Thursday, March 22, 2012

How to Use a Verizon LTE iPad on AT&T's 4G HSPA+ Network

About a week ago, I was perusing my usual tech blogs and forums, reading about other people's experiences with the new iPad.  I had picked up a Verizon LTE one on launch day, and just wanted to see if there were any interesting tidbits of information, tips and tricks, that other customers were discovering.  I came across the following post on MacRumors, and just HAD to give it a look see:

CONFIRMED: New Verizon iPad works with AT&Ts 3G network!!

Why would anyone want to do this?  To get the best of both worlds: Verizon has the better LTE coverage, but their 3G network definitely tests out to be slower than AT&T's 3G network, which AT&T is spinning as 4G HSPA+, as opposed to 4G LTE.  Seeing as how I still have a 1st generation iPad 3G (AT&T) on which I have maintained an automatic monthly renewal of grandfathered UNLIMITED data, I decided to give this a try with my new one!

Step 1, Turn on Cellular Data.  Mine is usually off as I don't plan on having a constant LTE connection with Verizon, only when I need it, like when I'm on-call for work, on vacation, or on a road trip or something.

Step 2, Swap in the activated AT&T SIM card.  Lo and behold, it's automatically detecting the AT&T "4G" connection!  It's important that the SIM is already activated, as you won't be able to sign-up for AT&T service from the Verizon iPad.  The View Account option will just reject it as an unknown device.

You also want to be sure that the SIM that you're using is meant for an AT&T iPad as opposed to an iPhone.  AT&T has been cracking down on customers trying to use their iPhone SIMs in other devices since they're on a contract with subsidized devices.

For me, amazingly enough, everything started working right away.  Without any additional configuration changes, I was able to start browsing right away, etc.  I ran a quick test with the app by Ookla and got 5 Mbps download speeds immediately!  This is far better than any Verizon 3G test I have done in the past on my iPhone 4.

In case you have any difficulties actually USING the AT&T network once you've connected, there are a few additional steps that you can take to get it working, like changing Access Point Name (APN) settings.

Step 3, Hop on a WiFi connection and browse to  This site will allow you to create a custom APN setting by generating a configuration profile that you can download and install from their site directly.  This avoids the need for you to download and install Apple's iPhone Configuration Utility, manually create the custom configuration profile, and install it to your iPad.

Step 4, Select Continue, and then select Custom APN on the next screen.  On the third screen, select AT&T (Broadband) from the Carrier dropdown menu, and then select Create Profile.  This will generate an APN Carrier Settings configuration profile, which you will be prompted to install:

You can select More Details to see exactly what sort of settings are being pushed down by this profile.  Generally speaking, it's simply the APN setting and a shortcut to their website placed on your home screen, which you can easily delete:

Step 5, Go back and select Install --> Install Now.

If you have a passcode set for your iPad (highly recommended!), you will be prompted to enter it before the profile will install to your device.  Once you're greeted with the Profile Installed screen, select Done.

That's it!  You may need to toggle the Cellular Data off and on (or Airplane Mode) to get it to take, but that should be all that's required to get this working!

Now let's say that you're like me, and you like to tinker, and try things out, but at the end of the day, you want to bring things back to how they were, fresh from the factory.  You can either remove just the APN Carrier Settings profile, or to be more thorough, you can Reset Network Settings.

May be obvious, but remember to swap out the AT&T SIM, and the Verizon SIM back in. :)

In order to just remove the custom configuration profile, select  Settings --> General --> Profile - APN Carrier Settings --> Remove --> Remove:

Once again, if you have a passcode set for your iPad (once again, highly recommended!), you will be prompted to enter it before the profile will be removed from your device.  Just clearing out the APN Carrier Settings profile might not be enough to get your iPad happily talking to the Verizon network again.  If this happens to be the case, the full Network Settings Reset should do the trick nicely.

Select Settings --> General --> Reset --> Reset Network Settings.  Yet again, if you have a passcode set for your iPad (yet again, highly recommended!), you will be prompted to enter it before the settings will be wiped clean.  Select Reset.

You iPad will now reboot, and once it comes back on, it should successfully find and connect to the Verizon network, completely oblivious that it was once subjected to the horrific Frankenstein experiment that you just put it through.

And no, even though it's a Verizon iPad, you can't use the Personal Hotspot with your unlimited 3G access because that option actually disappears from the settings once it realizes that you're not on the Verizon network.  Finks. :) 

Monday, September 19, 2011

How to Rip Blu-rays the Easy Way

I've had a home theater PC for almost 4 years now, and a NAS for almost 3.  I love having the combination as a hub for streaming, converting, and yes, ripping various forms of media.  One of the major gaps in its functionality has been Blu-ray.  Typically, I'll buy the Blu-ray versions of the movies that I want, but can only watch them on my PlayStation 3.  I end up borrowing the DVD versions from the local library, or renting it from redbox, if either of them even have them in their catalog, in order to encode a copy for my iDevices or in-house streaming.  Well, no longer!

I just picked up a Samsung SH-B123L/RSBP Blu-ray combo drive from newegg which works marvelously in conjunction with a couple of pieces of software to back-up each of my Blu-ray movies to hard drive, suitable for encoding into single full resolution, or iDevice-friendly, video files.  Researched and played around with the process a bit for this tutorial, so here it goes:
  1. First, you're going to need to download and install the software tools to do the job.  One of them is the free DVDFab HD Decrypter to actually rip the Blu-ray to disk.  This is constantly getting updated to deal with the latest copy protections, so it's probably a good idea to check the site every time you're going to be backing up a newer disc.  You'll also need Handbrake, free as well, to do the encoding of the ripped files to a single video file.  The latest version released earlier this year, 0.9.5, finally supports reading Blu-ray disc structures, which makes this whole process infinitely easier.
  2. DVDFab HD Decrypter
    1. Insert the Blu-ray into your drive, and fire up DVDFab HD Decrypter.  In the Welcome to DVDFab window that pops up, select the option for HD Decrypter Free Edition, and click the Start DVDFab button to continue.  Useful Trick: Once you've started using this application, you'll notice that the Update Expire Time column gets populated with an actual date when you won't be able to use the respective options anymore.  Never fear, once you're in the application, go into the Common Settings and click the Default button to reset settings to, yes, default.  You'll be advised to "restart the product to apply the changed settings."  Once you do, for whatever reason, you'll find that all of the Update Expire Times have been reset to Never Been Used.  Nice!
    2. DVDFab will now confirm the region code, and scan your Blu-ray in preparation to back it up.  Once it's ready, select Blu-ray Copy --> Full Disc from the menu on the left-hand side of the application.  For the Target settings at the top-right side of the application, click on the folder icon, browse to, and select a location where you would like the backed-up files to be stored.  I tend to create and select a folder on my Desktop, just to keep things organized, as we won't be keeping the files after we're done with them.  Note: Don't choose to back it up to an ISO file, as it takes twice as long (needs to copy from a temporary directory to the ISO container), and you would also need to worry about mounting the ISO prior to doing any encoding.
    3. Other than that, all other default settings should be just fine, just verify the BD50 drop-down setting at the bottom of the application to ensure a full-quality backup.  Note: Make sure you have plenty of hard drive space (over 50GB obviously) in order to store the resulting files.  Click the Start button in the lower-right of the application, and walk away for about a half-hour to let it do its thing.  Mmm, coffee.
  3. Handbrake
    1. Once that's done, fire up Handbrake, and select Source --> Folder.  Browse to and select the folder specific to your disc's back-up under the folder that you chose in DVDFab.  The subfolder structure will be \FullDisc\[Movie], so you would select the [Movie] folder.  Handbrake will now do its own scan of the backed up files and present you with all of the Titles and Chapters that it was able to parse from them. Under the Title drop-down in the Source section, select the longest-running title, which generally corresponds to the main movie, rather than any special features, preview trailers, etc.  Note: There may be a few titles that are either close or identical in length, so you'll need to try a Preview of each one to tell the difference between them.  Usually it's something like an extended version vs. director's commentary vs. theatrical release.
    2. In the Destination section, select a target folder and file name for your resulting video file, ending in .m4v.
    3. In the Presets section to the right of the application, select Normal if you want a full-resolution file, or select the corresponding Preset for your target iDevice.  Note: The iPad Preset plays just fine on an iPhone 4, so you won't need two separate encodings if you have both devices.
    4. In the Output Settings section, select a Container of MP4 File, and make sure that the checkbox for Large file size is selected.  If the resulting video file is greater than 4GB in size, highly likely, it will be unplayable unless this option selected.
    5. Select Preview from the top of the application, and in the Video Preview "window" that pops up, select a Start at Preview and a Duration.  Click Play with QT or Play with VLC to get a quick encoding sample to make sure you'll be getting what you expect.  I like to try a few different 10-second Start at Preview numbers just to be certain.  If you've chosen the wrong title, go back under the Title drop-down in the Source section, and select a different one to preview.
    6. Once you're certain that everything is how you'd like it, click Start at the top of the application and let it rip!

At the end of the encoding process, you should be left with a nice, playable MP4 video file, suitable for HD streaming or portable iDevice viewing by loading it through iTunes!  If you're satisfied with the results, go ahead and delete the original disc back-up files and reclaim your precious GB's of drive space.  Hope this helps to simplify the process for anyone looking to back-up their Blu-rays!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

BackTrack 5 R1 - Black Hat Wallpaper

Just a quick post.  In case anyone was interested, this is the default wallpaper from the pre-release distribution of BackTrack 5 R1 that was given out at Black Hat USA 2011 earlier this year.  Nothing overly special, but if you were looking for it, enjoy. :)

Edit: For whatever reason, the full 1920x1200 resolution of the image appears to get lost in translation.  You can download the original here.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Install BackTrack 5 R1 on an Asus Eee PC 701 4G

The latest and greatest release of BackTrack was just made available for download a couple of days ago.  This distribution of Linux is based on Ubuntu 10.04, and brings together some of the latest and greatest, freely available, security "testing" tools.  A pre-release version of 5 R1 was given out at this year's Black Hat convention in Las Vegas, which I was fortunate enough to attend, and many of those tools, plus additional bug fixes, were added in for this public release.

As the various releases of BackTrack have been coming out, like all other operating systems, it's been getting... bigger.  This newest entry is no different, and if you were to try and do an install onto the Eee's tiny SSD, you would find that it runs out of space quite inconveniently.  The image that you download utilizes Squashfs to compress everything into a read-only, much smaller, more manageable size.  However, once decompressed for installation, it blows right past the 4GB limit of the SSD.  You could install it onto an SD/SDHC card, at the expense of speed and (a little) money.  The other option is to install the live image onto the SSD, and treat it like a live DVD/USB thumb drive, only faster, with nothing additional plugged in, hanging off the side of the Eee.  A side benefit is that everything that you do will be running in RAM, so, in theory, a slight performance boost there.  Here's how to do it:
  1. Follow their instructions for how to create a USB live install thumb drive after downloading your version of choice from here.  You could alternatively burn the DVD, and use an external optical drive for this project.  Whichever you choose needs to be under the 4GB size of the Eee's SSD.  For my purposes, I chose to go with a 2GB 32-bit GNOME ISO:
  2. Plug in the USB drive, turn on the Eee, and hit F2 to enter the BIOS Setup Utility.  I've got BIOS Revision 1302, so your view may differ slightly.
  3. Tab over to the Boot menu, and select Boot Device Priority.  Select your USB thumb drive as the 1st Boot Device, then hit F10 to Save and Exit.
  4. On reboot, when the UNetbootin menu comes up, hit Enter to choose the Default boot option, then hit the space bar to continue past the video mode prompt.  You'll be greeted by the BackTrack splash screen while the system loads up, then you'll get dropped into a root bash shell.  At this point you *could* type "startx" and hit Enter to load up the live X graphical environment, but where's the fun in that?
  5. Now we're just going to image the USB drive onto the 4GB SSD of the Eee by typing "dd if=/dev/sdb of=/dev/sda".  This effectively clones the USB drive onto the SSD, partitions and all.  For example, I used a 2GB USB drive for my install, so only half of the 4GB SSD will be visible/usable to the OS, unless you work some partitioning magic, which I haven't gotten around to yet.
  6. Once that's done, unplug the USB drive, type "reboot" and hit Enter.  The Eee should go through the exact same boot steps with the SSD now, only faster, as if you were booting from the USB drive.  Once you're greeted with the root shell again, type "startx" and hit Enter to load up the live X environment!

Remember this is still only a live environment, and nothing is persistent.  When you reboot, everything will be back to the way it was on first boot, just as if you were using a live CD/DVD.  Standby works fine (though you may need to reconnect the WiFi connection when you resume), so if you don't power off the Eee, you should be good to go for multiple sessions of use.

As a side observation, this setup works phenomenally as a WEP-cracking solution.  You know, as far as I can tell from working with my OWN test wireless networks.  Yeah, that's the ticket... ;-)

Happy Hacking!  I mean, Testing!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

SSH Tunnel for Web Browsing Freedom and More

Ever been using the Internet somewhere where there's a firewall or web filter in place keeping you from browsing your favorite sites?  If you have a secure shell (ssh) server setup at home (or at a hosting site) you can easily use it to proxy all of your web browsing activity, bypassing most types of obstacles that would likely be in your way.

For the purposes of this post, let's assume that you're running an out-of-the-box installation of OpenSSH server on a linux system, with the configuration files located in the /etc/ssh directory.  The most useful parameter in the /etc/ssh/sshd_config file is the "Port" setting.  By default, it's set to 22, which is the standard port for ssh.  In most situations where your web browsing traffic is being filtered, port 22 is likely being blocked as well, so that doesn't help us too much.  You can change the line to

  • Port 443
in order to have the ssh server listen on a port that is likely not being blocked at all.  443 is normally used for SSL-encrypted web traffic, a.k.a. https.  Most web filters will take one look at that and say, "Nevermind, sorry for the disruption, nothing to see here, move right along."  There are a couple of other basic parameters that you should be mindful of from a security standpoint including:

  • Protocol 2
    • This is to ensure that your ssh server only uses the latest, more secure protocol, as backwards compatibility with protocol 1 introduces vulnerabilities into the system
  • PermitRootLogin no
    • This is to ensure that nobody can login remotely as root directly.  An attacker would need to first gain access to a lower privileged account, and then attempt to escalate from there.

Once you've got the sshd_config file all set, save it, and restart the sshd service.  Then you should be ready to login remotely using any ssh client.  For our example here, we'll use a popular one called PuTTY.  Once you've downloaded, and optionally installed, PuTTY, fire it up, and when the Configuration window comes up, enter in the hostname/IP address of your ssh server, with the port that you selected in your sshd_config file:
Then, on the left-hand side, under Category, navigate to Connection --> SSH --> Tunnels.  Enter in a Source port for the tunnel (I've chosen 1080 because the tunnel is really creating a SOCKS proxy, which uses 1080 by default), select the radio button for Dynamic instead of Local, and click the Add button next to the Source port field.  It should now look something like this:
At this point you can go back to Category --> Session, and save the session so that you won't need to configure it all again, or you can just click the Open button in the lower-right corner to start up your ssh session.  Once you've got your session up and running, you'll need to configure your browser of choice to take advantage of the tunnel you've just created.

In IE9, navigate to Internet Options --> Connections --> LAN Settings --> Proxy server,  Check the box for "Use a proxy server for your LAN," and click the Advanced button.  In the Proxy settings window that comes up, for the "Socks:" entry, enter in for the address and 1080 for the port.  Click on the OK button when you're done.
In Firefox 5, navigate to Options --> Advanced --> Network --> Settings...  Select Manual proxy configuration, and for the "SOCKS Host:" entry, enter in and 1080 for the Port.  Select the radio button for SOCKS v5 instead of v4.  Click on the OK button when you're done.
In Chrome 12, navigate to Options --> Under the Hood --> Network --> Change proxy settings...  This will bring up the same window as for IE9 above, so just configure the Proxy server as mentioned previously.
You should now be all set!  Any web browsing that you attempt to do now will be redirected through your encrypted ssh tunnel, and go out to the Internet from the network that your ssh server resides on, rather than the current network that you're connected to locally.  Filters schmilters!

This technique has an infinite number of uses for getting you where you need to go.  You can tunnel things like Microsoft Remote Desktop/Terminal Services, port 3389, Instant Messaging, VNC/Apple Remote Desktop, port 5900, etc.  Best of all, it's all encrypted, and potentially performs better than a direct connection, as you can even turn on compression for the SSH connection.

To perform simple port forwarding for these types of services, you'll need to add another tunnel into your PuTTY session configuration.  This time, select the radio button for Local instead of Dynamic.  You'll also need to enter in a specific destination host and port to forward the traffic to on the other side of the tunnel.  For example, say you want to connect to a Windows system that has an IP address of on the remote network, using Remote Desktop, you would set up the tunnel in PuTTY like so:
Then, once your ssh session is up, in your Remote Desktop Connection client window, simply connect to to utilize the tunnel to get to the remote host:
You may run into issues if you're trying to do this from a Windows system that is itself also accessible via Remote Desktop, meaning port 3389 on localhost is already taken.  In that case, just change the source port to something else like 3391 in the port forwarding configuration, and connect to from your RDP client, easy as that.

And of course, for those of you that are like me and prefer to use the command-line for things like this, a simple ssh one-liner using something like cygwin:

  • ssh -p443 -D1080 -L3391: username@your-ssh-server

does the exact same thing as all that GUI PuTTY configuration.

Happy tunneling!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Install Ubuntu 11.04 / 11.10 / 12.04 / 12.10 on an Asus Eee PC 701 4G

Ever since I got my iPad last summer, my grand-daddy of all netbooks, the Asus Eee PC 701 4G, has become somewhat... neglected.  These days it serves as a test bed for various flavors of linux and their respective updates.  I've run the default Xandros, XP Pro (full installation, compressed), Fedora, Ubuntu, and Joli OS (Jolicloud).  Even with XP Pro, all updates, I never had an issue installing any OS within the confines of the tiny 4GB SSD that is soldered on the board of this device.

Leave it to a bug in the latest version of Ubuntu (11.04) to ruin that perfect record.  An issue that I ran into, and subsequently found information about at Ubuntu in Launchpad, is that the Ubiquity installer imposes an arbitrary minimum hard disk size when the actual final installed size of the OS is far below that limit.  Observe.

After creating a bootable USB key with the Universal USB Installer from Pendrive Linux, boot from the key, and at the Installer boot menu, choose Select Run Ubuntu from this USB to boot into a live session of the OS:
Double-click on the icon to Install Ubuntu 11.04.  At the Welcome window, Select your language, and use Alt-Left Click anywhere in the window to drag it up to click the Forward button, since the massive 800x480 resolution of the Eee PC isn't QUITE able to fit it all on-screen.

On the Preparing to install Ubuntu window, you'll see the specifications that you'll need "For best results" including:
  • has at least 4.4 GB available drive space
  • is plugged in to a power source
  • is connected to the Internet
This time, when you Alt-Left Click-and-Drag the window up, you'll find that the Forward button is greyed out.  So really instead of being suggestions for best results, these are actually requirements to even continue with the installer!  Finks.
Click the Quit button to return to the Ubuntu desktop.  Hit Alt+F2 and type:
  • gksu gedit /usr/lib/ubiquity/plugins/
Then on line 310 of that file, change the "fudge factor" from
  • min_disk_size = size * 2
  • min_disk_size = size * 1.4
Update: For Ubuntu 11.10, the same bug rears its ugly head, but instead of line 310, it's now on line 250.
Update 2: For Ubuntu 12.04, the file is now /usr/lib/ubiquity/ubiquity/, line 796.
Update 3: For Ubuntu 12.10, the file is still /usr/lib/ubiquity/ubiquity/

Click the Save button, exit the editor, and then double-click on the icon to Install Ubuntu 11.04 again.  Proceed through all the same windows, and this time you should find that the Forward button is no longer greyed out.  Hey, would you look at that!
Feel free to check the boxes to "Download updates while installing" and "Install this third-party software," and click the Forward button.  Once you finally get to the point where you get the Installation Complete message, click on the Restart Now button, go ahead and restart.  Once you login for the first time, run the Update Manager for any additional updates that didn't get picked up during the course of the installation.  When you open up a Terminal window, and run:
  • df -h
  • cat /proc/cpuinfo 
you will notice a few things.  First, the final installed size of the OS is actually only around 2.7 GB instead of the 4.4 GB that the installer was requiring .  Second, even though the processor in this netbook is a Celeron M 900, it is downclocked to 630 MHz.  This is fairly common, also happened by default with XP.  In both cases, additional utilities are required to get that back up to 900 or higher for better performance, but poorer battery life obviously.

Not that I'm playing favorites or anything, but for comparison purposes, a Fedora 15 installation on the same hardware comes out to a final installed size of 2.5 GB, and a clockspeed of the full 900 MHz, out of the box.

Anyway, hope that helps if there's any of you out there that are like me, a closet hoarder of technology, always looking to repurpose older tech, rather than dispose of or recycle it.  You can have my gadgets... if you can pry them from my cold dead fingers!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Forcing a Screen Resolution in Fedora 15

I love linux.  I really do.  It's gotten better and better over the years with functionality, hardware detection, and user friendliness.  Where it still falls flat on its face however is when something doesn't work as expected, most times it requires digging into some obscure configuration file somewhere to put in a custom fix, and Google becomes your best friend.  That and the fact that it's getting all GUI and bloated like Windows.  Ugh. ;-P

Anyway, I just wiped out my Fedora 12 linux server in order to install Fedora 15, primarily due to lack of updates for 12, but also just to play with the new GNOME 3.0, GNOME Shell, and service management tools.  I usually have it running headless, but every once in a while, do need to do something GUI based.  That's when I plug it into the nearest monitor, my trusty 4-year old 47" Vizio GV47LF.  This TV is fully 1080p (1920x1080@60Hz), but for whatever reason, it gives out incorrect EDID information over its VGA connection.  Its claimed maximum resolution is only 1360x768@60Hz.  This issue affected any operating system that I've had plugged in via VGA in the past, requiring custom fixes like using SwitchResX in Mac OS X (10.5.8) or PowerStrip in Windows.

With Fedora, I never bothered searching for a fix, as I usually connected to it via ssh and just didn't care enough to bother with it.  Had some time over the weekend to poke around and put together a pretty decent fix that should work well for most of you in a situation like mine where your monitor just isn't playing ball nicely.

First, after logging in, open up a Terminal and type:

xrandr -q

This should return to you a list of resolutions and refresh rates that the system is being told by your monitor that it supports.  In addition, you'll find the name of the output that the system has assigned to your monitor at the start of the second line.  The man pages refer to it as VGA, for example, but for my particular situation it was VGA1.

Next, you'll need to put together a modeline for your particular situation to outline the true display capabilities that your monitor supports.  In my case it was:

"1920x1080" 148.350 1920 2008 2056 2200 1080 1084 1089 1125 +hsync +vsync

Finally, what you'll need to do is go and edit "/etc/gdm/Init/Default".  This is a startup script that gets referenced whenever X is starting or restarting.  You may want to make a backup copy of the file first, you know, just in case.  You will need root access to modify this file.  Anyway, you'll want to add in three (3) lines right before the "exit 0" at the end of the file:

xrandr --newmode [your modeline here]
xrandr --addmode [your output here] 
xrandr --output [your output here] --mode [your new mode here]

In my example:

xrandr --newmode "1920x1080" 148.350 1920 2008 2056 2200 1080 1084 1089 1125 +hsync +vsync
xrandr --addmode VGA1 1920x1080
xrandr --output VGA1 --mode 1920x1080

Once those edits are added, save the file, and logout.  You should find that the changes take place immediately, and your login screen is now running at the full resolution that your monitor actually supported all along!

Hope that helps!