Website Filtering Using OpenDNS

I happen to have a 15 year old at home who insists on using websites and chat services that distract her from more important academic activities. The ability to apply some website filtering is a topic I’ve learned a bit about over the past few weeks.

I can testify first-hand that the Internet can be a giant waster of time. Services such as ooVoo, SnapChat, Instagram and others can be fun to use and share with friends but can interfere with academic pursuits. We also found an increasing number of websites not family friendly.

Having a conversation with a friend who was facing the very same issues, he suggested OpenDNS. Surprisingly, I had heard of them. I decided to take a look at their free service level.

Setup was really simple. The first step is to switch from using Google DNS to OpenDNS name servers. A quick router change and we were switched over.

OpenDNS has quite a few settings to restrict sites but nothing is turned on by default, so after switching name servers you really won’t be able to tell the difference.  Name lookups seemed to be faster but that’s hard to measure.

Visiting all the settings pages isn’t really necessary but good to see what’s available.

Security Settings

Website Filtering - Security Settings

The security settings are flexible with nice defaults. These are the defaults and I haven’t really seen a need to change these.

Dynamic IP Update

Use a cable provider and have a dynamic IP address? No problem. Simply enabling Dynamic IP Update in Settings allows update of your dynamic IP address with the DNS update client. The client runs on your Mac or Windows PC and sits up in the toolbar just waiting for your Internet provider’s DHCP address to change.

I love when I can just set it and forget it.

Default Settings for Website Filtering

Website Filtering - Custom Security Settings

It’s easy to set a variety of different levels of security. You can view and customize any level. I wanted control over the categories being filtered so I chose the custom level. It’s just as easy to pick one of the three levels (High, Moderate, Low) and just customize their defaults.

Filtering this way takes a big swing at generally offensive website categories. Since each category is a curated list of websites, this may result in some sites being blocked you don’t wish to be blocked and some not blocked that should be. There is an easy way to take care of this “Manage Individual Domains”.

Manage Individual Domains

Website Filtering - Manage Domains

The ability to add domains not on the groups of websites defined by OpenDNS is really nice. You have the ability to add a list of specific domains you want to make sure no one can visit.

You’d be surprised how many websites use doubleclick and googleleadservices. They get blocked and it feels pretty good to stop that bit of unwanted traffic.

Have a website being blocked but you need access? No problem, add to the list of sites you want to never block. Very flexible indeed.

Does it Work?

You bet it works and it works really well. Here is me trying to visit the oovo.com site:

Website Filtering - Blocked Domain

Stats

What good is a service without stats?

Website Filtering - Stats

I can see the total requests on the network, which domains are being blocked and how often, as well as see the domains which are not blocked and determine which are good candidates to add to the blocked list.

Website Filtering - Blocked List

Success

Implementing OpenDNS was really easy. Their onboarding experience was very straightforward.

Previously we had been using Google DNS and noticed slowness at times. Over the years I have felt less interested in using Google services, so moving to different DNS was a nice win.

Using OpenDNS seems to give us really fast name resolution but more importantly websites are being blocked that are not fit for young eyes. It also lets a data geek have good insight into all the domains we access daily and find more candidates to block.

How I went from $100-an-hour programming to $X0,000-a-week consulting.

If you don’t subscribe to Patrick McKenzie’s newsletter, you should.  It’s loaded with ideas for running your business and is especially good at helping those running software companies or consulting practices.

As someone who charges for time, it’s really hard being comfortable asking for what your worth.  Clients tend to try to negotiate a better rate and we quickly learn we have a desired target rate and a rate we are willing to settle on to satisfy the client.

Patrick’s most recent newsletter titled How I went from $100-an-hour programming to $X0,000-a-week consulting, is a really great look at pricing services and moving from an hourly consultant to selling time in blocks.  The main point that hit home most for me was how clients are more willing to pay for value, rather than time.  It sounds obvious but wasn’t for me:

I have an Internet buddy in Chicago named Thomas Ptacek. We met on Hacker News. He’s the #1 poster by karma and I’m #2. Since we apparently share the same mental disease characterized by being totally unable to resist comment boxes, I decided to invite Thomas out to coffee. My agenda, such that it was, was to gossip about HN threads.

Thomas runs a very successful webapp security consultancy, Matasano. (Brief plug: they’re hiring and if it weren’t for this business thing I’d work there in a heartbeat: some of the smartest folks I know doing very, very interesting work which actually matters. If you can program they’ll train you on the security stuff.)

Anyhow, after we got our coffee, Thomas invited me into their conference room. We talked shop for three hours: Thomas and his VP wanted to hear what I’d do to market their products and services offering. I had been writing about how I marketed Bingo Card Creator for a while, and started applying some of the lessons learned to their content creation strategy.

(The actual contents of the conversion are not 100% germane to the story, but I blogged a bit about it and Thomas posted his thoughts on HN. Long story short: programmers can do things which meaningfully affect marketing outcomes.)

At the end of the conversation, Thomas said something which, no exaggeration, changed my life.

Thomas: Some food for thought: If this hadn’t been a coffee date, but rather a consulting engagement, I’d be writing you a check right now.

Me: Three hours at $100 an hour or whatever an intermediate programmer is worth would only be $300. Why worry about that?

Thomas: I got at least $15,000 of value out of this conversation.

What an eye-opener this must have been, it would have been for me.  I think I would have had the same epiphany:

This is, far and away, the most important lesson to learn as a consultant. People who are unsavvy about business, like me in 2009 or like most freelancers today, treat themselves like commodity providers of a well-understood service that is available in quantity and differentiated purely based on price. This is stunningly not the case for programming, due to how competitive the market for talent is right now, and it is even more acutely untrue for folks who can program but instead choose to offer the much-more-lucrative service “I solve business problems — occasionally a computer is involved.”

Thinking this way and selling yourself as such makes so much sense.  Why didn’t I think of it?  I think most consultants, contractors and freelancers are so trained by their peers and clients to think they are just a commodity that we don’t know to think differently until it’s explained so well.

The newsletter goes on to explain all the benefits of billing weekly; all reasons make sense.  Time to make some changes.

So, go now and read the newsletter.  Great stuff.

My Top 10 iPad Applications

I know more and more people who are buying iPads almost daily.  I get asked what applications I recommend for the device.  things_hero_20100616

First, I don’t use a tool because of cost, I use it for it’s usefulness to me.  Free is great, but never the top requirement when searching out a piece of software for my iPad.  So, here is the top 10 applications I use:

  1.  TweetDeck (Free) – I use Twitter a lot and use this software exclusively from my laptop and the iPad version functions the same so it is a nice extension from the MacBook Pro.  Note: at this time the software is not without one annoying flaw; when opening links from a tweet, the app will often crash, other times not but it can be a pain.
  2. NetNewsWire ($9.99) – I keep up with a fair amount of RSS feeds and this software syncs with Google Reader which I use daily on my laptop.  It is a nice rich-client which keeps Google Reader up-to-date and has a nice UI to boot.
  3. GoodReader ($0.99) – I read a lot of books, which is one reason I bought the iPad.  This utility makes reading PDF’s enjoyable.  Dropbox integrates nicely with it to, allowing me to keep my PDFs on Dropbox.
  4. SimpleNote (Free) – This does just what it says, simple notes.  This is like having a little notepad always ready but the beauty is it syncs to an online service to get your notes from any browser.
  5. iSSH ($9.99) – It’s really nice to have the iPad 3G to have connectivity almost anywhere and when accompanied by a great SSH utility like this I can SSH into all of my servers with ease.  One more reason not to carry the laptop.
  6. BlogPress ($2.99) – I don’t write long emails or blog much from the iPad but this tool integrates nicely with WordPress and makes those short post really easy.  Lots of features for the regular blogger.
  7. Penultimate ($2.99) – Great utility for mocking up ideas, taking notes or just a brain dump.  Drawing on the iPad surface with my finger is super easy and no delays.
  8. Instapaper ($4.99) – This is a great service which is used in all of my browsers to bookmark web pages I want to go back and read later.  The iPad version makes reading on the device really slick.
  9. BeejiveIM ($9.99) – A great way to keep in touch with remote workers and other contacts is of course IM and unfortunately I am on a few but this tool keeps them all in one place with the exception of Skype which I hope gets added soon.  A runner-up to this tool is IM+ ($9.99, Free Lite Version) which does offer Skype IM integration but the UI is not as refined.
  10. Things ($19.99) – I use this to-do list on my MacBook Pro, iPhone and now the iPad to manage projects with a nice clean interface.  The mobile devices sync back to the MBP and keeps everything in order.  I have to say the entire suite is a bit pricey compared to other iPhone and iPad applications out there but for something I use all the time, worth it.

Bonus -  Netflix (Free) – this is really the only entertainment type application on this list and after a long day of working it is often nice to pull up a movie or TV episode.  The quality of video is exceptional.

I can’t think of a replacement for any of these tools just yet.  I have tried their competitors but these stick as my favorites and most useful.