Category Archives: opensource

cool geek (dev) stuff I ran into lately

... "Mr. Droopy Eyes!"

I’ve had this list around for a while and though that most people would probably have heard of this by now so I didn’t see the point in posting about it.
Until last weekend someone on twitter was happy to find out about Chocolatey. So I guess not everybody knows these little gems yet, hence this blog post!

  • Chocolatey: a Windows packages manager of sorts. A bit like apt-get on Debian. It allows you to install a bunch of Windows software and tools from the command line. It’s pretty cool and is super handy to get a (developer) box up and running in no time. It’s also handy to keep your installed package up-to-date with the “cup all” statement. Sweet.
    There’s lot’s of good stuff in the gallery already, so you’ll probably find your favorite tool in there. If not, you can add it yourself because it’s built on the NuGet package manager system, or browse what’s available and find some new gems you didn’t know about yet.
  • I haven’t really used Boxstarter myself yet, but if you’re planning on using Chocolatey for some serious VM Windows installer magic, it might come in handy. It builds on top of Chocolatey and allows 100% uninterrupted Windows installs. Thought it was worth mentioning.
  • ScriptCS: one of Glenn Block & co little open source coding adventures. He thought it would be cool to use C# and the .NET framework to run scripts on Windows using the Roslyn compiler API. No need for Visual Studio, project files, compilers or anything like that. Just the scriptcs executable and a text file with your C# script code. Much like Node.js or Python for example. You know, scripting languages.
    Turns out this idea took off like a rocket in the community and has all sorts of cool features by now, like Nuget integration and script packs for reusability. It’s awesome.
  • dotnetfiddle.net : It’s jsfiddle for C# code. It’s a web site where you can type some C# code in a console application, run it and see your output instantly. Great of small bits of test code. It even has intellisense support so it’s easier if to use than LinqPad for this kind of tests apps if you don’t know all the statements by heart.
  • devdocs.io: all web dev docs in one place and easily searchable. Contains docs for thing like the HTML5 spec, JS, HTTP, HTML DOM and the most popular frameworks like Ember, Backbone, Angular, Knockout and Underscore. Also language like Python, Node, Ruby etc. In short, useful stuff for any web developer working with a modern stack.

Image by James Vaughan, cc-licensed.

how to protect your privacy online

Who Are You Looking At?

With the whole NSA PRISM storm blowing over the internet I thought it would be nice to compile a list of free and open source software I know that can help in safeguarding your privacy as an alternative to proprietary software or online cloud services which are not to be trusted with your personal data.

Hosting everything yourself is one way to go like the folks at unhosted.org suggest, but it isn’t free as it will a) cost you some money and b) usually quite some time to set everything up. Not everyone has the technical knowledge to do this either, so a list of open source software and trustworthy services for the masses would be great.

Turns out prism-break.org is just that kind of list, so that saves me the trouble of compiling it myself. Nice. Here’s another one with mostly the same items on it. Mostly.

Photo by Caneles, cc-licensed.

windows rescue kit on a usb stick

Attempt Repair Install

While cleaning up an old machine I was first using CCleaner from Windows to wipe some partitions because DBAN crashed for some reason on it. To clean some of the Linux partitions on the drive which Windows can’t access, I dropped them so I could re-add them as NTFS partitions for further wiping. Problem was I forgot those partitions where also hosting my master boot record, so when I rebooted to confirm my partition changes… I ended up with a unbootable system.

Oops.

Now I had to find a way to wipe those disks from Linux, but first I still wanted to get access to my WinXP setup. I could have just nuked it from orbit (read: boot from a Linux Live CD and shred it) but I was just wondering if I would manage to get it to boot again, just in case I do this on a system that really matters some day. So I started browsing to the ISO’s available on the Universal USB Boot installer and ran into the awesome Trinity Rescue Kit.

I installed it on a very small USB drive (265MB) I had lying around and managed to rewrite me a Windows boot record with the tools supplied from the text-based menu. Nice! I also noticed that it has a bunch of disk rescue tools on board like a backup tool, full NTFS support, the Midnight Commander explorer for file recovery and a Windows password reset tool (hackedy-hack). On top of that it also has a virus scanner on board, ways to set up network file shares and good, detailed documentation.

This distro is certainly one that is getting a nice spot on my PC CPR tool belt. Without exploring all the goodness Trinity has to offer I’m sure it’s a huge time saver if you need to help out with a unbootable system or one seriously infected with trojans or virii. You can even use this to set up a headless file share server in no time if you want.

Good stuff.

Photo by lilbambi01, cc-licensed.

google reader replacement for geeks

Newspaper dog thinking RSS

Google Reader is quitting on us and there doesn’t seem to be an alternative if you don’t want something that tries to make your feeds look all fancy and shiny eye-candy-ish like Feedly or most of the alternatives I saw.

The things I loved in Google Reader are:

1. Accessible from anywhere (which means web-based basically), so desktop based RSS readers didn’t cut it.
2. I can use it from my Android phone, either with an app or straight from the website.
3. I can skim feeds quickly and star or tag articles I want to read later.
4. The read-later articles need to be imported into Instapaper, using something like IFTT.

I started looking at some open source solutions because I didn’t want to end up getting shut down again. In the least the services needed to allow me to import & export feeds easily in case it does bail out.

I noticed a few open source applications running on PHP that are interesting but only one of them is still actively developed and has a decent user base. So Tiny Tiny RSS is what I ended up testing out.
It’s pretty close to Google Reader (which makes sense because it’s an RSS aggregator and reader after all) but it isn’t pretending to become it, or implement every GR features. It’s sailing its own course, but since it’s pretty damn close I thought I’d give it a shot.

So here comes the geeky bit:

Since this is a web app and not a web service, you have to host it yourself.
So this means getting the code, uploading it to your server, setting up the database and configuring it.

If that didn’t scare you off, all of this is nicely explained in this lifehacker post and on the TT-RSS installation notes. So you’re pretty safe there. Recently the software was updated to enable it to run on a shared hosting server, so you can basically run it anywhere from now on.
If I wouldn’t have my own hosting I’d try to get it running on a NearlyFreeSpeech site to try it out for cheaps. You can set up a PHP site quick and cheap over there if you have the know-how.

There’s and Android application on the market you can try for 7 days for free to connect to your instance of Tiny Tiny RSS (after you open up the API settings in the configuration) and it works great. It costs only a few bucks so I figured I was willing to pay that to the author of this fine piece of work that’s available to the world for free after all.

It also supports starring and tagging posts, and it allows you to expose your starred items as an RSS feed so you can pull that into IFTT for syncing with Instapaper.

There you have it. All requirements are met with free software (except the Android app bit) and a bit of geeky work on your part to get things set up and running. So far things are running great and I didn’t run into any issues yet.
You can set this up for multiple users, so if you have friends that are also orphaned by Google Reader you can share your instance with them.

Photo by stylianosm, cc-licensed.

securely wiping your hard drive without dban

Technologic

Well if DBAN doesn’t cut it for some reason there’s always a more native Linux way to do this.

Step one is getting a Linux live CD, DVD or USB stick and boot from that. I used the Debian Live CD myself, which boots into character mode so you don’t end up with XServer not getting your video settings right.

Once you’re in a shell, you can use the shred command to wipe your HD’s data by overwriting it a number of times with random data. I found that out by reading a post by a lad named Jason on the topic which was a nice help. I only had to add the “sudo” call in front of the command to actually allow it to get write access to the disk on Debian.

First figure out what partition/drive you want to wipe by running:

cat /proc/partitions

Then, in my case, I had to run this to wipe sda:

sudo shred -fvz -n 6 /dev/sda

The -fvz basically means, [f]orce write permissions, [v]erbose output so you can see the wiping progress and write [z]ero’s on the last run to hide the wiping. -n 6 tells it to do 6 runs of random data writing.

Using DBAN is still the easier way to get this done, but if that’s causing you trouble you can use this as a backup wiping measure.

Photo by Hugo Chinaglia, cc-licensed.

donating bandwidth to open source

Skogafoss waterfall, iceland

If you’re like me and you have a big fat internet pipe entering your home then you probably have a lot of unused upload bandwidth at the end of the month. In fact, if you have one of those flat-rate unlimited bandwidth kind of packages which you lucky foreigners seem to have in abundance, then you have (in theory) a lot of unused bandwidth… always.

So how about using some of those gigs for a good cause? How about seeding some awesome and freely available open source software and content so others can get faster access to it. That wat you save the lads hosting those big ISOs from their servers some bucks by taking the load off their upload stream.

The solution is simple, boot up your favorite torrent client (uTorrent for example) get a few torrented downloads for the open source causes you feel like contributing to and seed away!

Good stuff to give bandwidth to are:

  • The Ubuntu Linux operating system. Seed the iso’s of the latest version.
  • Other free OS’s such as Debian, Suse, FreeBSD or whatever flavour you fancy.
  • Google’s Project Gutenberg, sharing a  DVD worth of free and open ebooks. It feels good to share a library of content from your machine, trust me. Also great to browse through yourself btw.
  • The free content (cc-licensed mostly) from clear-bits. Pick some stuff you want to check out yourself, music, video’s, games, anything and just remember to keep that torrent up for seeding. You won’t have a lot of downloads on these usually as they are only fetched sporadically, but keeping the seed up is like giving the other a thumbs up if you like his stuff.
  • Recently archive.org also put up a lot of its content in torrent form.

Be sure to check back on those OS releases now and then so you don’t end up seeding a dusty old version, but other than that, your torrent client is giving back without you having to do any effort. How sweet is that?

Photo by Massimo Margagnoni, cc-licensed.

getting good stats without google analytics

I Spy Cynthia K

Google is huge and scary these days isn’t it? I mean they track our ass all over the place and I was actually helping them to do so. On my blog I was using Google’s free Analytics service to keep track of who, when, where and why people came to my blog.

The stats are pretty, easy to understand and extremely extensive. The downside is that all these stats end up in the massive Googleplex data center and are without doubt neatly analysed and lined up with your regular Google searches through that cookie that identifies you no matter if you’re logged on or not.

No me gusta.
So I removed that line of JavaScript from my pages ét voila, no more Google snooping on my watch. Problem is I liked those pretty graphs and lines and I sort of missed taking a peek at them now and then to see what pages where the most interesting and what crazy search results people where using to get to my blog.

Then I ran into something called Piwik. It’s free, open source and it does pretty much exactly the same thing as GA, but stores everything in your own private MySQL DB. It installs as easily as WordPress on your web server, and to activate it you just insert the JavaScript snippet it provides you with. A few seconds later you’ll be getting pretty graphs and figures and spend countless hours spying on your blog’s visitors with the real-time results.

Sweet!

Photo by Flood, cc-licensed.