Sunday, August 14, 2022

Pi Hole testing

Let me first say that I don't have a problem with ads. There are ads on this Website, for instance. And, I subscribe to ad-supported Hulu. I also watch content from many free ad-supported television (FAST) services. I'm fine with ads.

If I don't want ads, I'll pay to remove them. For instance, I've subscribed to YouTube Premium to eliminate ads on that service. I will visit Websites that have ads -- my own had ads, so I'm okay with ad-supported Websites -- and if I think the ads are too obtrusive, I will simply stop visiting the Website.

You won't find me leading the charge for ad blockers or network filters. However, I am currently testing Pi Hole. And that may need some explanation.

First, if you aren't familiar with Pi Hole, it's an application that can run on Linux devices that blocks ads and trackers. So why am I, who claims to be fine with ads, running an ad blocker? Well, it's not the ad blocker I'm interested in. It's the tracker blocker feature.

I'm actually planning to test a few different processes to block trackers. I'm not really interested in blocking ads. Well, with one exception, which I'll come back to in a bit.

Blocking trackers is actually functionality that is built in to many Web browsers. However, I'm looking for a network wide solution to blocking trackers. That's where Pi Hole comes in.

It's a multiple stage process I'm going through. First, I want to see how easy it is to set up and run in general.

Next, I am researching how to block trackers on the network without impacting ad services (well, most; I said there's an exception, and the details are still to come).

Then, I want to confirm how well the process works on the network.

I've just set up Pi Hole this weekend, so I'm still doing the first step. It is blocking trackers, but it's also blocking ads. As I'm still in the setup phase, the blocked ads are collateral damage, and I'll work to reduce that. I don't mind ads, after all, and I think those that put forth a product for free deserve the compensation of the display of ads, if that's the cost of using the service.

I've begun the research into how to use tracker blocking without blocking ads, as much as that is possible. Heck, I may find it's not possible, and if that's the case, I'll then make the best decision on how to proceed if it comes to that. But, my goal is to block trackers, not ads.

I'm running Pi Hole on a Raspberry Pi, though it will run on many Debian and Fedora based systems (Raspberry Pi OS is Debian based). I actually had a problem setting up the system, as I found one of my Raspberry Pi devices was damaged by a recent store (lots of stuff was damaged by that storm). But, I set up another one and it actually went well.

I've configured it to run over the entire network for this initial testing. I don't know if I'll keep it that way or not; I'll see how it goes. And, so far, it's going well. I just need to figure out how to limit the blocking to trackers and let legit ads through.

And that's the other point I teased. I found a type of ad that I do want to block. There was a Website that I heard had been hacked, but when I went to it on my laptop, didn't have a problem. Then I went to it on a mobile device, and sure enough, the redirect to a malware site happened. Turns out there is code on the Website that redirects mobile devices to a software installation page. That's not good.

So, after doing some testing, I found that two domains that are included in ad-based code on the Website can cause the redirection. I blocked those two, and the redirection stopped.

That tells me that Pi Hole's default scripts aren't perfect, as they weren't blocking two domains that contained ad content, and that those ad servers had been compromised. So, if I keep using Pi Hole after this testing is done, I'll use it to block domains that are compromised. They may be considered legitimate ad servers, but if they can't keep them safe, then I don't consider them legit and will block them.

I'm okay with ads in my online and Streaming Life. I'm not okay with my usage being tracked, and I'm not okay with malware. I'll find a way to stop it, if I can.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Getting my Sci-Fi fix

I've been a fan of science fiction movies and TV for about as long as I can remember. Watching first run episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, as well as the original Star Trek, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, and so many other TV shows was something I really enjoyed. I have watched them all many times, having purchased those shows and more.

Science fiction movies such The Thing (the 1950s, as well as the fantastic 1980s film), When Worlds Collide, War of the Worlds, Them, Forbidden Planet, The Angry Red Planet, The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Amazing Colossal Man, The Time Machine, The Day the Earth Stood Still, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and so many other films, good and bad, were movies I could watch over and over again. And have watched each of those multiple times, having purchased each of them.

I really have enjoyed my sci-fi, and continue to watch the shows and movies. But, I don't limit myself to movies I own. I still watch newer movies, or old movies I haven't seen previously, or even have but for one reason or another don't own.

Streaming has been a great way to watch many sci-fi movies and TV shows. And some of the streaming apps and services I use are free.

Sure, there's Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, HBO Max, and many other pay streaming services, but there are also many free ad-supported television (FAST) services that offer good, and bad but enjoyable, sci-fi.

Comet TV, which you may be able to watch locally over the air, has a free streaming app that allows you to watch a stream of the TV network. If you don't have a Comet station locally, you can still enjoy Comet TV with the app.

Pluto TV has channels dedicated to science fiction. One of my favorites is the Mystery Science Theater 3000 channel, but there are other sci-fi channels where you don't hear a janitor and two robots making fun of the films. Doctor Who is also a favorite, as I'm a big fan of the classic show.

Tubi, Sling TV Free, Plex, and Xumo also have science fiction channels available. Roku Channel, available on Roku and Fire TV, also has channels with sci-fi content.

For more on-demand content, FilmRise Sci-Fi has lots of sci-fi movies available for viewing.

Fawesome is a rarely talked about app, but you can find plenty of sci-fi on the Science Fiction Movies & TV app by Fawesome.

There are many ways to watch science fiction movies and TV for free on your streaming device. If you want free sci-fi in your Streaming Life, you have many many options.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Still finding storm damage

Earlier in the week, I mentioned about damage to some of my electronics from a storm this past weekend. I had found three items that were damaged, and had replaced two, with a third ordered.

Well, the third arrived and now things are back to normal. Almost.

Turns out there was a fourth item that was damaged. I mentioned that the primary switch on my network had gone out and I had replaced it. Well, in another room, there's a switch that had been damaged as well. It was a five port switch, and I use it in conjunction with my KVM switch. The KVM switch allows me to use a single keyboard, video monitor, and mouse on up to four computers. It doesn't also switch network connectivity. The five-port switch handles that. I have a single feed to the switch, and could run up to four devices on the network. That was damaged as well in the storm.

Turns out that two of the ports were bad, and three were good. My main Linux computer was running, as was my Windows device. However, some test project devices, particularly a Raspberry Pi, lost connectivity. I hadn't tested them, as the KVM switch made it difficult. However, the bad switch needed replacing, so I replaced it. I put in another 8-port switch, meaning I can connect the devices for the KVM switch, plus run the network printer on it, rather than have a direct feed for it. It keeps the number of cables running from one room to another down to just one now.

I'm still not sure if there is any more damage. I may find some, and will deal with it as I run across it.

If there is any more damage, it's not on devices I use regularly, so it hasn't been a big deal, at least not yet. I'm hoping that's the extent of the damage, and that my online and Streaming Life isn't interrupted any more than it already has been.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Streaming NFL pre-season games

The three week pre-season of the NFL starts tonight. There are two games on the schedule this evening, with five tomorrow, eight Saturday, and one Sunday. Of course, there was a game last weekend, when the Raider and Jaguars played in the Hall of Fame game. Both those teams are in action this weekend, the first official week of pre-season play.

If you're a streamer -- and of course you are -- you may wonder how you'll watch the games. It won't be hard at all, though it won't be free.

Several games are going to be carried nationally on NFL Network, which is available on some cable services, but is also available on several streaming services.

  • Sling TV (Blue, $35/month; Orange+Blue, $50/month). If you are an Orange plan subscriber, you're out of luck. NFL Network is only on the Blue plan. But, if you're Orange plan, you can add Blue plan, upgrading to Orange+Blue, for an additional $15/month.
  • Vidgo (Plus, $60/month). The cheapest Vidgo plan gets you NFL Network. You don't have to spring for the higher Premium package.
  • YouTube TV ($65/month). Google's top notch streaming service include NFL Network in its standard package.
  • Hulu+Live TV ($70/month). The live TV offering from Hulu also includes Disney+ and ESPN+, in addition to the live TV and the standard Hulu service.
  • Fubo TV ($70/month). The cheapest Fubo TV plan includes NFL Network.

Note that DirecTV Stream does not carry NFL Network. That surprised me, but that's why you have to check to see who carries what.

If NFL pre-season games are something you want in your Streaming Life, you have lots of options.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Discovery+ on Sling TV

There was an announcement this week about a new feature coming to Sling TV. Discovery+ will be available for Sling TV as a $5/month add-on.

That's the same price as the standalone service with the Discovery+ app, but for Sling TV users, it will have the convenience of already being in the Sling TV app. At least, I suppose that's a convenience.

As one who got into streaming in the early days, I'm used to using separate apps, and not just staying in a single app all the time. I'll hop apps in a heartbeat. In fact, to me, it's easier to switch apps rather than find a channel within an app such as Sling TV. But, that's me. I'm not the typical user, I suppose.

So, for those that like the idea of a single app for everything, the Sling TV app addition of Discovery+ is a big deal.

Oh, and you don't have to subscribe to Sling TV to use the Discovery+ app. You do have to subscribe to Discovery+ through Sling TV, but the $35/month plan for Sling Blue or Sling Orange is not a requirement.

All SLING users, including users of SLING Free or any SLING subscription, may customize their viewing experience by adding discovery+ as a premium a la carte streaming service.

"Providing our customers with the best entertainment experience has always been our number one priority at DISH and SLING," said Gary Schanman, group president, SLING TV. "The addition of discovery+ on our platforms offers iconic and acclaimed content for the a la carte experience our customers love. We offer more than 50 premium a la carte services to enable our users to customize their viewing experience, all with a single account login so they can easily manage their services in one place."

Since Sling TV free tier is a pretty darn good deal, with the availability of Discovery+ as an add-on, as well as other recent additions to the free channel lineup, which now totals over 200 free live and on-demand channels.

Sling TV, the first live streaming service, continues to be a worthy consideration for including in your Streaming Life.