The Irish Digital Detox

Holly and Declan are a young couple addicted to 21st century technology. Writer and journalist Colm Tobin follows them to the island of Carnananánachán where they undergo a bizarre, back-to-basics digital detox.

Could you survive a week without your phone or any access to the Internet?

Your DNA results are now ready!

This was a weird email to receive since I have never sent off a DNA sample to any company.

Dear Friend,

Your DNA results are now ready!

The results of your DNA sample reveal information about your distant ancestors, including how and when they moved out of Africa and the various populations they interacted with over thousands of years of migration. We hope you enjoy exploring your chapter of the human story.

Sure enough, it’s spam from The National Geographic. The linked page allows you to buy the Geno 2.0 Next Generation kit.

I used to have an NG subscription years ago but I gave it up. I wasn’t reading it, and the issues were collecting dust in a corner. Looks like they’re harvesting their email lists. Anyone else get this email?

Howto: the Cork County Council Planning Enquiry System

The planning enquiry system of Cork County Council is a powerful system for downloading and viewing all the documents related to a planning enquiry. Unfortunately it relies on outdated software that most people won’t have access to any more (and for security reasons, that’s a good thing!). There are Android and iPhone apps too, but it’s not easy reading planning documents on small screens, and at least on Android requires the use of a third party app to view the .djvu files. You can also save the files to a dropbox folder to share with your desktop, but it’s awkward doing so. The mobile apps can’t download large files either.

When you first go into it, this is the page you see. If you’re using a modern browser (like Microsoft Edge, Chrome, Firefox or Safari) you can’t really do much more. It requires Internet Explorer to work.

However, by looking at the source code of the page I discovered this code that sends you to MainFrames.aspx.

The next page allows you to search the planning database but until you’re running Internet Explorer you won’t get very far as it uses the Autodesk Mapguide Viewer for it to show anything.

So, if you’re not running Internet Explorer on your up-to-date copy of Windows or you use macOS, Linux or anything else you’ve only one other option. Use a virtual machine.

Go grab a copy of VirtualBox and install it, then download a free virtual machine image from this Microsoft page and import that into VirtualBox. I found the IE9 one worked perfectly. It expires after 90 days but you can download another image if you need to later.

VirtualBox allows you to set up a shared folder where you can download the planning files, and work on them at your leisure!

Take a sneak peek at WP Super Cache

WP Super Cache is a full page caching plugin for WordPress that makes your site faster, and helps deal with unexpected surges in traffic.

Over the last few months we’ve been busy working on the plugin to add new features and fix bugs and we can almost call it ready. It’s stable and usable and runs on this site but we would love more people to test it out before we release a new version.

Here’s just some of the new features and bug fixes we’ve been working on:

  • The plugin was based on WP-Cache which stored cache files in a single directory, and those (legacy caching) files were for the most part stored the same way all this time but now they’re being placed in the supercache directories (#177). This makes it easier to manage these files. The plugin doesn’t have to search through potentially hundreds of cache files for those that need to be deleted if a page updates or someone leaves a comment. Now all those files will be in the same directory structure the anonymous “supercache” files will be. I’m really excited about this feature as it makes caching for logged in users/users who comment and caching of pages with parameters so much faster now.
  • We’re adding a REST API to the plugin because in the future not everyone is going to use wp-admin to take care of their sites. Take a look in the rest directory for the code we’re working on.
  • Debug logs now have a username and password to protect them from prying eyes.
  • And many bugs fixed over the last few months.

Since “legacy caching” or “WP-Cache caching” is now more maintainable and faster we want to change the language describing how the plugin caches and delivers pages.

Currently the plugin asks you to choose between mod_rewrite, PHP and “Legacy page caching” which isn’t really useful. Most users won’t recognise those terms. It’s also not accurate as “legacy page caching” is active all the time as long as caching is enabled.
Instead we should have “Standard Caching” and “Super Caching”. Super Caching will then have simple and expert delivery methods.

Simple delivery is through PHP, while expert delivery uses mod_rewrite rules which means the .htaccess file has to be updated and hopefully the warning below it will discourage casual users from testing it.

Due to the huge number of changes in the plugin we really need people to give it a try and check if everything works ok. The changes to the settings page will hopefully make it easier for new users to get to grips with it too.

You can find the newest code on Github. The changes to the settings page are in #255 if you want to comment on them.

Thanks in advance! 🙂

Don’t Stop Me Now

An amazing cover of the Queen song, “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Peter Bence. (Thanks Ken Collins for sharing)

When you’ve listened to that, watch these two videos by Valentina Lisitsa and marvel at how fast her fingers move.

Fidget Spinners are on the way out..

A street trader on Kyle Street in Cork was selling two “classic” fidget spinners for five euro last weekend. You can still buy fancy “gold” or LED ones at inflated prices but every bargain basement or novelty store has buckets of them to sell. My son is still obsessed with his ones, but I’ll give it a week or two before they’re gathering dust in a corner along with his collection of multi-coloured loom bands.

I’m just noting this here for future me when I wonder, “what year were fidget spinners all the rage?” I still remember the early 90s as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles years.

Irish car insurance is going up because …

The large number of third party claims last year is driving up car insurance premiums in Ireland apparently. At least that’s what the friendly lady at 123.ie told me. They then charged me an extra €196 for cover over last year. Reducing the insured value of my car increased the premium!

Anyway, there may be a law enacted by the end of the year to force insurance companies to tell you why your insurance is going up. It might not tell you much as the current rise in prices might be due to Setanta Insurance going under a few years ago but I don’t think it’s as simple as that.

RSA, who provide motor insurance for 123.ie beat expectations when they announced their profits for 2016. That’s the British arm of the company however.

Operating profit for the year came in at £655m, compared with a company-supplied consensus forecast of £626m.

Unfortunately, the Irish section isn’t doing so well..

Meanwhile, the former chief financial officer of RSA’s Irish business was yesterday fined £35,000 and banned for three years by Britain’s accounting watchdog.

The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) said it had fined Rory O’Connor and banned him for three years from the accounting profession for approving “materially inaccurate” financial statements.

Mr O’Connor also agreed to pay £18,000 towards the watchdog’s legal costs.

RSA said in 2014 that a review of its businesses found that the accounting irregularities were confined to its Irish business, where there had been “inappropriate collaboration” among a small number of executives in Ireland.

It was forced to inject £200m into its Irish business at the time and RSA Insurance Ireland said yesterday it has strengthened its control framework since 2013.

They’ve also had to set aside £50m “to cover the costs of accidents in 2014 and 2015” according to this Irish Times article

RSA Insurance Ireland’s operating loss widened by 62 per cent last year after the country’s once-largest provider of motor and property coverage was forced to set aside £50 million (€59.1 million) of reserves to cover the costs of accidents in 2014 and 2015.
The local subsidiary of London-listed RSA Group posted a £42 million full-year loss compared with a £26 million loss for 2015. The performance was described by the parent as “disappointing”, especially as it had returned last year to writing new business on a profitable basis, as it and the wider industry hiked rates.

We shopped around, and rates from other insurers were comparable. Roll on the electrification of cars and autonomous driving!

Sync and Backup Photos from your Android Phone

I’m a big fan of Android smart phones, but backing up photos or files has always been something that has worried me. Different manufacturers have different backup apps. A Samsung phone uses Samsung Kies, a HTC phone uses HTC Backup. Google offers cloud backup of app data if the app supports it. Google Photos will backup your photos, but they’re compressed even more unless you pay for the service (which is perfectly fair). It’s a mixed bag.

So, I’m going to tell you how I backup my phone photos, and you can do this with (probably) any Android phone. I use FolderSync to move photos off my phone and on to my laptop for safe keeping and permanent storage. I don’t like leaving photos on my phone. The phone fills up and I can’t take any more photos!

FolderSync comes in two flavours, a free lite version, and a paid version. The paid version has a few more features and doesn’t display adverts but you’ll be able to do most things with the free version too. I originally paid for the app so I could use filters but I don’t use them any more.

I love having all my photos available on Google Photos, so after a day of taking photos I’ll keep an eye on that app and wait for everything to be uploaded there. When it’s done, I tap on a “Sync All” icon on my phone and then my photos are copied over to my laptop using the local wifi network and deleted off my phone.
The photos end up in a directory on my laptop called “00-mobile-import” where I’ll point Lightroom at to import the photos. I have a Lightroom import profile for those photos and they get moved to dated folders and tagged appropriately. Lightroom doesn’t support GIFs but every now and again I’ll check that folder and move them to their own area for safe keeping.

Configuring FolderSync can be daunting, but you’ll go through these steps:

  1. Set up an account. This is how you access your laptop or computer. Usually you’ll use a Windows share (SMB/CIFS) but I’ve discovered that Macs use a newer version of that protocol that Android doesn’t understand so I use SFTP (Secure FTP) instead. You’ll want to share a folder or enable SFTP on your computer first of course. You can even backup to Dropbox or other cloud service.
  2. Next up is a folderpair. This is how you connect a folder on your phone with a folder on your computer. You can schedule backups, force the use of a certain wifi network, and change many other options here.
  3. Create a “Sync All” shortcut on your phone launcher.

The FolderSync Help Page is slightly out of date but has lots of screenshots and information about configuring it.

Apart from moving my photos to my laptop, I also use FolderSync to sync a folder of wallpapers from my laptop. I also use it to overcome a bug in Google Photos. I move RAW DNG files out of the default DCIM/Camera folder (to a different folder on my phone) as Google Photos now backs them up but doesn’t realise that the Jpeg files of the same names are the same photo. FolderSync has a feature to watch a folder but it doesn’t work on that particular folder so I manually tap another sync icon before I get home so only the Jpeg files are backed up by Google Photos. My “Sync All” shortcut also moves the DNG files to my laptop, where I delete the duplicate Jpeg files with a script but that’s for another blog post..

Howtogeek has an article on configuring it, and many years ago Android Police gushed about FolderSync, describing it as follows:

Alright, control freaks (otherwise known as “my people”), this one’s for you. FolderSync is a fantastic little app we’ve just discovered that lets users sync folders between local storage and a number of online storage services. The app supports one- or two-way sync and provides a host of settings to tweak the app to all your sync needs.

If you have an Android phone, if you take photos, if you want to back them up, get FolderSync.