DD-WRT, VPN and Apple Airport Routers

Apple’s Airport Extreme and Express are brilliant at what they do. They are secure, yet easy to setup and maintain. Well, you do not need to maintain them – they tend to just keep working. It makes it super easy for an Apple product eco-system to co-exist without much hassle and fuss.

Airport Wireless

After many Linksys and D-Link Wi-Fi Routers, I started with the first generation Airpot Express and upgraded to the first Airport Time Capsule when it was released in 2008. The time capsule (Airport Extreme with Time Machine enabled Drive) lasted for 5 years and the Airport Express, a little over 6 years. Our current Home Network Setup is powered by an Airport Extreme and few Airport Expresses.

However, the apple routers are limited in their functionality. I wanted a VPN sitting in between the Internet and my home network without disturbing my original setup. I also wanted to have the option to turn the VPN OFF/ON quickly as and when I needed. I researched for a bit and settled on a cheap flashable wi-fi router – Asus RT-N18U. I flashed the Asus router with DD-WRT.

There are other Open Source Router firmwares which are equally good. I chose DD-WRT, as I find it easier, and have used it earlier. Some other alternatives you might want to try are – Tomato, OpenWRT, Gargoyle, etc.

I’m not very technical but I can understand technology, and knows a thing or two about how things work. So, I chose simpler setups and things that just works. My current setup works for now.

DD-WRT

DD-WRT is a Linux based alternative OpenSource firmware suitable for a great variety of WLAN routers and embedded systems. The main emphasis lies on providing the easiest possible handling while at the same time supporting a great number of functionalities within the framework of the respective hardware platform used.

Flashing a router and installation of DD-WRT is pretty straight forward. The most important part is to choose the right firmware for the router, making sure that the router is supported by DD-WRT. Following the instructions on the installation should be good enough.

Once all installed and running, here are few basic setting recommendations suggested by industry experts.

  • Change the default network from something like 192.168.1.1 to 192.168.xx.xx of your choice.
  • Broadcast the SSID but secure it with WPA2 with AES. If you’re not worried about backward compatibility, you can disable TKIP.
  • Of course, change your Admin password from the default to something better.
  • Always have a backup of your settings. It tends to be useful.

Services – VPN, NAS, the bells and whistles

The features and functionalities of DD-WRT are humongous. Pick the ones you want to use and you can ignore the others to their default/disabled state. If you have signed up for a VPN, which are much needed these days than ever, read-up on their OpenVPN (better than the other protocols so far) documentation for DD-WRT and set it up.

I really liked the simplicity of ExpressVPN, and it just worked for me. If you are shopping for one, most of the VPN Providers have a trial period – from 2 days to a week, or even sometimes a month. A 2-day trial should be enough for you to make a choice. I once got a good deal on CactusVPN and I subscribe to their VPN + SmartDNS.

Try out other good VPN providers – VyprRVPN, NordVPN, IPVanish, Buffered, Anonymizer, Private Internet Access, Tor Guard, Slick VPN, MullVad, Black VPN, Smart VPN, Private VPN, etc. You can also filter through an exhaustive list of VPN Providers or swing by That One Privacy Site to do a thorough research that fits your requirements. More VPN reviews can be found on TheBestVPN.

DD-WRT Router + Apple Airport

Finally, I combined the two worlds – the DD-WRT Router facing the Internet and the Apple Airport Extreme managing the Home Network.

Internet

Setup the DD-WRT Router to face the internet – set up your PPPoE, tethering or the IP that your Internet Service Provide gave you. Enable DHCP so that the DD-WRT router can act as the DHCP Server. You can set up additional options such as the firewall, ad-blocker, access restrictions etc. Make sure the Internet and everything else is working here perfectly. Leave the Wi-Fi enabled and working to get back to it, just in case, your primary Apple Router fails or just to debug/edit settings to the DD-WRT router. This also decouples the harsh Internet from your home network.

Apple Airport Router

This is your primary network where all your devices are connected. As the Internet is now taken care by the DD-WRT router, we have to just plug in the Airport Router’s LAN to the LAN network of the DD-WRT Router.

Play around with the Airport Router settings of your choices. However, here are few key important setups that the Apple Airport Router needs to make it working in this setup;

  1. In the Internet tab, connect using DHCP so it gets its unique IP from the DD-WRT Router. You can change the DNS server either here or in the DD-WRT router. I kept it at the DD-WRT Router.
  2. Now, Create a wireless network with the settings of your choice.
  3. For the most important part, turn the Router Mode Off (Bridge Mode). We’re not routing anything with the Apple Airport but merely managing the Wireless Internet Network.

Of course, with Apple rumored to be abandoning the router business, in future, you can just plug off the Apple Router part and move to your DD-WRT router as the primary network manager.

Oinam Home Network

That’s it. You can now have the flexibility, security of a DD-WRT Router and Wireless Network managed by an Apple Router to easily and consistently connect all your devices. All your devices, from phones to laptops to the connected TV, can connect to the Internet encapsulated via a VPN. I’m still experimenting and will continue to play with my setup. The current setup has been running for a year or so, without any issues.

Artificial Intelligence, Facial Recognition, and … Fish?

UI Faces

If you are a tech-savvy, ecologically-minded entrepreneur, then have we got news for you. Artificial Intelligence is capable of many things, and responsible for many more things than the average person may want to know about. You may already be aware that artificial intelligence is used in those dazzling fast facial recognition searches so often featured in police procedurals. Face and body recognition are a controversial, daily reality around the world.

Fish Recognition

Now, as reported in The Guardian, the non-profit environmental group Nature Conservancy is seeking interested parties to create fish recognition algorithms. Similar to the facial recognition algorithms which pick out unique facial features from amidst a crowd, the hoped-for smart program will identify specific kinds of protected fish. If successful, this software will assist inspectors and honest fishing vessels alike, drastically cutting down on inspection times while enhancing accuracy. For those actively engaging in illegal fishing, however, the news will be less good.

Real Problems In Need of Real Solutions

fish-recognition

Illegal fishing costs the world economy an estimated $20 billion a year. Like many of the problems that artificial intelligence is being called upon to address, this one is big, literally too big for human minds and eyes to handle on their own. Smart computers can help, and smart computer programmers can help make those smart computers.

For more information, including details on the machine learning contests, visit Kaggle’s site – The Nature Conservancy Fisheries Monitoring.

Artificial Intelligence: Elon Musk, Neural Lace and the Apocalypse

If it was anyone besides Elon Musk expressing sincere concerns regarding the threat of Artificial Intelligence achieving the singularity within the next five to ten years, the sentiment may be dismissed with a recommendation to stop watching reruns of Battlestar Galactica.

However, Elon Musk isn’t just anyone. He’s not even just any genius. He’s founded SpaceX, OpenAI, Tesla, SolarCity and X.com (which eventually became Paypal). So, when celebrated technologist Musk advises that care should be taken with regards to AI, elaborating that “with artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon,” it’s worthwhile to stop and listen. Musk identifies several concerns about humanity and AI’s interconnected future;

  • In the wrong hands, AI could become a tool for governments and individuals (including “evil dictators”) in the pursuit of power and could contribute to bad ends, such as oppression and war.
  • If robots become too “human-like” in appearance, they may be used for deception.
  • Leading AI companies are overconfident in their ability to “shape and control the digital superintelligences,” and may fail to “prevent bad ones from escaping into the internet.”

So, how does Musk intend to prevent a future where an AI administrator of a company computer network – a Master Control Program (MCP) – plans to pwn the Pentagon and the Kremlin?

Elon Musk

Musk’s solution is more Cylon than Tron: the creation of an “AI – human symbiote” using neural lace. The lace would constitute a digital layer that taps into certain neurons, most likely entering through arteries and veins. Once infused with the digital layer, limitations to the thinking part of the human mind (the cerebral cortex) would be lifted; and hybrids would be able to think both in the virtual place within their brain as well as on the cloud, free of bandwidth constraints. Ultimately, in merging humanity with AI, and creating a “neural link between your cortex and your digital extension of yourself,” technology would be democratized.

However, if worse comes to worse, the neural lace may make it easier to file paperless requests with our robot overlords.

Partnership on Artifical Intelligence to Benefit People and Society

Of all the modern demands on Artificial Intelligence, “open the pod bay doors” is arguably the most infamous. Years after Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, you can ask your own pocket AI. Unlike Siri, HAL 9000, the fictional AI who kept the pod bay doors closed, is a revealing reflection of humanity’s anxieties regarding technology created in one’s own image.  

Perhaps the same shared, underlying unease that caused HAL’s misbehavior to still resonate to this day is partly behind Google, DeepMind, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and IBM banding together to police the development and implementation of AI.  Notably absent are OpenAI (Elon Musk’s research project) and Apple. The group’s chosen name, “Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society,” is fairly self-explanatory, if not clunky and slightly sinister. As stated on the Partnership’s website, the group was formed to leverage the “great promise” of AI “for raising the quality of people’s lives” and addressing “important global challenges such as climate change, food, inequality, health, and education.” However, many of the Partnership’s stated goals seem geared towards shaping the future public attitude towards AI via knowledge and reassurance.

  • Advance public understanding of artificial intelligence.
  • Create standards for future research.
  • Support best practices.
  • Create open discussion.

Further, some of the Partnership’s eight tenets listed on its website almost directly address public concerns regarding AI and its logical conclusion, robot uprising. In general, the tenets involve the following principles:

  1. As many people as possible should be benefited and empowered by AI.
  2. The public should be involved in the development of AI.
  3. Development will be held accountable to “a broad rage of stakeholders.”
  4. Research and development should be conducted with transparency, and systems’ reasoning should be equally transparent, but also explainable.
  5. Development will seek public feedback and address public questions.

The Partnership’s formation, as well as its focus on transparency, public involvement, and ethics, is notably near to the White House’s series of workshops and groups on AI’s risks and benefits. The government’s workshops addressed complex policy, safety and security questions, and also revealed fears that jobs will be lost to AI, and behavior will be unpredictable and uncontrolled.

One must wonder whether the Partnership is less an exercise in selflessness than a strategic maneuvering to control the AI conversation.  Arguably, presenting solutions via the Partnership would potentially discourage government regulation, and in so doing avoid regulatory speed bumps to company growth.

Artificial Intelligence – moving humans forward

Ever since we figured out how to put a computer in every home, someone has been asking the question “will robots or artificial intelligence replace humans in the workforce?” The answer, of course, is yes. They have and will continue to do so as we find areas where a robot can do the work better or where a job is unsafe for a human to do. But the typical robot doing a repetitive job is not necessarily “intelligent”. Artificial Intelligence, on the other hand, is something entirely different.

The theory that computer systems and applications can someday replace humans has been held in both fear and awe. Applications for artificial intelligence, however, continue to drive forward and at a faster pace than ever. As development companies collect user data and build smarter applications, algorithms using that data can make the applications gain abilities making them appear to learn, grow and adapt to surroundings and circumstances. The data can be applied using these algorithms to serve nearly any industry.

Merriam-webster dictionary defines Artificial Intelligence as, “an area of computer science that deals with giving machines the ability to seem like they have human intelligence.”

This means that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not limited to robots or some sort of android type of computer. Pretty much artificial intelligence is a set of code that learns over time. So does this mean AI can really advance to the point where it takes over our daily lives and takes the place of humans in every way? The answer is possibly.

For years we have all worried that we would be replaced by robots and to some extent that has come to pass. So why shouldn’t AI replace us in some fashion in the future?

A few of these jobs might look something like this:

  1. Order Clerks
  2. Data Entry Operators
  3. Library Technicians
  4. Photocopy Operators
  5. Tax Preparations
  6. Telemarketers

PC Magazine published a list of 20 Jobs Likely to Be Replaced by Robots.

But what if instead of removing the need for human knowledge worker, AIs actually enhanced the workplace and made more jobs for humans in the long run. Machines running programs have taken much of the human error out of documenting many types of information and doing precise tasks.

But the need for a human to somehow enter this information into the program still exists. So even though artificial intelligence is capable of “learning” quickly. How do you replace a life time of intuition that a human accumulates in a short amount of time?

Some areas where a life this life experience will still be valuable are:

  1. Recreational Therapists
  2. Occupational Therapists
  3. Healthcare social workers
  4. Physicians and surgeons – even though robots are being used extensively in this field the human touch may still be needed
  5. First-line supervisors of police and detectives
  6. Elementary School Teachers – this may be a grey area also, some technology will move into these jobs but there is still some need for humans.

There is no stopping the progress of this technology and who knows what will happen in the future. We just need to restructure and educate our workforce to compensate so humans and Artificial Intelligence can be put in areas where each are best suited for the job at hand.

Recently, TechRepublic concisely noted some of the most exciting trends in the field even beyond robotic factory workers and driverless cars. Application of AI into customer service, data processing, and even our children’s toys mean that we will see AI in our personal lives and in our work to a greater extent.

Walk through any big-box retailer and observe everyday items connected to the Internet – our cars, our refrigerators, our televisions – the tech companies at the forefront of AI are gathering data on us and how we live, what we like or dislike at heightened speeds and with greater capacity. Using this data, companies can improve our customer experience at a deeper level when computers adapt to understand emotions by listening to the tone of voice and using facial recognition looking for subtle changes in expression.

At the core of our understanding and use of artificial intelligence remains discovery into the ethical issues surrounding the topic. Is it right to replace workers? How much data is too much? Are there risks to continuing this trend? Some of these questions would have highly personal answers. How we respond as a collective may influence the direction this trend takes in the future.

Here is an interesting video from ColdFusion TV – What is Artificial Intelligence Exactly?

The Making of Autochrome v3

Autochrome v2

It all started with an eagerness to create one of the simplest WordPress Photoblog. After a rough work with the first version of Autochrome, the second version saw a huge improvement in speed, crispness and a clear focus to the photos. Autochrome v2 leveraged the powers of WordPress while achieving minimalism and simplicity to give users a no-nonsense WordPress Photography Theme.

What we wanted to achieve with Autochrome v3

We really wanted to push the limit with Autochrome v3. We knew we needed to do something different so users can achieve more with the third version. There were few interim version of Autochrome which were never published but rather thrown away because they were not good enough, not worthy to be the successor of Autochrome v2.

While continuing and even pushing the envelope on minimalism and simplicity, we knew Autochrome v3 have to be faster, way faster, and have a laser focus on the Photographs and nothing else.

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MetaRefresh (2014): The Design Superheroes who uses Modern Design Workflows

At the MetaRefresh 2014, I’m doing a 3+ hours workshop on how designers can leverage modern design workflows, weirdly titled – The Design Superheroes who uses Modern Design Workflows.

Today, the rate at which Front-End Development Tools and Utilities gets introduced are mind boggling. It is indeed quite hard to keep up. Getting familiar with few of these tools and mastering it will help designers get things done quicker, better, produce optimized results and participate with the whole team – contributing to writing production ready codes and be able to run repeatable task easily. The result will be that designers can concentrate, focus and dedicate more time on designing products, applications and systems instead of just ‘making things work.’

MetaRefresh 2014 Workshop

MetaRefresh 2014 Workshop – The Design Superheroes who use Modern Design Workflows.

The purpose of this workshop is to initiate and ignite that idea amongst designers who code and breath life to their static designs. Check out the Workshop’s Companion Site for more details.

It will be a long way after this workshop for a designer to become a ‘superhero’ in design but it should be a good start.

Access Clipboard History with Alfred (Mac OS X)

Quite often, one of the suggestions for developers and designers is to have a tool or a utility to access your Clipboard History. There are indeed quite a free few good tools which sits in your menubar that does the job very well. Some of the most recommended free ones are Jumpcut and ClipMenu.

However, if you’re one of those Alfred user who bought the Powerpack (you should buy it, it’s magic), it comes with a nifty Clipboard History Manager. One less menubar app to worry about.

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Hello Ruby – Programming Book for Children

Hello Ruby is a children’s book that teaches programming fundamentals through stories and kid-friendly activities.

An interesting initiative by Linda Liukas, who teaches programming and makes the world of technology more approachable through a non-profit called Rails Girls.

She is on a journey to combine software with storytelling. She is writing and illustrating a book for young children about the magical world of technology – Hello Ruby.

She is raising $10,000 on Kickstarter for Hello Ruby (already over-subscribed).

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Apply to Sourcebits’ Product Studios

Sourcebits

I have known Rohit Singal for a while though we never met in person until last month, to talk about Sourcebits’ new initiative – its innovative Product Studios model.

Sourcebits is one of those rare service companies in India, who can churn out beautifully designed products backed by an equally high calibre of engineering. Their primary focus is in mobile strategy, design & development.

Sourcebits has done work for giants like GE, SAP, Intel, MIT, P&G, Hershey’s and Coca-Cola, as well as emerging technology companies such as Skyfire, Knocking, Peel, TwitPic, CloudOn and Sling Media since 2006.

In May, 2011, Sourcebits raised $10M from Sequoia Capital and IDG Ventures. They are currently head-quartered in San Francisco with design and development centers in Bangalore (India), Niigata (Japan) and Mexico.

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