Archive for September, 2012

So tired of “Gotcha!” politics…

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

This morning I was greeted with a “did you hear that Mitt Romney believes airplanes should have windows that roll down?”

My response: “Well I’m not voting for him based on his understanding of how airplanes work.”

The other day, after news broke that Romney had released more tax returns to satisfy the calls for a smoking gun more information on his wealth, I started to hear mutterings that his dissenters were complaining he’d paid too much in taxes on purpose.  When I realized that the mutterings were true – I started to wonder what these folks honestly expected…  Evidence of being a tax cheat?  More proof that he’s loaded?

I got the answer when I heard that the big question now is whether Romney took advantage of an IRS tax amnesty initiative in 2009 which would allow Americans who have undeclared offshore bank accounts (the much fabled Swiss Bank Account for example) to fess up and pay the taxes that they’d otherwise be evading.  My response?  “Has the IRS initiated an audit against Romney, or have charges been filed against him for tax evasion?”

Not even a letter from the folks who prepared his taxes or the former commissioner of the IRS is enough to satisfy the conspiracy theorists that I will refer to now as “Taxers” or the “Taxer movement.”  Romney is a bright guy when it comes to money, and the move to release this information a mere 40+ days from the election is brilliant…  Not only has he paid his taxes, he’s done what pretty much every wealthy Liberal critic has been unwilling to do and voluntarily pay more taxes than are owed (instead of demanding that the Government take more from the rich).

Now we’re not talking about seated politicians who are prosecuted for tax evasion but manage to keep their seat as well as the backing of party leaders… this is a wealthy GOP presidential candidate who has a history with knowing how to generate and maintain wealth in an economy sorely needing his expertise, running against a well hyped candidate whose record is anything but successful.

My guess here – is that Romney will release the full 2009 data within the next 40 days, and that it will likely show he did not partake in the amnesty program…  I’m certain the Taxers will come out with another ‘Gotcha!’ moment, but like the folks who still insist 4 years later that Obama’s birth certificate should be a focus of debate, most folks will see the evidence and move on.  Romney is wealthy?  Big whoop.  Next thing you know, the Obama campaign will report that a tomato is actually a fruit.

Crazy world folks, crazy world.

Borderlands 2 – How a sequel is made.

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Managed to get my greedy little hands on  Borderlands 2 last week, and I’ve spent hours playing it since.  I’m always weary when it comes to a video game sequel and try my best to not base my opinion on the original game…  While comparisons are both necessary and unavoidable, generally I’ve found that any time I look at a sequel while factoring in the experience of the original, I wind up disappointed.

For starters, my gaming rig is a 2 year old ASUS G51-J Gaming Laptop, Intel i7 CPU, Nvidia 360GTS, 4GB ram, etc…  Two years ago it could handle anything thrown at it, even today it can hold its own on most games, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that with all of the graphics settings just about maxed B2 ran like buttah.  That’s a good thing, since the graphics – while still cell shaded – appear to have been updated quite a bit, with more open expanses that are an absolute treat and which can also be completely explored (until you find that random area that looks explorable, but results in your immediate death).  One catch to the large open map setup they’ve expanded upon is that if you don’t have a vehicle – it can get tedious running around, and other times you may find yourself completely lost trying to pin down the route to a way point.  Other sandbox titles incorporate a more intelligent waypoint system, or a form of GPS navigation to help you get from A to B – B2 gives you a map and a white diamond to get to… the diamond only entering your field of view when you’re within eyeshot of the destination.

One thing I liked about B1 was the RPG styling as far as developing skills and abilities as you play, this carries over to B2 with the added perk of various challenges and achievements which allow you to boost your characters abilities above and beyond what you get from your weapon and mod selection, and skill tree setup.

From the get go, you’re given some decent hardware but it’s only a matter of time before you start discovering even better weapons and find yourself spending a pretty significant amount of time deciding whether you want to swap your weapons or sell them.  The selection of guns in the game is beyond belief, while you’re still locked in to basic categories (pistol, smg, assault, sniper, shotgun, grenade, and rocket) – there are varying levels of buffs and environment effects offered across the spectrum of weapons.  I generally try to carry at least one of each environmental style at all times as your awesome sniper rifle that does fire damage may be completely useless on some enemies, which is where an electrical, explosive, or corrosive weapon may make short work of the target.

A good rule of thumb I use as far as selecting weapons (mind you, I am not and have never been a fan of the shotgun in any FPS) is the price.  Generally if the resale price is higher than what you’re using, it’s a better gun.  This may not always work, but overall I’ve had the best luck with upgrades when I’ve swapped for a similar weapon with a significantly higher resale cost.  The opposite is true for me when it comes to grenades.  Early on I got a mod that turned my grenade into an instantly exploding MIRV that fired off 9 additional grenades when the first blew up.  That generally made short work of enemies both big and small and allowed a larger margin of error for my aim as normally when I toss a grenade, I’m going for the general direction of the bad guys and not so concerned with pinpoint accuracy.

Vehicles are still very useful, both for traversing massive expanses in a short time as well as for clearing out a lot of bad guys before risking your precious shielding and health.  Something new I noticed is that simply slamming into an enemy isn’t enough to take them out, which was the case with B1… Some smaller enemies may die instantly but most either take damage and keep coming, or lay alive but disabled and waiting for you to finish the job by hand.  I’ve seen some flying vehicles as well, but I’m not sure whether or not I’ll have access in the single player campaign yet.

As far as characters, you’ve got a few varieties to try out, the Gunzerker (can dual-wield anything), Siren (phase shift bad guys out of the fight), Assassin (be sneaky, stab people, snipe people), or my personal favorite – the Commando (deploy-able turret).  I’ve seen some folks complain that the turret has lost its shielding, in my experience I use the turret as a tank.  If I’ve got a lot of enemies to deal with, I’ll toss the turret towards them, then pick them off with grenades or a sniper rifle as they focus their attention on the turret.

Something I’ve noticed about the NPC enemies though – they seem inconsistently oblivious.  In some areas, they’ll spot me a mile away and start opening fire, but in most you could be a few feet away and they won’t start pouring bullets on you until you’ve begun your assault.  They also seem to ‘forget’ that you’re there if you are out of sight for a certain amount of time.  Many times I’ve been sneaking through an area and have one literally walk right past me without acting.  Other times, they’ll duck away for cover and despite not actually hitting me, keep firing away and shouting taunts.

The characters in game are fantastic – while I’m not exactly looking for character development, the ones involved with pushing the story along or providing side missions are more than filler – they provide some valid insight on the mission and the voice acting is the best I’ve experienced in an FPS for some time.  The various taunts and ‘death cries’ from enemy NPC’s are equally entertaining and while some can be overlooked I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing that baby voiced ‘psycho’ cry out after I’ve dispatched it from Pandora.

The good thing is that if you want to just play the story, you can.  If you want to bang out side missions to build up your stats, you can do that as well.  Exploration is encouraged, and while some missions may be marked ‘trivial’ as you level increases, the ability to unlock new weapons, skins, and other aspects of the game through the many side missions is a treat.  Most enemies you meet will be scaled appropriately for your character, but some side missions that require re-visiting an area you’ve already cleared early on can be a practice in tedium and a waste of ammunition.  Sure, its always fun to drop a target with a well timed headshot – but without the challenge it can start to feel like you’ve got God Mode enabled and you’re still expending ammunition that may be needed further down the quest chain.

Money buys guns, Eridium (an element that became available after the vault from B1 was uncorked) allows you to increase the amount of ammunition and other items you can carry at any point.  Since my favorite weapons are assault and sniper rifles, they were the first to get these upgrades, and an early backpack upgrade will allow you to collect more loot which can be cached in for ammo, weapons, shields, etc…  Something that doesn’t appear to be available in this game are health packs.  B1 would allow you to purchase instant health buffs, but also health packs you could carry with you – B2 doesn’t sell any sort of health pack that can be carried.  Once you get your rhythm down and find a set of weapons to your liking, the money will start to pile up – mainly because the upgrades you’ll find are better than what you can buy – so overall its used to buy more ammunition.

Overall – I love the game, its a fantastic product and I can tell that there was a lot of time, effort, and love put into it by the developers.  I can’t comment on the co-op or multi-player because I generally don’t play multi-player and if I was to do co-op, it would be on a console… but I  hear that both are done very well.  Is it worth the price of admission?  Absolutely.  Considering the string of games I’ve dropped $50-$60 over the past couple of months and have gotten bored with (Skyrim, Sleeping Dogs, etc…) a gem like this which successfully puts a dent in my Minecraft habit really stands out.

Why one shouldn’t fall asleep while watching Back to The Future…

Monday, September 24th, 2012

So I’ve already had my question regarding the timeline in BTTF2 answered regarding how Biff was able to return to the same timeline in 2016 after the act of giving a younger version of himself the Sports Almanac.  A deleted scene actually shows Biff being ‘erased from existence’ shortly after hiding behind the car across the street, and we also never see another inside view of Marty’s home – only Doc and Marty returning to the Delorean.  The explanation being that the timeline changed around Doc and Marty without their knowledge, and that Biff had either been shot to death in the new timeline by Lorraine, or that he simply no longer existed because his past was changed so significantly.

All that said, I awoke this morning after falling asleep while watching BTTF1, and had the thought that makes the already complex idea of time travel even more complex (for me, a layman).  Say you build a time machine capable of going backwards and forwards in time – don’t you also need to factor in as part of your ‘destination coordinates’ the estimated position of the planet in that time?  Consider that the Earth is traveling through space in its orbit at 66,000mph, while rotating at speeds of up to 1000mph at the equator…  If you actually manage to remove yourself from the timeline in order to travel, without a precise calculation of exactly where your destination is in the 3rd dimension (X,Y,Z), you could end up floating in space, embedded beneath the earth, floating (and falling) from several thousand feet in the air, or at a completely alternate location on the surface.

I don’t claim to be an expert in the concept of time travel beyond Hollywood or novels, and this topic may have been discussed before… but I just got a kick out of this being the first thought that entered my head when I woke up this morning. 🙂

Yes, we can…?

Friday, September 21st, 2012

I’m sure there is more meaning to his words, a truer, deeper meaning, that my pea-brain can’t comprehend… but Obama seriously said “You can’t change Washington from the inside.”

So in 4 years he’s gone from “Yes, we can” to “No, I can’t.”  Honestly though – there may be some truth to what he said… He can’t really change Washington… but the country and the world can undeniably be changed.  Unemployment numbers that only drop when people stop looking for work, national debt soaring past $16,000,000,000,000.00, government control of industry, you name it.  All that change… all from Obama.

I tell ya, if Obama wins, I don’t know how he’s going to recover from the damage left behind by the previous term.  Will anyone seriously be able to blame Bush if after another 4 years nothing has improved?  Eventually, responsibility needs to be taken by, and blame assigned to – the people who voted for Obama.

Washington can be changed, as was proven in 2010 when the Democrats lost control of the House.  We’re talking a classic David and Goliath tale here and as much as I’d love to vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, I don’t see that he has a snowballs chance in hell of winning.  I’m not even sure of Romney/Ryan will be able to trigger the change that is required, all I know is that Obama and the current Democrat leadership needs to go.  As fucked up as the move during the RNC to keep the Libertarian movement off the state was… someone somewhere calculated that the only candidate threatened by a strong Libertarian voice on the national state was Romney.  As much as I support the ideas and proposals from Johnson and Paul – the only way to defeat a force like Obama with his absolutely dismal record – is with big names and big money.

I would LOVE to see more attention on the Libertarians.  I would LOVE to see a candidate that has a real chance to reach the presidency… But to do that they need to exponentially increase their efforts and get their message out by any means necessary… it’s going to take an unstoppable force to face the seemingly immovable object that is the political establishment in Washington – and IMHO – they simply aren’t there yet.  The best time for them will be in challenging a Republican incumbent, not a Democrat, and most certainly not Barack Obama.

We can change Washington, the country, and the world – perhaps even for the better – for now, I’ll have to settle for Romney/Ryan.

Feds indict “information activist” for violating “terms of service”…

Friday, September 21st, 2012

So apparently this bright yet misguided ‘information activist’ decided to download as many academic documents as he could from JSTOR with a plan to upload them to a P2P network.  The catch here is that JSTOR provides free access to academic networks (Schools, Colleges, etc…) but someone who wants to read this content and doesn’t have access to an academic network has to pay.

Personally – I don’t see the big deal here as far as offering free access to educational institutions and pay access to everyone else.  It’s a valid business model that I’ve seen used over the years in schools and libraries alike.  It encourages folks like myself to visit the library if we want to access the data without paying.  Now of course, JSTOR had a ‘terms of service’ which this gent clearly used as a replacement for his ivy-league two ply.

He went as far as downloading as many as possible until the college blocked his IP.  He then changed his MAC address (FYI is a DOMAIN, is an IP address, and the MAC address looks like 00:12:34:56:AB) which is the unique set of numbers/letters that identified his laptop on the college network so that he could regain access and download more.  Lastly he just walked in to a network closet at the college (where all the black boxes with blinking lights that make the internet work exist) plugged in his laptop, and left it for a bit to download on its own.  He knew what he was doing, and he knew what he was doing could get him in trouble since he hid his face from security cameras when placing/retrieving his laptop.

Eventually JSTOR blocked all access to its service for several days from the campus until they could figure out a way to keep him out, and according to an indictment his laptop was seized before he could upload the files.  While I personally believe that information SHOULD be free, for the time being – if you want certain flavors of information for free, you have to play by the rules or pony up the cash.  By Massachusetts (where he physically committed the crime) law, he committed an electronic trespass which carries with it a $100 fine and 30 days in jail if convicted.  The folks at ARS are viewing this as a victimless crime and more of an indictment of the Federal Government for misusing an anti-hacking law passed in 1986 as well as of the market for academic documents.

Here’s the problem as I see it…  First, while his goal may appear altruistic – he used some black hat (bad guy hacker) methods to accomplish it.  Second, his actions caused an entire college campus to lose access to JSTOR for a period of time (which kept ordinary students from being able to use it).  Lofty goals aside, if I had a paper due which required information from JSTOR, and I couldn’t access it because some idealistic twit wanted to prove a point – I don’t care about his goals or intentions – he just fucked me like when that Frosh tripped over the main power cable while an entire classroom was working on their theses in PCU…

As far as the Federal Government getting involved, there have been cases of them using the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) to prosecute people who have violated the terms of service of a website before… that I think is a stretch.  The ‘terms of service’ in the simplest sense is a written agreement between a service provider and the people who use the service.  Violating it gives service provider the right to terminate your ability to use the service.  The Fed is saying that by accessing a service in violation of their terms, you’re also violating the CFAA which could land you in prison for decades.  That’s a stretch to say the least, and in my opinion the best thing they could possibly do at this point is drop it and allow the state to prosecute the case.  JSTOR didn’t involve the Feds, neither did MIT.  They apparently did it all on their own, and in the wake of Wikileaks as well as the constant stream of national security leaks from the current administration, they’re probably feeling like the receiving end of prison sex.

From the point of view of someone who works in the IT industry, I think the biggest questions that should be asked are:

  • How did a student get direct access to a network closet at a major university?
  • Why doesn’t JSTOR have anything in place to limit the rate at which a user can download content?

I’ve seen both sides of the spectrum as far as securing physical resources is concerned…  Some places simply don’t restrict access to sensitive equipment, which is completely retarded, and by proxy – MIT *should* be held accountable for its role in not preventing the access to its network hardware.  Whether the guy will face any repercussions from that tresspass beyond the confines of Massachusetts law, I don’t know… but if i was in charge of their IT, heads would roll.

JSTOR could have easily implemented controls to limit access to its resources, again if I was in charge of IT there – heads would roll.

Beyond the possibility of an interstate crime being committed, the Fed really has no place in this equation… but they’re going to do their best to make an example out of this guy and in the process prove just how outdated their policies are as well as reinforce the pattern of stomping on the states to achieve its goals by any means necessary.


You know…

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Just a followup thought to my last post regarding Romney’s commentary on the 47% of Americans who he considers ‘locked in’ when it comes to voting for Obama…  Now the message of Conservatism really hasn’t changed over the years… Small government, free enterprise, capitalism, individual liberty…. all tenets of Conservatism.  Looking back at the past 12 years, we really haven’t had a chance to see Conservatism in action.  Sure, Bush had his tax cuts but he also set forth a wave of government spending that was only topped by Obama.  You’ve got 12 years of big government, big spending, 8.1% unemployment, 16 trillion dollars of debt, no real solution from the Democrats… but then you’ve got this tiny little voice in the corner talking about Conservatism… Americans uniting under a ‘tea party’ banner and undeniably changing the course of politics…  At no time in history has our nation been this close to collapse.  At no time in history have this many Americans been dependent on government handouts.  47% of our nation’s 300+ million population are receiving government entitlements.

That 47% is an absolute wildcard here.  5-10% of ‘independents’?  No, you’ve got 57% of independents.  I want to believe that the majority of us aren’t trapped in an entitlement mentality.  I want to believe that most Americans want change, but more than that they want to have the opportunity to rise above the chains of entitlement and dependency.  I want to believe that America HAS been driven to its breaking point, that something has got to give, and that in the end when given the choice to guarantee 4 more years of government benefits or taking a chance on something better than what is being GIVEN… Americans en mass will choose the latter.

If that’s the case… November may just be a landslide for Romney.  I’m not saying he’s the cure all, not even that he is the ideal candidate, but he’s a step in the right direction, and make no mistake…  there are 47% of Americans who are paying attention and if that 47% decides to ‘give work a chance’ – Obama’s fucked.

You say gaffe, I say “no shit?”

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

On the way in today, in my pre-caffeinated state I heard Don Imus ranting over a comment Romney made yesterday, implying that ‘he doesn’t care about the 47% of Americans who are going to vote for Obama.’  I felt a thrill go up my leg, the same one I get any time I can sense the mainstream media trying to spin a valid statement made by someone who is not a Democrat into a gaffe that Romney can be attacked for.

Now I’m used to Libs having to ‘restate’ something said by Obama or Biden because the rest of us are simply too stupid to understand the true meaning behind their comments.  For that reason alone, I refuse to re-state what Romney said:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the President no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what… And I mean the President starts off with 47 percent, 48, 49 – he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. 47 percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. So he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that’s what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about these people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

What I have to do is to convince the five to ten percent in the center that are independents, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon, in some cases, emotion, whether they like the guy or not.”

Ok – so where’s the problem here?  Romney is acknowledging that Obama’s biggest voting block is a group of Americans who pay no income taxes and are entitled to being looked after by big government.  The guy was speaking plain English, and in my mind – making perfect sense.

I think that most Conservatives would agree here – that the entitlement mentality that got Obama into office can’t be cracked by offering income tax cuts – they don’t pay any.  That mentality can’t be cracked by talk of cutting entitlements – they depend on them.  That 47% for all intents and purposes will vote for whoever promises to give them the most (whether or not they actually deliver on the promises).  So by that statement, Romney is going to focus on the other 53% who do pay income taxes which includes the ‘5-10%’ of independents who can go either way and may vote for an emotional reason instead of a logical one.

I’m not restating anything here, I’m quoting what he said and giving you my thoughts on it.  See folks, I’m one of those people who believes that instead of the Government redistributing wealth and driving our nations debt to record levels by granting more and more entitlements to Americans (who may be perfectly capable of entitling THEMSELVES), I believe in PEOPLE redistributing wealth.  I believe that when I go out and pay for goods or services, I am actively redistributing my wealth to those who I believe have EARNED it.

Obama’s last great hope for re-election is that he can increase the entitlement mentality which got him elected enough so that the ideas of freedom, free enterprise, and personal responsibility will fall on deaf ears because the majority of Americans are so happy driving in their government subsidized Chevrolet after filling up the tank using unemployment benefits on the way to the local supermarket where they can spend their food stamps on a big ‘ol brick of Velveeta.

Are there people who actually need help, who can’t help themselves?  Absolutely.  Should the Government be in charge of helping them?  I don’t think so.  See, one of the major goals of any business is to make money and to grow.  The business makes money and grows by providing goods and services that people want to buy.  The benefit of a business being profitable and growing is that it allows them to improve their products, grow their markets, create new jobs, and find new ways to reach out to their customers and perpetuate the cycle.  The problem here is that Government wants to act like a business.  It wants to provide goods and services to consumers.  As the Government redistributes more wealth, it increases the number of consumers who use its products, which makes it grow and expand to keep up with demand.  Since the Government doesn’t actually produce anything, and people can’t voluntarily buy anything as they would with a normal business, the Government increases taxes on income, goods, and services in order to support its growth.  There is no benefit to government growth.  The only thing that happens as government grows bigger is that it consumes more of our money against our will, restricts our rights and freedoms more to allow itself to grow, and slowly but surely convinces us (like Apple with the iPhone) that we NEED their products.

The punch line is that while buying an iPhone will hollow out your wallet, buying into big government and its entitlements will hollow out your future.  We don’t NEED entitlements, we don’t NEED a new iPhone, but for some percentage of our population, having them makes them all warm and fuzzy inside until some evil Republican carrying a Google Nexus says “Are we all better off than we were $8 trillion dollars ago?”

Don’t blame the cops, blame the sytem, I do.

Saturday, September 8th, 2012

NYPD officer canned for ticketing dead people says he was doing it to meet ‘quotas’

Now generally speaking, I don’t have a problem with law enforcement.  I’ve had my own run ins, pretty much all traffic related… Some ended in my favor, others didn’t.  I mainly do my best to ‘blend in’ and make it easier for someone else to fill the officer’s quota.

Lets get this out in the open – I have friends in the NY State Police, local departments, as well as the NYPD.

The one thing I have learned from talking to all of them – is that quotas DO exist.  You will rarely hear ANYONE admit to them, but simple logic proves that they do.  All people commit crimes, from driving 1 mph over the posted limit to pocketing some Juicy Fruit at the local gas station on a dare.  We’re fish in a barrel – and law enforcement has an endless clip.

The important question is: Why are there quotas?

The logical answer: If a police officer doesn’t catch anyone committing a crime, they aren’t doing their job.

The real-world answer: Traffic tickets are extremely profitable, and most government entities cannot fully fund law enforcement simply on tax revenue.

The root cause of quotas is the high cost of law enforcement.  This is why you can drive past a speed trap doing 5mph in one town and besides a moment of panic – get where you’re going without incident where in other towns that 5mph will get you a ticket and a court date.  Speed traps, meter maids, these folks are the public face of the biggest armed collection agency on the planet.  Whether you pay the fine outright or go to court and make a deal for a lower fine – either way you pay.

Now in a perfect world – the money collected from cops doing their job would be spent on cops.  In reality though – I’d be astonished if that was the case, and the seemingly endless cashflow was never used to support other aspects of government.  However – every business (including government) has a budget, and when creating that budget you want to estimate the revenue that’s coming in to support your expenses.  You can’t have revenue from law enforcement unless they write tickets, and you can’t estimate how much revenue there will be UNLESS YOU SET A QUOTA TO MEET THE MINIMUM REVENUE REQUIREMENTS.

Personally – I want cops to have the best equipment available and be able to support themselves and their families financially… so the one I depend on for help will be able to get to me as fast as possible with a clear head.  I’d also like to be able to believe that the reason I’m being stopped has more to do with law enforcement than shoring up a budget shortfall.

As far as the article in this link – it’s readily apparent that while the officer implicated was doing his job well, he wasn’t doing it well enough to satisfy the accountants at city hall.  Firing an officer because the bloated and inefficient system he works for required him to violate his ethics to the point he decided to violate the system’s ethics instead – should be a wake up call to all of us that something has got to change.

I’d rather have an officer sitting there for a shift and only write 1 ticket for the ditsy blonde trying to text her boyfriend while applying lipstick instead of wasting his or her time stopping every single person who is driving in a straight line a few mph over the limit with a cellphone strapped to their head… but as long as the big initiatives in NYC have more to do with the eating and drinking habits of its citizens than their real physical safety – this will only continue to get more ridiculous.

A VPN is only as good as its endpoints…

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

There’s a big push lately for everyone to utilize VPN’s. For quite some time, VPN’s have been used to connect individual computers or networks to another networks across the Internet securely. In the most basic of explanations – a VPN (Virtual Private Network) forces all of the information leaving your computer for a specific destination to be encrypted.

Businesses have relied on them for years – but more recently services have been popping up all across the fruited plains offering mobile users the same level of security when it comes to browsing the web, transferring files, checking email, you name it.

Here’s the problem I have with these services… You’ve just set up your laptop to use a free VPN provider, or plunked down your heard earned dollars for the service… All the information that’s going to and from your laptop is now encrypted by a bunch of different acronyms which you don’t recognize, and you think your data and privacy are now free from prying eyes.

The thing is – how secure are you REALLY? If you’re a computer nerd like myself – your laptop is free of spyware and other naughty bytes that’ll sail clear through the VPN… and the system at the other end is also clean and secure. One thing I’ve learned in all of my years in the industry though – is that no setup is ever as clean or secure as you would like it to be.

I advise anyone planning to use a VPN – be aware of what it is, and that just because your information will be encrypted and secure as it passes from point A to point B and back again – that it is no excuse for *not* keeping your system up to date and free of spyware, viruses, and other security exploits. It is also no excuse for expecting that your information as it passes from point B to points unknown is still secure.

I use a VPN I set up on my home network as an added level of security between my laptop, iPad, or Droid while I’m out and about – to make it a little harder for those prying eyes to see what I’m up to. I don’t expect it to be the holy grail of public Internet communication, nor do I use it as an excuse to justify slacking off when it comes to performing my due diligence as a card carrying member of the information age.

Use strong passwords, keep your security software up to date, and don’t ever assume that you’re truly anonymous or secure… that’s when you’ll get in trouble.