Sep 16

Making a Small Variable Power Supply from a Phone Charger

ChargerWe were cleaning some stuff out the other day when I came across this phone charger that I used to keep in the car. The USB connector that went to the phone eventually just wore out and wouldn’t connect properly, but the charger itself was still functioning. As with anything broken (and most things that aren’t) I took it apart to see inside. Luckily, everything was big and through-hole, meaning it would be easy to salvage parts if I wanted. Nothing was really worth the effort of salvaging though, except maybe the IC (an MC34063A). I looked up the data sheet and discovered a pretty detailed document for a switching regulator. Others had hacked these little chargers before, but I wanted to try my hand at it. Essentially, these are DC-to-DC converters, taking the 12 Volts DC that your car provides, and steps it down to the 5 Volts a phone uses. What I wanted to do was manipulate the circuitry to control the output voltage.


This is more of a “How I did it”, but in case anyone wanted to replicate this, you should have these on hand:

1x Phone Charger with MC34063A Regulator

1x 10k Ohm Potentiometer

1x 5k Ohm Potentiometer

1x Mini Voltmeter from Banggood

Extra wires for leads


Soldering iron, Solder, Digital Multimeter, Snips and Wire Strippers, Power Supply (could even be batteries)

The Teardown

Being cheap Chinese junk, the plastic case was easy to snap apart. Inside was the board, a fuse, some wires, and contacts. Nothing surprising, nothing fancy. But the board was labeled, which is nice.


A closer look inside.

A closer look inside.

Consulting the datasheet for the MC34063A , there were a few equations, including one to calculate the output voltage: V_out=1.25*(1+R2/R1). Luckily, the regulation is based on a voltage divider and the ratio of two resistors. There were four resistors on the board though. One was obviously for the LED. Following the traces and diagram on the datasheet, I found a 4.7k Ohm (R2 from the equation) and a 1.5k resistor (R1 from the equation). Using these values in the equation, it would produce an output of about 5V (5.17V to be exact). The fourth resistor was used to regulate the current.

To be able to make a variable supply, I would change out R2 for a 10k variable resistor. This would give me a minimum of 1.25V and a maximum of a little over 9.5V.

First thing I did was test it out. I put 12V in through my hacked up computer psu and made sure I was getting 5V out.

The LED was extraneous, and I figured it would burn out after my little experiment anyway. So the LED and its associated resistor came out. This also gave me a little more room on the board.

Originally, the idea was to use the leads that were already attached for the output. However, one broke off and there were better spots for them, especially with the LED and resistor gone.

Everything gone that's coming off.

Everything gone that’s coming off (except R2)

Getting into the good stuff, the last component to come out was R2.

Making it Variable

The 10k potentiometer had an actual measured value of 10.27k Ohms. R1 had a measured value of 4.576 Ohms. If it worked out right, this meant I could get about 10.7V out. I also checked the voltage ratings on the capacitors at this point, because I didn’t want them blowing up. Getting closer to completion from soldering in the new leads and potentiometer, I also decided to solder in a small Voltmeter I had. I tested continuity, checked resistance again and figured it was time to test.

The setup with 10k pot, voltmeter, and new leads.

The setup with 10k pot, voltmeter, and new leads.


The Test

With a setup like this, what could go wrong?

With a setup like this, what could go wrong?

I decided to try the full output first. As I mentioned, it should be about 10.7V ideally (probably not, but ideally). Everything was hooked up the power supply, ready to go, none of the wires were shorting on each other, so I flipped it on. It read 10.3V. Nice. It worked.

Next was to try at a lower value. I turned everything off (it’s all exposed, and I’m not going to get shocked or break something), lowered the resistance to about 3.41 Ohms (should’ve been about 4V), turned it on and…10.3V. Well, that wasn’t right. I figured the potentiometer had a weird scale or something.

Everything was turned off again. I went to 0 Ohms (or whatever negligible value it was), and turned it on. Again 10.2V.


I checked continuity again, and everything seemed fine. This brought me to consider that maybe I had pulled the wrong resistor or that maybe it had something to do with the switching frequency and I had to adjust the capacitance or inductance. I went back to the data sheets, but still had no idea what went wrong. It seemed like it should’ve worked.

When I cut the potentiometer out completely and turned it on again, 10.3V was still showing.

My multimeter can measure frequency, so I put the meter in place of the potentiometer thinking if there was some sort of alternating current there, I could at least have a number. Energizing it again, the meter read 0 Hz, however, the voltmeter was now reading 6.43V instead of 10. This was new. Did the meter add resistance? Or do something with the frequency? Probably not the frequency, since it didn’t measure a changing current, but it was worth considering. 

This gave me hope. I wanted to try something with the frequency just in case there was an alternating current I wasn’t measuring or something. Really, I was just playing around and not knowing what I was doing. I placed an inductor in place of R2 and nothing happened on the voltmeter. It didn’t even come on. At that point, I was worried that I had broke something. Then I realized that if it wasn’t alternating, the inductor would’ve been a short, 0 Ohms. This would produce 1.25V at the output. The Voltmeter had a minimum of 2.5V to work. So a 1.25V wouldn’t even turn it on. Now I really had hope.

The inductor

The inductor

Since the inductor was probably just shorting the connection, I removed it and just shorted the wires that were there. I used my digital multimeter to measure the output, hoping to get about 1.25V. Turning it on, I got 1.31V (slightly higher because of the small resistance in the wire). Something was going right at this point.

I decided to try a different pot, opting for a 5k pot. Soldering this one into place, I then went to full output (about 5.6k Ohms). The calculated voltage was about 6V. Hooking it up to the power supply and turning it on. I got 6.08V! Things were working out. Trying other resistances gave me exactly what I expected.

Final setup with correct voltage

Final setup with correct voltage


The only thing I could conclude was that a bad connection existed with the original 10k pot. After everything was done, I checked the original potentiometer to confirm that was the case. The wire must have broke inside the insulation or something. Luckily I had cut the wires instead of desoldering them so that I could check this for sure and not make the same mistake with another component. I thought I was diligent in my checks beforehand, but the results I was getting were consistent with a completely open connection at R2.

So now I have this little variable power supply. This was a “Because I can” type of project, but I can see some things I could do to make it more useful. I could add a case and put a 10k pot back into place. Maybe solder in a jack to use it with a 12V wall wart or hook up some batteries to it.

Aug 13

It’s Common Sense, Use Protection — Use a VPN

Most of the internet is unencrypted. That means that in general your activity on the internet is about as secure as sending your mail on postcards. On your browser, there are things you can do to minimize your exposure, like use https. But https is not available on every site. Even some big sites, like Instagram, don’t use https. And this still leaves apps and other services exposed. So what can you do? Protect yourself with Virtual Private Networking (VPN).

What is VPN?

Going with the mail simile, a VPN is like writing your letter in code, putting it in a security envelope, mailing it to a trusted friend, and then having that friend decode it and mail it back out to its intended recipient. That was probably a bad example for me to use, because it makes it sound really complicated. But in practice, to use a VPN, you click connect on your client, enter your username and password, and the rest is automated. What happens is that the VPN client encrypts your traffic. This encrypted traffic is tunneled (which is like putting your letter in a security envelope) to the service’s server. From this point, all your traffic to the internet looks like it’s coming from this server.


Your favorite chicken website would only see your traffic coming from Houston.

Why should you use this?

Let’s start from the beginning. Why would you want your traffic encrypted? The simple answer is to keep it private from prying eyes. Who might these eyes be? It could be your ISP, who likes to make sure you’re not sharing. ISPs have the ability to decide which sites or services are blocked to your connection, but you can go where ever you want right under their noses with a VPN. On public wifi, it could be anyone spying on you. There is a cornucopia of freely available applications which allow people to listen in on unencrypted traffic. Just search for FireSheep or FaceNiff. From there, a hacker could access your social media profiles, email, et cetera and essentially become you on the internet. If you use public wifi, this should be a huge concern. While you could use https to subvert these hacking apps, as I said before, many sites do not use https.


From here, you might be asking why one would want his or her traffic coming from somewhere else, whether a different city, state, or country. In terms of privacy, it hides your IP address, which sites and criminals can use to track you from place to place. In addition, I have found the ability to choose where a connection comes from to be one of the most convenient features of VPNs. A guy I know was excited about a video game that was being released online at midnight. The problem was that he was on Mountain Time, which is two hours behind Eastern Time. So if he had a way to connect through the Eastern Time zone, he would be able to download the game two hours earlier. How else is this helpful? Georestricted content (content you can only access from certain places in the world) can easily be viewed just by connecting to a VPN there. I have been able to watch news from other countries which is only available to people in those countries by using a VPN. Many Americans may not know this, but Pandora is only available in the United States. However, if you travel out of the country or live out of the country, you can access it through a VPN.

What makes a good VPN?

-For anonymity, you want one that accepts anonymous payments (like Bitcoin). And one that will allow you to use a disposable email address to sign up.

-Doesn’t keep logs. Logged data can later be retrieved, which defeats the whole privacy aspect of a VPN. Free VPNs always log data. Find a good paid one that doesn’t keep logs.

-Has multiple servers around the world, especially in countries that are good on internet privacy. Swiss servers are some of the best.

-Good tech support is a plus.

So that’s it. Believe me, once you use a VPN, you’ll never want to be without it. The peace of mind on public wifi, the convenience of circumventing georestrcitions, and the knowledge that it will be much more difficult for criminals and website to track your moves across the internet.

Mar 13

Skip School and Get An Education

It’s Open Education Week. Having a blog that seeks to educate, and being someone who has taken advantage of open education, it was time I put this out there. I often get in trouble for saying it, but not everybody should go to school after high school. Since the first day of Pre-K, people told me I need a college degree. They often referred to it as “that piece of paper.” But the reality is, not everyone needs “that piece of paper” and many people are better off without it. Modern higher education is fed much like the housing market was before the bubble collapsed–that is by easy money carelessly dispensed to anyone with their hands out, especially those least able to afford it. Being businesses, they’ll invent all sorts of majors to attract that free money.

Don’t be mistaken, I’m not saying universities are absolutely evil and unnecessary. Many professions need formal institutions to standardize core knowledge. Technical schools also have great value. In addition, any degree can have a non-monetary value if the subject means a lot to the student. But unfortunately, many people are pushed into debt while pursuing a degree they’ll never use or care about. They end up much further behind than they would’ve been had they just started working. We’re made to believe that “piece of paper” is a silver bullet, guaranteeing BMWs and lakefront property. But to get a job, companies are often more concerned with what you can do for them, rather than solely what degree you have.

So without a formal institution, how can you enrich yourself and improve your skills? It’s simple, you educate yourself independently. Moreover, you do it for free online. Here are a few ways:

Duolingo - Learn a language. So far, for English speakers, they offer French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, and Italian. As you learn, you’re tasked with translating pieces of websites. So as you learn, you’re translating the internet. Not only is it free, but it’s super high quality. According to one study, it’s more effective than Rosetta Stone or University Classes.

Codecademy - Coding is one of those things that people assume only the smartest of the smart can learn. However, it’s one of those things that more and more is becoming absolutely essential for people to know. After you learn it, you’ll feel like Neo in the Matrix, but you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to pick up.

Udacity - This site doesn’t focus on one topic. They allow you to choose what you would like to learn. Most of their courses are centered around math, science, and computers, but they have a very good selection. The business model they use is pretty interesting also. They let you take the classes for free, but give you the option to get the certification with it if you want to pay and take a test.

Coursera - Want to take classes at Stanford or Georgia Tech but don’t have the resources, GPA, or desire to step foot in a classroom? Then check out Cousera. They offer courses from top universities for free. Of course you’re not going to get a degree, but how cool would it be to tell your friends you’re taking a course in computational photography from Georgia Tech?

MIT OpenCourseWare - Through this site, MIT openly offers all of their course materials. They were the ones who inspired other institutions to do the same. The classes include syllabi, videos, course notes, and anything else you might need to actually learn a subject.

The Khan Academy - Their homepage declares you can “Learn almost anything for free.” Unlike the institutional sites, Khan Academy is interactive. So you can learn and get feedback as you go along. It also helps you figure out which specific areas you’re having trouble with by keeping track of your progress.

Wikiversity  – A project hosted the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikiveristy seeks to gather and disseminate education and research materials. Of course everyone is familiar with Wikipedia, another one of their projects. Some are familiar with Wikibooks, which was established to build a database of free textbooks. Speaking of which…

Free Books Online – There are a few other sites out there which put textbooks online for free. For example, check out Textbook Revolution and Internet Archive. The latter not only having books but all sorts of free media.

Here’s your homework for this week: learn. Pick whichever of these sites most interest you and expand your horizons. If you know any more sites, please let me and everyone else know. Open education does no good if you keep it all to yourself.


Jan 13

10 Things That Have Been Used As Money

Rai Stones Photo: Wikipedia

We take it for granted that those pieces of paper or plastic we carry with us and consider money will be accepted by others for goods we want and need. Historically, currencies generally arose from a scarce good that people mutually agreed had value. Sometimes it was because they just needed a medium of exchange where none had existed. While in other cases, it happened because the money they had taken for granted was suddenly worthless. But somehow, societies always seems to find a way to have money.

1. Rai Stones – Still used today in important ceremonies on the island of Yap, Rai stones are wheel-like pieces of limestone from Palau. The stones were mined and crafted in Palau, and then moved to Yap by canoe. While the smallest are only a couple inches, the largest are 12 foot in diameter and weigh almost 9,000 pounds. Their value depends on the size, craftsmanship, and history of the stone. The most valuable stones were the ones that killed the most laborers in transit or, ironically, the ones that killed none. Interestingly, the stones are so big that they are rarely moved. Instead, the name of the owner is changed. Because the stones don’t actually have to be accessible to the owner, there is one that sunk to the bottom of the ocean while being transported and is still traded as currency.

2. Salt – Imagine if you lived at a time that food tasted so bland, you would risk your life just to have some flavor. Well, in the Roman Empire, they did just that. Roman soldiers were often paid in salt, or the money they were paid was spent on salt. Many modern day sayings come from these salt-for-service transactions. Being worth one’s salt was said about soldiers who were especially good at what they did. While salary is derived from the Latin word for salt, salarium.

3. Candy – You might think this is going to be about some time long ago when candy was expensive to manufacture, or during some great sugar cane famine. You’d never guess that this happened in 2008 in a country that just ran out of coins. A few years ago in Argentina, they ran out of change. It was so hard to get coins that you could sell them if you had them. There’s no real clear reason why this happened, but they made due. In small shops, they would just give you candy instead. If you didn’t want Tootsie Rolls to make up the difference, then you could leave. Coins were so precious that they would rather lose customers than lose their quarters.

4. Digital Currency – These are currencies which do not exist in material forms. Many people question whether they can even be considered currency at all. The earliest ones were from websites with very tech bubble-esque names like Flooz.com and Beenz.com. Those companies burst with the bubble, but the idea of digital currencies has survived and evolved. Developers have invented things like bitcoins, which allows worldwide transfer of the currency without a trusted middleman. Still being used today, digital currencies will either end up as the most laughable thing to ever hit the internet or the most revolutionary thing to facilitate trade.

5. Receipts – Essentially the origin of paper money, the Chinese used receipts for copper to trade instead of the actual copper itself. Because copper is so abundant, it has relatively low value and would have been heavy to carry around for any sizable transaction. Problems arose when the people who printed the receipts figured out that their paper had value and would print more with nothing to back them. In the United States, colonial Virginia used warehouse receipts 100% backed by tobacco as the official currency of the state. There are still exchanges today which treat warehouse receipts as currency.

6. Peppercorns – Around the time the Romans were taking salt as payment, there were others taking peppercorns for the same reason. Food was really bad back then. When Attila the Hun besieged Rome, apparently he demanded a ransom of over a ton of pepper. These people travel thousands of miles to Rome on horses and all they want is pepper? Rome got off pretty easy there.

7. Beaver Pelts – In some of the early American colonies, the natives, having no use for European money, would use beaver pelts as currency to trade goods with the new settlers. Beaver pelts were very valuable, as they were commonly used to manufacture hats and other pieces of clothing back in Europe. It was so common, that the pelts became a unit of measure for certain amounts of goods.

8. Payphone Tokens – Imagine that you have as much money as you have now. Then imagine having a billion times that amount by this time next year. Except even though you’re a trillionaire (or quadrillionaire), your wealth will get you very little. A loaf of bread is 250 trillion dollars, as is a trip on the bus. If you were in Zimbabwe in 2008, this was your reality. The inflation was an incomprehensible 89.7 sextillion percent. They had to print the largest bills ever printed with zeroes (100 trillion dollar bills) out of necessity. Tired of paying for milk with bales of money, the Zimbabweans turned to the US dollar to be their currency. However, they were getting the dollars second hand, and nobody carries change on vacation to Zimbabwe. In the matter of fact, it’s illegal to transport more than $5 worth of pennies out of the US. So what did they do to solve this? They turned to payphone tokens. Each token represented one minute of talk time on the phone, about 20 cents i n US dollars. As an added bonus, they looked like Zimbabwean pennies from before the hyper inflation. It was an easy commodity to turn to, as many people needed them. It sure beats getting jelly beans as change.

9. Hemp – While it’s all but illegal to grow in America today, industrial hemp was a staple of the colonies in the 18th century. The plant had many important uses, including rope, sails, and paper. Much of the clothing and linens from those days also contained hemp. Until the 20th century it was America’s largest cash crop. For an example of how widespread its use was, look no further than the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution—both had their first drafts written on hemp. Being such a practical plant, it’s no wonder that it became a currency. Many colonies needed it so badly that taxes could be paid in hemp. While not used as direct currency today, it is still used in some countries’ paper money.

10. Beads – It’s hard to believe that those little things that hang from necks, wrists, and clothing today were once used to buy stuff. But not just any stuff—beads were apparently traded to purchase the island of Manhattan. The story goes that Dutch settlers exchanged the native Americans a sum of goods equaling 60 gilders (about $1000 USD in today’s money) for all of Manhattan. These goods are said to have included beads. Needless to say, New York no longer views beads as legal tender.

Oct 12

How to Get Bitcoins

Source: http://ocantinhodadama.clinicadosom.com/2012/07/20/bitcoin-note-design-psd-file/ (thanks psy)

So you’ve gone through that phase that bitcoiners go through — the sleepless nights, the constant reading, and long hours on the forum. Now you’re wondering how you can participate, how you can start investing, and how you can help the bitcoin economy. With Bitcoin Friday approaching, in addition to a genuine need for this information to be disseminated, it was time to present a definitive answer to the most asked question about bitcoins, which is “How can I get them?” There are numerous ways to get your digital hands on some BTC, just like US dollars or whatever other currency you use. Here are some of the legitimate ways to obtain them:

I’ll start by saying this: you won’t get bitcoins with PayPal. Unless you have a good friend who trusts you, PayPal is universally turned down in the bitcoin economy because it’s used extensively by scammers to reverse transactions after they’ve been completed.

1. Buy Them From an Exchange This is, without a doubt, the most common way to get bitcoins. There are many exchanges, the biggest of which is Mt. Gox. It’s the only one I use, so I can’t vouch for any others. The advantage to this is the automation, there is only one entity you have to trust (the exchange). Whereas with other methods, you may have to do a little more to make sure the other party keeps to their end of the contract. However, the disadvantage to an exchange like Mt. Gox is the ridiculous obstacles to funding your account. You can’t use PayPal or a credit card. They have an easy option that uses an outside company called BitInstant. It allows you to deposit cash through certain locations, like Chase bank, straight into your account. The disadvantage to this is the steep fees. The cheapest method of depositing into Mt. Gox with which I’m familiar is through Dwolla. It’s only 25 cents to send it. However, Dwolla comes with caveats. Despite the fact that you now have to sign up for Dwolla (who has a Dwolla account?) and allow it to access your bank account (which takes a few days), you’ll have to verify your identity with Dwolla by sending them a copy of your ID. Not a school ID (I tried), but your government issued documents. Then, Mt. Gox will require the same verification on their side with the addition of proof of residence. If you have a business Dwolla account, you will also need to prove you’re associated with that business. Each of these steps takes a few days. But once you jump the hoops, you’re good to go.

2. #Bitcoin-OTC This is a method which will require a decent amount of learning if you’re not familiar with using IRC or PGP. Bitcoin OTC, as the name implies, is an over-the-counter bitcoin marketplace. This is a really good way to meet fellow bitcoin users and trade using a trust rating system. This way allows you trade more easily using many more methods of exchange than, say, Mt. Gox. The only disadvantage is finding someone you can trust and someone who can trust you. You’ll probably have to start small, but once you build trust, you’ll be able to trade a lot more.

3. Meet Face to Face This is probably the most effective way to keep your Bitcoins anonymous. You can find people at Bitcoin meetups, or on sites like Local Bitcoins, BTC Near Me, and Bitcoin.local. This allows you to do business with cash, without having to wait days and presenting all of your papers. You’re just limited by how much the seller is able to sell and how much you can trust him/her.

4. Sell Stuff Just like fiat currencies, you can sell your stuff for bitcoins. Some people do it in the form of a business, while others advertise on the forum, use classified sites, or auction sites. The hardest part is figuring out how much of your junk you want to sell for bitcoins.

5. Mine This involves lending computing power to the network. Miners are what make bitcoins possible. Without them, transactions couldn’t be verified. Which is why the software was designed to reward miners for finding blocks (the blockchain is what confirms transactions). Anyone with the right computing equipment can do it, however having the right equipment is expensive, and mining is no easy task. It creates a lot of heat, uses massive amounts of electricty, and unless you have the latest hardware, you’re probably spending more to run your miner than you would just by buying bitcoins. However, it can be done. Usually it’s done in pools, where people are paid out based on how much power they lend to the pool. It helps smooth out the variability that comes with mining outside of a pool.

6. Provide a Service Most for-bitcoin services are digital, like graphic design and website work. However, it could be anything. Photography, landscaping, dog grooming, i.e. whatever you can do well. A few restaurants have started accepting bitcoins. Using a payment processor like Bit-Pay makes things a whole lot easier.

7. Free Bitcoins  Everyone’s favorite category, something for nothing. These sites will give you free bitcoins to get you started. They won’t get you much, but they will get you going. Most are ad supported sites, so visiting the sites on their page helps them. Also, check the bitcoin forum for individuals and businesses giving out bitcoins for signing up for the services, OmniCoins and Memory Dealers .

a. Bitcoin Faucet This is where I got my first bitcoins. Try it out.

b. Daily Bitcoins

c. CoinAd

d. BitVisitor

e. Bitcoiner

f. NetLookup

g. BunnyRun

h. Ten Draw BTC

Now that your wallet is loaded, it’s time to start spending. See you on Bitcoin Friday.

Sep 12

6 More Free Tools to Protect Liberty in the Digital World

In April, I wrote an article describing 5 free tools that you could use to protect your privacy online. After I shared it with a few people, I got a lot of suggestions for things I should  have included. Taking these suggestions, and finding a few on my own, I decided to write a new article describing more ways you can protect your liberty online for free. I’d also like to add that being completely anonymous online is very difficult to do. Anonymity is one of those things that in order to succeed, everything needs to go right. These things help, and may thwart a malicious person or two, but some person or organization who is really determined to find out who you are can probably do so. The problem doesn’t necessarily lie in any of these tools, but rather with you and your habits. And let me also say that being anonymous doesn’t have to mean that you are up to no good. People trying to just live their lives under oppressive governments, whistle blowers in large corporations, and average citizens who know that the internet remembers everything, all just wish that their digital lives can be equally as secure and private as their offline lives. Plus, you’ll be in good company, joining the likes of the American founders who wrote pseudonymously when debating the Constitution.

It's just Publius, certainly not Alexander Hamilton.

So on this Constitution Day, I present six more tools to protect your liberty:



I2P – In my other post about protecting your digital privacy, I talked about using Tor to help keep your internet traffic anonymous. After that article, it was suggested that I mention I2P, another anonymizing network. It’s meant to be an overlay network on top of the public internet. Like Tor, it uses layers of encryption to anonymize traffic. But unlike Tor, it is more difficult to block access to, because the network doesn’t have single points of failure like Tor. The software is free and open-source. It’s also in beta, and may still have some bugs. The main focus of I2P has been hosting what are called eepsites, sites only accessible through the I2P network.

Bittorrent - This was one of those things that was so obvious before that I didn’t even consider it. Chances are, you already use a torrent sharing program. Bittorrent is a peer-to-peer file sharing protocol that works by having the sharing distributed. When a person downloads a torrent file, they download from a swarm of hosts (seeders). There are various clients you can use to download torrents. I use utorrent, because it’s very small and easy to handle.

GPG - Short for GNU Privacy Guard, it allows you to get a private key which you use to encrypt messages and other data. Various programmers include GPG signatures alongside their programs, so that the downloader can verify it’s genuine. But it’s most widely used to encrypt messages like emails. When used in conjunction with a an email provider such as HushMail, it can be a very secure means of communication.

Liberté - A Linux distribution that boots from a CD or USB drive. It barely uses the hard disks on the computer and doesn’t leave tracks, so you can boot it from any computer without worry of someone restoring your documents or internet history. All internet traffic is “Torified” which means it’s routed through the Tor network. Very small (only 212 MB), but includes many powerful features to keep your activities secure. There are other Live Boot distributions out there that help keep you anonymous (like TAILS), but none seem to be as good as Liberté.

Privacy-centered search engines – The big search engines make money by collecting data about you and selling it. That’s why when you search for “Jersey Shore” on Google, all the ads on all the sites you go on from there are for Snookie shirts and tanning booths. These search engines save that data, and can bring it up at will at any point in the future. Check out this page to get an overview. There are some good search engines out there who respect privacy. My default search engine is set to DuckDuckGo. But others like Startpage are good too. In fact, Startpage claims to be the most private search engine in the world and is included with the Tor browser bundle.

Browser add-ons – There are so many of these, and so many good ones, it’s hard to know where to start. Whether you use Chrome, FireFox, or Opera, there are add ons out there to make your browsing experience better by helping you maintain your privacy. You can block annoying ads with  AdBlock, prevent tracking with Ghostery, and keep your traffic secure with HTTPS Everywhere. But there are plenty out there, so let me know what you find.

What other tools would you recommend? What do you think of these? Post in the comments.

Aug 12

10 Reasons You Own a .22 (or Why You’ll Get One Today)

Currently, this article is entered in a contest here. Check out Jesse’s site for a plethora of articles on survival, cyber security, and self defense.

If you grew up in a family that taught you about guns, you know the importance of a .22 rifle. It’s a rite of passage. One’s first real gun as a kid. There is nothing intimidating about it. A youth showing that he or she safely uses firearms can easily handle it. But you don’t have to be a kid to own and enjoy one. My .22′s are still some of my favorite guns. I still have the first one that I was given as a kid. If you still have yours, I’m going to tell you why. If you don’t have one, then you probably don’t have a gun. And if you have a gun and no .22, then you’re going to want to get one. For the sake of clarification, when I refer to a generic .22, I mean the .22 Long Rifle variation of ammo (the most common type). Some rifles are able to use the long and short versions also. Here’s why a .22 is a must have:

1. They’re Cheap

First time gun buyers often ask me what kind of gun they should get. The two questions I always ask are a) What do you plan on doing with it? and b) how much are you looking to spend? Many times the answer to b is “Under $100.” For that price you will most likely get one of three things: a .22, a steal, or junk. For $80, I picked up a Westernfield bolt action .22 rifle at a gun show. It’s a rifle that was actually produced by Mossberg just with a different brand name. It’s super accurate, magazine fed, and operates perfectly. It can also shoot .22 shorts and longs. Most .22′s are usually more than $100, but still very affordable. One of the most popular semi-automatic rifles of this caliber is the Ruger 10/22, which is less than $300.

2. The Ammo is Cheap

The cheap ammo for a .45 ACP is about 30 cents per bullet. The expensive ammo in .22 is about 8 cents per bullet. The cheap target ammo is often less than 2 cents per bullet. So for a day at the range, which one would you rather have?

3. The Ammo is Abundant

This might not sound like a big deal, but when you can go anywhere and easily pick up ammo or borrow it from your friend, it’s a huge asset. It means any time you go to the range, you’ll be able to shoot it–a lot. It’s also easily available in large quantities, in boxes of 525 or 1000 rounds. While these big boxes usually have the lowest quality ammo, they’re perfect for a fun day of shooting.

4. Many Types of Available Ammo

Many types of .22 ammo

Left to Right: CCI hypersonic Stinger, CCI shot shell, CCI CB long, Remington Sub Sonic, CCI hollow point, Aguila Colibri powderless, CCI CB short, Winchester blank

The picture shows types of .22 ammo which I personally own. But the list goes on. You can get tracers, “sniper” ammo which has a big, ridiculous looking 60 grain bullet, and super accurate match ammo. Each different type has a specific purpose which makes this caliber super versatile. The shot shells in the picture are often called rat shot or snake shot, because it’s ideal for close range shots from the hip to get rid of pests. It’s filled with small shot which isn’t effective for much more than that specific application. Sub sonic bullets don’t break the sound barrier, which produces a loud crack (a small sonic boom). Shooters like this slow ammo for two reasons: 1. If they’re using a suppressor, it keeps it quiet and 2. The slow speed doesn’t affect accuracy like breaking the sound barrier does. The list of .22 ammo types is a long one and makes owning a .22 potentially a new experience each time you go shooting.

5. They Come in Many Types, Shapes, and Sizes

Semi-Automatic, Revolver, Lever Action–for just about every style of firearm that exists, there is a .22 version of it. The cowboys of the late 1800′s used to carry a rifle and a revolver both chambered for the same ammunition. I took a lesson from their book and often bring a couple different types of .22 when I go shooting. Having .22′s of different styles allows you to have an awesome day at the range because you can shoot an AR style rifle, a pump action rifle, and a semi automatic pistol all from the same 525 round box of ammo. They can be really small like the North American Arms revolver that some people wear on a belt buckle or full size like the H&K 416 Clone. Even if you don’t like it out of the box, some are so common, like the Ruger 10/22, that there are endless ways to customize it.

6. They Are Quiet

The noise made by .22′s is so low that shooters often use rifles without ear protection (the handguns are still very loud). But when you shoot with conical bullet (CB) ammo or Aguila’s powderless Colibris, the only thing you can really hear is the sound of the hammer dropping. It makes it a lot more pleasant to shoot without ear protection while at the same time not going home with your ears ringing.

7. The Recoil is Non-Existent

One of the most intimidating things for children and new shooters is the recoil involved with larger caliber firearms. This is understandable, as some guns are outright unpleasant solely because it’s like getting punched every time you pull the trigger. I’ve seen people get bloody shoulders, bruises, and headaches from long days at the range with high powered guns. You won’t ever have that problem with a .22. This fact will also improve your accuracy, because you won’t flinch before every shot anticipating a kick in your shoulder.

8. They Are Accurate

Or at least they can be. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be used in the Olympics, by the military for training, and by competition shooters to improve their skills. Even cheap ones can have a high degree of accuracy, like my $80 Westernfield. Since the only thing you have to worry about when shooting a .22 is getting holes in the target, it helps you improve your shooting skills without getting distracted by excessive recoil or noise. The same basic skills that are required to shoot a .22 accurately are required to shoot any firearm accurately. You’ll be able to carry these skills over to a .50 BMG Barrett if you so choose.

9. The Most Universally Practical Caliber

This caliber is used for killing pests (as I mentioned above), hunting small game, self defense, and teaching safe and accurate gun handling. The blanks are even used in some nail guns. If you’ve ever seen those gator hunting shows, you’ll notice they use this small caliber to kill their catch. Never doubt the effectiveness of a well placed .22 shot.

10. They Are Extremely Fun

This kind of sums up every other point, but the fact that they’re cheap, quiet, and have low recoil makes them very enjoyable to own and shoot. They’re easily shot by people of just about every age and body type. In addition, since the ammo is so cheap and abundant, you can go out to the range with virtually unlimited ammunition.

Next time you’re at the gun show or the gun store, consider these points. Buy your first .22, or add to your collection. It will make you appreciate shooting more and get you out the range more often.


Jul 12

Building a PirateBox from a TP-Link WR703N Router

I finally built my dedicated PirateBox. Originally, I had hoped to make one out of a MR3420, but I decided on a much smaller and cheaper WR703N.
TP-Link WR703N
This router was not only smaller and cheaper, but also consumed less power and had better range than I expected. At it’s most basic, all that is really needed to set it up is the router, a USB drive, and an Ethernet cord. Which was good, because the rest of my stuff hadn’t arrived yet. The tutorial on David Darts’s wiki is very detailed and excellent at taking you step by step to arrive at your PirateBox. It guided me through the process very well.

After getting it set up, I only had the USB cord and the router to roam with. The only way I could power it though was to plug it into my computer, the wall, or my car adapter. At this point, because people were unfamiliar with it, I really only used it to show others how it worked. And despite the scary name and graphic, it was a tool for liberty that they should embrace.

Once the rest of my stuff came in, I built the battery pack. Chaka Hamilton had made a great How-To on putting one together. In the forum, people using a battery pack with 8 AAs got days of use out of it. That’s what I wanted, something I could set up and not worry about it running out of juice. At Skycraft in Winter Park, I picked up a ten AA battery holder (they didn’t have an 8 AA holder). The rest of the parts for the battery adapter I either had already or bought at RadioShack. Making the battery pack was the most difficult part of the whole PirateBox project. However, it was vital to have a way to make it portable.

Putting together the battery pack

Once it was all together, I tested it, and it was good to go. However, to maximize the portability, my PirateBox needed a final and essential element — a box. I searched my room for all sorts of containers, finally settling on a cigar box which comfortably houses the entire set up. It’s been a few days, and nothing has been uploaded t it by any strangers yet. I’ve set it up for a few short periods. When I visit a place I know I’ll be a while (like the barber), I’ll set it up in my car. I’ve also taken it to work and a few meetings. The battery pack finally died (it lasted a very long time) and everywhere I took it, it had great range. It was a lot of fun to build and I highly recommend trying it out. Also, next time you’re looking for a free wifi network and you see “PirateBox,” you should connect. You never know what you’ll find.

Jul 12

Declaration of Internet Freedom

A short declaration to keep the internet free, open, and innovative.


Will you sign it?

Jul 12

Go Skateboarding Day

This past Thursday, I was going to meet my friend Sean (check out his page http://seancincophoto.tumblr.com/) in downtown Orlando to walk around and get some use out of our cameras. Little did we know that June 21 is Go Skateboarding Day. I was lingering around downtown long before he was able to get there, so I decided to walk around and get a few shots with my Rolleiflex.

The film in the Rolleiflex was half exposed (not with photographs, I accidentally let it unroll when I put it in), and I was unsure if anything would come out. But I found some guys skateboarding and decided to talk to them and take a few shots to finish up the roll. They were really nice guys, and I later found out that many of them didn’t even know each other. It was just because of the holiday that they found other skaters and skated place to place. I finished up the roll, and hoped a few things: 1. The film was good 2. The camera worked right and 3. I had taken some decent shots. I loaded a new roll of Ilford HP5+, took a couple more shots, and we all went our ways.

Later, I met up with Sean, I grabbed my Canon AE-1, and we walked the streets. On Central Ave, the shops, galleries, and even bars were displaying art work (mostly skateboard related stuff for the holiday). This whole thing was bigger than I expected. But I liked seeing how important it was to people. It brought me back to my high school days of hanging out at the skate park.

That night, when I developed the negatives, everything seemed to work well with the Rolleiflex. I haven’t printed or had the negatives scanned yet so I don’t have anything to show. At one point, I was using the Rolleiflex and put my old Weston Master III light meter on my knee. When I stood up, it fell off, and I am now out of a light meter. Thanks to Sean for this shot of me right before I rose and broke my meter.

Shooting with the Rolleiflex

I just used the Canon to meter the rest of my shots. The only thing with this is that my negatives look a little dense, which leads me to believe the Canon meter told me to overexpose my shots.

The Canon was my main camera the rest of the night. I was using cheap CVS ISO 200 color film. There was a bunch of it on clearance one day when I went in. This roll I believe cost 29 cents. The Canon did very well for me. I was using the 50mm f/1.8 lens, so it was better able to handle the low light than my f/3.5 Rolleiflex. I haven’t had this roll developed yet. It’s actually not finished, so I’ll have to get out there and use it up.

A local shop, Kiwi Camera Service, is just beginning to allow people to rent the dark room they have. They have really top notch equipment. I was considering my own dark room, but with the stuff they have available there, I’d rather just take a trip to Winter Park. So I look forward to bringing you more scans of prints and less of just negatives.