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Setting up the Backup Software

Story location: Home / computing /
15/Oct/2007

Read Part 1.

Part 2

On the Desktop Computer

Setting up the FTP server was straightforward. After installing the programme, select the User Manager and click 'New' to add a new user.

See more ....
Setting up the FTP Server
You'll need to:

  • Set the password. If the computer is behind a firewall and can't be reached from outside, it'll be safe to set it to blank.
  • Add a 'root' directory. This will be the directory where the files to be synchronised are. The name used on the FTP server doesn't have to relate to the actual name on the computer.
  • Don't forget to give the remote user access to the directory by clicking on it and selecting read/write/create permissions.

On the Laptop

Setting up the SyncBack software was slightly more complicated, due to the extra options available. From the Profiles menu, select 'New' and choose 'Synchronisation'.
Setting up SyncBack
Give the profile a sensible name, then click 'OK'. The profile settings box should appear. Click on Expert to open up more options.
Setting up SyncBack
The 'Source' directory is the directory on the computer which is to be synchronised with the server. The 'Destination' is the directory name we chose on the FTP server. Most of the other settings can be left as they are, apart from the FTP tab.

After typing in all the details, it would be sensible to do a few tests first. Clicking on Test FTP Settings will check whether the serve is reachable. After making all the changes and clicking OK, SyncBack will do a 'test' run to see what files will be transferred.

Once everything is set up, it's only a few mouse clicks to synchronise the data between the two computers. This could be speeded up by telling SyncBack to always run the profile every time you double click on the icon. To do this, right-click on the desktop shortcut and select 'Preferences'. Add the name of the profile after the application name (in this case, work). When the icon is double-clicked, SyncBack will run the profile and then exit.
Running a profile on startup

The only potential problem I can foresee is that a file deleted from one computer but not both will re-appear after synchronising.



Synchronise Files between two computers

Story location: Home / computing /
14/Oct/2007

Part 1

I have been given a laptop computer for work but when I work at home I sometimes use my home desktop computer. I decided I needed some way of synchronising files between the two machines, so that I could easily keep both up to date.

Both machines have Bluetooth, which I could use to transfer the odd file manually, but I decided I needed something I could automate. All of the bluetooth syncing software I could find was designed for transferring between a computer and a phone, not between 2 computers.

I found other solutions which expected the files to be on a networked drive, but would keep local copies available for editing. I can't change the network settings on my work computer so it would be tricky for me to set up something like that.

See more ....

The only solution I could think of was to use FTP to copy the files between the machines. One computer would run an FTP server while the other would run some sort of backup software which would synchronise the files.

I found 2 programmes which looked suitable:

  1. Cerberus FTP Server. I'd used this a few years ago and it was fairly easy to set up.
  2. SyncBack. This comes in free and paid-for versions. The free version seemed to do everything I needed.

Both the programmes were fairly straightforward to install. Then came the tricky bits - setting up the computers to talk to each other.

Both computers can access the Internet through our router, and both would normally get assigned automatic IP addresses. I needed a fixed name or address to use, so that the laptop could find the server, so I set the desktop machine to request a fixed IP address from the router. I did this by opening the 'Wireless Network Connection Status' in windows by double-clicking on the wireless network icon which Windows places in the 'tray' in the taskbar. Clicking on 'Properties' then 'Internet Protocol (TCP/IP)' then 'Properties' again got me to a screen where I could specify an IP address.
Specify an IP Address
IP addresses on my network start at 192.168.1.1 for the router and .1.2 onwards for any computers. I chose .1.9 because it's unlikely that we would have 8 computers connected, so that address should always be free.

Read Part 2.



Spam Ahoy

Story location: Home / computing /
19/Sep/2007

When I check my email this morning, I was surprised to find 64 emails sitting there wanting attention. I was more surprised to find that most of these were 'delivery failure' notices, all from emails which I hadn't sent. Even more surprising was that these were all send during a brief time window between 21:51 and 21:59.

I hope nobody out there is receiving junk email from this domain, but I can assure everyone that I'm not sending any out myself. This is most likely due to spammers inserting my domain as the 'from' address. Some information about the problem can be found here.



Why is Windows Search so crap?

Story location: Home / computing /
25/Jul/2007

I've opened an Explorer window to a directory with several thousand files in it. I need to find a particular group of files so I click on 'Search' and tell it to search for files with a particular set of numbers in the filename.

Now Windows already has all the file names because it has displayed them in the directory window. You would expect any decent program do be able to do this search in a millionth of a second and filter the directory listing to show the files. After all, it already knows the file names and I told it only to look in the one directory.

After a minute or so, the useless pile of crap is still searching. I ended up stopping it and looking for the files myself, which was much quicker. I would like to know what Windows XP was actually doing during that minute - it could have indexed the whole drive in that time.

This was a networked drive with a very deep directory structure so I couldn't have easily navigated to it in the command prompt. And I was using a company computer so I couldn't install anything like the useful 'Open Command Prompt Here' powertool from Microsoft themselves. How hard would it have been for them to put some kind of 'filter filenames' option in Explorer? Something like the 'select files' command in WinZip, which allows wildcards to let you specify which files you want.

What we really need is something that combines the bits of windows which work with the bits of linux which are better... and probably end up with something like Mac OSX.



Apple Store

Story location: Home / computing /
05/Jul/2007

Earlier this week, Apple Computers advertised a hard drive at about one tenth it's intended price. As you would expect, a lot of people placed orders. Apple realised their mistake and decided to change the orders without telling anyone.

The original order said:

Iomega 1TB Value Series Hard Drive with USB 2.0 Interface
TM258ZM/A £16.98 1 £16.98

but a few days later they strangely changed to:

DYMO LABELWRITER LARGE ADDRESS LABEL-ZML
TM258ZM/A £1.00 1 £1.00

The product code was the same but the price and description had changed. There was nothing on the page to explain what was happening. A phone call to the Apple Store revealed that they admitted their mistake and were cancelling the orders. It was a whole day before an email was received explaining the situation, in fairly patronising terms:

Dear Apple Store Customer,

We regret to inform you that your recent order for the Iomega 1TB Value Series Hard Drive. Which you placed on the online Apple Store has not been accepted.

Due to a temporary inaccurate pricing issue on the store, the price of the product was listed incorrectly as £19.95. Whereas the correct online Apple Store price is £199.95 i.e. the listed price was approximately 10% of the correct price.

We would like to draw your attention to clauses 2.4 and 2.5 of the Apple Online Store Terms and Conditions under which if Apple cannot accept your Order, we will contact you.

Furthermore, we would like to draw your attention to clause 2.6 of the Apple Online Store Terms and Conditions under which Apple reserves the right to cancel your order in case of a price error on the Apple Online Store.

We understand the inconvenience that this pricing inaccuracy may have caused you, and we sincerely apologize.

Kind Regards,

The Apple Store

The wording of the T&Cs was obviously chosen to allow them to weasel out of any such mistakes - they must have learnt from the mistakes of others, such as when Argos advertised a £300 television for £3. Apple aren't breaking any laws but they probably won't win any new friends this way. I'm not suggesting they should honour all the orders and sell the hard drives at such a giveaway price, but some other goodwill gesture would have been better than just an apology which was worded to make the customer sound like they were being told off.



RSS feed

Story location: Home / welcome /
30/Dec/2006

I've added an rss feed to the website. I originally set it up a few weeks ago so my facebook profile could pick up blog entries but I've now added the appropriate code so that firefox can automatically pick up the feed. It's still a bit experimental at the moment. I'll add a button to the sidebar as soon as I'm sure it works properly. In the meantime, the link is here:

RSS Feed Entire Site.
RSS Feed Diary only.



Poor Mans Video iPod

Story location: Home / computing /
10/Oct/2006

About a month ago I changed my phone to the Nokia 6280. It's got a bigger screen than my old phone. Last night I was on the train home and the bloke sitting next to me was watching a tv programme on a video ipod. The screen was a similar size to my phone's so I wondered if I could use it to watch things on.

The software CD which came with the phone had the latest version of the Nokia PC Suite. The media viewer part of the suite allows you to view mpg or avi files and save them in a format suitable for the phone. I tried it and it seems to work ok. The playback on the phone didn't let me fast forward or rewind within a video file but the video quality on screen was good. If I restrict myself to 20-25 minute shows or split larger programmes into shorter segments then I should be able to watch videos on my way to and from work.



Storylog and Storyfilter plugins updated

Story location: Home / computing / blosxom /
17/Sep/2006

I have updated the Storylog (v0.29) and Storyfilter (v0.39) plugins for Blosxom. Both now include file locking so there should be no problems with simultaneous access to a site causing file corruption any more.

Storylog now includes an ignore list for URLs and user agents so search engine hits can be ignored so they won't affect the 'most popular clicks' list.

Storyfilter now has the option to generate a list of all keywords, which is useful for site maps. This requires the line
meta-showkeywords: yes
to be included at the start of the story and fills the $storyfilter::allkeywords variable with the list.

Both plugins can be downloaded here.



Microsoft Outlook

Story location: Home / computing /
20/Jun/2006

Why does Microsoft Outlook uses Control-F as a keyboard shortcut to 'Forward message' rather than 'Find'? I was trying to search for some text in an email and it kept opening up a message window instead of giving me the find box. There was nothing on the 'Edit' menu either. I eventually found it but I had to open up the message in a separate window and press F4. I almost always read emails in the 'preview' pane because it is so much quicker and easier. The extra step of opening a new window was just unnecessary and annoying.



How not to write a website

Story location: Home / computing /
12/Jun/2006

A colleague in work was trying to log into a website but it wouldn't accept her password. She clicked on the Can't Login? link to see what options were available. This took her to the bug reporting screen which required her to log in first! All rather stupid but she did manage to log in in the end.

That's not the only thing wrong with the website but possibly the silliest thing is to do with the meta tags in the <head> section of the web pages. The meta keywords tag is often used to help search engines index the pages. The only page which is visible to a search engine is the 'log in' screen but this doesn't have the meta tags. These are on the pages which can only be reached after logging in, where they would be invisible to a search engine. Even better than that is the list of keywords. This starts off sensible enough but ends with "Add more here....".



Spam

Story location: Home / computing /
27/May/2006

I've noticed a huge increase in spam recently both to my email and comment spam. Thankfully the spam protection on the comments field has managed to stop most of it from appearing on this site. Looking at the server logs it appears that over 200 spam comments have been prevented in the last few weeks.

Thankfully I don't get anywhere near that much spam email, but what does make it through is often quite surreal. Recent messages have had the following subject lines:

  • runaway cottage cheese
  • madreporic tubercle
  • Your family, winking cartilage


Silent Texts

Story location: Home / computing /
16/May/2006

Yesterday morning, whenever I received a text message it would silently sneak into the inbox without my phone (nokia 6630) playing the 'text message arriving' alert. This afternoon it wouldn't even receive any. I checked the phone settings but they looked ok. I hadn't changed any recently so I couldn't see what the problem was. I could still send messages and send and receive phone calls.

This morning I put the sim card in my old phone and 8 new text messages arrived. A lot of them were 'test' messages I sent myself yesterday but some were actual messages which I should have had.

Tonight I put the sim back the phone with the intention of backing up my data and resetting the phone. The battery had been out of the phone all day and when I switched it back on it asked me for the time, date and my timezone. I sent myself another 'test' text message and to my surprise it arrived ok. Having the battery out of the phone seemed to be all the 'resetting' it needed.



Error 404 in Japanese

Story location: Home / computing /
13/Mar/2006

Found while searching for info about computer memory. I clicked on the 'translate this' link next to a japanese language page which google found for me.


There is no excuse, but the file which corresponds to the URL which is
appointed existence was not present in this server.
You can think the cause below.

    * Type mistake of URL
    * Link of the page has not stretched normally
    * It is deleted by code violation and the like


Wireless Router gone kaput

Story location: Home / computing /
10/Mar/2006

Yesterday, our wireless router died. We didn't get chance to take a look at it because we ended up going out to Wing Wah for an all-you-can-eat buffet, which was kind a spur of the moment decision.

Tonight on my way home from work I popped into the Birmingham branch of Maplins to buy a multimeter. I tested the power supply and it turned out to be dead. We went to the Coventry branch of Maplins to buy a suitable replacement. We ended up spending £20 instead of £45 it would have cost to buy a new router.

We suspect that the old power supply overheated (and the router itself would get very hot) so we now use a timer plug as well, so the router is turned off for a couple of hours each night.



How to stop neighbours stealing your internet bandwidth

Story location: Home / computing /
25/Feb/2006

When we first set up our wireless network, everything seemed to be ok. It was when everything seemed to slow down that we started to look into wireless security.

1. MAC Address filtering

This was the first thing we tried - by giving the router a list of the MAC addresses of our computers, it was supposed to allow them to connect but refuse connection for all other machines. Unfortunately, due to a bug in the router itself, it kept disconnecting us, forcing us to reset the router each time (this only affected the router when it was set to use 802.11g. It worked ok with 'b' only).

To find the MAC address of your computer on Windows XP, open a command window and type: ipconfig /all The MAC address is listed as 'Physical Address'.

2. Broadcast SSID

With this enabled, the router is telling the entire world (well, the bits that are within range) that there is a wireless access point available, and come over and steal our bandwidth. With this disabled, a computer needs to know the name of the network before it can connect to it.

The first thing to do is to change the name of the network. The default name in the router might be the model number or router type, which would be easy to guess and not at all secure. After that, disable the 'Broadcast SSID' (or ESSID) option. The chances are that your computer will now have been disconnected (unless you're being sensible and making these changes while physically connected using a good old fashioned network cable).

The next step is to let Windows know the name of the wireless network so it can connect. If the wireless card's own software is managing the connection, there should be an option somewhere to specify the network's name. Otherwise, you'll need to open the Wireless Network Connection icon, click on Properties and then select the Wireless Networks tab. From there you can add a new network and provide the SSID.

3. Encryption

This is the most secure method - it will stop people connecting to your network and will also prevent anyone from evesdropping on your data.
Again, this is a two stage process: Setting encryption on the router and then on each computer which needs to connect. The exact method will vary from one router to another but one of the standard methods is WEP or Wired Equivalent Privacy. On the router, select WEP 128 bit. You'll then need to provide the 128 bit key - either by typing in a series of hexadecimal numbers or by providing a word of phrase and having the key generated for you. Whichever method you use, you'll need to make a note of the key before clicking 'OK'.

In Windows XP, the encryption settings are in the same dialog box where the SSID was specified above. Network Authentication needs to be 'Open' and Data Encryption needs to be 'WEP'. Then type the encryption key in the boxes and click OK. With any luck, you'll have a nice secure wireless network.