Posts Tagged Geek

Giving Foxtel the flick

I’d been a Foxtel satellite customer (as I live in an apartment building) for thirteen and a half years and I’ve seen the cost of my subscription go up ~50% over that time with no noticeable increase in the quality of the programming. A couple of month ago I got the yearly “regrettably we’ll need to increase your monthly fee” e-mail which would have seen me paying ~$70/month for a service I watched for less than 20 hours a month. I decided to call time on my subscription and search for an alternative.

I had a quick look at a local IPTV service called fetchtv that is resold through a number of ISPs but that just seemed like a cut down Foxtel service that was still going to cost me ~$35/month for only a handful of channels. The value just wasn’t there.

In the past I’d looked at Internet streaming services such as Netflix & Hulu. You can view some of the Netflix and Hulu content in Australia but a majority of the content is “Geo Blocked” meaning that you need to be in the US to stream the movies and TV shows. Hmm, that seemed like a problem, but a quick Google search provided a simple and elegant solution.

There are a number of services you can subscribe to that fool the US-only streaming services into thinking your Australian internet connection is actually a US internet connection. If you google “Smart DNS” you’ll find services like Unotelly, Unblock-us, getflix, overplay and a plethora of others. Some services concentrate on getting you access to just Netflix & Hulu, while others try to open up as many streaming services as possible (and not just US services, but UK, Nordic, NZ etc as well). Most services allow you some sort of trial period so you can try them all and choose whichever one you think is best for you.

To use the SmartDNS you need to change the DNS servers your desktop/laptop/tablet uses by either changing the DNS setting on each device or you can change the DNS settings on your Internet router so they apply to all your devices. I made the change on my router.

To test your SmartDNS is working by trying to watch some of the free content on Hulu or Netflix. If you can watch half a dozen different shows then your SmartDNS is working.

Having free stuff to stream is good, but if you want access to most of the Netflix and Hulu content you’ll need a subscription to each of the services. This then throws up the next roadblock – to subscribe to these services you need a US address and a US credit card.

Getting a US address is simple. Open up Google Maps in your browser, choose your favourite US city and zoom in until you find a house you’d like to virtually move into. Write down the address, including the Zip code for future reference.

Getting a US credit card is just as simple. Again, Google is your friend, just search for “Virtual US credit card”. I ended up using a service called Entropay which allows you to load money from your Australian credit card into your shiny new virtual US credit card.

Once you’ve got your virtual US credit card and address you can sign up to your streaming service. Hulu gives you a 2 week trial and Netfix a month so you can try them before committing to parting with your cash. After the trails both Netflix and Hulu are each $7.99/month.

If you’ve done all of the above you should now able to stream your favourite TV shows and movies to your desktop/laptop/tablet.

But how do you get these movies and TV shows onto your telly? If you Google “movies streaming appliance” two appliances will pop up near the top of the results list that fit the bill. The first is the Apple TV and the second is a family of appliances from Roku. They both do pretty much the same thing so I went for the unit that had been more recently updated which were the Roku units.

There were 2 Roku units I was looking at: the Roku 2 and the Roku 3. The Roku 3 is the faster, better speced unit but it only has HDMI outputs and since my trusty Pioneer A/V receiver doesn’t support HDMI I went for the $10 cheaper Roku 2.

Buying a Roku for delivery to Australia may be an issue as well. You’ll need to buy from a seller who will ship internationally or use a freight forwarder like comGateway. I found a brand new still in sealed box Roku 2 on eBay for a reasonable Buy-It-Now price from a seller who was happy to post to Australia and a week later I had my Roku 2 in my hands.

One thing to note is that the Roku 2 came with a US 110V-only power supply so I had to purchase another power brick from Jaycar that cost me $30.

Setting up the Roku was easy. You’ll need to create an account on the Roku website that you connect your Roku player to. I plugged the Roku into my A/V receiver, powered it up and a couple of minutes later the Roku was up and running. Firstly you’ll need to connect it to your home Wifi and then it downloads the latest software updates and reboots.

Roku has this notion of “Channels” that are synonymous with applications on an iPad or Android tablet. You will see the Netflix and Hulu apps are preinstalled and all you need to do is connect them to you Netflix and Hulu accounts you previously created. Once the accounts are linked to your Roku you can watch your movies and TV shows on your TV.

Streaming video does use your internet download quota so you’ll need to be on a decent plan with your ISP. Streaming will use somewhere between 0.5 to 1 GB/hour so I upgraded my Internode plan from 200GB/month to 400GB/month for an extra $10/month.

So, let’s do the sums to see if I’m financially infront.

What would Foxtel cost me over 2 years?

Foxtel over the next 2 years would have cost me:

2014 $72*12=$840

2015 (assuming $2 increase per month) $74*12=$888

Making a total 2 year cost of $1728.

What’s my new setup going to cost me?

Once off costs: Roku $120, Australian Power supply $30 for a total of $150.

Monthly costs: Hulu $8, Netflix $8, SmartDNS $4, increased Internet download quota $10/mo = $30/mo, so total for 2014 is $360 and if we assume 10% escalation for 2015 the cost will be $396.

That adds upto is a total 2 year cost of $906.

Doing the sums will show you that I’ve saved $822 over two years… not a bad little saving!

So what are you waiting for? Get rid of your absurdly expensive, poor quality programming Foxtel and start streaming!

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Cisco – why did you lead us along for 12 months?

I bought a Cisco SRP547W router about 18 months ago. Its a quite decent unit engineeringwise, it mostly works extremely well and has only locked up once in that time but in hindsight the support for it is diabolically non-existent.

The crux of the matter is that it supports the older IPv4 networking stack and Cisco has promised the newer, but not bleeding edge new, IPv6 network stack for about a year in the Cisco Community Support Forums (for example this thread) for around 12 months now.

Despite being told by Cisco staff, and following up a number of times in the forums, we’ve now been told almost 9 months after Cisco sold us the promise of IPv6 that they’ve now had a change of heart and will not support IPv6 for our routers.

  • How can a company the size of Cisco openly lie to its customers for 9 months in an open forum?
  • How can Cisco just wash their hands of their advertised upgrades? I’m thinking of taking this to our ACCC as false advertising and anti competitive behavior.
  • Will Cisco offer us free or heavily discounted upgrades to devices that will support IPv6 given the lies?

It’ll be interesting to see what Cisco do here… I’m guessing nothing, but I will update you if they get sudden pangs of ethics.

Moral of the story? Don’t buy Cisco!

An update from 16 April
Well the Cisco employee who said that Cisco was looking to support IPv6 many, many months ago is now trying to hide behind the weasel words in the footer of their forums. *sigh*

Moral of the story

  1. Cisco is an unethical company when it comes to support commitments made by their reps
  2. Cisco reps will lie and eventually try to hide behind a disclaimer
  3. Don’t by Cisco

I’ve asked, via the forums, for the Cisco product manager to contact me for a resolution. Time will tell if I get one. I will keep you updated!

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Using mod_security to stop Cyveillance

Let me start off by saying that I don’t condone making copyrighted material available to other users on the Internet. If you do that, you deserve all you get.

BUT there are some things that are worse than copyright infringement, and one of them is when someone attempts to break into your web server by creating random URLs in the effort to access parts of your website that you don’t publish or even trying to break into the underlying disks that hosts your website.

Cyveillance is a company that tries to exploit random URLs and possible web server misconfigurations to monitor your site.

Its all pretty dodgy and they will start spouting that they are only trying to protect their client’s intellectual property, but ironically they are breaking the law by trying to hack into your web server at the same time.

So, how can we take the initiative?

There is this really good Apache module called mod_security2, and it allows you to control who can do what against your server. Sounds pretty good, but how can we use mod_security to control Cyveillance? Well, read on.

Its very easy to configure mod_security2. We will show one configuration that works, there are probably others, but feel free to use this config or post your own below.

If I’ve missed IP addresses that these people use please also let me know.

<IfModule mod_security2.c>
SecRuleEngine On

# Cyveillance – start
SecRule REMOTE_ADDR ^63.148.99. log,redirect:http://www.google.com
SecRule REMOTE_ADDR ^65.118.41. log,redirect:http://www.google.com
SecRule REMOTE_ADDR ^38.118.25. log,redirect:http://www.google.com
SecRule REMOTE_ADDR ^38.118.42. log,redirect:http://www.google.com
SecRule REMOTE_ADDR ^216.32.64. log,redirect:http://www.google.com
SecRule REMOTE_ADDR ^38.112.21. log,redirect:http://www.google.com
SecRule REMOTE_ADDR ^207.87.178. log,redirect:http://www.google.com
SecRule REMOTE_ADDR ^65.222.185. log,redirect:http://www.google.com
SecRule REMOTE_ADDR ^65.222.176. log,redirect:http://www.google.com
SecRule REMOTE_ADDR ^63.100.163. log,redirect:http://www.google.com
SecRule REMOTE_ADDR ^151.173.221. log,redirect:http://www.google.com
SecRule REMOTE_ADDR ^68.48.24. log,redirect:http://www.google.com
SecRule REMOTE_ADDR ^4.35.201. log,redirect:http://www.google.com
SecRule REMOTE_ADDR ^38.100.41. log,redirect:http://www.google.com
# Cyveillance – stop

SecRequestBodyAccess On
SecResponseBodyAccess On

SecDebugLog /logs/security_debug_log
SecDebugLogLevel 0

SecAuditEngine RelevantOnly
SecAuditLogRelevantStatus ^[45]
SecAuditLogParts ABIFHZ
SecAuditLogType serial
SecAuditLog /logs/security_audit_log

SecRequestBodyLimit 131072
SecRequestBodyInMemoryLimit 131072
SecResponseBodyLimit 524288

</IfModule>

Essentially, what this config snippet tells mod_security2 to do is that each time a request comes from a Cyveillance IP address, REMOTE_ADDR, we will just shunt them off to good old Google. Ironically, Google is probably where they got your website from in the first place.

By monitoring your /logs/security_debug_log & /logs/security_audit_log logfiles you can get information about how often they try to break into your website. It’ll be an interesting read.

This is just one use of mod_security2. If you use CMSs like Mambo or Joomla! you will most certainly see many cross site scripting exploits hitting your web server. A simple set of mod_security rules will kill off the exploits once and for all.

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Logitech Harmony One universal remote

Now this is one sexy product. Once you’ve played with the remote and worked out how to program it it becomes clear why these remotes was awarded Best of Innovations: Home Theater Accessories at CES 2008.

Logitech Harmony One Remote

Its about the same size as standard TV and DVD remote but has a color touch sensitive LCD screen that displays the options that you’ve programmed into the unit.

The remote is billed by Logitech as being able to replace the majority of remote controls that you’d use to control your home entertainment equipment. Over 225,000 devices from 5000 manufacturers are currently supported in the Logitech database. If, by slim chance, your device isn’t currently supported then you can teach your Harmony device the IR code and these codes are then sent to Logitech so the next person to use the same device can use your uploaded IR codes rather than have to go through the learning scenario.

The remote is programmed though a software application installed on your Windows machine. This application communicates with the database of IR commands that Logitech hosts on the Internet. This software also communicates with your remote via USB to program your configuration into your remote.The configuration for you remote is also hosted on the Logitech servers.

Once you have identified your devices, e.g. TV, A/V receivers, DVD players/recorders etc, you then identify the “Activities” that these devices need to perform. An activity is essentially a script that your remote executes to get your A/V equipment into the correct state to view a DVD, listen to a CD or watch telly. You have full control over these activities.

For example, say you want to want Foxtel pay TV. The script could be

  1. turn on your TV
  2. turn on your A/V receiver
  3. turn on your Foxtel set top box
  4. all other devices like DVD or CD players don’t need to be powered on
  5. the TV needs to be set to its AV1 input
  6. the A/V receiver need to be switched to its TV/SAT input

Your harmony one remote will send the IR commands to each of your devices in turn to get them into the correct state.

As can be seen here, you can replace 4 or 5 remote controls with one Harmony remote control… a very good space saving on your living room table.

Each activity has “Favorite Channels” attached to it. Think of it as a context menu for your activity.

For example, if I am watching Foxtel I can assign buttons on the LCD screen that allow me to jump straight to my favorite channels. You can also save icons to these buttons so you can quicky identify the button to press to get you to the channel you want to watch. You can find icons to use on your remote here or you can use your own.

The provided software allows you to tweak how the Harmony remote interacts with your devices. You have control of the

  • the device inputs
  • power settings
  • remote control delays (power on delay, inter key delay and inter device delay)
  • IR commands for the various buttons

All round this is a very well thought out device. It has a bit of a learning curve but once you get it straight in your head how it works and how it needs to control your A/V devices its pretty simple to program and extremely simple to use.

Logitech is on a winner here.

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