drop dropbox

For some time now, I’ve been evaluating dropbox. From time to time, I need to be able to store a file and have it available at another location in a synced fashion. First some history.
Before Dropbox, I was (ab)using gmail through the firefox gspace plugin, but, 1) you need firefox 2) you pollute your mail space 3) it’s buggy and bloated 4) but still doesn’t have all features I want. The reason I chose gspace back in the day, was because it was presumably cross platform through use of the firefox platform. That turned out to become limited functionality and eventually useless at all (may be fixed by now). It had also issues with having your gmail open in a tab at the same time. So I looked for an alternative and dropbox seemed promising.

My requirements for a ‘online storage’ solution are:

  • cross platform native clients: to allow sharing between work and home computers.
  • web interface: when you’re in the wild at someone else’s computer where you don’t want to install a client.
  • corporate-proof: can operate from behind different types of proxies.
  • server-side backup: when you accidentally overwrite a file from another location, or when syncing fails to do the right thing.

My nice-to-have’s are:

  • revision history: same as server-side backup but extended to multiple backups.
  • desktop integration: status overlay (aka tortoise stuff), context menu to perform web actions, for example, revert to some revision, make public, …
  • exclusion filters: handy when you don’t want your lock or temp files (due to editing) to be uselessly synced all the time.

Dropbox seemed to fulfill all my wishes except exclusion filters. Until recently. 🙂 At work, when I resume after suspend, the client doesn’t automatically sync back to the server (this can also be a proxy issue here at work, but it doesn’t work anymore and there’s nothing I can do about it, i.e. it’s closed source). But there are other things that bug me: 1) explorer integration is slow but not optional. So you have to live with it. 2) The (windows) client feels sluggish and quite heavy to load. 3) Linux client always lags behind and the desktop integration is only for gnome. Linux users had to wait long for a release, but even now, they are not treated very well. Then of course, there is the whole discussion of dropbox being closed source but the front-end part being open source, confusing people all around. 🙂 They give the impression they care about the linux users and open source, but in reality, they can’t make it true. In fact, I have no problem using a closed client, but it has to work very well then. 😉
Dropbox has free and paid accounts. The free accounts are limited to 2GB storage and only 30 days history. No problem for me.
So up until recently, I was quite happy with dropbox, but since the windows client fails to reconnect after resume and the linux fails to start, I guess I’m counting its last days. 🙂

If anyone knows a decent cross-platform alternative, please let me know.

But it did raise that thought again in my head: why not try to start an open source online storage sharing solution? Is it so hard? Why does it not exist yet? Of course, I’m not targetting a system which can take loads and loads of people uploading their latest torrents to share with the rest of the family *rolling eyes* 😉 But simply, you know, some system that can handle a few accounts (or even just private) which you can install on your own server and offers basic syncing functionality with some better-than-dumb compression/file-diffing mechanism. Personally, I also wouldn’t need fancy public web sharing like photogalleries and the like, so…

Maybe I’m missing something? 🙂

Thumbs.db viewer

Sometimes when images get accidentally deleted, even the thumbnails are already useful to view and might save you a recover operation. As you know, windows creates a hidden thumbs.db file in every directory where you viewed an image in thumbnail mode. When the file gets deleted, windows does not like to clean up (no surprise here), so you can still view them.
I found this nice free tool which simply does the job (.net framework required).

thumbs.db viewer

Securing mysql

Everyone knows, first thing you have to do after installing mysql, is setting its root password. I used to do this using the mysqladmin tool like this:

/usr/bin/mysqladmin -u root password 'new-password'

For starters, you should not forget to do the same command for your other host names (-h option), but also there are still some other tasks like disabling anonymous access and removing the test databases. Today, having another mysql install, I noticed that the install script mentions this neat tool packaged with mysql to do just all that. 🙂

Just run /usr/bin/mysql_secure_installation and you’re done!

Van Dale dictionaries on linux

After several rant mails to the Vandale publishers house, I finally gave in/up. About a year ago, I complained that I couldn’t buy a linux version of my favorite Dutch dictionaries (not that there is a choice when it comes to digital Dutch dictionaries). Online dictionaries don’t cut it for me, I always need the words (or expressions) that free online ones don’t provide. 😉 The answer was that there does not exist a linux version. So I asked when the linux version would be released. The communication stalled but apparently it got escalated and I got an answer by another person telling me there was no linux version planned, however he was delighted to announce the availability of a Mac version within only 3 months!

You know this smiley banging its head against the wall? That’s me, banging my head… How can they be so stupid to port to another platform and not take cross-platform toolkits into account?? I couldn’t help myself, so I started to lecture “cross-platform 101”. 😉 I am not sure if I was able to get through to him, but I hope at least a few fragments stuck in his mind. 🙂

In the meantime, they do have a mac version. I never received a reply to my plea. So I decided to give it a try under wine. Surprise, surprise (not), it works! (using the win2k installer patch). Sometimes, wine can really be a godsend. For the occasion, I created a few desktop icons since the original ones suck badly.

I created them by drawing bezier curves with the original icon from the website in overlay. It actually sounds easier as it sounds. 🙂 I had to tweak my beziers quite a bit to have a somewhat appealing result. Since this will probably be the last time I will take a KDE3 screenshot (still on my suse 10.3), I decided to post a screenshot of the icons with my desktop in full glory 😉

Vandale icons

Also spot the home-made icon for Cave Story, but that’s merely a rip from the game resources 😉
Here are the icons in case you want them too:
vandale icon Englishvandale icon French

Opera 10: it’s unbelievable

Opera 10 seems to bring ground-breaking news for people using Opera Mail. It seems they finally got hold of the resources needed to implement the 2 most asked features ever! Behold:

  • Rich text email composition
  • Remove mail from server after X days

Can you believe it??!! After all these years of denial? I for one surely didn’t see that one coming. 🙂 Read the full changelog here.

AVG antivirus makes another mistake

Since AVG8 had a terrible performance on my parent’s computer, I am very glad now I moved to another AV soft as it seems AVG is suffering a major bug right now which causes your windows to stop working! Note that this problem is not affecting all versions, but guess what, Dutch is one of the affected ones!

In the meantime, I have switched to Avira Antivir, but that didn’t last long either as there came nasty popups about potential threats which scared the hell out of my mom, only because she was using the free version instead of the professional one. Also, it doesn’t have an email scanner.

So, currently, they are running Avast Home edition. It comes with a whole lot of crap (‘advanced’ antivirus shields) which you will want to disable. You might also want to disable the automatic checksumming of every file on your box, because obviously it generates a lot of I/O, especially when you don’t want it.
But it does automatically reroute pop3 and smtp connections so email traffic gets scanned automagically without any configuration (which is a relieve in comparison with AVG where you have to configure it manually if you don’t use M$ crapware like outlook). There was one catch, as it seems your free download version ‘expires’ after 30 (?) days, unless you register it. No problem, registration is free. It seems you have to reregister every year in order to be able to keep using it. Sounds fair enough to me: if you keep using the AV soft, it means you’re satisfied, so why not let them know you are using it by registering it for free.

It kinda reminds of this funny article, in which one argues Windows should become Ad-ware. 🙂 I sure woudn’t mind using an adware version, as long as I can play my games full-screen. 😉

Even more pdf fun on linux

Who says pdf support on linux is weak? 😉 Using free tools only, I can actually do more on linux than on windows.

A friend asked me to adapt a brochure which is in pdf format so that his contact data are filled in at the designated area on the last page. I didn’t have high hopes, as I know pdf editing is clumsy, even on windows using Adobe Acrobat. But I thought I’d give it a google search, and guess what, I stumbled upon pdfedit which seems to be able to do the job quite adequately! The only downside is the speed. I hope they port it to Qt 4 and fix the speed issues while they’re at it. 😉 (and apparently there are some plans!)

pdfedit ftw

Converting multiple images into a pdf on linux

Update 2012-03-13
I don’t know if it was possible back in 2008, but nowadays you can simply use the convert command provided by imagemagick!

convert image1.jpg image2.jpg output.pdf

Normally, when I need to create a PDF, I can print to the PDF printer included with KDE. However, on my suse box, this only seems to work out of the box with KDE apps. Also, since I need to combine multiple images into a pdf, it is a bit cumbersome to use a PDF printer here.

I didn’t find a one-step solution, so here is how I did it:

  1. convert each image to a pdf
  2. merge all pdfs into one pdf file

For the first step I used bmeps, a tool which I recently discovered by accident 🙂 It is strange, when searching for the tool, I didn’t find it. So that’s why I give it some extra promo on my blog. 😉 Bmeps is a cross platform tool (yes, I already once used it succesfully on windows!). It used to be a (E)PS tool, but since version 2.0 it also supports PDF output (up to PDF version 1.4). As input, it accepts JPEG, netpbm and PNG (and TIFF partially).

As Bmeps doesn’t seem too popular, I wasn’t too surprised to learn my distro doesn’t have any package for it, so I had to build it from source. Bmeps has a dependency on dklibs, a collection from the same author which also needs to be compiled. But it turned out to be a pleasant experience: all prerequisites were already satisfied on my computer (except netpbm, but I don’t need that) and I just had to run the familiar “configure make install” (once for dklibs and once for bmeps of course).

After that, converting an image to a pdf is as simple as:

bmeps image.jpg image.pdf

Now we have a bunch of pdf files, we still need to merge them. For that I chose the quite popular pdftk. It wasn’t installed by default, but there does exist a package in the suse main repositories, so that was easy. Now, to combine all pdfs into one:

pdftk input*.pdf cat output output.pdf

And that’s it!

PS: there used to be a tool png2pdf from the same author for people wanting to convert PNG files, but this has been superseded by bmeps.

Boot process explained

It’s always nice to be reminded of the more important things in life, like how computers boot, *ahem* 🙂
Seriously, as a computer enthousiast, it’s like I _have_ to know about it, yet I don’t seem to be able to remember all the details 🙂
So guys like duarte chop it into nicely digestable pieces, ideally suited as bed time story material, so it can enter your subconscience when you go to sleep =)