Moderated and reported by Jim Scheef
Q – My wife and I are downsizing our home and I have some stuff I no longer have space to store. There are lots of old cables and some vintage MAC software. Is anyone interested?
A – No one jumped up, but there are people who are interested in vintage computers along with related software and equipment. My ‘other computer club’, the Mid-Atlantic Retro Computing Hobbyists (MARCH) is located in Wall, NJ, where they have a real museum. Their website, www.midatlanticretro.com, is woefully lacking in good information, but there is a list of websites maintained by MARCH members about their own collections. Each spring MARCH hosts the “Vintage Computer Festival – East”, which is a really fun event. As a museum, they accept examples of truly rare and early machines. They concentrate on personal computers from the “hobbyist” era of 1974-1981 (yes, before IBM introduced the PC). The club and several members also own early mini-computers made by Digital Equipment Corp (DEC), AT&T, Prime, Data General, and others. The MARCH museum also includes “really big iron” like a Control Data mainframe from the vacuum tube era (1950’s). Beyond this there are members who are interested in every home computer and early game machine known to man, from Adam to Zenith. With one exception, they have little interest in personal computers made after about 1985. That exception is the Macintosh. An “early” Macintosh is one with a Motorola 680×0 chip (x being 0, 2, 3 or 4). Apple collectors are a cult unto themselves so even “Power Macs” are collectable along with the software that makes them useful. Naturally the trick here is finding someone who is interested in your stuff. Most MARCH members live in New Jersey. The easiest way to contact them is to join their Yahoo Group email list at groups.yahoo.com/midatlanticretro. When you join the group, introduce yourself and tell them what you have to offer. If you don’t hear back, no one was interested, but patience, combined with diligence, could be rewarded as more people read your posts.
Q – Does DACS have a membership year?
A – Your DACS membership runs for twelve months starting the month in which you join, so please, join whenever you wish! You can join at any general meeting (the ones at Danbury Hospital) and anytime on line. The online transactions go thru PayPal but a PayPal account is not required.
Now, there are warning flags. When the list in NoScript includes an IP address (a server that does not have a domain name), that would be a warning flag. Over time, there are domain names like maximizer.com, newrelic.com, typekit.com that will become familiar. When I’m curious, I look for a website for that domain. Then I can decide whether to trust it or not. Trust is not a value judgment, just whether you want to allow them to run scripts on your machine. You may find NoScript too annoying to use all the time. It has become second nature for me to look at the list in NoScript and make a decision in a couple of seconds.
Cookies are another matter. It used to be that you could block all third-party cookies (cookies from domains other than the primary website), and the website would still work fairly well. For many sites, that is no longer true, so I’ve simply stopped worrying about cookies. If you don’t allow scripts from places like Doubleclick, there will be no cookies from DoubleClick.
Q – I use Chrome and Internet Explorer as my browsers. Do you recommend Firefox?
A – Yes, Firefox is my personal favorite for many reasons. I like that it is independent and open source. The best features in Firefox are the add-ons. Basic Firefox is a nice browser. The add-ons add functionality to the browser, making it more versatile and easier to customize. In my limited experience, it has the best developer tools. To be fair, Chrome has a similar feature for add-ons to extend functionality.
Q – In the news of such things, Google has announced new enhancements to Gmail – possibly this was in the Gmail app for Android. One of these would allow users to open other email accounts in Gmail. What is there in the Gmail application that would make someone want to use Gmail for all of their email addresses?
A – No one offered insight on this. My own opinion is that Google wants to “read” your other email like they do with Gmail so they can better tune the advertising they show you in search results. This may or may not be related to something called “Inbox by Gmail”. This is an app for iOS and Android that adds a ToDo list, reminders to an email app. Inbox seems to take an even more pro-active approach to rearranging the messages in your email inbox using categories like ‘Promos,’ ‘Purchases,’ and ‘Travel.’ To try this new ‘service’ you must request an invitation from Google (which I fail to see as an invitation). You can learn more at google.com/inbox.
Q – From Bruce Preston: Over the last year or so, Comcast has been “upgrading” customers to a new device that includes voice over IP telephone and Wi-Fi capability in addition to cable television. When my house was so updated, I found that the device was configured by default to include an “XFINITY Home Hotspot”. Rather than a question, this is more of a heads-up.
Comcast’s Xfinity Home Hotspot
by Bruce Preston
About 10 months ago or so Comcast replaced the home interface that supports my internet connection and VoIP phone service. The device includes a 4-port Ethernet 100Base-T switch as well. The tech just connected a single computer to it to prove that it worked. I was told that I could connect my router (with integral Wi-Fi access point) “downstream” and that things would be as they had been before. That was mostly true. One thing that was not mentioned was that the device also includes a Wi-Fi access point, and I later found out that it in fact has two Wi-Fi access points.
The first was not enabled, it could have been used for home wireless networking. Since I already had that in place I elected not to use theirs. However sometime later when I did scans for access points from my smartphone or iPad an additional access point was found. It turns out that Comcast has implemented a ‘semi-public’ hotspot that makes use of my broadband connection. To access it you need to provide a Comcast account number or e-mail address/password combination. Their documentation and FAQ pages http://www.comcast.com/wifi/hotspots.html suggest that its presence does not slow down your broadband access, and that may be true as the cable is capable of much more than the rated connection, but it is still crowding the radio spectrum in the neighborhood. I have an analyzer program that showed it to be smack dab on channel 6.
Their web-based documentation states that you can turn it off by going into your account maintenance screen on the web. Problem is that that the pages they send you to don’t have the link. They also give an 800 number. The first time I called I got someone overseas who assured me that the ‘hotspot’ wasn’t my device, it was just “in the neighborhood’. The second call I made got me someone in Texas who told me that she could turn it off by throwing the device into Bridge Mode. (This does not affect VoIP.) She did so. I then booted my router/Wi-Fi access point and I was back in business. The network analyzer showed that the hotspot was gone. YouTube on my iPad stopped buffering, where before it would buffer every two or three minutes. If I have a visitor I don’t mind giving them my Wi-Fi’s WPA-2 PSK code. I am remote enough that there won’t be a need for a passer-by to make use of a hotspot that I host. Case closed.
A – Quoting from the Comcast website: “If you have the new XFINITY WiFi Home Hotspot feature, you can give visitors WiFi access in your home without sharing your password or slowing down your network.” If this were a step toward ubiquitous Wi-Fi in neighborhoods served by Comcast, I would look at this as something really cool. Unfortunately, this is Comcast and they are mucking it up in their usual way, so it is limited to Comcast customers and is complicated for even the guests in your home. The FAQ at comcast.com/wifi/faqs.html makes claims that Bruce found to be misleading or inaccurate. This is so new that many support technicians are not trained on this feature. Bruce found some interesting facts: (1) This new device cannot be managed locally. In other words, you cannot log in and make configuration changes to the device. Changing your own configuration may be possible in the future thru your account on the Comcast website. (2) The device gives the usual problems when used with your own router. When Bruce found a properly trained support technician, this person was able to configure the Comcast device into “bridge mode” which allows your own router to function properly. After this change Bruce reported 20-30% better Internet throughput.
Someone asked if they were doing something sinister. No, it is not sinister, it’s just Comcast. There could be a benefit to this in neighborhoods with more typical housing density. Since Comcast is a monopoly, everyone in a neighborhood who has cable will be a Comcast customer and this could make Wi-Fi ubiquitous within such a neighborhood. Anyone (who is a Comcast customer) could just sit on the curb with their phone or tablet and have Wi-Fi access to the Internet. That would be nice if Comcast would just make it that simple.
Q – I have a TiVo digital video recorder (DVR) and in a house with more than one television, TiVo recommends connecting multiple TiVo devices using a wired network. Since many people are not able or willing to pull cat-5 thru their walls, TiVo offers an alternative called a MoCA adapter. Searching further I found a recommendation to install a filter where the cable first enters the house. What is this? If there is no filter can your neighbors see your network?
A – MoCA is Media over Coax Alliance, a trade group that sets the specification for this technology. In the case of connecting two TiVo devices (two DVRs or a DVR and a TiVo Mini, adding MoCA adapters allows you to use the television coax already installed in your house to carry the data between the two devices. This data is more than just the video to be streamed from the DVR to the ‘remote’ where you wish to view the recorded video. The data is also command signals that allow the remote device to control the DVR. This means that data must be able to “flow” in both directions between the two devices. Apparently a problem can occur when the signal between the two devices is unreliable or just weak. Signal splitters in the coaxial cables allow you to connect more than one television to the single input coaxial cable that enters your house from the cable company (Comcast, Charter, etc). Splitters have one input connection and two or more outputs. Splitters are designed to pass as much signal as possible from input to output. Allowing a signal to move from one output to another output was not a design goal, but this is what must happen for the signal to pass between the two TiVo (or cable company) devices. To improve the performance of this arrangement, a “MoCA POE Filter” (TiVo’s terminology, POE is point of entry) is installed on the input side of the first splitter (the one “closest” to the telephone pole). This small device (see picture) is better called a “reflector” in that it bounces most of the data signal back into the house so it will pass back thru the splitter and on to the other TiVo device on the other leg of the coax. Hopefully it does this without affecting either your television signal or your Internet service if that is also coming from the cable company. See the sidebar for Bruce Preston’s experience with Comcast “DVR Anywhere.”
The answer to the second question about neighbors seeing your network is less clear. MoCA uses different RF frequencies to carry data than what is used for your Internet access, so those signals cannot mix. However, if your neighbor also uses MoCA to connect his TiVo or cable devices to his home network without a POE filter and his network uses the same subnet address (quite likely), then it is conceivable the two networks could “merge” allowing a clever neighbor to see your computer from his computer. Note that the MoCA connection is made inside your firewall. The MoCA could provide a “tunnel” between the two networks. I do not know how big a danger this is, but I believe it is possible. In fact, TiVo warns about this (tinyurl.com/p6xyd58) on their website. Definitive testing would require some time and a cooperative neighbor with MoCA equipment. A scary note is that it appears the cable industry is building MoCA technology into newer devices. TiVo Roamio DVRs and the Comcast home gateway in Bruce’s sidebar both have MoCA built in. This could inadvertently connect your home network from inside your firewall to the inside of your neighbor’s network. Even more disconcerting is the fact that the current MoCA v 2.0 specification supports IPv6 which could provide an additional tunnel into your network if your home router does not understand and block IPv6. MoCA v2.0 supports network speeds that match Gigabit Ethernet so it is plenty fast for streaming high definition video.
If you have any “MoCA capable” device in your home, here are some suggestions to keep your network safe from “MoCA bleed” (my term, hereafter copyrighted) to your neighbors:
- Always install a MoCA POE filter even if everything seems to work without it.
- Change your network address from the default 192.168.0.x or 192.168.1.x address (easiest solution is to change the third number to something other than zero or one, as in 192.168.155.0).
The consumer electronics industry has never been proactive about security. They add it only after a problem has been proven significant and they are ridiculed in the press. Several television hacks have been demonstrated at hacker conventions like Black Hat in Las Vegas. The more I think about this, “MoCA bleed” could become the biggest security hole since the invention of the Internet.
Some additional reading on this topic:
|MoCA on Wikipedia||wikipedia.org/wiki/Multimedia_over_Coax_Alliance|
|Article: Comcast Rolls Out Speedier Wireless Gateway||(Cable industry news website)|
|MoCA Networking FAQ and Troubleshooting (TiVo support)||(includes lots of info and a nice diagram)|
|Official MoCA home user website||www.mocaisinyourhouse.com|
|Information on alternate private network addresses||wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_network|
|Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS)||wikipedia.org/wiki/DOCSIS|