Let’s Encrypt The World

lets-encrypt-logoI have been a big fan of free SSL certificate authority LetsEncrypt.org since it was in Private Beta. Now in Public Beta, and now being a Certificate Authority recognized by every major web browser, it’s time for you to start using it on your website!

The great thing about Let’s Encrypt is that it is free. Why? Because the sponsors behind it believe encryption is for the public good. And they are correct. No more do you need to pay $80/year or more for an SSL certificate through some company like GoDaddy. This all may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t.

Wait, what?

In case you are unfamiliar with what I’m talking about here, LetsEncrypt.org offers you free SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificates for your website. This make your website secure and encrypted for your visitors, just like your bank does, by changing your site’s address from using http://  to https://.

Being a user of the WHM/CPanel web hosting tools for the handful of websites I run, I found a great set of instructions and scripts you can use to get this set up and running in that environment. Just follow the instructions in the WHM forum here. Be sure to set up the cron job so that your cert(s) get renewed automatically. If you forget, it’s very easy to do it by hand from the command line, but the cron job makes it so that you don’t need to remember.

Encrypt WordPress

If you are a WordPress website owner, you can configure it to use the SSL certificate by editing your site’s URL in Settings > General. I especially recommend this for WordPress admin area logins, but there’s not reason you shouldn’t be using SSL on your whole site anymore. This is especially true considering Google favoring SSL-enabled sites over non-SSL sites.

Redirect Traffic to HTTPS

Using an .htaccess file, you can set it up so that any traffic going to your http:// website is automatically redirected to your https:// version. This is the snippet I use in my .htaccess file for that:

RewriteCond %{HTTPS} off
RewriteRule (.*) https://%{HTTP_HOST}%{REQUEST_URI}

Go forth and encrypt all the things!

We Cut The Cord!

cable tv photoAbout 3 weeks ago, we decided we were done paying Charter $120/month for the highest level TV package they had. When Rachael and I sat down to think about it, we realized that we really only care about a few things:

  1. College basketball (well, for me, anyway).
  2. HBO shows we like
  3. Jeopardy!

Everything else was peripheral, and we felt like we could live without it. We imagined more free time, more book reading, and more chances to talk to each other and interact amongst the family.

The New Way

I set out to find out the best way to go about this. After quickly discovering the Cord Cutters sub-Reddit, I was pretty well set. Here’s what we ended up with:

  • SlingTV account for $25/month (base package + extra sports channels). This covered most all of my college basketball needs, live CNN, and some other channels we don’t really care about.
  • HBONow through SlingTV for $15/month. While I signed up for this for one month, I think we may go to the HBONow version available through iTunes. That way, we can watch it on either of our AppleTV’s, of which we have two: one in the living room and one in the bedroom. The SlingTV app doesn’t provide for this. Either way, it’s $15/mo., and we can cancel it during the dry months when our favorite shows aren’t on.

That’s it for paid TV. We are at $40/month, and we will cancel Sling once college basketball season is over. That puts us at $15/mo for HBO.

What Else We Are Using

In order to use SlingTV decently, I hooked up my old Mac Mini to our main TV in the living room. I just launch the SlingTV app and we can browse through it with a wireless keyboard and mouse. This comes with the added bonus of doing whatever else we might do on a computer with the TV as the monitor.

I also found a website called USTVNOW.com that gives you all the broadcast networks for free. The local news is based in Philadelphia, but you get all the programming of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and a few others. So we get Jeopardy!

USTVNOW.com does require you to be in another country, as it was geared towards US military and government people overseas to be able to get TV from the States. All I had to do was log in once from another country (thank you Tunnel Bear) and now it lets me in every time, at least until the browser cookie expires, but that is easily resolved.

We also have a Chromecast and the two AppleTV’s I mentioned before. The Chromecast makes it easy to watch Youtube or whatever we might have from another computer or a phone. The AppleTV’s let us watch Netflix ($9/mo) and we might sign up for Hulu ($8/mo).

Lastly, I found an AppleTV remote app, a remote mouse app, and a custom remote app for my phone that let me control my TV, AppleTV, and the Mac Mini, all from my phone.

Getting Used To It

The only qualms about all this have been some moments where the streams were jittery (especially USTVNOW during NFL playoffs), and not being able to channel surf the way we used to. However, we still get to watch the shows we like, I have yet to miss a Louisville basketball game, and the other benefits I mentioned have been working their way into our lives.

There have been some moments of frustration while we try to get used to this new way of life, especially during those “just want to veg out and channel surf” moments, but we are adapting, and realizing that there are better uses of our time.

Summary

We reduced our Charter bill significantly by going down to internet-only and ditching cable TV. It is 2/3 cheaper now!

Even if we pay for SlingTV, Hulu, Netflix. and HBONow all at the same time, we are still looking at less than half the cost of what we were paying to Charter.

This is an endeavor I highly recommend!

Photo by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

NordVPN’s Bait and Switch

The old bait and switch: promise you one thing and sell you another. That’s what happened when I signed up for a year of VPN service through NordVPN. Their website said:

Easiest VPN Ever. To get on NordVPN, just click and go. NordVPN’s secure VPN software takes care of all the hard stuff so you can focus on fun stuff. And work stuff, if you have to.”

Their imagery showed multiple devices running their software, including phones and laptops.

I had read about their service and took the plunge. After I had paid, I found out they do not have an app for Mac OS X or Android. Those apps are supposedly coming soon, but not yet. For now, you have to download a third-party app for each device, download a bunch of configuration files, install said configuration files, configure a bunch of things, remember your username and password for each configuration file, and then figure out what is going on and whether or not you are actually connected.

To be fair, they do have instructions on how to do all of this, but it is far from “Easiest VPN Ever.” Every other VPN app I have used is a simple app you download and click a button to get going with.

I chatted with NordVPN’s technical support guy, “Dave,” who informed me that of their refund policy, which states that unless their product did not work for a fault of their own, I could not get a refund for my money. All he could do was extend my subscription by 3 months.

(01:30:40) David: if the service does not work we will issue a refund.
(01:31:17) Visitor 34392357: that is my point – it doesn’t work as you advertise it. it only works through a lengthy process of installing other software.

I would argue that their product does not work as advertised and I am entitled to a refund. In fact, it’s not even their product I am using — I am using something called “Tunnelblick” on my Mac, and an app called OpenVPN on my Android phone to connect to the NordVPN servers.

In summary, the bait was the promise of an easy to use VPN app. The switch was not even having an app for me to use.

Snagit Charges for “Upgrade”

lipstick on a pig photo
Look! This pig has lipstick.

I am completely fine with paying for software that I really like and that serves a purpose for me. However, if you are a software company that is going to use the ‘paid upgrade’ model of charging customers to upgrade to the next major version of your product, make sure the next major version contains new features worth paying for.

In the case of TechSmith’s Snagit, they have failed to provide anything of real value in their latest release (version 3.0 for Mac, or 12.0 for Windows), yet they are asking for $24.95 to upgrade to the latest version.

I paid for version 2 of Snagit for my Mac (that’s version 11 for you Windows users), and I really enjoyed using it. It became a tool in my arsenal that I relied heavily upon for doing quick screen shots and adding text, notes, arrows, and more.

Then one day a couple of weeks ago the updater ran and I was suddenly looking at a trial version of Snagit 3.0. And it said it was going to expire unless I paid the discounted upgrade fee of $24.95.

Aggravated, I hoped to have my mood changed and be wowed by version 3.0. So I tested it out for a few days. I quickly found that it had a nicer look and feel about it, but other than that, there were no noticeable enhancements or actual upgrades to the product. It was the same product with about one new feature related to the video clipping tool — something I could care less about. And that new feature was only a new arrow selector of some sort. Not impressed.

Jason Eagleston, the “Snagit Product Owner” at TechSmith even admits in their self-congratulatory release video that “with this release we had a focus on updating the way Snagit looks and feels, partially to bring that consistency across all the Techsmith things that you are going to interact with, but ultimately it’s only focused on getting your content to be the most prominent thing on the screen.”

Hmm…I only interact with one Techsmith product, so why should this be a feature worth paying for? And how is it not the most prominent thing on my screen if I’m currently using it in the first place?

A couple of more employees in the video go on to talk about how much nicer the product will be to use, and that they really wanted people to feel like they were using something current and not outdated. So it really isn’t about an upgrade, it’s about a change of clothes.

The whole video is about them admitting that their product didn’t look that great, so they spent a lot of effort making it look better (or “flatter,” as they say in the video, which is supposed to be something we should like), and now they want their customers to pay for that. No real tool enhancements or additions, just a subjective improvement to the design. For $24.95? No thanks.

For those of you looking for a free alternative to Snagit, check out Skitch. With or without Evernote, it’s a nice tool that does just about everything Snagit does for screen capturing.

Photo by Darin Barry

Free Stock Photos: Many Resources

2014-02-08_10-09-19Thanks to a thread over on Reddit, I have discovered a world of free, use-for-anything stock photography resources. They range from websites where you can sign up for free photos to be delivered via email to those where you can search and browse, and they all tend to not be very crappy!

While I’m not a fan of smiling faces on websites because of the impersonal feeling, and the fact that Google might soon penalize you for using stock photography, I do like the idea of having free resources available which can be used for compiling visuals that help narrate a story on your website. The following links are full of such images, and much more.

Disclaimer: Always read the fine print, just in case, to make sure you are allowed to use the image you are downloading without attribution or payment! Whenever possible, it’s still a good gesture to give credit where credit is due, even if you don’t have to legally.

Google Image Search for Commercial Reuse

Contrary to popular belief, you cannot search Google Images and simply use any photo you find in your project. This specially crafted search, however, produces images that are OK for commercial use and modification:
Google commercial reuse image search

Note: It is possible for images found here to have been reposted by someone who copied it from the original source. Just because you find it on Google Image search for commercial use doesn’t mean it’s absolutely OK to use without proper credit/compensation. 

Flickr

Similar to the above Google Images search, you can browse Flickr using a similar technique:
Flickr Creative Commons license photo search

IM Free

This site lets you search a collection of curated photos for commercial use:
http://imcreator.com/free

Gratis Photography

While not easily searchable, there are some great photos on this website.
http://www.gratisography.com/

Photo Pin

Here you can search for “free photos for bloggers and creatives”. Enough said.
http://photopin.com/

Creative Commons Search

“Find content that you can share, use and remix.” Just make sure you leave checked the checkboxes for ‘commercial purposes’ and ‘modify, adapt…’
http://search.creativecommons.org/

New Old Stock

Some amazing photos from times gone by, this site pulls from the public archives.
http://nos.twnsnd.co/

Pic Jumbo

Another site with free photos for you use.
http://picjumbo.com/

SplitShire

This fellow asks for attribution or a donation for coffee via his website if you want to use the photos he offers. He has some great images that would be well worth it.
http://splitshire.com/

Pixabay

A repository for free public domain images.
http://pixabay.com/

Little Visuals

You can sign up via email to get 7 free images delivered to your inbox so that you can start building your own library of stock photography.
http://littlevisuals.co/

Unsplash

Similar to Little Visuals, except that this site sends you 10 photos a day. They all tend to be on the awesome side of great.
http://unsplash.com/

Fin

Speaking of free coffee, if you enjoyed this blog post and would like to see more like it, send me a little donation!




Adios, Feedly

rss_iconReading RSS feeds from multiple websites in a central, organized location that lets me quickly save items of interest without bothering me about posting to Facebook or telling what my friends are doing is a very important piece of my life. A good, clean RSS reader lets me quickly devour the day’s news, the latest trends, things my friends and family have written, and whatever else may be of interest to me.

I was an avid user of Google Reader until they shut it down earlier this year. Along with many other people, I sought an alternative home for my collection of important RSS feeds. I quickly found Feedly, and move everything over there. They seemed pretty hip, and while the interface and options took a little getting used to, it managed to satisfy my RSS needs (along with the mobile app) for a while.

Feedly started deploying a paid subscription model to get extra features, which seemed like a logical part of being a business, and I was OK with that. They didn’t take away anything I was used to in my free account. But they started making some boneheaded decisions, and the doubt started to percolate in the back of my mind.

2013-12-08_11-12-58
I am digging the options in InoReader so far

After perusing Reddit this morning, the last straw was drawn when I discovered this thread and this blog post dicussing Feedly’s new approach to hijacking shared links, thus cutting out the original content publishers (something they apparently backpedaled on pretty quickly). Not being someone who tries to make money from his blog, this was mildly concerning, but not that upsetting to me.

What did it for me was the CEO of Feedly making some off-putting comments on that blog post and generally being a jerk about it rather than listening to concerns and doing PR the right way. I decided to take my feeds and head over to InoReader. It was an easy import/export process, and InoReader feels much more comfortable to me so far. Their Android app looks decent as well.

Feedly's "support" page
Feedly’s “support” page

The funny thing is, I went to try and cancel my Feedly account, but I could not find a way to do so anywhere in the settings. I clicked on the “Support” link, and was taken to a page that advertised their services. There were no support options to be found anywhere.

If I figure out how to completely cancel my Feedly account, I will let you all know.

I will hopefully be happy in my new RSS house, but if not, there are still plenty of good looking alternatives out there.

Are you still an RSS user? What is your favorite reader?