Using PrivatVPN on Ubuntu Linux

After the Hide My Ass fallout and niggling doubts about AceVPNs logging policies, I’m trying out some recommended VPN services I found via TorrentFreak. The great thing about VPN providers is most of them allow you to purchase a limited time from 1-12 months, I decided to try out PrivatVPN who state apart from username and password, they don’t log anything.

PrivatVPN appears to be a small outfit operating out of Sweden offering servers in Sweden, US, UK, Switzerland and the Netherlands. I can’t tell if they are owned by anyone or just hosted by iLandsgruppen however their service is very barebones, with a small control panel, software download and instructions. The service is relatively cheap to – about £4 for 30 days.

They technically don’t have a Linux client, only configuration files to download, which seem to be outdated. Unlike that ‘other’ OS – where they offer a full client and countries to connect to, Linux only contains the address of their Swedish server and the wrong port number (21003). I found this out after the OpenVPN connection not working on Ubuntu so instead fired up my Windows VM just to see if it worked and it did. A quick gander at connection logs showed me the different port.

I notified their tech support, but for anyone who had problems like me with the following error,

read UDPv4 [ECONNREFUSED]: Connection refused (code=111)

Here are the correct IP address and Port numbers to connect to PrivatVPN servers. Let’s hope they update their documentation and config files:

Sweden: 80.67.10.138:21001
US: 108.59.1.216:21000
UK: 83.170.109.247:21000
Switzerland: 31.7.62.130:21000
Netherlands: 85.17.122.222:21000

PrivatVPN provide instructions for starting from the CLI, however if you prefer the GUI (I do purely for the networking icon to remind me I’m connected with a tiny lock) simply follow these steps:

  • Go to Network Manager, VPN Connections, Configure VPN…
  • Click on Import
  • Navigate to “/etc/openvpn” and select “privatevpn.conf”.
  • Then add your username and password
  • Check the IP address is the same as the one above and the port no. (under “Advanced” option)
  • You may want to configure multiple vpns so change the name too, to something like “PrivatVPN Sweden/US/UK…”
That’s it, you’re done. Enjoy your anonymity and freedom!

Posting from Android

I’m posting this from my Android phone with the WordPress app. Neat huh?

Normal posting will resume as soon as I can find time to sit down and focus.

How I Came to Hate the BlackBerry Pearl

In case you weren’t aware my order for a Motorolla Milestone finally came through – bought with my own cash to replace my BlackBerry Pearl 8120 business phone.

But how did I arrive at this level of contempt for BlackBerry, and why Android? It’s partly down to progress in smartphone tech and partly down to discovery of limitations with the Pearl – which led to inevitable smartphone envy.

When I first got my Pearl last summer, it was through our business account. At the time the Android didn’t exist and the only other cutting edge smartphone on the market was the iPhone. I turned down having an iPhone for £50. I’m still glad I made that decision.

I had just returned a HTC Diamond back to O2 because it was a 5 year old Windows Mobile interface with a skin applied to make it look new – but ran and responded 5 times slower than my old SPV C500 – incidentally running the same OS.

I was really pleased with the Pearl at first – the UI was very responsive, the wifi connected seamlessly and didn’t hang up or have trouble reconnecting like some Nokia phones I’d used. I immediately noticed the lack of file system manager, the lack of themes and the dated 2mp camera – but these things didn’t bother me – the GUI was responsive and worked, the wifi connected automatically.

Then there was the email – it took me a while to figure out that email is not configured on the phone but has to go through the BIS server. I had to call O2 get them to push a bunch of services and apps down then log into their website and setup my email accounts. After this it was no trouble – the email service is second to none.

However, the honeymoon was short. The limitations, particularly with the Pearl model, soon started to make themselves apparent…

Lack of GPSr (Pearl models)

I had just started Geocaching after discovering it in Canada and discovered a problem with the Pearl model in particular that wasn’t really a problem before – that is lack of GPSr. Every BlackBerry model seems to have a GPSr but the Pearl is the black sheep of RIM that doesn’t get one. Why is this? I get they were attempting to court the general mobile user crowd with the retooled keyboard but it’s still a smartphone, and not as cheap as a Nokia either.

Consequently a lot of GC apps I couldn’t use because they explicitly require a GPSr enabled in order to seek caches. I managed to discover CacheBerry – which does take PQs and doesn’t need a GPSr, but still.

2.0mp Camera

At the time I got this Pearl, smartphones were already being made with 3+ megapixels. My other mobile, a Nokia N96 was 5mp. So it was a little disheartening to move down to a lower mp camera – particularly one a phone that is more socially network inclined than the Nokia was. I mean being able to load photos up on Facebook is great, but what’s the point when anybody looking at them is going to have trouble working out what the blobs are?

What else, the media library and camera are painfully slow. Sometimes I wanted to get a quick once-in-a-moment snap of, oh say, the nephew doing something cute and funny – too late it’s gone! A full 2 minutes later the camera app loads and is ready to take a picture. Of course better hope in your haste you didn’t accidentally click twice because actions are queued! Yes it will suddenly run everything you clicked all at once, then you have to start it all over again and wait… again.

Email

Everyone applauds BlackBerry BIS email service. It’s fast, efficient and gives companies the option to manage it. But for a small consultancy that uses POP3- unnecessary. Furthermore I found it frustrating when we changed network providers – being without email access for a couple of days until I could get login details to the BIS portal and add email accounts. This is not really useful for consultants who work on client sites where access to their company email is blocked by the customers network.

During times when my BlackBerry was down I switched sim cards to the Nokia as a backup phone – email could be setup easily and I could get on with the job. Now that I’ve moved to Android, the BlackBerry will not be used as a backup phone – it’s useless without having to login to the BIS portal and reconfigure accounts – I’m not prepared to do that every time so the Nokia will stay as my backup.

Facebook

BlackBerry have a Facebook app so I thought I might as well add my account. Sounds like a good idea right? I configure FB to only get alerts when someone sends me a message, but when I did get a message and go to the FB app – it takes forever to load and finally get to the message. Then there’s the pictures, on such a small screen what’s the point? It uses more bandwidth and I can’t see them anyway.

It’s junk, that’s all I’m going to say. I actually tried other apps that gave me FB access but then I encountered the other problem the Pearl has with apps…

Memory

My biggest bugbear about the Pearl. Out of the box the Pearl is quick yes, but install one too many additional apps (that means more than 2 or 3) and the Pearl will start to feel sluggish. Why? Because you just reached the 64mb memory limit, delete some emails and sms or you’re screwed! But don’t worry there’s an app that will help you manage that by flushing all your cache etc… Only trouble is that app will take up 1 slot that another app could have had instead!

Of course, you can expand the memory card up to 8gb, but you can’t install apps or even emails or cache on it. But at least I can store images… taken with… a 2.0mp camera, which means I’ll never fill up the wasted space on that card.

PC Connectivity

OK maybe this is going to be unfair because most phones have some kind of problems like this. As soon as you plug the BB in, you may only want to charge but the SSD card is no longer accessible. What’s worse is my data port has become really loose recently and I have to place the Pearl in an undisturbable position in order to keep the connection active. Why can’t the Pearl be told to behave like charging, not media card access?

Furthermore why no support for the Linux desktop? Sure other phone makers may be guilty of this too, but it does seem easier to find workarounds or partial support for the others, BlackBerry seems to totally ignore Linux.

Small Screen (Pearl Models)

Just one word – email. Ok maybe 2 words: html emails. 3? long html emails. I should have known. This should have been the giveaway I wouldn’t be satisfied long-term. After a 2.8′ N96 screen I should have made the vow never to go back. I’ve learned my lesson. I have a Motorola Milestone now.

Themes

The default themes are trying to be too… Windows XP. The carrier themes are not much better. Furthermore installing new, better themes takes up valuable memory space and you can’t delete the defaults without hacking it. Lame all round.

Security Policy

Sure BlackBerries are secure and they are corporate friendly. So corporate friendly in fact, to the detriment of the user and owner. I would sometimes need to plug my BB into a clients network machine to charge the battery. Trouble is these are XP machines and as customary they will pop up detecting new hardware.* It just so happened that BB Desktop Manager was installed by stealth on the machine I was using when I accidentally clicked for Windows to install the new hardware rather than ignore.

Installing the hardware and drivers allowed my clients corporate BB Security policy to be automatically installed on my Pearl without any warning or permissions given whatsoever. My BB previously didn’t have a security policy in place because our consultancy doesn’t have a centralised system. However my phone was suddenly locked out from allowing me to make all kinds of changes.

I had to find a crack on the tubes, download this and run it to reflash my BB. I lost my data despite backing up with my own Desktop Manager for some reason. Never again.

*Yes, I am now aware you can disable new hardware detection through the device manager on Windows. This shouldn’t have happened without consent though.

Browser

It’s just crap. Oh sure I installed Opera (until I ran out of memory), but BlackBerry refuses OTA installs through Opera which renders it only half as useful.

…And finally

OK, so maybe you would say to someone like me that my experience of BlackBerry got burned by the Pearl – I didn’t get to fully appreciate the large screen, the GPSr, the full qwerty keyboard or the memory(?). But the fact remains is that if RIM want to introduce people to BlackBerry, this is not the phone to try it on. Instead it would be better sticking with the larger models – this way when someone does make the leap they won’t make some half-assed leap like I did and taint the brand.

For all I know the full size models are better, but I’m already put off by the BIS email, the lack of control and the OS itself, I’m no longer intrigued at what RIM have to offer. Besides I’m really loving Android right now – I can’t imagine RIM ever coming near to competing with the open platform.

Curious Problem with Cork City Locale Geocaching Pocket Query

If you’re a premium member with Groundspeak’s geocaching.com then you will be aware of the ability to create pocket queries. These are really useful for throwing up to 1000 waypoints onto your GPSr for a days, or even a holidays caching.

As some of you know we were in Ireland recently (the reason for lack of posts) and I decided to take advantage of Stena Ferries free satellite wifi on the boat. I set a PQ for Cork and waited for it to build. When the query was ready I saved as usual to my shared Dropbox folder and then attached my Garmin 60CSx but despite loading fine onto my CacheBerry – the PQ just wouldn’y upload to the Garmin.

Puzzled, I tried an older PQ and verified that my script was working, as well as the Garmin was not having some kind of software fault. Next most obvious thing that occurred to me was perhaps the file was corrupted during download, after all it was a wireless connection via satellite on a moving ferry. I tested this theory by downloading the PQ again. Then I downloaded one I’d created earlier. The earlier one (Watford) worked, the Cork didn’t.

Then I decided to test the website PQ builder itself – maybe there was a technical problem. I checked the forums but there was nothing reported, so I posted a thread which didn’t go anywhere. I then tried creating an entirely new PQ of Leicester (never run before). I downloaded and Leicester loaded up onto my GPS no problem.

So there was something local to Cork which was borking my PQ which had to be in the file itself. I didn’t have much time left so I tried a splicing the file with my newly created Leicester PQ. I opened up the GPX file and chopped out the header:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<gpx xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance" xmlns:xsd="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema" version="1.0" creator="Groundspeak Pocket Query" xsi:schemaLocation="http://www.topografix.com/GPX/1/0 http://www.topografix.com/GPX/1/0/gpx.xsd http://www.groundspeak.com/cache/1/0 http://www.groundspeak.com/cache/1/0/cache.xsd" xmlns="http://www.topografix.com/GPX/1/0">
<name>Cork</name>
<desc>Geocache file generated by Groundspeak</desc>
<author>Groundspeak</author>
<email>contact@groundspeak.com</email>
<time>2010-06-16T03:12:46.2642819Z</time>
<keywords>cache, geocache, groundspeak</keywords>
<bounds minlat="51.551967" minlon="-9.37105" maxlat="52.428967" maxlon="-7.593717" />
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?><gpx xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance" xmlns:xsd="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema" version="1.0" creator="Groundspeak Pocket Query" xsi:schemaLocation="http://www.topografix.com/GPX/1/0 http://www.topografix.com/GPX/1/0/gpx.xsd http://www.groundspeak.com/cache/1/0 http://www.groundspeak.com/cache/1/0/cache.xsd" xmlns="http://www.topografix.com/GPX/1/0">  <name>Cork</name>  <desc>Geocache file generated by Groundspeak</desc>  <author>Groundspeak</author>  <email>contact@groundspeak.com</email>  <time>2010-06-16T03:12:46.2642819Z</time>  <keywords>cache, geocache, groundspeak</keywords>  <bounds minlat="51.551967" minlon="-9.37105" maxlat="52.428967" maxlon="-7.593717" />

and footer:

</gpx>

I then copied the remaining xml and pasted it below the header in the Leicester PQ, then saved this and zipped it back up.

I ran my script and and uploaded it to my 60CSx – it worked!

I can’t see anything wrong with the header info above but this is where the error seems to lie. Maybe it’s something to do with the coordinates in the boundary tag, or perhaps some hidden character I missed. Does anyone more technical in both xml and WGS84 Datum than me have an idea?

Oddly enough, subsequent PQs for Cork after we arrived worked too.

Bluetooth on Ubuntu Linux vs on Windows Vista

The introduction of new technology into our lives always seems to have a ripple effect on our existing hardware. Recently I bought a Sony Alpha 330 DSLR which as an entry level SLR I am very happy with. However, I discovered my 4 year old desktop PC’s card reader could not handle the SDHC format that this camera uses.

So I ended up ordering an EVO Labs Internal Card Reader with Bluetooth from Amazon and found it installed into Ubuntu Linux without a hitch. I was then able to utilise the bluetooth chip to connect with my mobile and send/receive files. The only complaint I’d have is since my tower sits under my desk sometimes the bluetooth signal is a little choppy – I don’t know if this is a power issue or due to the proximity of other electrical devices.

Enamoured with my new bluetooth enabled desktop, I decided to invest in some cheap but stylish BTHS600 Bluetooth stereo headset headphones which I am happy to report work splendid with Ubuntu. The desktop took a few reboots to get there, I installed Blueman from the Synaptic Package Manager to manage the connection. All I have to do is switch the headphones on to pairing mode when I want to connect. My Sammy N210 netbook connected flawlessly with no reboots or additional software.

During the teething problems of installation, I wanted to try these with Windows to see how they worked and connected. Windows is good OEM OS that they install by default and is a good benchmark to see how hardware connects and responds.

I booted into Vista and this is where I discovered the snag. Vista was happy to recognise my new internal card reader but when it came to utilising it – it was demanding drivers. I have mislaid the driver disk somewhere because I didn’t need it to run on my main OS, and I’m used to Windows being able to recognise stuff – but it was not the case here. So instead Windows redirected me to the manufacturer website which it insisted was Toshiba. I downloaded the recommended driver package but surprise, surprise this driver didn’t work.

So I can’t get bluetooth working on Vista, and I’m not sure if the card slots will work either. Which OS isn’t ready for the desktop again…?

For those keeping score: Linux 1, Windows 0

For anyone else having trouble hooking up your bluetooth headset I recommend trying out these links:

http://it.toolbox.com/blogs/teach-it/bluetooth-audio-finally-working-in-ubuntu-hh-24028
http://fosswire.com/post/2008/10/better-bluetooth-audio/
https://help.ubuntu.com/community/BluetoothHeadset
http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?p=4910397
http://ubuntu-ky.ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?p=9030305

Sharing Files Between Your PC’s

Sharing files between your PC’s independent of operating system has never been easier thanks to a range of new cloud based services appearing starting from last year.

This is particularly useful for those of us who run duel boot systems. It used to be a minor inconvenience to have to save files to an FAT/NTFS partition from Linux, just so you could access it from your Windows partition. Now I just use dropbox and get the added benefit of a temporary backup.

Here are 5 services to get you started:

Dropbox. Creates a dropbox directory in your home folder and will sync anything you put in there to an online account up to 2gb for free. Acts as a backup and can be installed on multiple desktops so you can access synced files from anywhere.

FeelHome. This platform independent and allows you to specify any directories you want for sharing between machines from an internet browser. It does not offer any cloud-based storage though.

SugarSync. Like Dropbox, but with more functionality and ability to specify your own folder. Currently Windows and Mac only but a Linux client is being mulled over (interestingly my reply on this forum thread is no longer there).

Ubuntu One. Similar to Dropbox, but also allows you to automatically sync tomboy notes and other related info between Ubuntu desktops. 2gb free then paid for thereafter.

SpiderOak. SpiderOak positions itself as more of a backup service, but the same functionality is provided as the others, including the option to share and sync your choice of folders.

I’m currently using Dropbox as a temporary share and backup, and Ubuntu One strictly for syncing my notes. I just installed SpiderOak to give it a trial. With the number of services available it may be possible to utilise a couple or more free accounts (2gb limit each) for different backup purposes without having to purchase a full 10gb or more of space.