It’s Cloudy again

ownCloud on my webserver works just fine. But the obvious snag is that web host companies charge for storage space, and generally charge more than a dedicated cloud storage provider. ownCloud have thought of this and provide a plugin to connect to external storage using various common protocols.

Given that I got into ownCloud because I want to avoid government snoops and US corporates selling my data I want a UK based cloud storage provider that allows access by FTP or SFTP. There are several issues.

A lot of companies with a UK website turn out to be branches of US companies who don’t disclose where there servers are. Many companies provide cheap, even free, storage but only if you use their Windows, Mac or Mobile client software. Won’t link to ownCloud unless you pay for the ‘Pro’ package which often starts at £10/month. I did find one exception, Memset which charges 4p/GB/month. Set up is easy and it links to ownCloud via FTP or SFTP. But I can’t make it accept files.

In desperation I signed up to a 30 day free trial with iWeb. It also uses FTP and connects to ownCloud just like Memset – but it works. This demonstrates to my satisfaction it’s not me or ownCloud at fault, so I’ve filed a support ticket with Memset. I hope they fix it, after 30 days iWeb gets expensive!

The long term plan is to mirror my entire /home/phil directory on ownCloud so I can work anywhere without needing to remember what to copy/backup before I go.

 

Ofcom

Ofcom’s annual report is out, but knowing that most people, even most tech jouralists wouldn’t read it they sent out a media release featuring some simplistic quotes. The one that got all the attention was a bizarre claim that 6 year-olds are more tech savvy than 45 year olds. To make things even more contentious they backed it up with a quiz so that we could all test ourselves.

Most of the questions are subjective and only test opinions. Each has a four option multiple choice format which is very limiting. So I decided to give some real answers:

Thinking about the following gadgets and services – which statement best describes your knowledge and understanding?

4G mobile
Seems like a good idea but coverage is patchy and the service expensive. It’s not available where I live, where I work or anywhere I visit regularly so my failure to use it is not a reflection of my Tech Savvy.

Superfast broadband – internet
I’ve used ADSL since it became available in my area, and 56k dial-up before that. What the UK government (and Oftel) is pleased to describe as Superfast is much slower than that considered normal elsewhere, and even that won’t be available in my area for many years. Once again not my failure, yours.

Smartphone or tablet ‘Apps’
Yes, I have both. Smartphone for over three years, the Tab for more than two. Do I get extra points for rooting the phone within days of purchase, removing the phone companies bloatware and installing Cyanogenmod? No.

Smart glasses such as Google Glass
Yes I’ve heard of them, read about them, seen them online and on TV. Don’t know anyone with a pair.

3D printers
I haven’t used one since 2005 so my experience is a bit out of date, though I have read about new models. They are a bit useless without 3D CAD software though, and using that requires a lot of training and a lot of experience. Very few people in any age group have 3D design skills.

Please tell us how much each of these statements applies to you…

I tell my friends or family about new technology
Sometimes, if I think it’s relevant to their lives. None of my friends are interested in virtualisation though, or NoSQL databases.

I like working out how to use different gadgets
Yes, and sometimes I read the manual too.

I am one of the first to try out new technology
Very much depends on price and availability. I do try out new Linux distros, but have yet to use Windows 8. I didn’t buy a smartphone until the price dropped to under £100 on PAYG.

I like to find out about new technology
Yes, I read a lot of blogs, media reviews and so on.

My friends or family ask what I think about new gadgets
Sometimes. No good asking me what I think about sewing machines, but I do have opinions on cordless drills.

I know how to use lots of gadgets
Too vague. Lots? Do you mean only digital electronic gadgets?

I watch TV shows online (e.g. BBC iPlayer, 4OD)
Yes. And TED, YouTube, Arté

New technology confuses me
All new devices take some getting used to, but if the user interface is well designed they don’t confuse me.

I wouldn’t know what to do without technology
Again, vague. Digital technology, or all? Given a spade I reckon I’d be pretty good as a subsistence farmer but without the backing of a metallurgical industry I’d struggle.

I do lots of different things on the gadgets that I use
Yes, I make bread in the breadmaker and coffee in the cafétiere, not great the other way round though.

I upload photos and videos online (e.g. on Instagram, YouTube)
Never on Instagram, not for many years on YouTube. But I have had a personal website since 2004 and I share files via ownCloud.

I prefer to contact friends by text message than by phone call (e.g. by SMS, BBM, iMessage)
Depends on the contact and the message. SMS is useful for simple Q&A sessions, not good for complex discussions. BBM and iMessage are proprietary and only useful if you and your contact use the same system, which they often do not.

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Once again, sloppy tech journalism supported by sloppy ‘research’ from Ipsos-Mori who really should know better. If you want a thorough piece of writing on a technical subject, contact me.

Back to work

Just finished a piece for Diesel Car about KERS and got plenty more ‘ghost blogging’ to do for a certain IT company. Hoping to get a regular column on Diesel Car / Eco Car, and yesterday at Yr Wyddfa met a guy who’s a lecturer in Environmental Science at UCL, and expert in hydrogen as a fuel. Should be useful…

No More Google

I’m not paranoid, nor a conspiracy theorist, but I do like my privacy. I choose what goes on my website and it’s all business stuff, family life is off limits. Big business doesn’t work like that, they want to know as much as possible about everyone because they think it makes it easier to sell things to us. Google is way out in front on this, so I’ve decided to opt out of all things Google, no more Gmail, Google+, Docs, Maps or Play. Read the full story here.

ownCloud (2)

SSL certificates being expensive I discovered that my web host offers a ‘shared SSL’ system. Basically the hosting company pays for secure site on https, sets up pages for it’s customers, then forwards to the customer’s page.

So I got a secure link to my ownCloud free. Setting up was fairly simple, but then I’m a bit of a geek who enjoys fiddling around with anything techie, if you’re not, then stick with Dropbox or similar.

ownCloud has Contacts and Calendar apps that now sync with my (Kubuntu) desktop and Android phone and Tab. The calendar even syncs with my wife’s iPad so she can tell me what I’m doing.

There’s a ‘Docs’ app too that so far only allows you to edit .odt files, which is fine for me because I use LibreOffice on the desktop, but might bug MS users. There are plans to add other ODF formats such as spreadsheets and presentations in due course, and being open source there is a completely open API for developers to create their own apps.

Want your Own Cloud?

‘The Cloud’ has been the hot new thing for a few years now, the average home user or small business probably has no idea what this means, but if you use for example Dropbox to sync files across several devices, or send large files to other people, then you’re using ‘The Cloud’. Likewise photo sharing sites and off site backup systems. Earlier this month (Dec 2013) IT security expert Graham Cluely blogged:

“Replacing all instances of the word “cloud” with “somebody else’s computer” might make organisations stop and think about the security implications of cloud computing.”

Certainly made me think. And being interested in free open source software I went searching for a ‘cloud’ I could keep under my control. There are several options:

1. Keep all your data on your own machine(s) on your own property (or properties). That is a different kind of risk, I have several machines, but they are all on the same property so a disaster could easily wipe out the lot.

2. Enter into an agreement with a friend to provide each other with off-site backup facility. It’s feasible but PCs on ADSL don’t make great servers, and you have to trust your friend to run a tight ship and not muck about with your data. It would to difficult to use for synchronizing mobile devices.

3. Use space provided by a webhost company. Of course we’re back to trusting “somebody else’s computer” but at least it’s a server you control.

So option 3 it is then. I already have a domain (this one) hosted by Perfect Hosts so I created a sub-domain on it and install OwnCloud, free open source cloud software. In addition to off site storage OwnCloud has the ability to sync calendars, photos and other data across all your devices.

Installation is a breeze, but then I got stopped in my tracks because to keep things secure OwnCloud expects your webserver to offer https (with an ‘s’ for security on the end) and that relies on you having an SSL certificate, which is expensive. Fortunately Perfect Hosts offer the use of a shared certificate free of charge, but it’s Christmas and it’s a small company so I’ll have to wait. More later…