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Changing Google.com country domain no longer works

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment

Google power users knew that changing the Google country top-level domain (ccTLD) would allow you to find results optimized for another country or language (e.g. searching Google.ch instead of Google.com to get more swiss biased results). 

There are a tone of reasons why I used this little trick:

  • Accessing Google.com results when terminating a VPN in another country
  • Travelling to a European country that skews results (right to be forgotten) and wanting "real" information returned
  • and much more

In a blog post, Google announced that results will now be customized based on the user's location (without regard for the country ccTLD input in the URL). So if I am in France and try to access American results by using the Google.com site, I will still get french results.

Google explains that 1/5 searches are location dependent (therefore detecting and using the user's actual location makes sense).  If I am traveling to Paris and search for pâtisserie, the logic motivation is that I am searching for a pâtisserie in Paris, not Toronto (my home city). 

You can still search for results in another location but the process is much more complicated now (you can still go into settings and select the correct country service you want to receive.) 

It’s important to note that while this update will change the way Google Search and Maps services are labeled, it won’t affect the way these products work, nor will it change how we handle obligations under national law.
— Google blog post

Source: Google Blog

KeepSolid VPN Unlimited Review

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment

VPN Unlimited is one of the most popular VPN services available and for good reason. It is fast, reliable and competitively priced (deal below).

VPN Unlimited is a USA based provider and offers termination in more than 30 countries (with multiple locations in most countries). VPN Unlimited has good platform support (Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android) and very well written clients.

Above is a screenshot of the protection menu option on their IOS client. When set to High security, they (in addition to VPN protection) automatically add anti-malware, tracking blocking and ad blocking.) All of this extra security is done at the network layer without the need to configure any additional applications or pay additional fees.

Like most VPN service providers, VPN Unlimited specifically mentions that they do not allow illegal torrenting via their service. They recognise that not all torrents are illegal and allow the use of the BitTorrent protocol on these VPN termination points: US-California 1, Canada-Ontario, Romania, Luxembourg, and France servers.

A question I get asked often is "Does VPN Unlimited support OpenVPN on iOS, iPhone or iPad?" The answer is Yes! As shown in the above screenshot. Additionally, they support a protocol they call KeepSolid Wise (similar to the Chameleon protocol on VyprVPN). KeepSolid Wise uses common ports (TCP 443/USP 33434) which help bypass firewall restrictions and packet shaping control for most environments. KeepSolid Wise is available on iOS, Android, MacOS, Linux and Windows clients.

I setup VPN Unlimited on a Windows machine configured for maximum privacy. I then ran a battery of tests to determine how well it protected my privacy.

  • does not leak DNS queries when in VPN mode (go here to test)
  • does hide your actual IP address (go here to test)
  • does not leak IP or DNS information via JAVA or Flash ( Go here to test)
  • protecting P2P traffic. Although I do not condone or encourage the use of P2P tools to steal protected media, there are dozens of legitimate uses for P2P technology. It is important to ensure your VPN product protects you while using P2P and VyprVPN did. You go to this site and the find the Torrent Address Detection. You download their magnet link into your P2P client of choice then activate the test. If it shows your real IP or DNS, you are not protected. You should only see your VPN address here.
  • VPN Unlimited is not subject to WebRTC leaks when in VPN mode (go here to test

VPN Unlimited seems well written and does offer good protection.

Deal

VPN Unlimited is currently running a couple of specials that are worth considering (I bought the unlimited plan):

  • KeepSolid VPN Unlimited lifetime subscription for only $49.99 (for 5 devices)
  • KeepSolid VPN Unlimited 3-year subscription for only $29.99 (for 5 devices)
  • Add their Infinity Plan (aka 5 additional device licenses) for $14.99  but you must own one of the above subscriptions

Conclusion

The best summary I can give you is that VPN Unlimited has a permanent stop on the first page of my iPhone and I use it regularly. 

VPN Unlimited has decent privacy policies but isn't the super secret spy-proof identity protection service. If you want to protect your connection while out and about, VPN Unlimited is cheap, fast and reliable. If you want a super secret identity protecting connection then create your own VPN service on AWS or Azure using one of the pre-made scripts.

Questions

Does KeepSolid Wise work in China?

China severely controls encryption and in some cases slows down encrypted connections making them barely usable. A friend recently travelled to mainland China and reported that VPN Unlimited (with KeepSolid Wise UDP) worked flawlessly.

Does KeepSolid VPN Unlimited support video streaming?

Some of the cheaper VPN providers limit the quality of video from streaming sites because these stress the technical infrastructure of the provider. VPN Unlimited supports streaming video on all termination points but also makes available streaming optimized termination points which are specifically designed to work "better" with sites like Youtube, Dailymotion, Vimeo and more.

Does KeepSolid VPN limit connection speed?

There are dozens of factors that contribute to your overall internet speed but VPN Unlimited does not have tiered pricing based on speed and does not limit connection speed in any way. On most clients, they even show the workload on each termination point which means you can choose one with the least amount of current load (which should lead to better performance).

Does VPN Unlimited support Chromebooks?

VPN Unlimited has a Google Chrome plugin (which works on Chromebooks) and allows you to protect your web browsing only. Obviously as a proxy, it is less secure and missing many of the additional features you expect from VPN Unlimited but it is a great way to browse quickly (securely) and a great option on a Chromebook that doesn't require Jedi level knowledge to implement. 

Bose QuietComfort 25 Review (QC-25)

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
qc1.png

TL;DR: I have tested dozens of headphones over the last 12 months and the QuietComfort (QC-25) 25 is still the most comfortable headphone with excellent noise cancellation and good sound reproduction. 

Comparing the QC-25 to the QC-35

The QuietComfort 35 (QC-35) is the wireless bluetooth version of the QC-25. The QuietComfort 35 (QC-35) offers slightly better noise cancellation and a slightly different noise profile. If you need bluetooth (iphone 7 or iphone 7 Plus) then get the QC-35 otherwise I would recommend getting the cheaper QC-25.

Not for everyone

Noise cancellation headphones are not ideal for people that need noise-cancellation sometimes. Noise cancellation headphones are not a replacement for regular headphones. If you need good all around headphones then don't get this (or any other noise cancelling headphone) or you will be disappointed. 

The golden rule is that noise cancellation headphones add about $100-150 to the cost of headphones and typically deliver worse overall sound quality when compared to non noise-cancellation models. I can't stress that enough. 

Noise cancellation works extremely well for low frequency (machine style) sounds like train on a track or airplane engine noise. They don't work as well for higher frequency sounds like voices or crying babies on a plane.

If you only need noise reduction occasionally, then you may be better served by a good pair of sealed headphones. You would get better sound quality and would probably pay a lot less.

Who should buy the QC-25

I just wrote 4 paragraphs of who shouldn't buy the QuietComfort 25 (Qc-25). It is important to note that anyone who is a frequent traveler (plane or train) will definitely benefit from these headphones. By making your travel a little bit quieter, you will arrive less stressed and more refreshed.  

Quietcomfort 25 (QC-25) versus in-ear headphones

The best question I need to address is the eternal debate between these types of on-ear headphones and in-ear headphones. The truth is that there is no golden rule that is right for everyone.

Some people opt for in-ear headphones because they are smaller and lighter. Many people who wear glasses also prefer in-ear headphones because their frames may prevent the headphones from sealing properly this allowing the dreaded noise in.

Bose, likely due to owning several important noise-cancellation patents, currently makes our picks for the best over-ear and best in-ear noise-cancelling headphones. Which one should you choose? There’s no simple answer, as it depends on what you’re looking for.

The third reason I have found some travelers prefer in-ear headphones is that they find them better to sleep with on flights.

The fourth reason is that some people find that on-ear headphones make their ear hot after extended use. 

The fifth and final point is on noise cancellation for low frequency sound. From a sound quality, the Bose noise cancelling headphones (QC-30) tend to reduce low frequency noises a little more and offer some noise-isolation which makes things just a little bit quieter. Mid and high sound reproduction is always better with bigger headphones for the QC-25/QC-35 takes the crown here.

Additionally some people just can't stand having anything inserted into their ears. They find it annoying and bothersome. Obviously if you fall into this category, go with the QC-25/QC-35.

Conclusion

If you are looking for amazing sounding, super comfortable wired on-ear noise cancelling headphones then get this. The sound is good enough, it is comfortable (even on a long haul Toronto to Hong Kong flight) and it fits in a relatively smallish case for easy carry.

It offers good low frequency sound reproduction (40Hz or below) and the rest is a little muddied (which is normal for noise cancelling headphones). You can use the QuietComfort 25 even when the batteries die (which is a nice upgrade from previous models) but the sound is pretty bad but at least you aren't stranded witout entertainment. 

If you need bluetooth because you can't live with wires or your smartphone got rid of the headphone port (looking at you Apple), then go with the QuietComfort 35 (QC-35).

Why you need a Glo-toob LED powered Glow Stick

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment

Each year, I test hundreds of new and different items that compete to find a place in my everyday carry kit (EDC). To be clear, my EDC is build for the urban environment and not wilderness survival. 

4 years ago, I tested and fell in love with the Glo-toob lights and it has been part of my kit ever since. I just realized I have never written about it an wanted to share it with you. 

Why not use a cheap glow stick?

Anyone that is building a serious EDC kit knows that you need redundancy. My main everyday carry (EDC) flashlight is the OLight S15R baton with a rechargeable battery. My secondary flashlight is the Ti3 by thrunite (which uses easy to find AAA batteries). there are times when you need a glow stick type of light and for those times, I rely on the Glo-Toob.

Why not use a cheap $5 glow stick? The typical (even high quality) glow stick or Chemical light stick is first and foremost not environmentally friendly (it is disposable and an environmental pollutant). Anyone that has carried them knows that they leak (which also means it won't work when you need it). Plus once you activate it, that's it.

Most of the time, I need it for 5 minutes, 60 minutes or even 180 minutes but that's it. With a chemical glow stick, once you activate it, it's end of life. 

Why I chose the Glo-Toob

I knew I wanted something else as my everyday carry glow stick alternative, but it took several tries until I found the Glo-toob.

First thing you notice is the solid construction (it can withstand the rigors of constant travel and being bumped in a pocket, bag or briefcase). It's waterproof to 200 feet (60 meters). I have taken it night scuba diving to 135ft and have never had issues but it's most common use is in rain or snow and it has worked flawlessly.

It is a small rounded cylinder which means it is small enough for everyday carry. This is something you overlook until you start carrying it all the time. Small and light are critical and the Glo-toob is 10/10 on both points (weights 34g with the battery).

It can be powered with different types of batteries (depending on the model) but I chose the AAA powered one (Original GT-AAA). As I travel and carry this with me, I need to know that I can buy the required power source for my gadgets easily and AAA batteries are available in every street corner anywhere in the world.

The last point was that it had to provide a 360 degree stream of light (similar to a glow stick), which it does. 

Using it

I own 2 GT-AAAs: one with a white LED and one red a one. It has 3 modes (you activate by twisting the cap on and off) high intensity (100%), low intensity (25%) and rapid strobe. Other models offer up to 11 modes and I saw a Chinese competitor with 21 modes but... and the but here is that simple is better. If I need to use this in an emergency, I don't want to fiddle with my EDC gear. By having only 3 modes, choosing the right one is simple.

In low power mode, it is a great long lasting marker light that you can strap on a dog collar or backpack. In high powered mode, it is a great emergency light (during a power outage) or a light you can give the kids without worrying about it breaking.

I have used it while camping to mark our campsite. I have used it when I had to stop on the side of a busy highway at night as a safety beacon. I have used it as a market when canoeing at night. I have used it during power outages and once when  I was stuck in a stopped elevator.

I have used it in high powered mode for about 6-7 hours (with a single AAA battery).

Negative comments

When working on a review, I scour the internet looking for comments (positive or negative) from other users. In this case, I saw a handful of comments touching similar points and I wanted to address these ones:

  • disappointed by the amount of light : this is not a flashlight replacement. If you buy it thinking it is you will obviously be disappointed. This is a replacement for a chemical glow stick.
  • leaked during a dive : With over 85 dives under my belt, I can tell you that I have lived through all kinds of equipment failure at depth. That's one of the reasons everything is done in twos. You never dive alone, you have 2 regulators, etc. Anytime you are in a remote location (whether on land or in the water), you need backups for all your primary systems. Failures happen either because the gear is defective, improperly maintained or improperly used. 
  • worked only a couple of times : I have 2 of these lights and other friends have bought them after testing my units. My units have been in my EDC kit for 4 years now and even after diving, camping and being abused in torrential rain and deep snow, they perform flawlessly. Of the 10 or so units owned by friends and acquaintances, none have failed. It's important to realize that any electronic product can fail and buying it from a reputable reseller (like Amazon) means you have someone to contact if you do need a warranty replacement. 

The Chinese knockoffs

Search AliExpress.com for Glo-toob, EDC warning light or a combination of these types of keywords and you will find hundreds of listings selling these types of tubular lights. I ordered 3 of them ranging from 8.99-14.99 and most ended up being branded EDCGear. 

These are cheap knockoffs and you can feel it immediately. The plastic is light and flimsy. The units have cheap O-rings and none of them lasted more than a couple of uses. The light quality wasn't as good. Build and construction weren't as good and all 3 died immediately when I performed the sink dunking water test (even though they were marketed as waterproof). 

Sometimes the Chinese versions as just as good but this is not one of them. Save yourself the frustration and buy the original from a retailer that will stand behind the warranty.

Conclusion

Priced at around 4-5 times the price of a high quality chemical glow stick, these Glo-toobs are a great investment and will quickly become part of your EDC, camping and survival gear. I love them and recommend them.

7 airport lounge access secret you need to know

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment

1 - Buy day-passes online

Most airlines will allow passengers to buy a lounge access day-pass online.

Toronto Air Canada Airport Lounge

Toronto Air Canada Airport Lounge

As an example, you can buy a day-pass from Air Canada for access to their own lounge for $25 if you are travelling on a Latitude fare. 

United Airlines offers airport lounge access day-pass for $50 here.

2 - Buy day-passes at the airport

Check directly with your airline. If if your airline doesn't own its own named lounge at the airport, they often have deals with private lounges offering them at competitive prices. As an example, Canadian airline Westjet has partnered with private lounge operators in the various regions it travels (Canada, Europe, Caribbean) to. Westjet offers airport lounge access at very competitive prices.

3 hour access to the Plaza Premium lounge costs $40 - 20% (Westjet discount) = $32. 

3 hour access to the Plaza Premium lounge costs $40 - 20% (Westjet discount) = $32. 

Some vacation package wholesalers also offer (add-on) lounge access to their customers. As an example, Signature vacations (in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton & Winnipeg) sells lounge access to all vacation pass holders. 

3 - Buy access to an independent airport lounge

Some airlines do not offer any type of (direct or indirect) lounge access. Other times companies buy the cheapest ticket they can find which means you may fly 10 different airlines and therefore not gain priority privilege access on any one particular airline. These are the times you may need to buy access to one of the independent lounges. 

If you travel to different airports, you may want to join one of the independent airport lounge access networks like:

As an example, Priority Pass offers access to 1000 airport lounges worldwide. Priority Pass (sold in Canada) offers 3 levels of membership:

  1. Standard($99 a year). Every access will cost $27 for the member or guests.
  2. Standard Plus ($249 a year). Member receives 10 annual visits. Additional visits or guests cost $27 each.
  3. Prestige ($399 a year). Member receives unlimited lounge access and guests can buy access for $27. 

Some credit cards have standing agreements with these lounge access  wholesalers and allow you to buy access without having to pay an annual membership fee. As an example, Diners Club Canada offers members access to worldwide lounges at affordable prices.

Here is an example of their Canadian airport lounges you can buy access to. Access to a lounge in Toronto is about $US30.

4 - Get a credit card with lounge access

If you travel a lot, it may make sense to use a travel credit card that includes access to airport lounge (either free or a pay per use without requiring an annual membership to a lounge network).

Credit Walk (Canada) has published an interesting article comparing various credit card lounge access programs.

Sleeping in Airports (USA) also has an article about credit cards offering lounge access.

5 - Buy a refundable business class ticket

Some travel forums (e.g. maphappy, boarding area, view from the wing ) recommend that you buy a full price refundable business class ticket for travel the same day as your regular discounted ticket, use the lounge and then refund the ticket. 

I have never used this technique and you should make sure the ticket is still refundable if you use the lounge. I know airlines like United have started implementing lounge access software that will help curb this type of abuse but I know this still works on some airlines. 

6 - Buy lounge access from other passengers

You can sometimes buy lounge access from other travelers on classified type sites at discounted rates (eBay, Craigslist, etc). Make sure you check any restrictions that may apply.

Someone selling 4 Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge access on eBay.

Someone selling 4 Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge access on eBay.

7 - Use a Smartphone App for lounge access

There are travel smartphone apps like Loungebuddy (IOS & Android) . 

Loungebuddy offers on the spot lounge access purchased on your smartphone without requiring an annual subscription.