not only you need an ATM card , but you also would need a pin. This is how two-factor authentication works. Its just another layer , first you prove who you are to the server and the server again asks you to enter a generated code or a special pin to validate if it is really you.

 

Two-factor authentication is not something new , in fact a lot of banks in Europe use it. A prime example in Malaysia would be HSBC . HSBC online banking requires you to carry a small authenticator . When you enter your password you are presented with a “challenge” question (a random number)  , you’ll have to key in the “challenge” to your device and it would generate back a response. This is how server verifies it is really you. It makes outsiders to hack password using existing password cracking tools impossible.

Apart from gaming , two-factor authentication is commonly used in MMORPGS an example would be Battle.net authenticator which is used in World of Warcraft

 

Installing for WordPress

Thankfully Google made their authenticator system public which simply means that it can be used for any application out there. People have used it and adapted it for various different application. One of the examples would be Guild Wars 2 authentication system. Of course some nice soul decided to port it to be used with WordPress as well . So basically all you need is an iPhone/iPad , Android Devices or Blackberry to generate a number for you. You may download the authenticator from here

Just keep in mind that you need a smartphone and as well as WordPress 3.x . I am told that they are physical devices out there that would do the trick , but your best bet is to use a smartphone. Suppose if you do not have a smartphone , Bluestack comes in handy (it allows you to run Android application on top of Windows/OSX). You may want to take a look at that as well , but I do not recommend you to run the authenticator on a PC , it defeats the entire purpose if your PC is compromised.

Oh yes you may download the plug-in from here and install it directly to your WordPress or alternatively install directly within WordPress itself via their plugin section. Thank You Henrik.Schack for creating this awesome plug-in for WordPress !

 

Configuring  Google Authenticator for WordPress

Activating the plug-in will not enforce two-way authentication for every user in your WordPress Blog. Instead you would have to configure per user basis. I highly recommend enabling two-way authentication for accounts with administrator rights

Activate the plug-in and go to the Users -> Profile and Personal options page, in the Google Authenticator section.

google-authenticator

 

You should see a screen something like that. Fill it up and just follow the instructions. Its pretty straight forward. Once you have configured it , you’ll be presented  with something like this . All you have to do is scan the QR code using Google’s authenticator application on your Android smartphone/iPhone/Blackberry device.

 

 

 

Once the code is scanned, you’ll see a new entry in your Google Mobile Authenticator. So the next time if you want to sign in , you’ll have to enter your code along with your password as well as shown below.

 

google-authenticator screenshot 1
The new authentication page

google-authenticator screenshot 4

Discussion & Conclusion

There are few things that you should know before you implementing a two-factor authentication

  1. Your site has to be secured enough (that is your plugin folder is secured , your FTP , SQL , HTTP server). Suppose if it is not , an attacker could compromise your site in many other ways which makes having two-factor authentication pointless
  2. Two-factor authentication protects against brute-force , password-attack against wp-admin page. Together combined with other plugins you can “block” people who have tried to enter your site after too many attempts.
  3.  If you lose your phone , you are pretty much dead (and you would have to manually disable the addon via phpMyAdmin and edit a few things)
  4. You’ll have to configure for each and every user for your WordPress if you like to fully secure it. It becomes troublesome – This is why I highly recommend on doing it for Administrators only !

Certainly there are advantages of using two-factor authentication , mainly to make it much more secure and to scare script-kiddies away , to determine if this is the right thing for you or not – I recommend you to try it out first

Fixing Lion Annoying Resume

MacOS X Lion has lots of great features and it somewhat makes MacOS X as close as iOS (this is what Apple is trying to do) . One thing which I hated in OSX was its resume functionality , like how application and system resumes when you shut it off or restart it. Of course you have the option of turning it off every time you reboot/restart , but you’ll have to untick it and reboot for a clean reboot , else it would load up all the applications that you had previously and this would have an impact on boot time (unless of course you are using SSD).

I’ve found this great guide in MacOS X hints which describes how to do it , but unfortunately , it was not clearly explained as I would prefer to explain on what these commands do as you could understand them and improve your UNIX skills.

Continue reading Fixing Lion Annoying Resume

Plugging into IPV6 – the next generation

 

The Internet grows very fast just like how houses are built everyday to cater the masses. This is because with the introduction of smartphones , the growth of Internet went up high. As for developing country , affordable broadband connectivity translates to more and more people are hoping online. Of course just like in real world , you’ll eventually run out of land and  it goes the same for the virtual world – eventually you’ll run out of IP Addresses which means it would be impossible for new devices to hop on and join the World Wide Web.

More after the jump

Continue reading Plugging into IPV6 — the next generation

It may be possible to run Lion on Atom (32-bit)

G’day and greetings from Australia. If you are wondering , where was I for the past 2 weeks or so. I am in australia now (VIC – the place to be ) to be exact and settling down here. The weather is ugh unpredictable , nevertheless its an awesome place. I’ll write another blog on my Aussie adventures.

 

Anyway , back to OSX86. I find it that it may be possible for us to run OSX Lion on our Atom as what this guy did with DP4. It just requires us to replace a couple of files in order to get it to work. The bigger problem is that few things appear to be broken when you do that. Only time will tell us if its really possible for us to run. In the meantime , if you are being adventurous and if you want to do something for the OSX86 community , I strongly urge you to read this and even prepare a guide or test it out with legit Lion to determine if it is even possible.

 

We may just need a few kexts , patched DP1 kernel and it may just work. I am not sure at all , but when I have the time , I’ll certainly have a look at it when I have the time

If you are an Aussie and if you want to invite me for beer/tea/coffee , just drop by me a mail and we can meet up

 

Cheers !