Category Archives: Uncategorized

Nationwide pays you to downgrade

This surprised me, but it’s there in black and white on the website.

FlexPlus is Nationwide’s premium paid-for current account. For a fee of £10, which increased to £13 in 2017, you got mobile phone insurance, travel insurance, no-fee ATM withdrawals overseas, and 3% interest on balances up to £2,500. It’s been MoneySavingExpert’s recommended premium account for years now, and until recently was a great deal. Possibly a bit too good to be true.

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Backups – au revoir Urbackup, bon jour syncthing!

A while ago I wrote a post about my backup solution and replacing Crashplan – a once great product I was a happy user of. It served pretty much all my backup needs in one product, but alas it was too good to last.

Eventually I settled on Duplicati on my home server backing up to Backblaze, and Urbackup to back up my various devices to the NAS. But since then a few things have changed:

  • The upgrade to Ubuntu 18.04 broke the Urbackup installation on my server. I never really got around to fixing it, so my device backups have been manual. Fortunately the server hosts the important stuff, and I don’t keep much on my devices that aren’t saved elsewhere, but it’s still not ideal.
  • If a broken server wasn’t enough, Urbackup discontinued support for MacOS earlier this year, which made the product useless to me.
  • Perhaps somewhat mitigating this for Mac clients, the Samba project released version 4.8.0, which includes support for MacOS time machine (see “Time Machine Support with vfs_fruit”).
  • Dropbox have started being dicks.

… Dropbox?

Er, yeah. Despite writing “I think that you should never use Dropbox for anything remotely private or sensitive”, words that I stand by today, I have not only been using Dropbox… but for private and sensitive things.

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The Paradox of Tolerance

Today I read an article on Arstechnica (Right-wingers say Twitter’s “bias” against them should be illegal), and, as hot-button political topics such as this so often do, it spawned an interesting comment thread. Ars is a thoughtful, rational, and evidence-based site, so it should come as no surprise that the majority of commenters are of the same persuasion. So much so that the comment threads are occasionally more interesting than the original article.

The argument you often hear from the far right, is that refusing to publish or listen to their hate-speech amounts to censorship. By “censoring” their speech, the supposedly “tolerant” society is behaving like the Third Reich. Godwin’s law aside, this latest attempt by Trump and Co. to stop Twitter and other social media companies “silencing conservative voices”, runs along similar lines; they are arguing that bias in suppressing “conservative voices” should be illegal, in the name of free speech.

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Lightroom – subscribe or not?

For some time now I’ve been a happy user of Adobe Lightroom. I brought it back when Lightroom 4 was released, skipped version 5, then paid to upgrade to 6.

Since then, Adobe has discontinued the perpetually licensed version. The only way to legally obtain Lightroom is by paying £120-240 per-year for one of their Creative Cloud subscriptions.

Unfortunately the new subscription model is a rather poor fit for my needs.

I want to state upfront that I don’t object to subscription-based pricing models for software in general. It makes a lot of sense from a development point of view, as maintenance and support costs don’t go away once the product is shipped. But in my opinion Adobe has reached too far, and is trying to steer customers towards cloud solutions for reasons that don’t really align with their best interests.

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Life after Crashplan

Crashplan’s email to home customers

If you’re reading this and don’t know me personally, you’re probably aware that Crashplan decided to “sunset” their Crashplan Home offering on August 22nd last year. No new subscriptions are being taken, and it will cease to exist from August 2018. Unfortunately, my subscription expired in December.

I was hugely satisfied with Crashplan, and thought it was by far the best online cloud backup solution in the market for the average home user.

  • It offered free peer-to-peer backups which meant I could backup my devices to my own server, or even trade encrypted backups with friends.
  • The client to backup to your own devices was free, and the cost for online cloud backups was a very-reasonable $150 USD for 12-months of unlimited backup storage.
  • By virtue of being written in Java, the client was available for Windows, Mac and Linux (I have all 3).
  • It supported headless operation, albeit with a bit of jiggery-pokery, i.e. editing the client config file to point to another agent via an SSH tunnel. This meant I could run it on my home NAS device, which naturally stores my important data (Photos mainly).
  • No limits on the number of devices that were backed up, or charges per-device.

Naturally, I was disappointed when they announced they were discontinuing it. “No worries!” I thought, there must be something else out there. As it turns out, Crashplan Home was almost too good to be true. Continue reading

From Ivy Bridge to Threadripper Part 1 – A Water Cooling Retrospective

Some of the links in this article are Amazon affiliate links, which pay me a commission if you make a purchase.

I could have brought a plain old Ryzen, a Core i7 or even another Core i5. But with Intel sitting on its hands the past 5 years in the face of no competition, I decided it was time to splash out and reward AMD for not only investing in CPUs again, but making an interesting high-end desktop product while not nickel & diming its customers over PCI-E lanes.

And so, I brought a 1920X.

I don’t really need 12 cores. Other than general browsing, my PC is used for work, (coding) plus a bit of gaming, and a gaming CPU this is not. Running multiple VMs and M.2 devices without slowing down will be nice, but this build is mostly overkill for my needs. And that’s really the point! Continue reading

Archival Storage Part 1: The Problems

All of us have data which has value beyond our own lives. My parents’ generation have little record of their childhoods, other than the occasional photo album, but what little records there are, are cherished. My own childhood was well preserved, thanks to the efforts of my mother. Each of my brothers and I has a stack of photo albums, with dates and milestones meticulously documented.

Today, we are generating a massive amount of data. While the majority of it will not be of interest to future generations, I believe preserving a small, selective record of it, akin to the photo albums my mother created, would be immensely valuable to my relatives and descendants – think of your great grandparents jewellery, a photo album of your childhood that your parents created, immigration papers of your predecessors.

Modern technology allows us to document our lives in vivid detail, however the problem is that the data is transient by nature. For example, this blog is run on a Linode server – if I die, the bill doesn’t get paid and Linode deletes it. If Linode goes away, I have to be there to move it to a new server. If Flickr goes away, my online photos are lost. If Facebook goes away, all that history is lost. Laptops and computers are replaced regularly, and the backups created by previous computers may not be readable by future ones, unless we carry over all the data each time.

In part one of this series (this article) I document the problems of common backup solutions for archival storage, with reference to my own set-up. In part two, I’ll detail my “internet research” into optical BD-R media and how it solves these problems, and in part 3 I’ll deal with checksums and managing data for archival (links will be added when done).

Part 1 is fairly technical, so if you just want safe long-term storage, install and configure Crashplan, and skip to part 2.

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Dear @Adobe and @Oracle, please stop offering crapware with every Java and Flash Player update. It gets old quick.

Unticking a box might seem like a small thing, but consider the following:

  • The number of Flash Player and Java updates are frequent due to security issues and staying up to date is very important.
  • Updating Java or the Flash Player is anything but a frictionless process as it is. For Flash, upon clicking the update prompt I am taken to a download page, where I must untick the box for whatever crapware is on offer, click download, open downloads, launch the download, close web browsers (and possibly other applications), click retry, finish. Java is a little better, but not much.
  • Many people have multiple devices to update which magnifies the annoyance factor.

We are not in the 90s any more. Apple, Microsoft and Google have all managed to make updates a 1 touch process (or less), and this is the expectation of your users.

So stop being precious about distribution, but in the very least, stop abusing the update process as a marketing opportunity. It is irresponsible and annoying to millions of people every day.