Random Tips & How To's

How To Use Your iPhone to Stalk Yourself

It looks like the privacy hippies were finally right about something, your mobile phone really is a pocket sized tracking device.

Turns out that as of iOS 4.0, iPhones have been tracking your physical movements and logging it along with the phone’s backups.

A small team of researchers have discovered these logs in iTune’s backup files, they’ve released a handy little app that collects all the data from your user folder and plots it on a map. and further information available here.

Here is the visualization of everywhere I’ve been since Sept 28, 2010:

You can see lots of activity in and around Winnipeg (including trips up to the Gimli and Victoria Beach), a flight to Toronto and subsequent travel around southern Ontario and a road trip to Minneapolis. It’s fascinating.

I’m not sure if this is a terrifying privacy hole or a neat little hidden feature. I’m leaning towards neat feature, since the data is stored locally on your computer and can be encrypted automatically by iTunes.

At this point in time a method for disabling the “feature” does not exist. I expect Apple will be responding in short order.

Tips & How To's Websites

Facebook Now More Secure

In a blog post today Facebook detailed some of their new security improvements:

Starting today we’ll provide you with the ability to experience Facebook entirely over HTTPS. You should consider enabling this option if you frequently use Facebook from public Internet access points found at coffee shops, airports, libraries or schools. The option will exist as part of our advanced security features, which you can find in the “Account Security” section of the Account Settings page.

Enabling this option will effectively prevent you against Firesheep and similar account hijacking methods. I think it’s fairly safe to assume this feature is a direct response to Firesheep, even if it seems to have taken them 4 months to roll out. Though, it could also be a response to Zuckerburg’s account hack yesterday.

I’m going to go one step further than Facebook and say, you should absolutely enable this option as soon as it’s available to you.

Culture Tips & How To's Websites

Thought of the Day: Newspapers Websites

I’ve posted about newspapers before, the industry’s seemingly imminent collapse and lack of success online are interesting problems to me. As far as I’m concerned, newspapers (and “old media” in general) are still a relevant source of information and there’s really no reason they should be dying.

As Erica Glasier put it on her blog the other day:

They take raw information and give it the context that years of newsgathering provides, and the clout of accuracy commiserate with the individual media org’s brand.

The Problem

I am under the impression that newspaper website are struggling to make ends meat because online ad revenue is not making up for their losses in print distribution. On top of that in their attempt to keep up with the times by added commenting functionality to their sites, they’ve degraded the experience of their online presence. Much to nobody’s surprise news site comments are often filled with trolls, bigots, spam and other meaningless drivel.

My Thought

An extremely simple solution to address these two problems would be to charge a small monthly subscription fee for access to the commenting system. Somewhere around $3 – $5 per month.

Being required to go through an ecommerce transaction should be enough to deter outright, viagra-selling-spammers who depend on bots and cheap labour to blanket the internet with spam.

But also, in theory this small fee should  discourage trolls and other nuisance commenters who are likely to register an account on a whim, if registration is free and easy. These same types of people would be very unlikely to shell out a few bucks just to spew racial slurs. In the case that a fee isn’t enough to discourage unwanted commentors, having an account tied to a credit card makes it much more easy to ban an individual; it’s quite a lot more difficult to get a new credit card number, than it is to get a new email address and register another account. Site’s like Metafilter have been using this tactic for years.

Would anyone actually pay to comment?

I’m really not sure, but I think it’s worth a shot. It’s clear that blanket paywalls don’t really work – they sort of break the internet and nobody wants to pay just to read an article similar to another one posted elsewhere for free. Blocking comments on controversial topics works to a degree, but reasonable dialogues about controversial issues are often fascinating.

I believe that every newspaper has core audience who would pay a small fee to comment.

Tips & How To's

Modern Mobile Redirect Using .htaccess

The following set of rewrite rules will redirect all Android, Blackberry, iOS, Windows and WebOS devices to a specific mobile directory on your website. Additionally, it will redirect Google’s mobile crawler – according to Google search spam czar Matt Cutts this is perfectly acceptable and even somewhat encourage.

To implement these rules:

  1. Replace “mobiledirectoryhere” with the path to your mobile site. If your mobile site is located in a subdirectory, use the full URL (including “http://”) and you can omit the first RewriteCond.
  2. Then copy & paste the ruleset into the site’s .htaccess file or the main apache configuration.


Since the last time I wrote about mobile browser detection and redirection in 2009 the mobile device landscape has changed once again. Smartphones dominate the mobile browsing landscape and feature phones are almost not existant in server logs.

The old redirection rules I posted attempt to redirect every mobile phone under the sun. At this point in 2011, it’s probably safe to completely ignore ancient phones and simplify your Apache rules in the process.

Tips & How To's

How To: Get Better BitTorrent Speeds

Have you been seeing decreasing BitTorrent transfer speeds?

Have you received an annoying notice from your ISP accusing you of illegally downloading a Hollywood blockbuster?

Would you like to live in a better internet?

Well, I have the answer for you: encryption. You see, every BitTorrent packet your computer sends or receives contains header data stating that it’s BitTorrent traffic as well as the filename and other identifying information. By default, this data is send in plain-text, your ISP is able to intercept any traffic you send an inspect the contents (see: deep packet inspection). Your ISP may use this data to actively throttle your BitTorrent traffic (or even your connection in general if they so choose); they may also match the filename against a list of known filenames for movies or other blacklisted content and then send you (fake) legal demands.

By enabling encryption in your BitTorrent client, you make it much more difficult (individual results may vary) for your ISP to determine that a packet is a BitTorrent packet; it may also prevent you from receiving those nag letters in the mail.

Any BitTorrent client worth it’s salt will have an option buried somewhere in the preferences to enable encryption.

I’ve attached a screenshot for the client I use, Transmission:

TorrentFreak has an older with instructions for Azuerus (now Vuze), BitComet and µTorrent. The instructions may be somewhat out of date, but I’d imagine the settings would be in similar locations. When all else fails, Google it.

Update: Doug McArthur notes in the comments, enabling encryption may end up filtering out peers on less popular torrents.