Monday, 6 February 2017

KeePassX - Cross-Platform Community Edition

One of the big problems that many people have with passwords is that there are just too many to manage in your memory alone. People either end up wring them down (which is actually a pretty good solution if you keep that piece of paper secure), or using the same password for many sites. This creates the problem that if one site gets compromised, the hackers will now have access to accounts on other sites that share that same password (assuming you use the same email address). The best solution to this problem is to use a password manager, which is the electronic equivalent of that piece of paper you write all of your passwords down on.

There are many options available for managing passwords. Some of them are online and accessed through your browser, and some are locally run programs. I prefer to use something that's local (don't always have Internet access) and open source (don't trust software that you can't audit, especially with passwords).

I've been managing my passwords using a piece of software called KeePassX for about 10 years, pretty much since I started using Linux. It's a fantastic tool that allows you to keep track of all of your passwords in a very secure way, storing them centrally with you only needing to have to remember a single password. It works across devices, and applications are available for Linux, Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. It supports basic 2-factor authentication using key files. With this feature, you need both your password and and a key file to be able to decrypt the password repository.

KeePassXC is the "community" branch of the KeePassX source code. The KeePassX project that it's based on has apparently been slow to incorporate new features and changes, and one of the big benefits of open-source software is the ability to "fork" a project to take it in a new direction. In this case that new direction involves incorporating new features such as reloading the password file when it changes on disk, using website's favicons as entry icons, and a few other nifty features. Reloading the file when it changes on disk is a big one for many people as I'll explain in a bit. The project keeps almost all of the existing KeePassX features as well, minus a few that were deemed "potentially insecure".

Multiple Machines

Because of the "autotype" feature supported by KeePassX (and KeePassXC) that allows you to have the software type in your username and password for you, it's quite convenient to have the software running locally on each machine you use, rather than say reading the username and password from your phone and typing them in manually. It works, but if you use long, complex passwords it's slow and error prone. To do this of course you need a copy of the password file to work with.The problem is sharing the file between the multiple machines. To do this, the best thing to do is probably to use a file-synchronization service. DropBox is probably the one you're most familiar with, but if you're interested in Security, I'd pick pretty much anything ahead of that one. SpiderOak is my favourite as their one of the few that actually do security "right". Unlike most of the other services of this type, you control the encryption key for your files, meaning that even SpiderOak has no idea what you're storing there.

Once you have your file synchronization service set up, put your password file in one of the directories that gets synchronized and any changes made to it will be visible on all machines. This makes the new automatic reload feature of KeePassXC worth its weight in gold. It means that you no longer have remember to close the file after you've used it, or make all of your changes on a single machine and have the file open "read-only" on the rest of them.

WARNING: Do not synchronize your key file (for 2-factor authetication) on your file synchronizing service. This defeats a large part of the use of it. Put the file on your devices manually, or worst case, using a different synchronization service.

At this point there doesn't seem to be an Android or iOS version of KeePassXC,  although there is an Android version of KeePassX. This version will work with the KeePassXC files, but will not automatically reload when changes are made. This is not that much of a big deal as on other platforms though, as most of the file synchronization services do not automatically synchronize either;'; they're more of a manual "on demand" sort of thing.

This workflow should allow you to be more secure, spend less time typing in passwords, and learn a few new tools. Keep in mind that KeePassX and KeePassXC can store more than just password ... they can also store embedded files of any kind.  Great place to keep PDF versions of your tax forms perhaps?


Saturday, 4 February 2017

Nita Beer Company "Five Fingers" Brown Ale

Medium golden brown with a solid beige head that persists well. Aromas of coffee, cocoa, caramel, and sultana raisins. A slight hop bitterness and clean taste highlighting the raisins in the aroma. Quite a nice beer, especially on a winter afternoon. This would pair very well with sandwiches on light rye with caraway seeds.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County

A very yummy and versatile wine with a strangely storied history with me over the past few months.

I first tried Louis M. Martin Cabernet Sauvignons a few months ago at a large tasting with Natalie MacLean. I generally go through thirty or forty wines during one of these, and always remember stand-outs. At this particular even, a Louis M. Martin Cab Sauv was definitely one of them. It was amazingly good for what I thought was a $20 wine. I actually went as far as selfishly trying to hunt down a case of it before raving about how good it was before raving about it online.

It turns out that Louis M. Martin has several version of their Cab Sauv, and I'd tried the more expensive version.  Thus ended a potential "unicorn hunt" where I try to find a $20 wine that tastes like a $40 wine. It's not unheard of, but it's difficult. When I discovered my mistake I picked up a bottle of each. This review is actually for the cheaper of the two. While it's not as good as the more expensive version, it's still quite a good wine.

It's a deep ruby wine, tending towards garnet. The aromas centre around the fruit, with black cherry, plum, and cassis, but are closely followed by cocoa, dried leaves, tobacco, and tar.  Great complexity, and it does open up quite well, so decant for about an hour if you have the time.

The taste is mainly tart black cherry with a touch of plum. There's a nice level of tannins that are a touch young and might improve with a little ageing. The finish is medium tart cherry with the tannins showing nicely as well. Going from memory, the big difference between this and the more expensive version might be that this has a very slight touch of vegetal taste, but is missing a touch of mint in the aroma. Check back later when we try the upscale version.

We paired this with leftovers. Specifically, leftover roast beef done in a pressed panini, with a Jalapeno Jack cheese and "brocoslaw". It was a good pairing, but not exceptional. After dinner, we tried the remaining wine with some Costo chocolate truffles that had been hanging around since Christmas. Desite violating the general guideline that your wine should be sweeter tan your dessert, the pairing was very good. The cocoa aspect of the wine matched the dusted cocoa of the truffles, and the acidity of the wine was a perfect offset to the fattiness of the truffle. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Borsao Bole

Medium purple with rich aromas of ripe cherries and black plums, followed by a little vanilla, baking spices, and earthiness. The taste is ripe blackberry and cherry with some spice and a medium acidity. The finish is mirrors the taste but tends towards the blackberry. A well balanced wine for stews, pork, or sipping, and a great value.

$15.95 at LCBO

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Clifford porter

Opaque bark brown with a very lively medium brown head. The aroma is chocolate and coffee liqueur with a touch of ash. Nice clean taste very closely following the aromas.

$2.95 at the LCBO

5.9% alcohol

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Dungeons and Dragons Table Configuration

This is a just a simple thing, but many people seemed to think it was such a great idea I though I'd post it here.

I regularly host a tabletop D&D game, and space is always at a premium. Players these days generally use laptops, tablets, or other devices, occasionally have books, and we frequently eat before (or during) the game. For all the devices, there are cables and power bars. There are bowls for snacks. All of this takes up table space, leaving very little space for maps, which  really do add a lot to the game, and are important for those big battles.

I'd made 'leg extenders' for one of our collapsing tables so that Sheena could work on quilts more easily, as many tasks would otherwise require bending over a table of normal height. The extenders are just sections of PVC pipe with tennis balls hot-glued on the ends to keep the floor from getting scratched.

With this elevated table in the middle, the other two tables inset nicely, allowing maps and other important game stuff to sit on top, while still allowing room for laptops, food, etc. Cables, etc, can come up underneath as well which really helps keep them out of the way. This way the players get a nice clear view of the maps without reaching through a sea of laptop screens and wine glasses.

The wooden table you see at the other end is where the Dungeon Master typically sits. If you need more space, more tables can be added of course,  including just adding another folding table across the end facing towards you in this picture. The two outer tables in this picture are these from Canadian Tire. I think the other may be an older model from there as well. Ideally, the centre table will have as little space between the top part of the legs as possible so that the outer tables inset well.

The next step will be to put a couple of screws on the underside of the centre table so that the power bars can be slipped onto them using their mounting holes. Ideally I'll be able to do this so the screws can stay in without affecting the way the tables fold.

I'm sure this will help out for board games of some kinds as well. Hope this helps someone find more space for your tabletop gaming!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Lazy Sunday Dinner - Couscous, Chicken and Wine

It was a busy day in our house so dinner was a quick toss together. It was well received.

Couscous with lemon, mushrooms and spinach and oven roasted chicken thighs, paired with a Casas Del Bosque Reserva Sauvignon Blanc (available at your local LCBO).

Wine Notes: Paper white with wonderful aromas of lime, gooseberry, canned green beans, tropical fruit, especially mango, and lemon. Zippy acidity and flavours of lime and gooseberry.  The aromas seem especially affected by temperature. As the temperature rose from our serving temperature of 8 degrees Celsius, the vegetal aromas were replaced by more of a tropical fruit aroma. All were quite wonderful, but keep this in mind when serving.

Recipe (of sorts) for the couscous:

In a medium saucepan, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Toss in 1 cup medium couscous, heat a couple of minutes until it smells nutty. Then pour in 2 cups water (or broth if you prefer). Bring to boil, remove from heat and set aside.

While couscous is absorbing the water, saute half a dozen or so sliced cremini mushrooms in a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Part way through the saute, add one clove garlic, finely minced or through a garlic press.  Toss in a couple of handfuls of washed, baby spinach. Cook until wilted. Season with black pepper.

Fluff the couscous with fork after water is absorbed. With a rasp, grate the zest from one lemon into the couscous. Fluff again and add to pan with sauteed mushrooms and spinach. Toss together and you are ready to serve. Slice your zested lemon into sections and serve with the couscous. A fresh squeeze of lemon juice really makes this couscous pop.