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Tech

Bye Bye Relics of 1999

It’s about time I dumped some of this stuff. Two of my machines have a CDROM drive but I don’t use either of them. I haven’t had a 1.44MB floppy drive in well over a decade, or more likely fifteen years!

I recently found the binder with these items, the motherboard manual and other things. They were stored away in a dark corner of a cupboard for more than 20 years. Safe in their dark spot but ever so slowly decomposing. The machine they belonged to has been long disposed of.

When was the last time you installed software from a CDROM or a floppy disk? I ripped the DVD box set of “All Creatures Great and Small (1978)” last December. It was on my ageing Macbook, but I do not remember the last time I used a PC floppy disk at all.

February 2012 was the last time I used a C64 disk. I archived as many of my C64 disks as I could then. Those disks are still in the attic. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to throw them out. I guess they’ll be disposed when I’m gone and they’re an ancient artefact of a bygone era.

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Tech

Google Photos ends free storage tomorrow

That photo taken today is a helicopter rotor

Google Photos will start counting your uploads against a storage limit from tomorrow. Make sure you upload anything you’ve been meaning to upload in the next few hours!

Also go into your shared albums and click the “Save photos” button if you want “local” copies of any photos shared with you.

I’m sticking with Google Photos. The ease of sharing photos and AI search make it worth while, but I will be disabling automatic upload off my phone. I take too many snapshots that I don’t care enough about to pay for them.

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Tech

Firefox: bookmark all the tabs

Browser tabs. We all love them, and then we hate them when there are too many. Sprinkled among the litter of blog and Facebook posts, Twitter and Reddit threads, are the nuggets you want to keep.

Too many things

You could just close them, you probably won’t miss them but my brain rebels against the thought. Instead I’d like to bookmark them somewhere so at least in some distant future I can review them at my leisure. Thankfully it’s easy, in Firefox at least. It looks like it’s even easier in Chrome!

First of all, right click on a tab and click on “Select all tabs”.

All your tabs will be highlighted and “Bookmark Tab” helpfully changes to “Bookmark Tabs”.

Clicking that will bring up a familiar bookmark window. I opted to put the my browser windows into different folders. I had a lot of tabs open..

But now I’m back to one window and a handful of tabs related to my current project. Out of sight, out of mind! 🙂

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Tech

BXS-HD1 True Wireless Stereo Earphones

I don’t know much about audio, and my hearing has been damaged by too many noisy nightclubs in my twenties but I do listen to a lot of podcasts using earphones.

In the past I preferred to use wired Apple earpods and I still use them. I bought Urban 1 wireless earphones back in September but then I remembered why I hate those earphones that stick deep into your ear. They’re never comfortable. My ears got sore, and they would always fall out with the slightest movement if I wasn’t wearing a hat against the cold.

So, last November I read about the BXS-HD1 True Wireless Stereo Earphones from Onesonic. There were glowing reviews from Irish tech journalists, and similar reviews by people on Twitter. At €59.99 they’re not too expensive either.

I must say I’m very happy with them. Podcast audio is crystal clear. Music is too. They’re reasonably good at dealing with bass.

They sync with my Galaxy S9+ when I lift them out of the case. Double tap pauses the audio usually, though sometimes that gets temperamental and I need to unlock my phone to pause. Volume controls (single tap) worked fine.

I wasn’t too impressed with the microphone. I tried it twice. Once while out for a walk on a cold morning. The hat I wore rubbed against the earphones and the other party could barely hear what I was saying. Back in my office on a Zoom call my team reported my voice sounded low.

Besides that I recommend them. They’re shipped from Ireland so if you’re in the EU you won’t have to worry about extra customs fees due to Brexit.

(This is not a paid review, I’m just happy with my purchase.)

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Tech

Just use Signal

Just use Signal, the privacy first messaging system.

What’s in it for Signal? They’re a non-profit. Money isn’t their main goal. Read about their very interesting history on Wikipedia.

(But if they ever break that trust I’m going back to SMS texts!)

Update a few days later: This post was obviously prompted by the move WhatsApp made to change their privacy policy and ultimatum they gave users to “accept it or go away”. They have since announced the changes won’t take effect until May this year.

This Gizmodo post is the best yet at explaining what changes are to come. It’s a long article worth reading but in summary (and I’m open to correction if I get this wrong), your messages to friends and family were never in danger of being revealed to Facebook. Businesses who use WhatsApp have a special way of using the platform (a business API) and they may use an outside agency to help them deal with this messaging. As soon as that happens the outside agency can see the messages back forth between you and the business so the messages could in theory be stored by that agency. Someone else can see those messages then.

What I’m left wondering about is if companies have been doing this for years already why is a change in the privacy policy required now? Is it because a business can manage this messaging through Facebook.com?

I checked and I didn’t opt out of WhatsApp sending “anonymous data” (which is never really anonymous) to Facebook in 2016 for whatever reason. Maybe I didn’t start using WhatsApp until after this date. I wonder if the GDPR stops this data transfer?

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Tech

Unmount USB drives from a script in macOS

I have a number of external drives hanging off my laptop, but sometimes I want to disconnect them. I used to go into Finder and click the eject button but I have five drives now so that’s getting unwieldy.

There are a few different ways of doing this. I wrote a small BASH script based on information here.

I created a shell script on my Desktop, added the following, changing DRIVE to the volume path for each of my external drives:

osascript -e ‘do shell script “diskutil unmountDisk /Volumes/DRIVE”‘

After creating that script I made it executable with chmod +x and as I use iTerm2 as a terminal I associated .sh files with that (Finder, right click on script, Get Info->Open With).
Every time I double click the script a new tab opens in iTerm2 and I see the progress of the unmount commands!

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Tech

Want 3 months of Backblaze?

Ho Ho Ho! The folks at Backblaze must be feeling the Christmas cheer as they're adding 3 months of Backblaze backup to anyone who signs up within the next 21 days.

I’m a huge fan of Backblaze, having paid for the service since 2013 and had to recently use their backup to restore more than 3GB of photos I took on December 1st and 2nd.

So, if you’re not backing up your data I can recommend Backblaze. Sign up here for a free trial, and if you buy a subscription you’ll get 3 months free, but only if you sign up within the next 21 days. I get 3 months free as well which will make me very happy too. 🙂

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Tech

Twitter: Prove you’re human

Well, that was weird. I hit like on a sarcastic tweet about Brexit and Twitter forced me to prove I was a human because I broke the rules apparently.

It just goes to show that when you rely on a site you don’t control or own to publish you don’t really own your own data. I’m preparing a Twitter backup, just to be careful.

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Tech

Crashplan Home RIP

With Crashplan Home on the way out I’m in a bind. I was using it to backup my Dad’s laptop to my machine. It was so very handy as it was plug-and-play. Fire up the app on his machine, type in the code and it started sending over his data whenever he was online, wherever he was. All that comes to a screeching halt in October 2018 when Crashplan drop their Home product.

I’m not sure what I’ll replace that with. I’m tempted to try Backuppc, and setup dynamic DNS on his router, but it’s a Windows machine, which is always a complicating factor. Maybe I’ll try that Backuppc Windows Client but all I need are a local ssh server and rsync, right? It might just be simpler in the long run to use Backblaze however. They even published a blog post to encourage Crashplan customers to migrate!

Besides using Crashplan for my Dad’s backup, I also used it to keep versioned copies of my photos directory on a separate external drive, but I zapped that and installed rsnapshot on my Macbook using Homebrew, and configured it to back up every few hours. It’s working fine so far too, and the simplicity of rsync and hard links is comforting. Sort of like Time Machine you can use Finder to navigate through the backups, and copy files from it to restore them. As an added bonus it’s not running in the background the whole time. A cronjob fires it up on a regular basis.

If that all sounds too technical, just use Backblaze. I’ve been with them for years, and recently renewed for another two years. If you want to get a month free (after signing up following the free trial) you could do worse than sign up using this signup link. I currently have over 2TB of data backed up there and it’s still going strong!

Edit: Over on /r/datahoarder there’s a lively discussion about Backblaze, including a rep from the company answering questions. Also, I’m not the only one looking for a replacement for PC to PC backup.
Edit 2: I wonder if Syncthing could be a replacement for PC to PC backup. The Backups aren’t encrypted unfortunately, but it has support for file versioning now which is a plus.

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Tech

Remapping the Keyboard on a new Macbook Pro

I must have an odd keyboard, at least for one that’s paired with a Mac. It’s a Microsoft split keyboard and has a bunch of extra keys that aren’t on a Macbook Pro keyboard, like a dedicated # key and the keys are all over the place compared to the laptop keyboard. But I like it that way.

I’ve heard comments from people who use my laptop and they are confused by how shift-2 doesn’t print @ but ” instead, and the key by the left shift prints \ instead of ~ (which is over by the Return key). They’ll say, “Oh, it’s some sort of PC keyboard?” Well, yeah.

This is not the first time I’ve had to fix my keyboard. A long time ago Justin Mason created a useful Irish Fixed Keyboard Layout, but for some reason with this latest hardware upgrade it wasn’t working exactly as planned. The #, \ and ` keys were mixed up. Luckily, with the help of the Key Codes app I could detect the the key code of the physical key pressed. For example, the key next to the left shift is key code 10 so it was just a matter of editing the keyboard layout in a text editor and changing that to output “\”. Logout and login to refresh and the key works!

What’s odd, is that this keyboard layout has served me well for almost a decade and didn’t need editing, which is why I’m documenting it in this post.

I looked at both Ukelele and Karabiner but the former looked overwhelming (yeah, then I went editing XML by hand..) and the latter doesn’t work in macOS Sierra (there’s a simplified “elements” version for Sierra). Then I thought I should just edit the keyboard mapping directly. 🙂