Category Archives: Networking

Networking

ProtonMail – Not Just Webmail

I had a fit when I found out that the Justice Department was “threat tagging” American citizens who dared to speak out at school board meetings.  It was at that point I knew I needed to go dark on my personal communications.

Now, don’t think I went into full Prepper or Patriot mode.  I still have a few regular email accounts and I’ll still use them for various things.  I use gmail for a spam trap.  And getting emails from Amazon and all the other marketing crap can still come in through good ol’ dot Mac.

But if you are a human carrying out conversation with me, especially any kind of business or family business or especially communications with lawyers………….our email is going to be encrypted.   I even changed the email address on my “Contact Me” tab of this page.

So lets talk about the service I’m using………….ProtonMail.  I’ve had a ProtonMail account for years, but I almost never used it.  I got it because I was going to hire a lawyer for something once and the first thing he did was direct me to get a ProtonMail account so our communications would be private.
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Protonmail Bridge on Unraid

Now more than ever in this Social Media day and age I think it is important to encrypt your private communications.  Most people think they are boring but as the current news feeds amplify, if you dare speak out on a subject you may be a target.  I won’t get into details beyond that but …….why not encrypt your on-line conversations?   No one needs to know what you like and don’t like, and what you stand for or don’t stand for.  Or what your vaccination status is.

If you think Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo are not spying on you there is no hope for you.  You need to move on from here.  Email encryption is nothing new and in fact I remember the first consumer grade stuff ………Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) in the mid 90’s.   It was super cool but people just would not take the extra steps to do this.   I suspect they still won’t.  But they should.

There are several secure email services and in this blog I will focus on ProtonMail   They use end to end encryption and if you have a ProtonMail account and you email someone that doesn’t…….you can still create an encrypted environment.

ProtonMail is web based, and for most of you that isn’t an issue.  You are used to logging into your Gmail or Yahoo account on a web browser, so don’t let this scare you.  You’re simply using another service except this one is more secure.

Let’s move on with this discussion.

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Synching Folders Easy and Cheap

This is something that is OLD, and something I once knew and did and forgot about.

My digital life is HUGE …….. huge in the amount gigabytes of data I have archived over the years.   If I buy something……..I download and save the manual for it.  Stuff like that.

I built a SuperServer™ and have just copied all the data over to that device.  Trouble is when I put some new data on my laptop I want it to upload to the server, at least on a weekly basis.

There is NO SHORTAGE of programs to accomplish this and most of them COST MONEY.  Or they have a free one that doesn’t quite do what you want but the Pro Version that COSTS MONEY does.

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Raspberry Pi NAS……kind of

UPDATE Jan 31 2021:  I updated from Pi OS Buster to Bullseye which broke the Geekworm fan control.  The only way to get it going again was to do a fresh installation.

This was a fun albeit unnecessary project that costs a few bucks. I wanted to build a small portable NAS around a Raspberry Pi 4.

I ended up buying parts to create a polished, professional looking solution that utilizes a SATA 2.5″ SSD.  Here are the parts I bought:

Geekworm Stuff

This is a good looking case and I obviously have the front panel off of it for this picture.

There are a few things you need to know about this set up though.  It may or may not be the solution for you.

First the case fit and finish is beyond exceptional. The SATA board is excellent for mounting the SSD on the bottom side and pogo pins make the appropriate connections to the Pi.

Make no mistake though.  The SSD is connected via the USB 3.0 bus. And herein lies the rub.

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Tailscale

You should NEVER hook up to a free wifi hotspot.  EVER.  If you MUST then you should instantly connect to a VPN to create an encrypted tunnel for your traffic to keep you safe.

Trouble is VPN’s either:

  • Cost money
  • Or are difficult to configure

Enter Tailscale which advertises itself as a zero configuration VPN and for the most part……….that’s true.

Basically, you install the app or program on your phone, tablet, or computer (easy) and then log in either by making an email account, using a Google or Microsoft account or a Github account. I personally would only do Github or the private email.

Tailscale login

That was easy.

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Apple USB Superdrive with Unraid and MakeMKV

I’m ready to start ripping DVD’s on my newly built Unraid server.  In order to do it efficiently I ordered a SATA Optical Drive and my case (Fractal Node 804) has a slot in the front panel for just such a device.

In the interim, I have an old Apple USB Superdrive.  I plugged it in the server ……….and ……….nothing happened.  The disk wouldn’t insert.  It was like it was dead.   I plugged it in my laptop and it worked fine.  The dirty dogs at Apple make it so that their proprietary drive needs a wake up command that the Mac OS of course gives it.

SSH into your Unraid server and issue the following command.  If there is a disk in the slot it was auto-magically get sucked in.

sg_raw /dev/sr0 EA 00 00 00 00 00 01

In order to rip DVD’s directly into your file system in Unraid you need to add an app called “MakeMKV”. Once installed click on the logs to view.  We are looking for something specific.

MakeMKV Logs (click pics to enlarge)

Scroll through the logs until you find the section that deals with check-optical-drive.sh

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DIY NAS Build – Network Attached Storage

Your house may have numerous computing devices which means you probably have data you want backed up.  Yes, there are all manner of cloud services (Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, etc.) that you can utilize and they are indeed handy but your data now exists on SOMEONE ELSE’S COMPUTER.  And maybe that is what you want because there is something to be said for off site back up’s.  If there is a natural disaster and something tragic happens then you may lose all your data if it is stored locally.

That is a subject all in itself but back when I was working I built two small, identical NAS servers and just took one to work.  Because there was no private internet connectivity besides a phone hotspot, I would just bring one from home and take the other one back home to update it.  Again, off site back ups are an entirely different subject.

Another very common reason you might want a dedicated locally controlled server would be to rip all those DVD movies, and CD music you have to a media server.  Or a NAS server can act as storage for your security cameras (to hell with paying some company a monthly fee for your video) or for DVR.  I have a couple favorite old shows that I record currently from over the air (OTA) TV to my media server.

And if you build a device that is probably going to be on 24/7 you probably should exploit the heck out of it and make it do stuff.  Let’s build a NAS, shall we?

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LogitechMediaServer on Unraid

I heart LogitechMediaServer (LMS).  What is it?  It is a streaming music platform.  Back in the day it was among the first of the internet radio platforms.

Now we have Sonos.  Nothing wrong with Sonos if you are rich.  Big money for crappy sound.

Logitech made a line of “Squeezebox” devices such as the Touch and Radio, etc.  You can still find the same things basically with Sonos and Grace Digital Internet Radio.

LogitechMediaServer abandoned its hardware stake some years ago and now the software is community maintained and Open Source.

So you can essentially run the same streaming services FOR FREE and your clients can be small, low powered devices such as Raspberry Pi or essentially any computer you have.

So I install LMS (with the S meaning SERVER) on a Raspberry Pi and a music PLAYER called Squeezelite.  The newer Pi’s such as the Pi 3 or Pi 4 work pretty good but with some heavy use and network traffic you might experience a slight hiccup or two because of the relatively low CPU power and memory of a Pi.

Let’s move our LMS SERVER off the Pi and onto our REAL server.  I use Unraid at my house.   This blog won’t be a full installation blog but rather the “gotcha” I experienced.

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Time To Upgrade The NAS Server

Finally got around to pulling my old NAS server out of the moving box and hook it up.  It had been out of service for about 3 months.

IT WOULDN’T BOOT.

One of my 4TB Western Digital Red Hard Drives gave up the ghost and also FreeNAS is now TrueNAS.  I didn’t catch that change because my server was kind of “set and forget”.

I decided to move to Unraid which uses Docker containers rather than “Jails” such as are used in FreeNAS.  Jails were always kind of hard for me, especially upgrading.

Unraid is a snap to upgrade the container and it runs all the stuff I want to run such as HomeAssistant, Emby, Plex, Apple Time Machine, etc.

Since I’m upgrading it was tempting to get cutting edge stuff.  However, in server builds faster and sexier is not always better.  Why?  Because a server is on 24/7 and that bleeding edge  motherboard and chip and power supply and 5 or 6 huge case fans will put a dent in your power bill.

Unless you are doing something crazy you really should consider a platform that SIPS power.  Serving files and streaming your movies on the network really doesn’t take that much overhead, especially if you have plenty of RAM.

I personally like motherboards with the Intel Atom chips.  Let’s pro and con the motherboard I chose.  The Asrock C3558D4I-4L

Asrock C3558D41-4L

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Wifi Router as a Range Extender (Repeater Bridge)

Problem.  2800 square foot home and 1.5 acres with a path into the woods and a deck.  No way one single WiFi router can cover all this turf.

The other day I saw a Netgear XR700 Router on Facebook Marketplace for $100.  The XR700 is a rebranded Netgear R9000 aimed at gamers.  It is also a LOT cheaper than the R9000 which tips the scales at about $450.  But again, except for the case…….it is the exact same router.

Netgear XR700

Believe it or not it does cover almost all the turf in my big home but there is ONE dead spot in the house that I suspect has one too many walls and doors in the way of the wifi signal.

And when I set on the deck in the woods the wifi signal is “seen” but simply not usable at all.

So I decided to pull an old trick out of my hat.

 

I used DD-WRT firmware on my Netgear XR700 and I installed it on my old router which is a Netgear Nighthawk R7000 router.  I used something called a Repeater Bridge on the Wireless Interface to extend the range of my current router.

Let’s go over how this is done:

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