• Guide to Online Privacy & Security

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    Now days keeping your information private online is becoming more important that ever, multiple governments are attempting to push legislation that will weaken security measures such as encryption, that is a vital part of keeping your information safe, not just the information on your own computer either, this directly effects other organizations that hold personal information about you, such as banks, healthcare, social media and indeed the government itself.

    You may think that government snooping is acceptable if you have nothing to hide but these measures will make it easier for criminals to gain access to your information, they claim this is to protect children or prevent terrorism, but there has never been any good evidence that this actually works, ultimately it’s about governments controlling what their citizens do and think, that is never acceptable.

    Web Browsing

    Your web browser is in many cases the number one weak point in your system, both for malicious software and leaking of information that can uniquely identify and track you, most web browsers fail to provide sufficient protection without additional tweaking or use of extensions, currently the best ones I would recommend are Brave (available for Windows, Linux, Mac, Android and iOS) and LibreWolf (Windows, Linux and Mac), if you are going to use anything else uBlock Origin is a vital extension, browsers definitely to avoid are Google Chrome, Chromium, Microsoft Edge and Opera.

    You should never for any reason allow advertising, not only does this very negatively effect your privacy but it’s also the number one vector for malicious software, it goes without saying but you should always pay close attention whenever entering private information or downloading a file, always double check the URL carefully.


    One thing that many people fail at is proper password security, firstly you should always avoid anything that can be guessed, such as single words, names, dates, locations, etc. A passwords strength depends on its entropy which is determined by length + number of available characters, for this reason it’s always best to have a mix of lower case and upper case characters, numbers and symbols, a minimum good length for this kind of password is 14 characters which will provide more than 90 bits of entropy, using just lower case would require at least 20 characters to reach this entropy.

    Passwords should also never be reused, you need ideally to have a unique one for each and every service you use, of course this will rapidly become impossible to remember so it’s important you use a password manager, this reduces the number of passwords you need to remember to one, the list of passwords is also encrypted, there are a number of password managers to choose from, some of the ones I can recommend are KeePassXC and BitWarden, writing your master password down is acceptable but it should be stored in a secure location such as a safe.

    Should you have trouble remembering a traditional password an alternative method is to use a list of words, these should range from four to twenty words that are not easily guessed, a good example of this would be “Blame Product Mountain Nuisance Danger House 3” with the spaces removed.

    Two Factor Authentication (2FA)

    2FA (a subset of Multi-factor Authentication MFA) is a very useful addition to passwords, it relies on the fact that your authenticator device is separate from the device you are entering the password on (ideally), this means even if your main device is compromised an attacker cannot gain access without having control of the authenticator as well (again ideally), the authenticator can take the form of a smartphone, another computer or specifically designed hardware authenticators.

    Three common methods are currently in use, SMS based authentication, which is least secure and not good for privacy, HOTP (HMAC based One Time Password) and TOTP (Time based One Time Password) which is an extension of HOTP, the latter two rely on a shared secret key between your account and the authenticator, TOTP has the added advantage that the generated code is only valid for a short time period. These are not perfect but if you have the option to do so you should make use them, two good software options for OTP are FreeOTP (Android and iOS) and andOTP (Android).

    Operating Systems

    It’s no secret that Windows is not particularly good for either privacy or security, so one consideration you need to make is whether it’s worth switching to a different operating system, this could be a whole article in itself so I will only say you should seriously consider switching to something like Mac or (better) Linux, this is not without drawbacks, but as Windows continues to grow more invasive the advantages of making the switch become more apparent.

    Encrypted Communication

    Communication software that proves end-to-end encryption is the only sure way to guarantee privacy, there are many options to choose from, not all of them good, currently the only ones I can recommend with any kind of guarantee are Signal (requires a phone), Jami and SimpleX.

    Naturally these depend on convincing others to use them, something easier said than done.

    File Encryption

    The most reliable and secure tool for this by far is GnuPG, this is not exactly user friendly but there are numerous front-ends you can use if needed, this can also perform message encryption and authentication so it’s very useful if you want to send data over an insecure channel such as email, it’s widely used in the free software community.

    For full disk encryption the two main choices are Veracrypt (Windows, Linux, Mac) and LUKS (Linux), keep in mind that many governments have laws that allow them to attempt to force you to hand over your key.

    Social Engineering

    Often the main threat isn’t your software or hardware itself but vulnerability to social engineering, anyone can fall victim to this but with a healthy amount of paranoia you can largely protect yourself from it, primarily you should always be alert for any suspicious behaviour such as encouraging you to visit a specific website, download a specific file, offering you something for free, being able to authenticate a person such as a friend with things like cryptographic keys (GnuPG is excellent for this) can also be a significant help.

    For people you don’t know you should distrust anything they say, this includes the police, in many situations it’s better to not say anything than to interact with persons you cannot trust.


    Given the way things are going it’s important that you take your privacy and security seriously, while this is often an uphill battle there is no doubt that it’s worth taking the time and effort required.

  • Stable Diffusion – AI Art Generator

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    Art has always been a medium of human expression, from the first cave paintings to the most complex contemporary art. In recent years, with the advent of artificial intelligence, the world of art has been transformed. AI art is an exciting new frontier in which artificial intelligence is used to generate new and innovative artworks. One of the most promising new technologies in this field is the stable diffusion AI art generator.

    The stable diffusion AI art generator is a new type of AI algorithm that has been developed by Stability AI and others to generate art with a high degree of stability and coherence. This means that the art generated by this algorithm is not random or chaotic but has a sense of continuity and flow. The stable diffusion AI art generator is based on a mathematical model that uses diffusion processes to generate complex patterns and structures. This algorithm is trained on large datasets of images and artworks to learn the patterns and structures that are most common in the world of art.

    Stable Diffusion is not the only AI art generator available, others such as Midjourney and DALL-E have also attracted significant interest, Stable Diffusion however has a big advantage in that its free and open source so you can freely use it as much as your like and without restrictions.

    Another advantage of the stable diffusion AI art generator is its flexibility. The algorithm can be trained on any dataset of images and artworks, making it possible to generate art in a huge range of styles and genres. This means that the algorithm can be used to create everything from realistic portraits to abstract compositions, and everything in between.

    Using Stable Diffusion is as simple as entering a prompt such as ‘A castle on a hill during a storm.’, more verbose prompts tend to produce better results, but it doesn’t stop there, Stable Diffusion can use an image to guide the generation and new features such as ControlNet provide much finer control over composition, pose, lighting, colors and more making it extremely powerful and capable of stunning results, all of this without requiring any significant artistic talent (although it still helps).

    There have also been some potential ethical concerns raised surrounding the use of AI in the creation of art. Some critics argue that AI-generated art lacks the creativity and originality that is inherent in human-generated art. Others argue that the use of AI in art may lead to a devaluation of human creativity and craftsmanship.

    In my opinion AI generated art is a tool like any other, it has made art available to many more people who previously either due to a lack of skill or time, would not be able to express their creativity through art.

    Using Stable Diffusion

    Stable Diffusion by itself isn’t really user friendly, to properly use it you need a front-end such as the very popular AUTOMATIC1111 user interface, it should be noted you need a Nvidia GPU with preferably a minimum of 8GB of VRAM, less is possible but somewhat more limited, AMD GPU’s can be made to work but unless you’re running Linux this can be a tedious process and not recommended.

    Once installed you will need to also install a model, the most popular currently is the official Stable Diffusion 1.5 model, download ‘v1-5-pruned-emaonly.ckpt’ and place it in the models/Stable-diffusion/ directory, you can then run it and connect to it by typing localhost:7860 in your web browser.

    The UI may look rather complicated at first but it isn’t that difficult, I strongly recommend however you look for some tutorials to get the most out of it, I’ve been using it since it released and are still learning new things on a regular basis.

    Overall Stable Diffusion is a fantastic tool that will continue to evolve and improve, indeed we can only speculate where things will be in the next five to ten years as AI continues to develop at an extreme pace in many areas.


  • AMD Sapphire Radeon NITRO+ 6650XT Review

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    RX 6650XT

    Finally after nearly two years of heavily inflated prices and rampant scalping, graphics cards have reached retail price levels again, that is assuming you want to buy an AMD card, Nvidia cards unfortunately are still as much as 30% more than retail level.

    Besides the significant price advantage my decision to go with AMD again was an easy one to make, AMD have far better drivers on Linux, Nvidia recently announced they was making their driver partly open source which generated a lot of interest, I remained very sceptical of this and Nvidia proved me right to be, they proceeded to move nearly all their code into the closed source firmware with a thin layer of open source code to interact with it, once again showing a lack of interest in producing quality open source drivers for Linux.

    The Sapphire Radeon Nitro+ 6650XT sits roughly at the mid range of AMD’s Navi 23 (Big Navi) 6000 series line up, with a retail price of about £400, it’s specifically marketed towards 1080p gaming but is still a very capable card.


    Build Quality

    The card is fairly short at 260mm and has two fans, it’s quite wide at 2.5 slot width, actually closer to 3 slot at 57.57mm, it has a nice brushed metal finish with some minor RGB lighting, interestingly the back plate has a cut out below where the GPU die sits to allow for better cooling, or so they say I’m not entirely convinced that it does much for cooling leaving a hole in it, one very nice feature is the fans are easily detachable making them repairable without a time consuming RMA, assuming you’re still in the warranty period.

    Power is provided by a single 8 pin PCI-E header with a rated TDP of 203W, this makes it fairly power efficient and this definitely shows when it comes to the thermals with a maximum temperature of around 67C at the stock settings with the performance BIOS selected, speaking of this card features a selectable dual BIOS along with a mode that allows for software selection using AMD TriXX, if RGB is your thing there is also an ARGB header included.


    One thing that impressed me right away is how quiet the fans are, indeed even at max load I can barely hear it over my CPU fan, manually pushing the fan RPM up you can begin to hear it but it still remains quieter than some I’ve experienced, in regular gaming usage it has stayed below 50% of the maximum speed, this means you have a lot of headroom to increase cooling should you decide to overclock it further.


    Out of the box the clocks are the following compared with the reference specifications:

    Base Clock (MHz)Game Clock (MHz)Boost Clock (MHz)Memory Clock (MHz)
    Reference2055241026352190 (17.52 Gbps)
    Nitro+2192252326942190 (17.52 Gbps)
    Difference+137 (+7%)+113 (+5%)+59 (+2%)0

    Practical gaming performance is exceptionally good at 1080p with essentially every game running at 60 FPS+ with high/ultra settings, it works very well at 1440p in the vast majority of situations and is even capable of reasonable 4k performance.

    With the release of AMD FSR 2.0 (FidelityFX Super Resolution) and the already existing FSR 1.0 and RSR (Radeon Super Resolution) the card should be future proof for a number of years at least, one feature where it does not perform too well is ray tracing where frame rates can dip to unplayable levels even at 1080p in many examples, this could perhaps be improved with more targeted optimisation and FSR 2.0, but I would not buy this card or indeed any current generation card with ray tracing in mind, waiting for next generation of AMD and Nvidia cards would be the best option.

    As you’d expect all the latest features are supported, DirectX 12 Ultimate (12_2), OpenGL 4.6, Vulkan 1.3, OpenCL 2.1 and Shader model 6.5.

    Compared to the 6600XT the performance increase is minimal at around 3%, however pricing right now is very similar, indeed the 6650XT may be in some cases cheaper due to higher availability.

    If you don’t care about the stock overclock Sapphire sell a slightly cheaper PULSE 6650XT, but considering how close the prices are I would recommend paying the extra money.


    If you’re looking for a mid range GPU for 1080p or 1440p gaming this card is an excellent choice, ray tracing aside it has plenty of performance, good thermals, low noise and some overclocking potential, if and when Nvidia prices drop the 3060Ti may become a contender with it’s significantly better ray tracing performance, but at the end of the day as a Linux user I’d rather have open source drivers I can rely on, all around AMD are a far better company than Nvidia.