Path of Exile: Dual Totem Firestorm Summoner

Here are some videos of my dual totem firestorm summoner from the game Path of Exile. A pretty cool game, if you are into these kind of grindy games. Overall not...

Here are some videos of my dual totem firestorm summoner from the game Path of Exile. A pretty cool game, if you are into these kind of grindy games.

Overall not too shabby but certainly not the best. Especially considering that most of the gems used in this build are not quality ones. Would certainly be better if I could upgrade those gems. But then it is rather expensive to do that. I will have to farm some more to get the currency needed.  Anyway, here are some videos for you to enjoy. I might be making some more videos of the other builds I am working on.

Amazon Shopping (With Free Shipping To Singapore)

Not too sure whether you guys know about it but Amazon (US) has free shipping to Singapore. Of course not all the items are available for the free shipping. In fact,...

Not too sure whether you guys know about it but Amazon (US) has free shipping to Singapore. Of course not all the items are available for the free shipping. In fact, quite a lot of the products they sell do not qualify for even international shipping. But honestly I think there should be still quite a number of items that interest Singaporeans that qualify for the free shipping option. Even if they don’t qualify for free shipping, some still allows international shipping and there will be charges involved. And even with the shipping charges, the prices there could be much cheaper than what you would normally buy in Singapore. I am guessing there is always a huge markup in Singapore, considering the ridiculous rental prices we have here. I mean these landlords should be punished for their greed. If retailers cannot sell at such huge prices, then they can’t afford the high rental and things will go down soon. However, seeing that the government is very protective of these companies, I think it might still be a while for the rental and property prices to go down to realistic levels. Don’t kid ourselves, the current prices aren’t sustainable for the long run. If it did, then our future generation will be in deep deep trouble.

Anyway, if you are new to shopping online, Amazon is a relatively safe place to shop. Hey, it is a major US retailer and they do have very good customer support (unless you are very very suai). From the forums I visited, it seems that generally the support is top notch but there are several cases where the support seems to be lacking. Not too sure whether it is because the way Singaporeans treat these support staff or that these are exceptional cases. I myself have completed two orders with Amazon and I found nothing wrong. Yes, the free shipping might not be that fast but the items arrived safely and I am more or less satisfied. Not too sure what people are complaining about. It could be just that Singaporeans love to complain. But then again, I believe Americans love to complain as well. Perhaps it is because Singaporeans on the whole tend to want to take advantage of things?

There are a few steps to take note when shopping with Amazon:

1. First of all, not everything can be shipped to Singapore. This is something that many people failed to realize.  If it cannot be shipped to Singapore, then of course there will be no free shipping option lah. Even if the product is supposed to  be allowed for international delivery, certain items could be blocked from shipping to Singapore. So again, if they don’t allow shipping to Singapore, there is certainly no free shipping option at all. You have get a forwarder to help you ship the items for you. I have seen items that can be shipped to other countries but not to Singapore. Could be distributor issues or something like that.

2. Secondly, you need to spend at least US125 to qualify for free shipping.  Don’t be angry or frustrated if you don’t see the free shipping option. You will need to spend at least US125 to have that option if the ALL items qualify for free shipping. So if you are in doubt and wonder whether the items qualifies, then just increase the total quantity (of the same item) till it reaches US125 and above. If the free shipping option appears, then you are in luck. if not, then it does not qualify for free shipping or it is oversized. And don’t forget about mixed items, some of the items might NOT qualify for free shipping and there will STILL be charges for shipping.

3. Only items sold by Amazon can qualify for the Amazon Free Shipping. Right? Makes sense or not. There are plenty of other sellers on Amazon and most (if not all) do not have free shipping to Singapore. One of the easiest way to spot whether an item can be shipped to Singapore using the free shipping option is to see who is selling the product. If it is by “Amazon.com LLC”, then you do have a good chance for free shipping. If it states it is fulfilled by “Amazon.com LLC”, then there is also a chance as well. For other items sold by other vendors, I honestly don’t think you should waste your time. Be prepared to pay for shipping.

4. Check your cart. Don’t worry, so long as you don’t “place” your order, you won’t be charged. Even if you have placed your order, you can always cancel the order before it is shipped. Of course once it is shipped, then you are in deep trouble. Anyway, the cart is the place where you truly know whether the item has any free shipping or not. It tells you everything, from the delivery charges to the estimated ship date and so on. Play with the quantity and the total amount to check whether the item(s) can have free shipping or not.

5. Create an account and make sure the address is right. Several of my friends are so paranoid that they don’t give the correct address. I am guessing that they are afraid that some CIA operative will swoop down on them whenever they failed to pay their credit card or something. However, after creating the account (with the fake Singapore address), they found something which they like and, well…..he went on and purchase the item, all the while forgetting that he has given the fake address. I don’t know about you but I just think it is stupid and a big waste of money and time. Explaining to the CSO why the address is wrong can be kind of embarrassing.

6. Switch to US currency. Amazon’s exchange rate seems excessively high. I would recommend you to switch to US currency and then pay your credit card’s exchange rate. Of course do some research first.

7. Check out “Today’s Deals”. Who knows, it might contain something which you always wanted and at a deep discount. Again note that it might not come with free shipping to Singapore.

8. Electrical Appliances. Note that there are different power requirements and some electrical appliances cannot work in Singapore. When it doubt, always check with Amazon CSO. Singapore’s requirements are  220 – 240  volts AC, 50 cycles per second. I honestly think that you SHOULD NOT purchase any electrical appliance from Amazon. Although nowadays quite a lot of electrical appliance do support both US and Singapore’s voltage systems. You will also need an adapter because in the US, they use those sissy thin plugs (just like the ones from China). If the voltage requirement is different, you can purchase a “step down” transformer. However I would not recommend it. There are plenty of stuff to buy from Amazon, why choose one that could be potentially dangerous.

9. Keep calm and just shop. I saved the best advice for last. Online shopping is tricky. We get excited. We just want to buy useless stuff and feel fulfilled in life. But alas, that could cost you a lot of money. So keep calm when shopping and make sure you read the description carefully before you purchase. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. You can always purchase it at a later date or in the case of the one hour “Today’s Deals”, once you have something you can consider. Don’t rush into it. Trust me. I purchased too many wrong items before. But sometimes it can be a very difficult thing to do when you are online shopping.

Good luck. Remember to compare prices. Not everything in Amazon is cheaper. Sometimes the stuff in Amazon could be more expensive than what you would normally find in Singapore. Do some research. Not to mention the warranty issues. It might be even more costly to ship stuff back to the US when it breaks down in Singapore. I normally purchase only items which if it dies, I will just throw them away. And please, stop complaining about the slow (free) shipping from Amazon. It is FREE. What do you expect?

Path Of Exile

I am betting most of you guys never heard of this game. However I am pretty sure most of you have heard of Diablo right?  The truly legendary game that redefined...

I am betting most of you guys never heard of this game. However I am pretty sure most of you have heard of Diablo right?  The truly legendary game that redefined the action RPG dungeon crawl (hack n slash) game. That is a game which players go around into dungeons (or whatever) and hack, slash or blast their way through, killing monsters, bosses and collecting loot. Then when it is all over, players do it all over again. However, this time it is with more powerful monsters and of course you get better loot. Yes, I thought it was stupid too. But the fun of it is that you get to have better loot. And the loot is what you are craving for. Just imagine, after fighting like for the 200th time the same boss, it drops the most spectacular weapon and the weapon is one which you wanted/needed.  The feeling of achievement is awesome. But then again, this is indeed for players who do have a bit of time on their hands. It is not meant for players who just want to pass time when babysitting. Requires some form of commitment.

Anyway, it begin with Diablo, then Diablo II and finally Diablo III. They are/were all fun games. However for those who have been playing games for a long time, Diablo III is a big disappointment, especially considering the hype that was generated before the launch of the game. I am guessing the game developer (Blizzard Entertainment) had failed to realized that gamers are changing and they do need to do something to the genre. Playing Diablo III was a drag, after the first few times.  There wasn’t much character development and the game did not have much playing styles available. It became very boring as well. Yes, it might be due to my crap equipment, but then again, most players will have the same problem, unless you are willing to spend money (real) to upgrade or purchase high end items for your character. Thus, you pay to play the game, and you still have to pay to win the game. It is a matter of time before players wise up and understand what Blizzard is doing. Furthermore, Diablo III cost about USD 80 to purchase. You purchase items from their marketplace from other players in which Diablo charges a small “handler” fee. Just imagine the amount of money Diablo makes if someone buys using real money. Well, greed has ruined the game. Worst still, over the time I played Diablo III, there wasn’t any major changes to the game. Well, they could be waiting for features to be added the expansion. Yet another money making scheme if you ask me.

But luckily, Grinding Gears Games and their alternative Path Of Exile has come to the rescue. Developed by fans of the action RPG genre, this game has really sparked my interest. It is still under beta but most of the game mechanics are in place already. You can of course wait for the game to be officially released before you play but from what I know, your characters in the beta will still be accessible even after the official launch. And I have been playing it for over 2 months and I must say, it is pretty polished. I didn’t find any major bugs and of there were, it was quickly corrected. Remember, this is an online game, so you need access to the Internet to play the game.  The game will be updated as and when patches are available. Furthermore they keep added features to the game, making it ever more interesting. The Skill Tree is huge. You can have a certain character but develop him or her to become anything you want. Just imagine a slender witch welding a big ass hammer pounding the shit out of her enemies. Or you could have a badass-looking marauder casting spells like a magician. The possibilities are endless as the Skill Tree is so huge. I guess beginners will get intimidated by the Skill Tree at first. But after a while and with some experience in the game, it shouldn’t be a problem. Plus they have the use of “gems” which gives yet another dimension to the game.The gems can provide you with additional skills and effects which your character can use. Then they have this “support gem” feature, which allows you to add attributes to your original gems. For example, you would like to add fire damage to your iceshot. Merely link a support gem to the skill gem and you will have a iceshot that deals fire damage as well. They do have a huge number of skill gems and support gems to choose from. So yes, you won’t be bored so soon. Unlike playing Diablo, you do have incentive to keep on playing the game. Not too sure why Blizzard makes it such a drag to play Diablo. And I am trying my very best to like the game.

Oh did I forget to mention the loot? Most games in this genre is based on items and equipment. Well, Path Of Exile is no different. A lot depends on what you are equipping with. A hello kitty penknife will not get you very far. A hello kitty penknife with 300% more melee damage + 100% fire damage +50% more elemental damage + life leech + culling strike will probably be better. Anyway, I am kind of surprised that in Path Of Exile, the amount of loot is kind of low. I understand why Blizzard would want to limit to the amount of items dropped from monsters but as for Path Of Exile, I really don’t. Blizzard makes money from players trading for items. However unlike Diablo, the trading system in Path Of Exile is based on individual trading. So if you want to buy a item from someone, you merely contact him or her in the game and do a trade. Furthermore, there is no “gold” in Path Of Exile. What you have are “currency items” which players can use to “craft” items. Oh, the best items in the game is usually from crafting. So you will need plenty of currency items in Path Of Exile. You might be spending quite a lot of time doing crafting in this game.

The last thing I would like to add is that this game is free. Yes, you can download the game, play the game and even win it for free. Don’t have to pay Grinding Gear Games a single cent if you don’t want to. They allow you to play the game. Of course they do need funds to survive. What they have are cosmetic features and stash additions which you can pay for it. It will not affect the game overall but can be pretty cool. If you see someone with bloody footprints everywhere they do, this someone has paid for it. It will not do anything in the game though, just look kind of cool. I myself have purchased the stash extension – giving a few more stash to store my loot. Again, it does not affect the game but gives me some convenience. So guys, if you enjoy the game, it might not be a bad thing to support Grinding Gear Games. Without them, we might still be giving god knows how much money to the greedy Blizzard. I for one would like to support great games. Yes, Path Of Exile might not be as flashy or fast paced as Diablo, but I think overall it still triumphs Diablo III hands down. However I am kind of sad to see Path Of Exile not getting the recognition that it deserves. Some of my “hardcore” gamer friends refuse to even touch the game, seeing that it is a “free online” game.

http://www.pathofexile.com/

Woodstock Wasabi Party Mix

Yet another purchase from iHerb. Seems like I don’t need to go “snack” shopping in Singapore anymore. The only time I need to go to our local supermarkets or grocery stores...

Yet another purchase from iHerb. Seems like I don’t need to go “snack” shopping in Singapore anymore. The only time I need to go to our local supermarkets or grocery stores is when I need milk. It is much safer to purchase milk from our local stores. Remember, the items have to travel all the way from the United States in a box which might be kept in the van under intense heat. Call me paranoid (yes, the milk in out local stores do have to travel from Australia) but I still think perishables should be purchased locally. And see, I am going way off road here. We are here to talk about this “Party Mix”. Basically it is a mix of nuts and rice crackers. But do note that not all of them have Wasabi in them. I believe just the roasted coated soyabeans. The rest are just added in for the fun of it. Taste wise? I think it is okay only. But my friends seem to enjoy eating them. Such mixes are good because they have different textures and taste.  I guess it is really meant for parties where people can snack on them easily without thinking too much. The Wasabi is weak in this one so it is great with alcohol! Come on, don’t tell me you don’t know that.

The Woodstock Wasabi Party Mix. About 227g of party fun! Comes with a resealable bag. Convenient lah. At the very least, the resealable bag is quite durable. I have came across bags whose “zip seal” breaks the second time I open the bag. Honest! I am not that rough. I guess everyone is trying to cut cost these days.

A more detailed look at the actual snack.

The back of the pack.

Way to go! By purchasing this product you’re helping us make a difference. For 25 years, we’ve been committed to providing foods that are good for both you and the land. Today, we’re proud to support American Farmland Trust, a group dedicated to preserving land for sustainable farming. Well, okay there. I lose any confidence I had for such trusts and charities a long time ago. Anyone here remember NKF?

The ingredients list. Yes it might be long, but understand that there are indeed many types of nuts and snacks in this mix, so it does look long. But definitely not full of unknown chemicals and what-not. Product of the USA. And you see, it is not always the case that items made in the United States is expensive. For its price, this is cheaper than what you can find in Singapore. Just imagine the mark-up our local shops make. But then again, it might be the distributors who are greedy. And then we have the land owners and their high rent. Sadly greed is the norm in Singapore nowadays.

If you are interested, the nutrition facts for you to look at.

My iHerb Referral code is MLD668. Use it to get a US$10 discount for US$40 and above for your first order. Or use it to get a US$5 for anything less than US$40. By the way, iHerb has a discount on DHL shipping to Singapore for orders over US$60. Be safe when shopping online.

Enjoy Life Ricemilk Chocolate

Without a doubt I love chocolate. Of course nowadays I start to appreciate dark chocolate more than milk chocolate. And I am starting to see Singaporeans picking up dark chocolate more...

Without a doubt I love chocolate. Of course nowadays I start to appreciate dark chocolate more than milk chocolate. And I am starting to see Singaporeans picking up dark chocolate more often. First of all, dark chocolate certainly taste better because it is more complex. It has more of the “chocolate” than milk chocolate. Most of the milk chocolate we have in Singapore is basically tons of milk, sugar and cream with just a bit of chocolate (cocoa) in it. Worst of all are those white chocolate. I don’t understand how people can eat that stuff and think they are actually eating chocolate. Might as well gulp down sugar milk. Tastes the same right?

Anyway, I am here talking about the ricemilk chocolate I bought from our dear iHerb. Thank the gods for low cost shipping and we are talking about premium kind of shipping – DHL.  They used to offer free shipping but that was cancelled. It is being replaced by our dear Singpost, who seems to get everything wrong in almost everything they do, even when it comes to their core business which is postal and mails. So of course I gave up on Singpost and use the more reliable DHL. Their reduced rates are pretty good and gives me a piece of mind that my items will arrive on time and safely. And just for about USD 10-15 extra. I think it is worth it.

The Enjoy Life Ricemilk chocolate. The texture of ricemilk chocolate is different from the regular milk chocolate that we are so used to.  It can be a little difficult to describe it but I will try. Think of the texture as normal milk chocolate but a bit more chewy. And when you bite into it, it is smoother, a bit like biting into silk. Normal milk chocolate can be crunchy at the right temperature. Ricemilk is just smooth. I actually do enjoy eating ricemilk chocolate more than the normal one.As for the taste, I think there isn’t much of s difference. But if I am not wrong, ricemilk is pretty tasteless and is a good thing when it comes to good quality chocolate – you get to taste the cocoa without any distractions! A plus is it is not too sweet. Just the way I like it. Some people might not enjoy semi-sweet chocolate that much though. My nephew certainly didn’t!

Well okay there.

Hooray, made in the USA. If you like sweets and chocolates, then the good old USA is the place to get them. I think all Americans have sweet tooths or something. If we were to look att he variety of sweets they have there, most Singaporeans would probably think Singapore is the most boring place in the world. I kid you not.

Whatever.

Healthy chocolate? Well, judge for yourself loh. The ingredients are evaporated cane juice, non-dairy cocoa butter, natural chocolate liquor, rice milk powder and salt. I love short ingredients list. So should you.

Anyway, I really enjoying this chocolate bar. You can’t really go wrong with chocolate but if you are looking for something different with a better texture than the regular milk chocolate, then this is the one to go for. Best of all, ricemilk chocolate will not melt easily, even in Singapore’s weather. So you can eat the chocolate without leaving a mess on your hands.

My iHerb Referral code is MLD668. Use it to get a US$10 discount for US$40 and above for your first order. Or use it to get a US$5 for anything less than US$40. By the way, iHerb has a discount on DHL shipping to Singapore for orders over US$60. Be safe when shopping online.

IPFire – Easy To Use Alternative To Pfsense

I know I have been talking non-stop about Pfsense. It is just a great open source firewall and comes with a good number of very useful features. You name it, they...

I know I have been talking non-stop about Pfsense. It is just a great open source firewall and comes with a good number of very useful features. You name it, they have it. If the core distro does not have it, there are plenty of packages out there which might. Of course you cannot compare commercial offerings to Pfsense. Some of the commercial ones do have some features which Pfsense lacks but those are definitely in the “bells and whistles” category. Everything you need to work as a stable and secure firewall is available in Pfsense.  You don’t really need anything else. And people have been using it in a commercial setting – like in businesses. I am one of them. As I mentioned, it is open source, so it is freely available for use. Don’t need to pay a cent for it. But if you are looking for better support and quicker response, they do offer a support package.

Anyway, I am here to introduce to you IPFire. Basically it is something like Pfsense but everything just works right out of the box. You don’t need much to get it started and it is very easy to use and configure. Just install IPFire onto a old system with two network cards and it should be up and running after the first few keystrokes. I have tried it on several computers and they all worked perfectly. Remember Pfsense is based on BSD while IPFire is based on Linux. Linux do have better support for hardware since they have a wider user base. More manufacturers will support Linux for their hardware than compared to BSD. So if you might have better luck with IPFire than Pfsense. So if you are looking for a decent firewall cum router, just get a spare computer from your garage and fire up IPFire. Configuration is so easy, just a few dialog boxes and you are done. I think in both my installations, they took less than 30 minutes or so. And they are pretty old hardware.

IPFire comes with several features but they are definitely more than adequate for home and even SME use. Other than that, it has web proxy, quality of service, VPN and so on. The regular stuff for a firewall. It even comes with Intrusion Detection, courtesy of our favourite Snort. If I am not wrong it does not support Intrusion Prevention by default but there is a package that allows you to do so. But features and configuration wise, it still lose hands down to Pfsense. Pfsense allows you to tinkle with different options, even on the Web GUI but IPFire do not offer that luxury. If you are looking to dig deeper, you will have to use the console and some command understanding. Not something most of us would want to spend time learning. But overall, it is still a very decent firewall and there should not be any problem with security and stability. Furthermore, it is updated pretty regularly. I think if you are thinking of spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars to get a firewall, why not try IPFire instead. If you don’t need those commercial features (some of which are not that useful anyway), then you should start looking at open source alternatives. No point spending the money and not making full use of those devices right? Money better spent giving to your employees who work very hard for you.

Anyway, I am thinking of setting up a IPFire box in my home. Once I get my bonus, I will start searching for those extremely cheap Mini-ITX units that come with dual Lan ports and start playing with them at home. Of course using Pfsense is also possible. I might even learn a thing or two while playing with Pfsense. Anyway, I will keep you guys updated on the progress. By the way, all the hardware for my office Pfsense has arrived and I have finally set it up. It has been running for over 2 weeks without any issues. A very promising start and even my boss was impressed with it. A Fortigate unit could cost up to S$3k for a SME unit and about S$900 per year for maintenance and updates. The Pfsense setup was less than S$600 and does not come with any yearly renewal fee. What more could you ask for?

Darrell Lea Liquorice Blueberry & Pomegranate Burst

I have become addicted. No truly.  And I can’t believe that I had always a bad impression of liquorice (licorice). Perhaps in the past, we didn’t have these kind of flavours....

I have become addicted. No truly.  And I can’t believe that I had always a bad impression of liquorice (licorice). Perhaps in the past, we didn’t have these kind of flavours. All we had was the plain black coloured hard and chewy stick that didn’t sit right with us kids. My parents often push liquorice to me, and after a few tries, I will always reject them. It tastes pretty bad. A bit like star anise with some funny flavours. Furthermore, it turned the entire mouth black. Luckily for us, gone are the days of boring liquorice. Nowadays we have great tasting ones packed full of new and exciting flavours. Like this one – Blueberry (my favourite) and Pomegranate Burst!  What a combination! Another plus is that modern day liquorice is no longer hard. They feels more like chewy gummy candy if you ask me. You won’t break a tooth while you are chewing on the liquorice.

Anyway, I didn’t buy this myself. Someone mysterious sent it to me! So a big thank you to that someone. I get to enjoy this while surfing the Internet. And review it! I am not really too sure where you can buy this from though.

Check out 200g of amazing tasting liquorice. Low salt! 97% fat free! Wow!

Legendary Darrell Lea Liquorice with burst in the mouth flavours of blueberry and pomegranate. None, it is burst in the mouth. In Singapore, especially for those who frequent web forums, using this phrase “burst in the mouth” might make a few people snicker.

The back of the pack.

Check out the ingredients – sugar, wheat glucose syrup, wheat flour, thickener, vegetable oil, food acids, blueberry flavour, pomegranate flavour, colour, emulsifiers, salt, liquorice extract and mineral salt. One is wondering what is up with the “salt” in this liquorice? Perhaps it is used to enhance the flavour. But honestly, I didn’t taste any salt in the candy.

Made in Australia! Nice. We don’t get enough made in Australia products here in Singapore. That is the problem with Singapore, we don’t get much of anything nowadays. It seems like everything is so expensive, businesses are refusing to bring in new products to sell. But then the Internet has saved us – we can now buy all sorts of things online. And if I read correctly, it seems that even Amazon is offering free shipping for certain products in their own inventory. Yes, good news for us consumers.

Wow, creating sweet magic since 1927. Well dude, create even more for us to enjoy!

Once again, a big thank you to the one who sent me the liquorice. You have been very kind and generous. I think I will continue to source for other liquorice brands and flavours, however I think they might be a bit hard pressed to beat this one. The texture is just perfect. Chewy and not too hard. The flavour combination works perfectly. I finished the entire pack in just one sitting. Yeeks……I might need to start watching my diet!

The Spice Hunter Brazilian Sea Salt

For those interested in cooking, I am sure you guys know the importance of salt. For those who are interested in eating, I am sure you too know the importance of...

For those interested in cooking, I am sure you guys know the importance of salt. For those who are interested in eating, I am sure you too know the importance of salt. Although it does not have any real taste on its own, it does however “enhances” the taste of the food we eat. That is why people tend to call food which has not been salted “bland”. But what is surprising is that there are different types of salt. The common table salt we have is actually sodium chloride which has been heavily refined.  Basically all they have is the actual salt. But if you were to get those unrefined salt, you will find that they do contain numerous other components which can actually improve the flavour of your food.

Well, I may not be the best cook out there (I doubt that I can even be considered a cook) but I do know a thing or two about flavours. Because I do enjoy eating, that is why. I do agree that unrefined salt is the best way to go. However since there are many different kinds of salt out there – like sea salt, mountain salt and salt from don’t know which sea and so on. Different unrefined salt impacts different flavour. So you do have to choose wisely. I think sea salt goes very well with sea food. Really enhances the flavour of seafood, especially prawns!

The Spice Hunter. Brazilian Sea Salt! Comes with a grinder some more.

Looks pretty refined to me. But it could be that the Brazilian Sea Salt looks pretty white.

Hmmm….Brazilian Sea Salt is harvested from the pristine blue waters off the eastern coast of South America. Is there such a place where the sea is pristine? Most likely full of tourists and boats already. Anyway, the grinder allows you to choose whether you want a fine grind or a coarse one. If you are barbequing prawns, you might want to use a coarse grind. The texture is pretty nice.

At the Spice Hunter, we carefully source all our herbs and spices from the most ideal growing regions throughout the world and bottle them at their peak of flavour. Our Fresh Twist Grinders are an exciting way to grind freshness and sprinkle true flavour on your favourite dishes. Actually very true. Take pepper for example, if you try one which has been freshly grind from peppercorns and one which has already been grind, you will taste the different. How long you keep the spice plays an important part as well. Most of us think that spices are meant to be kept forever. That is simply not true at all.

Well, the top of the grinder. Just point downwards and twist. I am very shocked to realize most of us are just too lazy to even do that. We prefer to just open a pack of salt and just sprinkle salt on our food, rather than having to grind them first. Remember, there is a significant improvement when it comes to the end product if you use fresh ingredients and that includes salt and pepper.

Anyway I bought this from iHerb as usual. My iHerb Referral code is MLD668. Use it to get a US$10 discount for US$40 and above for your first order. Or use it to get a US$5 for anything less than US$40. By the way, iHerb has a discount on DHL shipping to Singapore for orders over US$60. Do remember to be safe when shopping online.

Additional Packages I Plan To Install On Pfsense

Yes, Pfsense is superb right out of the box. It has tons of features and is pretty secure. Secure enough even for an enterprise environment. In fact, some might even say it...

Yes, Pfsense is superb right out of the box. It has tons of features and is pretty secure. Secure enough even for an enterprise environment. In fact, some might even say it is much more secure than many of the other commercial offerings out there. Since it is based on FreeBSD, which is very well known for their stability and their security. Furthermore, Pfsense has really hardened their underlying Operating System. As you can see from the daily builds, they patch things first. Probably why more and more users are starting to use Pfsense as their firewall in their companies. But of course, since it is a open source offering, there are still plenty out there who don’t really trust Pfsense. What these people don’t realize is that many commercial firewalls are based on Linux and other open source operating systems as well. They just don’t broadcast to the public. The Fortigate Firewall in my office uses FortiOS, which has numerous open source elements in them as well. So what is there not to trust?

Anyway, I am rambling here. As I mentioned, Pfsense has plenty of features right out of the box. But I am planning to install several other packages to enhance the firewall. I agree that we should not overload the firewall with too many things but since I don’t have many users (about 50 max), I think it should not be a problem. With 4GB of memory, I should have plenty left to spare. Here are some of the packages I would be adding to my Pfsense setup.

1. Proxy Server. Most likely the latest stable Squid 3. Well, all Singapore ISPs do have transparent proxies setup thus many of us don’t even realize it. So performance wise, there is not much of an improvement. But having a proxy server allows me to scan for virus (using HAVP), allows me control of which website to allow access, which to block and so on. Very useful to have. And of course, it allows me to log what users are doing.

2. PfBlocker. Basically an addon to the firewall. Its main purpose is to set a range of IP addresses which can be controlled through blacklists and by country. So for example, you as an administrator are using SSH to do administration but you know that there should be no access from other countries except locally, you can choose to block all other countries. It allows you great flexibility as you can filter whichever countries you want to block. Of course, you can setup blacklists. There are several blacklists out there which have been found to be compromised or are known botnets. You can simply block them with this. It also allows you to update these blacklists periodically.

3. HAVP. As mentioned before, this will be used to scan for viruses but it works only for http and only through the proxy. But I often wonder how will the performance be affected. Since file downloads are the ones which tend to have viruses, how well will the HAVP work. And since they are using ClamAV, which is good for email scanning, I am not too sure how good is their detection rate when it comes to http. Anyway, I think this is just another line of defence other than the antivirus software on the users’ computers.

4. Snort. Yes, of course this will be installed. It is probably one of the better Intrusion Detection / Prevention Systems out there. Sure, it does take quite a lot of tweaking to get it working right but once you have passed that, nothing beats Snort. You will have to update it frequently to ensure you are optimally protected but other than that, it simple just works. Makes me feel safer to have Snort running on my firewall than without.

The hardware I bought came a few days ago. But due to a faulty RAM, I had to send them back and get a replacement. They should arrive pretty soon. It is just part and parcel of life I guess. Sometimes when you are so eager for something to arrive, it turns out to be a lemon and you are sorely disappointed.

Firewall Rules Best Practices

Firewalls can be simple and it can be complicated. Most people think that Firewall rules are just rules that block or allow packets from entering or leaving an interface. But it...

Firewalls can be simple and it can be complicated. Most people think that Firewall rules are just rules that block or allow packets from entering or leaving an interface. But it is way more than that. There are some very important best practices to follow to achieve reliable performance. Remember it is not just about blocking – it is also about performance, efficiency and of course keeping track of what is happening on your firewall.

Here are some best practices for setting up your firewall rules:

1. “Stealth” rule. Basically a rule that block attempts to access your firewall and of course log them. Set at the WAN interface. Use drop since they should not be legitimate attempts. No one outside of the network should be attempting to hit the firewall. Some users do need access to the firewall from the WAN though but there are plenty of other ways to get access to the firewall from the Internet.

2. “Cleanup” rule. Although not very important, it is a “good-to-have” kind of rule. Set at LAN interface. It is meant to block all other traffic and should be at the bottom of your rulebase. However most modern capable firewalls are implicitly blocking all traffic other than the ones which you specially allow. But it is good, since you can then log all other unwanted attempts. Also good for tracking weird traffic on your LAN.

3. IP Spoofing rule. Basically rules that ensure no spoofed IP addresses are able to enter or leave the network. Frequently a lot of spyware or viruses “spoof” IP addresses to trick firewalls into thinking that they are legitimate traffic. Drop all private IP addresses at the WAN and other than your LAN IP range, drop all other IP addresses at the LAN. You should also track these traffic at the LAN.

4. Performance. Ensure that those frequently accessed rules are at the top. Remember firewall rules are read from top to bottom. So to improve performance, make sure the top rules are the ones that are frequently used. Imagine if you have 100 rules and each packet have to go from top to bottom, it will definitely slow down your traffic, no matter what kind of high performance firewall you have. Always remember the “top down” approach.

5. Reject or Drop? Not all traffic you want to block are “bad” or malicious. Some are merely things that you don’t want to get out or get it. They might have their purposes in the grand scheme of things. These packets should be rejected so that they won’t keep on attempting to retry. If you drop some of these packets, they might keep on retrying, which will slow down the firewall. Take for example, you want to block all outgoing DNS traffic to a certain DNS server, it might be better to reject these traffic instead of dropping. However there are certain things which you want to drop, especially the ones that come from the WAN side. This is kind of like trying to “stealth” your WAN from hostile attackers and they usually probe and go.

6. Simple is better. Honestly. Your firewall and everyone in your LAN will thank you for it. Don’t have like 10 rules doing the same thing. Bogs down the firewall. And 100 rules can be very hard to administer and is very prone to errors.

7. Check and review the rules regularly. Firewall Administrators might be pressured to quickly act on certain exploits and they have to do it fast. Thus the rules that were entered might not be optimized. Thus it is a good idea to review the rules with a clearer head. Not to mention, some unused rules can be checked and removed if needed.

8. Avoid the “ANY” rule. This is one of the fundamentals in firewall management. Never allow “ANY” traffic to come in as it can be rather dangerous. Should not even allow “ANY” traffic to leave! A good idea is to reject all traffic first and ONLY allow certain traffic to come in (and leave). However most modern capable firewalls should implicitly block traffic at the interfaces already.

9. Document and keep track of all changes made to the firewall rules. Have a good description for the rules help a lot.

10. Update (patch) your firewall. Always patch your firewall application. There might be bugs or exploits that attackers can make use to access or bypass the firewall. And since it is an ongoing battle, it might not be a good idea to ignore and think that you are always safe. Most manufacturers will release patches regularly to help combat new threats as well. Surprisingly, there are quite a lot of administrators who do not update (or patch) their firewalls because they feel it is rather troublesome.

11. Backup firewall configurations. Underneath it all, a firewall is still a device and it can break down. Just imagine all the hardwork you have done setting up the rules and settings, only to have it down the drain in just a few seconds. Always backup your firewall configurations once you have made changes to it. Or even before you make any changes. Just like everything in the IT world, always have a working backup.

 

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