Title photo
frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair

Regular blog here, 'microblog' there

Many of my traditional blog post live on this site, but a great majority of my social-style posts can be found on my much-busier microbloging site at updates.passthejoe.net. It's busier because my BlogPoster "microblogging" script generates short, Twitter-style posts from the Linux or Windows (or anywhere you can run Ruby with too many Gems) command line, uploads them to the web server and send them out on my Twitter and Mastodon feeds.

I used to post to this blog via scripts and Unix/Linux utilities (curl and Unison) that helped me mirror the files locally and on the server. Since this site recently moved hosts, none of that is set up. I'm just using SFTP and SSH to write posts and manage the site.

Disqus comments are not live just yet because I'm not sure about what I'm going to do for the domain on this site. I'll probably restore the old domain at first just to have some continuity, but for now I like using the "free" domain from this site's new host, NearlyFreeSpeech.net.

Thu, 07 Feb 2019

Syncthing allows you to host your own file-syncing service WITHOUT A SERVER and leave Dropbox, Google and Microsoft out of it

If this works, I will eat my hat and maybe six other hats. Not only does the open-source Syncthing allow you to sync files between any number of computers running any number of operating systems (including Windows, Mac, Linux and ALL of the BSDs), it does this WITHOUT NEEDING A SERVER. The client software appears to handle the whole thing.

If I understand it correctly, the clients "talk" to each other, and there is no server or cloud service to maintain or pay for.

If this works, it looks like you can replace Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Box, and any number of cloud-based services that cost money and very likely don't work on your non-Windows/Mac hardware.

I give Dropbox extreme credit for always having a Linux client and not being a total and complete hypocrite like Google, who build their entire infrastructure off of Linux, give their developers Linux computers, base Chrome OS on Linux yet can't be bothered to release a Linux client for their consumer/business storage service. I'm not expecting Microsoft to release a Linux client for OneDrive, but Google? Come on!

Right now I use Dropbox, but I wish I had many alternatives. I like SpiderOak, and they do offer a Linux client, so that's a service to consider.

NextCloud and the project that spawned it, OwnCloud, offer a store-your-own file setup, and they do offer Linux clients.

But since I've been playing around with OpenBSD again, it would be nice to be able to sync to that OS, and the lack of Dropbox compatibility has kept me from fully using OpenBSD. Syncthing does offer OpenBSD software, and it would be great to have that capability.

If Syncthing lives up to the hype, it'll be the world's biggest game-changer for me. But how CAN it work if all of the client computers aren't turned on simultaneously? That's something I'll have to figure out. Maybe you do need one client computer set up and running all of the time to make this a true syncing service. That's where a Raspberry Pi with a huge hard drive come in, right?

So what about hosting your own syncing "service"? It sounds very attractive, and with Syncthing, I can see myself doing it.

Major aside: I recently started thinking about using the Linux desktop more, and that led me back to OpenBSD, which is generally more fun, and good on you if that's a thing you (like me on occasion) associate with computer operating systems. I hesitate to call it a sickness, but I won't say anything if you do. I set up OpenBSD 6.4 on my old HP laptop, where I can easily swap hard drives in and out, and so far it's been fun and educational. I even got the JVM working, so I can develop in Java. I need to try something with JavaFX. If I can get a Java GUI to pop up in OpenBSD, that will be something. My blogPoster Ruby script also works on OpenBSD.

Syncthing is flexible: There are Syncthing packages for all of the BSDs, even Dragonfly, and many Linux architectures, including ARM, MIPS, PowerPC and even s390x.

Answers to some Syncthing questions: Sam Schlinkert has a post that answers some of my questions, including the one on whether setting up a Raspberry Pi can help Syncthing do its thing.

Wed, 30 May 2018

Mind-blowing Vim tip: Ctrl-[ is esc

As I'm reading through Evan Klitzke's excellent blog, I came across Esc is Ctrl-[.

One of Vim's quirks is that it's a modal editor, and you switch from edit mode (where you're typing things) to command mode by hitting the esc key, which on most keyboards is the upper-leftmost key on the keyboard.

Lots of Vim/vi users map esc to a ctrl key, but Evan says that ctrl-[ is a default equivalent of esc.

He's right. Try it.

I'm not sure if ctrl-[ will replace esc in my future, but it very well might.

If you think of using your keyboard like a that of a musician -- and when text editing, I think this is a very valid comparison -- think of how you type.

I do touch type -- I learned it on manual typewriters at U.S. Grant High School in the San Fernando Valley back in the day. I can't remember if I took one semester or two, but it was enough to give me a lifelong ability that I use every day-- and heavily.

But when it comes to things like esc keys or ctrl sequences, pre-computer touch-typing doesn't really help.

So here's the deal: I use my left-hand ring finger (or 3rd finger in guitar-fingering parlance) to hit the esc (as well as the backtick key below it. I can generally find esc fairly well, though I have to look much of the time to get the backtick.

But ctrl-[ is a little harder to type. I use the left-ctrl with my left pinky finger (aka 4th finger), and it looks like I'll have to hit the [ with my right pinky finger (or maybe 3rd finger). That's a funky stretch for my right hand. I may be able to get used to it, but the question is whether it's easier or faster than stabbing for esc with my left hand's 3rd finger.

In any case, having an esc alternative in Vim without any configuration is a nice feature.

Wed, 04 Apr 2018

Using Vim in my project has really helped my skills in that editor

Using Vim in my project has really helped my skills in that editor. That's what working with a couple dozen small Vim files per day will do for you.

I had to ssh into a server yesterday and set up a small script and a cron job, and I could feel how different that process was now that I can do more with Vim.

I can move around in files much more easily, and I know the basics of copy/move/paste, which is more than I could say before.

Clojure is trying to push me in the Emacs direction, and maybe I could get comfortable with that editor, but the universality of Vim/Vi is hard to ignore.

Mon, 29 Jan 2018

Use an .htaccess rewrite to force trailing slashes at the end of URLs

I'm looking into this very thing -- using .htaccess to force trailing slashes at the end of URLs requested on the Apache web server.

Stack Overflow may have the answer:

RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteRule ^(.*)([^/])$        /$1/ [L,R=301]

As SO user jeffbyrnes says,

The RewriteCond will check to make sure there's no files with that name, and if not, perform the RewriteRule. More future-proof than having a manual list of extensions!

I don't have time right now to hack this onto a server, but I will for sure be giving it a try.

Thu, 14 Dec 2017

How to set file permissions from within Vim

I tried this, and it works: How to set file permissions from within Vim | Stack Overflow.

An example. In Vim's command mode:

:call setfperm("foo.txt","rw-r--r--")

It's probably easier to just do this in the Bash shell, but it can be done from within Vi/Vim.

In Bash (to make the files rw-r--r--):

chmod 644 foo.txt

I usually do all the .txt files in the directory (because I generally want text files to be 644, which is rw-r--r--):

chmod 644 *.txt
Wed, 15 Nov 2017

New Firefox is the real deal but hasn't beaten Chrome yet

The new Firefox -- version 57 -- is being touted as faster then ever, with the unspoken message being, "if you do serious work in the web browser, you no longer have to use Google Chrome to avoid pulling your hair out."

I've been testing the new Firefox all morning, and I can say that's pretty much true. That said, there are still some design choices -- and I'm talking about how multiple tabs are handled -- where Chrome still wins. And after a morning of use, Chrome still retains a performance edge.

It didn't used to be a contest. When I used to run Firefox with multiple tabs open, it was a prescription for pain. But with the new Firefox, none of the performance issues I had with previous versions of Firefox are bothering me. I have my usual 15 or so tabs open, and I am able to switch between them with no lag and no blank screens. Nothing is freezing, which means everything is moving. Once my session "aged" a bit, I noticed a lag when trying to select text on a web page for copying. But I could still switch between tabs and start new ones with no trouble and no loss of speed.

About the only complaint I have is an old one: When you have more than, say, 15 tabs open in Firefox, you have to scroll to see them all. In Google Chrome, the tabs just keep getting smaller and smaller, and you can always see them all in your browser window. That's one thing that Chrome still does better -- for me, anyway.

But the fact that Firefox is no longer a performance nightmare compared to Chrome and is once again a viable alternative is huge. Google has much too big a piece of all of our pies to not have Firefox as a backstop against monopoly.

I've already been using the Firefox browser (the privacy version) on my Android phone, where it has been performing well for months. I can't tell a difference between it and the built-in Chrome, with the possible exception being that the Firefox browser is optimized to prevent spying and Chrome is very much not.

I hope Mozilla takes the browser where it needs to go -- performance equal to or better than Google Chrome. We really need the diversity in desktop and mobile browsing that Mozilla brings to a world where Google is the major player and Microsoft and Apple try to snare users of their platforms with each company's own in-house browser.

Things with Mozilla have been awkward. Company CEO (and JavaScript inventor) Brendan Eich's ouster over his anti-gay-marriage activism was the beginning of a very dark period for the non-profit entity.

With all the publicity of how much money Mozilla was getting from Google for search placement, any calls for donations from Mozilla were met (from me anyway) with a "how could they??" Even now, I'd like a bevy of compelling reasons for supporting Mozilla, financially and otherwise. A renewed Firefox that's going places, along with the Rust programming language that at least partly makes that possible is one. Advocacy for an open Web not controlled by "not evil" (in their own mind) corporations is another.

But that brings me back to the financials. Is Mozilla worthy of our money? Does it even need it? I applaud their efforts to bring Firefox back from the dead. It was basically killed by Google Chrome for sheer performance reasons, and Firefox's "return" has been delayed for years, it seems.

If I haven't said it already, we need Firefox, and we need Mozilla in its role as advocate and innovator. I will be using Firefox more, and since I haven't used it at all for the past few years, that should be easy. The open Web is important, but so is a more open world for the mobile devices and networks that have dwarfed "traditional" computer use over the past five or so years.

Mozilla tried to address this with Firefox OS, which failed fairly spectacularly. When the Firefox browser itself also fell behind, that was another ominous sign, and hopefully this week's release is the beginning of a new era for critical software that isn't controlled by an enormous company intent on making money by selling its users to bidders high and low alike.

Tue, 18 Jul 2017

At least on Windows 10 in 2017, OpenShot is (mostly) useless

I knew that OpenShot was never the absolute "best" video editing application out there, but it was free, it mostly wworked and, more importantly, I knew how to use it.

I ran OpenShot in Fedora Linux for a few years and made dozens of servicable videos on it.

Going from Version 1 to Version 2 was supposed to open (pun not intended) a new era for OpenShot, but instead it made the program unusable. Once OpenShot crossed into 2.x territory, I had plenty of problems with dependencies in Linux, and now that I'm on Windows 10 and there is a version for that platform, it does install but can't seem to do anything complex or even export a simple video without crashing.

So I'm casting (pun not intended) for new video-editing solutions. On the table are KDEnlive for Linux and anything proprietary on Windows that my company will buy me.

Not on the table unless I get super desperate is Blender. It just looks too damn complicated to do just about anything with that application.

So what do you think I should go for? At this point, I'm looking at remaining on Windows, but I do have a Linux laptop that I can dedicate to video editing if it comes to that.

Update: I was able to output a video on my new laptop with OpenShot 2.3.1. I have 2.3.4 on my Windows 7 desktop. I hope updating on the laptop won't break the program.

Further update: The .mp4 produced by OpenShot wouldn't upload successfully to YouTube.

Tue, 04 Jul 2017

Mozilla convinced me to try Firefox Focus for Android

I'm on Mozilla's mailing list, and they sent me an e-mail about the Firefox Focus browser being available for Android and how it enhances privacy and speeds up browsing by blocking ads.

I'm not one to add browsers to my phone. All of my previous Android phones were storage-challenged, and I could barely keep them running with a bare minimum of apps, so adding browsers just wasn't something I would even consider. And I did add Firefox once, and it took up a LOT of space.

But part of the come-on for Firefox Focus was that it was small and would take up no more than 4 MB of space on the phone.

I have the space for bigger apps on my 16 GB phone. And I know that 32 GB is considered small these days, but I try to pay or less for a phone, and that means 16 GB of internal storage. Maybe a 32 GB phone will cross into my price range during this year's Black Friday. (We try to get a Black Friday phone deal in the sub- every year for the whole family, and I aim to double the phone's internal storage, or I won't do it. We went from 512 MB to 4 GB to 8 to 16 over the past four or five years. The fact that my phones are always storage-challenged has made me reluctant to install apps in general and redundant apps in particular, though with the 16 GB I am loosening up.)

The short version of all this is that I installed Firefox Focus, which has been available for iOS longer and is a recent addition to Android.

It is fast. It is also minimal. No tabs, no bookmarks. It puts up a notification as soon as you use it to forget its history. This all factors into the privacy and the speed. If it keeps me from being tracked in some way, so much the better.

I'm not ready to make it my default browser in Android, but I will continue to use it and follow its development.

Ethical dilemma: My livelihood is supported by websites that sell advertising, and I am somewhat unsettled by major applications that block ads by default. On the other hand, I'm disturbed by the amount of information that is collected, the extent of tracking and the unknowing intrusions into privacy that are all rampant in the service of targeting ads. I'm very, very close to supporting my favored news sources with subscriptions and taking advertising (or at least any guilt over blocking it) out of that portion of my personal media consumption. Plus I'm not blocking ads on any other platforms (principally Google Chrome on Android, Windows and Linux).

But: Am I feeling sorry -- in any way, shape or form -- for Google and Facebook and any revenue they may lose? No. They are doing more than fine as they leverage the hard work of others in order to make billions they don't share, giving "users," be they individuals or companies nothing beyond their "free" service.

Sign of the times: The fact that major applications tout ad-blocking as a key feature says a lot about where the Internet is today, i.e. not in a good place. I fear that the display-ad economy is a false one that will leave many disappointed, crushing labor-intensive news organizations under its fickle, giant-favoring boot.

Mon, 16 Jan 2017

There is an rsync for Windows, and it works

I've been meaning to look into backup solutions for Windows, and while there should eventually be a full Ubuntu Linux shell coming to Windows 10, it's not there yet unless you tweak things that I can't ask other users to do.

So I figured that when the Linux shell comes to Windows, I'll use rsync, the Unix/Linux backup utility I've been using for years.

I just found out that there's already an rsync port to Windows called cwRsync that you can pay for, with a free command-line-only edition available for download.

Since I use rsync on the command line in Linux, why do I need the GUI in Windows? I don't.

So I downloaded it, unzipped it all, put my rsync command into the cwrsync Windows Command Script file, and it worked right out of the box.

So far my tests have been small ones that haven't involved ssh into remote servers (I do backups to USB hard drives anyway), but I am very confident that cwRsync will work well for full Windows user-file backups. Plus it's free and nobody's going to bug you about buying anything ever.

Tue, 11 Oct 2016

I am trying Shutter as my GNOME screenshot program

Since the GNOME screenshot program is very broken, at least in my installation of GNOME, I decided to try Shutter, the Linux screenshot program written in Perl and seemingly aimed at GNOME users.

Shutter has a lot of options, and so far I can get it to work.

Going back to the beginning, why is the GNOME screenshot program broken in my GNOME installation? I have no idea.

When I hit the print-screen key, nothing at all happens. If I bind it to alt-p, I get the "shutter" sound, and a PNGJPG image appears in my Photos folder. Even if I go into gconf settings to modify just about everything, calling the screenshot program from the keyboard produces the same resultwon't allow me to change the target directory.

But if I hit the super key (or mouse into the hot corner), then search for Screenshot and run it, I get the full GNOME Screenshot window to open, and it has all of my configuration options (JPG instead of PNG, choose my own directory/folder). Why can't I make this work from the keyboard -- from print-screen or any other keyboard shortcut?

I've dwelled on GNOME Screenshot enough. Now I'm going to see if Shutter can do what I need. Or I can just use Xfce, where the screenshot program works like it's supposed to -- with the print-screen key. Why is this so hard, GNOME people?

Update: After using Shutter once (I have it bound to alt-P), the icon sits in my upper panel. I can then take a screenshot by clicking the icon. Easy.

Speaking of panels in the panel-less GNOME (where not having things appears to be a "feature"), I do have a panel in the form of the TopIcons, Places Status Indicator and Applications Menu extensions. And yes, it is not a good thing that what many consider core funtionality can only be implemented through Extensions that aren't part of the GNOME 3 core.

More GNOME Extensions: I just added Frippery Panel Favorites to make the upper panel on my GNOME 3 desktop even more GNOME 2-like.