Marc Dougherty

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The Internet can be a very distracting place sometimes. There are so many sites (particularly social media) that demand our attention, and let us mindlessly scroll through photos and status updates, when we really want to be doing something else.

In an effort to aid my own concentration, I build a proof-of-concept Internet Volume Control that helps filter out some of the distraction.

All my work is up on github.com/muncus/internet-volume and the background / origin story is below.

Inspiration and Design

While i was thinking about this, i considered several possible approaches to filtering out “noisy” internet content. A “captive portal” like public wifi, that would have specific rules. A “transparent proxy” that would rewrite content (sort of like an ad-blocker). These all had different drawbacks, particularly when it comes to HTTPS content.

Then I realized that there’s a service under the rest of the internet’s noisy content: DNS! Before an app or a web browser can do anything, it needs to talk to DNS to find the “address” for the noisy service (e.g. facebook.com). By intercepting these calls, it is relatively easy to prevent users from accessing these sites. It is not foolproof (anyone willing to edit their DHCP-received nameservers can get around it). But it seemed good enough for my purposes.

So, using some handy Ruby libraries, I put together a simple DNS server that checks the “internet volume” (more on that later) and either returns the upstream response (from Google’s public DNS server), or returns an error of NXDOMAIN, which indicates the name cannot be resolved.

Internet Volume

Now that i’d built the guts of the volume control, I needed a way to set the volume. Obviously, this was going to be a big dial of some kind, but how would it connect to the rest of the system?

I’d built a few standalone internet-connected things before, and this is just one more. The wifi-connected dial (well, potentiometer plus wifi-connected microcontroller) reports the current “position” as a number from 0 - 10. This number is sent to adafruit.io, but could use any other IoT pubsub service.

Some updates to the DNS server to read (and cache!) this value, and i’m ready for distraction-free wifi browsing!

Future work

I’d like to add a proper captive portal “login” page which describes the project, so users are not caught by surprise when i dial down the volume.