random complexity

with a side of crazy

Archive for May, 2012

Ongoing Rationalisation and the Cloud

I find myself yet again at a fork in the road. After over a year of considering the ideals of minimalism and figuring out how to adapt that to my life I manage to find myself contemplating the epic "less is more" paradigm with some gusto.

The first starting point (I start often, finishing is all relative go the destination) was to rationalise the projects list. Over the years my projects list has moved through various incarnations;

  • paper lists (post-it's, loose pages, scrap paper, spiral bound)
  • text files (in various places; home, MP3 player, USB thumb drive, CVS, dropbox)
  • wiki page (private wiki)

and this moving around has a few interesting side effects. When you find an old todo list it's interesting to see what you've done and what you haven't. It's like a window into the past. Knowing where you've been is a good way to not go back there and repeat the past. Some projects hung around on the list for years with little to no real progress. Others which did get done only got done to the point of "scratching the itch" and nothing further. Once the joy or need of something has been met, it takes new motivation to take things to the next level.

It's not uncommon for items on the todo list to have other dependencies and for a long time having a development environment setup was a big one on this list. This would require a VMware machine to host it on, which needed hardware (money) and storage (disk, so money too). As this depended heavily on money to setup, it was a major blocking point for many of my personal projects. You could also say this was an easy excuse for not achieving. Over time some of these projects faded into the past, something where my interest never returned. Or I found another way of solving the problem the project was going to solve. Others where I had real motivation were worked on in other perhaps less optimal ways.

With me sorting out old files/notebooks as part of my clean up it's given me a slightly less blurry backward view of how I arrived at where I am now, at least going back 10 ish years. Using this as a filter I was able to create a current projects list to work from. This list includes short, medium and long term goals, and most importantly all should be achievable.

It's been on my todo list for some time to "cloudify my life" or at least investigate what, how and why the cloud ideas can benefit me, if at all. It seemed to align nicely with the minimalism ideals of throwing everything out and living on the net. However to avoid getting lost in the cloud you need to limit yourself to the various services that offer and provide what you need and don't go overboard.

There were a few places to start on that idea. Already being a consumer of some cloud offerings I needed to look at how I use them, how they work for me, what problems they solve and what new problems they brought. I also needed to figure out what I needed as a base and what of those would transition to the cloud. Certain base needs are obvious; email, documents/file store. Other's are less obvious; source code repository, backups, VPS.

So with those two starting points in mind I've been playing with and reading up a few different services out there to decide on what to try first. Necessity is the mother of invention, and experimentation is the mother of learning. Usually I'll rank a free service above a paid for service unless the paid for one is priced right or is that much better. Likewise open source is better than closed but the better product still wins. So to avoid this post getting out of control I'll just link to the services I'm looking at;

  • Dropbox I've used for a few years now, it's great and I've had no issues. The photo albums are easy to make and share with non-dropbox users. It works on my phone and you can keep portable apps in it. Free for 2GB and you can get more space by referring people (you and them get 500MB more). My referal link However this might have security issues and not be end to end encrypted as you can browse your files online.
  • GoogleDrive Quite new. Integrates Google Docs into it. It comes across as a Google reimplementation of Dropbox. Free for 5GB.
  • Google Apps Lets you run Google's services on your domain - gmail, google docs and so on. I've used for years now, primarily for gmail.
  • GitHub Source code hosting - only using Git. You need to pay $7/month for private repo's and then you're limited to 5. Public is unlimited. All the social aspects you'd expect from a web3.0 site.
  • BitBucket Source code hosting - originally only Mercurial, now has Git too. Free level includes unlimited public and private repos. Owned by Atlassian. All the social aspects you'd expect from a web3.0 site.
  • Backblaze Unlimited backups for $5/month. Great idea, simple UI. Aimed at everyone. My only issues are; data is not end to end encrypted (just point to point) and the data has to exist on your equipment to be maintained in the backup beyond a reasonable timeframe, 30 days I think, so no chance in recovering that file you might have lost 6 months ago. If they're ever compromised your data could leak out so it's not totally encrypted as you can do file restores to USB HDD.
  • Tarsnap Backups for 30c/GB/month (plus transit). Aimed at unix users, built by a security expert. Properly encrypted and secure. Runs on Amazone EC2 and stored in Amazone S3, so isn't cheap for a large quantity of data but for smaller amounts of sensitive or long term data it's seems fine.
  • MyCyclingLog Cycling tracking. I've used this extensively and it's pretty good at what it does. Unfortunately it's mostly manual entry although I did write my own bulk uploader.
  • Strava Cycling tracking. Better than MCL, integrates with GPS units perfectly. All the social aspects you'd expect from a web3.0 site. Privacy settings seem broken because it leaks your information to everyone by default and doesn't stop doing that when you change it to private.

Ultimately to replace my VPS I'd need decent source code hosting and proper off site backups. Then the only thing left on there is a (now) static web site which could be moved easily elsewhere. With a decent solution to cycling tracking I could replace Sports Track which I currently use on my netbook - however the other solution there is to not care about it, and live freely knowing I don't need to prove anything to anyone. Fortunately Gmail has already replaced my desktop email client, excessive spam, me not wanting to maintain email infrastructure and the always-on access-anywhere need drove me to a hosted solution. Gmail just happens to be awesome and easy to use on your own domain. Dropbox has already largely replaced the need for a usb drive to carry files around with me. A decent issue since my phone lacks a standard usb port - FFS Apple, 1995 called and they want their proprietary connectors back (actually worse, my original iriver mp3 player pre-dates the first ipod and it had a usb mini connector. Also don't forget the dock connector only showed up on gen3 ipods around 2003).

In the coming posts I'll blab on about these in more detail and what I've found out.

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