The Day The Music Died

March 8, 2024. The date the impossible happened.
I bought a 2024 Apple 15″ MacBook Air (M3).

This day was long coming. Ever since Cupertino dropped Intel x86 silicon for in-house developed ARM technology, I think secretly most [intelligent] nerds longed for the cool touch, great performance, and of course the “days” of battery life. The graphs captivated our attention and every reviewer validated their claims. Pretty soon, the writing on the wall appeared for x86. The king is dying and ARM was here to take its place. I’m very certain in our lifetime, Windows and most programs will happily run on ARM. Need proof? You’re holding it in your hand (your smartphone).

Anyway, back to my new laptop. The price was right, the value was excellent, and they had it in stock. The cherry on top was that I got it on launch day. The honeymoon is in full swing. I went 5 days of intermittent use before I had to charge it. I hope to learn a lot from using an Apple computer. This does not mark a change from PC to Mac; I’m just gaining experience.

Updating Ubuntu Server with Pi-hole

If you don’t know what is Pi-hole, stop reading this post and read this website instead:

Instead of hosting my Pi-hole on a Raspberry Pi, I use Ubuntu Server on a VMware host. Even using LTS versions of Ubuntu Server get outdated, so here’s a how-to for getting the guest updated.

  1. Backup your server somehow. I use Veeam as well as take a VMware snapshot. You could also use Acronis at boot time and take an image.
  2. sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade
  3. sudo reboot
  4. sudo apt install update-manager-core
  5. sudo do-release-upgrade
  6. sudo reboot

You’ll get prompted throughout the process multiple times multiple questions. I chose to kept custom modified file as-is and not revert to the package original. Clear out all outdated packages as well.

After successfully updating Ubuntu Server, you’ll have to run the following command to fix Pi-hole. Also make sure Webmin is the latest version.

sudo rm /etc/dnsmasq.d/lxd


All The Browsers!

Yes, seriously use them all. I preach that “all good techs should have all the browsers installed” because each one has its strengths and weaknesses. Also, you can leverage one or two browsers for a specific task and not cross paths with another browser. Finally, the security benefits are very real. If one browser gets hijacked, you are not panicking to download another browser to figure out how to clean the compromised one. Also, not all browsers are vulnerable to the same threats as others. The benefits are real, but the only downsize is additional time downloading/installing these browsers when you build your computer. Or you could be lazy and just use one. You know where I stand.

  • Brave – Based on Chromium, released in 2019 – This is a recent addition to my list. Brave is out flying its own flag of speed, security, and privacy. I have not used it much, but according to its specs sheet it carries an impressive set of features and security. I may update this post if I choose to use it more often. In the meantime, it is a backup browser.
  • Epic Privacy Browser – Based on Chromium, released in 2010 – This browser’s sole purpose is to virtually eliminate all tracking from the source code and prevent as many websites as possible to track your actions. If you really want to research something private, this is the browser to use. Don’t cross your browsing habits and use it for Facebook or similar, because then you are allowing your browsing activity to be visible in other methods.
  • Google Chrome – Based on Chromium, released in 2008 – Currently the world’s most popular browser by a huge margin. Chances are you’re using Chrome to read this post right now. At time of writing, my opinion of Chrome is extremely poor. Google Chrome is overweight, loaded full of tracking and telemetry reporting services going back to Google, a gigantic memory hog, and so frequently attacked it’s a crying shame. At this time I only use Chrome to browse Google’s own services such as Gmail, YouTube, Google Drive, etc. If Chrome is your primary, you should greatly consider decreasing usage and trying out one of the other great options.
  • Firefox – Based on Gecko, released in 2002 – Every nerd alive has heard of Firefox and probably used it once or twice. In my opinion it has let its once vibrant success go to their head and let development become stagnant. There aren’t many new features or changes in a very long time. Fortunately what Firefox has going for it is one of the very few browsers available that does not use Chromium. Therefore it is mostly immune to most web vulnerabilities currently on the Internet. I use it to manage local devices such as routers, switches, management consoles, printers, etc.
  • Internet Explorer – Based on Trident, released in 1995 – Yes, there is still a need for Internet Explorer. First, it’s still included in Windows 10 whether you like it or not. Secondly, there are still very old hardware devices that just won’t load in Chrome or Firefox or any other “modern” browser. While most websites balk harshly when they detect you use Internet Explorer, some older devices insist on using it. So don’t hate on it completely yet. You still may need it.
  • Microsoft Edge – Based on Chromium, released in 2015 – Microsoft has done a remarkable job in taking Chromium and molding it to Microsoft’s good standards. They knew they had to get this one right after the first Edge fell short of expectations when it launched with Windows 10. The current Edge is fast, feature-rich, and has zero affiliation with Google. This is my current default browser for HTML links. All Chrome extensions are supported, and Microsoft is building their own extension store. It should be mentioned that there is a slightly different version of Edge called Edge for Business that is tailored for corporate/enterprise customers.
  • Opera – Based on Chromium, released in 1995 – Seriously an oldie and used to be a goodie, but has some redeeming qualities recently. Opera has been credited with introducing some core features that most people take for granted such as tabbed browsing, and speed dial. Most people believe the heyday of Opera has come and gone, but their development is still very much alive. Particularly, I like its built-in free VPN feature. This allows all your browsing activity to go through a different country, without being concerned with loading extensions or paying for premium service. Opera was my default browser of choice for nearly a decade and today should definitely not be overlooked.
  • Opera GX – Based on Chromium, released in 2019 – This is seriously one of my favorite browsers just based on appearance alone and the cool sound effects when clicking and typing. But the real benefits come from the gamer-centric features such as game sales and deals and release date aggregator. You can even filter based on platform such as specific console or PC. However, my favorite feature is the ability to limit CPU, memory, and network utilization of the browser. This comes in handy when you want to have any website (YouTube, Discord, Twitch, etc.) loaded on a second monitor, but you want maximum FPS on your primary. This benefit gets even better if you’re browsing on an older/weak PC and want to prioritize another process than the web browser. Hey Chrome, take some tips from this one! Every PC gamer should give Opera GX a try!
  • Vivaldi – Based on Chromium, released in 2015 – I’ve saved the best for last. Reminiscent of Opera in its prime, Vivaldi takes all the best everyday features and packs them together in a nice privacy-centric and extremely feature-rich package. Diving into the settings window will take up about 30 minutes of your day. You can customize it in every possible way. Development is very active and they are constantly adding more features to make it even better. Vivaldi is my default browser for all recreational and social media browsing. I also leverage its sync engine to mirror everything personal to all my different computers. I highly recommend this browser and with the exception of Microsoft Edge simply due to having a standard, it is my favorite and at the top of my list.

I intended this post to be informative and hopefully you will reconsider defaulting to Chrome for everything. Things I did not mention include cross-platform versions for Apple iOS, Android, Linux, and Mac OS. Most browsers support this which then allows your favorites, website credentials, and even extensions to be synced on mobile. Comment if you have any questions or want to add your own thoughts. Thanks!

Considering Mac

The original Apple iMac launched in 1998 and ran Mac OS 8.1

I am considering purchasing an Apple Mac computer, one of the following choices.

I honestly don’t believe this will actually happen, because we simply don’t need any more technology in our home. I think at some point in their career, all Windows tech’s fantasize about running Apple Mac for a while. It’s a forbidden, shiny new ecosystem that unfortunately requires all new software license purchases and learning completely new ways of doing previously similar actions. However, extreme reliability, near immunity to malware, and a promise of things “just working” is inviting to say the least. So will it happen? Stay tuned I guess.

Disable Windows 10 Automatic Locking Screen

This is particularly frustrating when you’ve already disabled turn off screen and disabled the screen saver and all other settings. Yet the computer still locks after 15 minutes. Suggested use cases: kiosks, security camera screens, upcoming appointments, etc. I’m re-blogging this solution that I found on the Internet. Credit goes to this page. Thank you.

Registry key:
Value: 0

SonicWall Packet Monitor

I’ve never really understood Packet Monitor. So a kind SonicWall tech was able to explain it to me. Hold onto your packets!

  • Packet capture is found under Investigate > Tools > Packet Monitor.
  • Make sure it is Stopped and Cleared.
  • Click Configure.
  • Monitor Filter:
    • Ether Type: ip
    • IP Type: tcp (usually)
    • Source IP Address: <source IP>
    • Source Port: <optional>
    • Destination IP Address: <also optional, but helps>
    • Destination Port: <optional>
  • Advanced Monitor Filter:
    • Check ALL the boxes
  • Click OK.
  • Ready your test and click Start Capture.
  • It is important to Stop Capture once you’ve concluded the test otherwise you will have an overflow of packets and fill up the buffer quickly. You can also click Clear to empty the buffer and start again.

Definition of Statuses

ConsumedPacket stops at the firewall. Could be due to the packet being destined for the firewall such as a ping to the SonicWall’s IP address.
GeneratedThe opposite of Consumed. It means the SonicWall generated the packet. This is rare in troubleshooting.
DroppedPacket is blocked at the firewall. This is usually due to a faulty or missing rule. Check the Packet Detail for more information. This is what you need to be looking for if you suspect the firewall is at fult.
ForwardedThis means traffic is passing normally and all is fine. The SonicWall forwarded the packet to its intended destination.
ReceivedThe packet came to the firewall, but the SonicWall does not have a destination of where to send it. Usually caused by a faulty ARP table entry or the server is offline. Eventually the packet will become discarded.

Long Live Essential Phone

2 years, 4 months, 4 days. This is the time that I have carried the Essential Phone PH-1 as my “daily driver”. I believe that is my record of any phone.

Words cannot express how frustrated I am to be forced to move on from Essential. It has been the most favorite phone I have ever carried. The physical size of the phone is perfect. The updates have been solid on-point and I even got Android 10 before the Pixel series did (look it up). The state of mobile phone selection in America right now is terrible.

It should be noted that I never factory reset the Essential. The phone received all the following updates without any issue whatsoever. Operational speed has always been excellent, smooth and responsive.

  • Android 7.1.1 “Nougat”
  • Android 8.1 “Oreo”
  • Android 9.0 “Pie”
  • Android 10 (current)

You may wonder why I decided to get a new phone. The answer is simple: security. While Essential regularly released Android security patches, this has not happened since Febuary 2020 when the company announced full shutdown. Therefore, as time progresses, the phone becomes more and more vulnerable to zero-day flaws and exploits.

Choosing a replacement was very difficult. My priority was centered around security. Apple, Google, OnePlus, and Motorola were all viable contenders. While I seriously considered an iPhone for longer than 30 seconds, I couldn’t really choose this as I am married for life to Android. However, Apple’s code is completely closed and written in the United States. Therefore it (usually) is secure, as long as the humans writing it that work for Apple don’t accidentally leave open a huge vulnerability as they have in the past.

OnePlus tempted me greatly, especially with the OnePlus 7T for $500. Hardware specs are awesome but the OS is written in Shenzhen, China. This is not secure. Same with Motorola.

Better the enemy I know than the enemy I don’t

Therefore, the only choice is the Google Pixel. While I have no trust in Google remaining to “do no evil”, better the enemy I know than the enemy I don’t. Also, if Google is caught violating our privacy in a way that is unforgivable, I have a bit of faith in the FCC to lay down the law to protect the American citizens.

Amazon has the Google Pixel 3a XL on sale for $319 plus taxes. This is in preparation for the launch of the upcoming Google Pixel 4a. My plan is to carry the 3a XL as my daily driver until the 4a is released, or the Pixel 5 is announced and that might change my mind. I only want the 3a XL for a few months.

Initial review of Pixel 3a XL versus Essential Phone

  • Bigger
  • Lighter
  • Much better battery
  • Camera is epic
  • Bezels are huge
  • Software is nearly identical in every way