Onion Pi

In my classes I have tried to incorporate more and more experiential, practice based learning. I have found that merely discussing the issues is not nearly as meaningful as a careful discussion of the issues informed by a practical engagement with the topic at hand. One of my favorite classes to teach here at Saint Joseph’s is Communication Ethics, a foundational course for the degree program where we introduce students to the broad topics and issues surrounding digital media; everything from copyright and remix culture to social movements and civic media. Obviously one of the topics we discuss in this class is privacy, both in terms of personal privacy but also how larger individual relates to governments and corporations. As just one example I have students install Ghostery and pay attention to who and for what motives their online interactions are being tracked. Obviously one of the topics we cover here is encryption and anonymization, specifically Tor and VPNs. But in an introductory class like this I don’t always have the luxury of infinite time, and days dedicated to exploring specific tools. So I like to have easy ways to demonstrate tools. Enter Onion Pi …

Building an Onion Pi

I got to thinking about this based on the somewhat questionable project Anonbox which got delisted from Kickstarter (in October), but now seems to be available via Indiegogo.* The idea here is to create a wireless access point to which any device can connect and to which all the traffic by default is routed thru Tor. After a little research I realized how easy it would be to build one of these on my own, that way I could then take it class (or really anywhere) and quickly and easily demonstrate Tor. What’s more as a wireless access point which is routing traffic over Tor it makes it easy for multiple people to use at once.

So, I ordered up a Raspberry Pi (I had all the other stuff lying around) and got to work, based on the adafruit tutoriall. The tutorial was really thorough, and honestly I spent more time configuring the Pi, getting the software installed on the SD card, and then setting it up as a Wireless Access point. As a rough estimate it took me probably an hour to accomplish, but if you had a spare monitor, keyboard and mouse to plug into the Pi to speed up configuration you could probably get this done in like 30 minutes (I didn’t so I had to use a bit more complicated solution). Really though once the Pi is set up as a wireless access point it takes only about 5 minutes to get is working as a Tor access point.

Anyway, here it is up and working (next to my Pirate Box)…

Onion Pi

Last step though is I need a case to make it portable, but that should be pretty easy to fix (lots of options).

The limit is that it needs to be plugged into an ethernet cable, although I imagine it is possible to configure it to work with a wireless network, as a bridge of sorts.

Anyway its ready for class later this semester. Now I don’t have to worry about letting students try and configure their own computers to run Tor, or worse, getting permission to put Tor on the lab computers. Easily demo-able this way, and then students can see the so-what, and for those who are interested I can point to the online tutorials where they can set up their own computers, or heck even build their own Onion Pi.

  * I am not saying that Anonabox does or doesn’t work, I have no knowledge either way. The reason it got delisted from Kickstarter had to do more with not being entirely clear about the project. Read about it [here](https://www.bestvpn.com/blog/11371/anonabox-tiny-low-cost-open-source-tor-router/). You can get an Anonabox for $50 which is cheaper than the [Adafruit DIY kit](https://www.adafruit.com/products/1410) although to be fair you actually get more in the Adafruit kit.
, doesn’t crash when I have 20 tabs open and I can leave the browser open for weeks without restarting. I find Firefox to be a little pickier, but the performance issues are only slight, not enough to warrant me switching. Mozilla > Google. The ability to use plugins though makes Firefox and Chrome the only two acceptable choices in my world. Plugins I use: PocketGhosteryLastPassPrivacyBadgerHTTPS Everywhere, Shortcuts for Google, Push Bullet, Open Access Button, Findbar, Search by Image, Instant Fox. (My extensive plugin use might have something to do with why I don’t get top performance out of the browser.)


Really I am not a fan of checking email via the web browser, I want a dedicated client for this. Thunderbird does the trick. It also (like Firefox) has a plugin architecture that enables me to tweak it down to suit my needs. I tried out Mailpile, but it was designed to look and feel like web browser email, so I think I am probably not the target market even though I like the project in theory. Plugins I use in Thunderbird: Enigmail, Mail Redirect, QuickFolders, Quick Translator.

Jekyll and Octopress:

As you might be able to tell I have switched around a lot on my website. I used to be an avid Wordpress fan, using it to host my own personal site as well as all the resources for teaching. But after spending a year using Octopress and Jekyll I can say I doubt I am going back. The learning curve was honestly pretty steep at first, and it took me a while to wrap my head around the idea of writing the files locally on my machine, than compiling the website locally, then deploying as static html to the server, but once I did (thanks @timlockridge) I have come to appreciate the myriad advantages. Again, I end up having access and control over all my files locally. Also no worrying about databases and updating Wordpress. And finally when it comes to mothballing classes and setting up the website for a new semester it is ridiculously easy, and I am able to preserve each semester now as its own seperate site, archiving it without having to worry about things getting ridiculously clunky or updating multiple wordpress installs.


I use this so much I forget about it. Basically its a more secure version of Dropbox. I really only use Dropbox for sharing things with others, but for backing up my files, and syncing between my own computers SpiderOak > Dropbox.


Wait, I know an iOS app? Yes, I still have an iPad, next tablet I get I will probably get an Android one, but for now I still use an iPad. Mostly I read on it, and that is where iAnnotate comes in. I save journal articles I want to read into a folder and then mark them up in iAnnotate. Ridiculously useful. Also handy for “signing” forms without having to print them out, sign them, scan them, and email them back.

And that’s pretty much it, I would say 80-90% of my computing time is spent with those applications. I use the Libre Office suite when I need a Word Processor or a Spreadsheet, but really I get most of what I need done in the other applications. There are other smaller tools I use occasionally, and a suite of programs that I use for 3d printing. But in terms of work practice that is pretty much it.