WP Facebook Like 1.5.1 released

WP Facebook Like 1.5.1 has now been released, containing two new features among other bugfixes. It is now possible to disable the like button by creating a custom setting for that specific post or page and setting wpfblike to false.

The other feature is the inclusion of the new Send button available from Facebook. When enabling this new button in the settings, it will show you a new button alongside the old Like button.

This new button makes it easy to privately share content to friends and family without having to post it on your public wall for everyone to see.

[Download Now]

Offsite backups using CrashPlan – review

With the World Backup Day in our rear-view mirror, giving a second thought to our backup needs become utterly apparent. Most computer professionals probably have some kind of nagging voice inside their heads reminding them of creating backups, which works fine to some extent, until realizing that all backups are in-house and will be lost in case of a fire.

People tend to have no backup at all however, and adding a cloud based backup solution would greatly benefit these kinds of users. There are a lot of options though, and finding one that suits a particular need is not the easiest thing to accomplish.

Given that modern age files are quite large, with photo libraries containing 20 Gb worth of pictures every year or more, having a solution with unlimited storage, or as cheap as possible per gigabyte, is crucial. Not only that, setup has to be minimal and it should by default backup everything in the normal documents folder, music and other type of user-created content.

Needs

Having a DSLR camera that outputs raw files at about 10 Mb per photo, which within in a year amounts to 10 to 40 Gb worth of pictures, a remote backup solution with plentiful of storage is desperately needed. Other types of media include captured HD video files of irreplaceable moments and bought music, which together amounts to hundred of gigabytes worth of precious and irreplaceable data.

This means that my storage needs are quite large and increasing by the day, which means that a reasonably cheap and fast service is needed, which in addition is reliable and as secure as possible. These demands might sound like an oxymoron, but finding the perfect backup solution should encompass all these properties in some way.

I would also like a service which is reasonably priced for at least three computers backing up to the same account, but preferably being able to use at least five computers would be optimal. This means that backing up my parents’ computer to the same account will be a breeze and with no extra cost.

The whole reason for having a cloud based backup is to have my precious data available off-site, and to make things easier, the service should preferably have reasonable download and upload speeds and its agent should be able to operate without intervention when everything is configured and running.

Alternatives

When deciding to use a cloud based backup solution, there is a wide array of applications and services to consider. There are different types of backup services, and the most common ones are probably file synchronization services such as Dropbox and box.net.

While their goal is to synchronize files between different computers and other devices, they also have the ability to backup versions of the file when they change or are deleted. This provides an excellent solution for sharing document and other files when collaborating with other people, or when working on the same content using different devices. Storage is however not cheap if you plan to store more than a couple of gigabytes worth of data.

On the other side, there are backup software which usually do not have the file synchronization capability, but are more focused on keeping backups of your files, with no bells and whistles. The benefit of using something like this instead, is that cloud space is usually cheaper, with many backup providers claiming “unlimited” space.

There are a lot of players in this market however, such as SpiderOak and BackBlaze. While SpiderOak could possibly be a descent service, it would be too expensive for my storage needs. At the rate of $10 per 100 Gb, with how many computers you like, it however becomes apparent that this is an excellent service if your storage needs do not exceed that first tier of 100 Gb.

Backblaze on the other hand has a native Mac client and offers an easy plan of $5 per computer and month for unlimited storage. One of the key features however is their restore service, which means that they can overnight you a hard drive or DVD with your data for a fast restore. There is just one problem with this service — the data on the chosen media is sent unencrypted!

That brings me to the topic of security, and that no one of the services above have (to my knowledge) support for using your own encryption key. This means having to trust the provider to keep your password and key secure, instead of knowing that your own encryption key never leaves your computer.

CrashPlan

Another option I considered was CrashPlan, which was featured on the World Backup Day website. Having never tried it or even heard of it before, I was reluctant to consider it. The client is also written in Java, making it easier to run on multiple platforms, but memory and performance issues are usually lurking.

The user interface is quite pleasing to the eye, and once the client is initially launched and an account is created, a backup of the home directory is started automatically. Most people would be satisfied with leaving the application in its default state, since their entire account would be backed up. There is however a lot more than meets the eye at first glance.

Destinations

The most prominent feature when starting the application is the destination selection, providing the ability to backup using different storage endpoints. While backing up to “CrashPlan Central” will cost you money, the other backup options are free.

If you have a friend running CrashPlan, you can add each other as destinations for the backups, giving both parties the benefits of off-site backups while still using the free version. You will however need to provide enough storage for each others’ backup needs, which is not free in itself.

The same procedure can be used between different computers within your own account. They can act as destinations as well, potentially providing you will off-site backups if you have computers at different physical locations.

Speed

As mentioned earlier on, having an online backup together with a large backup size requires plentiful of bandwidth to work properly. Having backed up a considerable amount of data to the CrashPlan servers, there was a big difference in how fast the server nodes were able to receive the data.

Before measuring the upload speed, the settings for CPU and bandwidth usage were tweaked to allow maximum throughput. My internet link is a 100 Mbit fiber connection, so if there are any delays or bandwidth issues, they reside on the server side.

I started backing up my music collection on my Macbook Pro, which performed at a fairly constant rate at 3.2 Mbit/s. Even though this was fairly slow, it was bearable, give my not so large music library on this particular computer.

Backing up on the NAS was a completely different story however. Another server was chosen as the target for the backup (this is done automatically), but this time around, the throughput maxed out at about 700 Kbit/s at times, which is terribly slow if the data to be backed up exceeds 100 Gb, which it did in this case.

Security

Having a backup solution in the cloud inherently raises privacy and security concerns. A lot of people will be uneasy giving up their data to a third party without knowing their data is safe from prying eyes.

CrashPlan uses Blowfish with a 448 bit key to secure the data at rest, and the communication is additionally encrypted using normal SSL connections with AES and a 256 bit key. The Blowfish key is then escrowed together with your data on the CrashPlan servers, encrypted with your account password.

For most people, the above solution is perfect, given the simple nature of the setup. The end user never has to touch the encryption key or remember anything more complicated than their own account password. When restoring files on a new computer, it is just the matter of logging into the account and restoring the files from the server.

The downside of this solution is that there is no way to partition the associated computer within the account, meaning that any computer logged into the user account can restore any file from any computer to the local computer.

There is another security mode which separates the encryption key with the user account. That way, you still have the CrashPlan user account, but the encryption key is protected with another password. The benefits of using this mode is that different computers can have different passwords, and thus separate encryption keys. This fixes the problem with all computers being able to access all information on each server associated with the account.

The third option is to provide the encryption key directly instead of using passwords to encrypt the key stored on the server. This means that it is impossible for someone without knowledge of the encryption key to decrypt the data. The downside is that the key needs to be kept secure, since it needs to be provided when doing a data restore. Having the key on paper in a safety deposit box or some other secure location will be necessary, since losing the key means that it will be impossible to decrypt the data on the CrashPlan servers.

Security conscious people will undoubtedly distrust the implementation of the client handling the encryption key. Who knows if the key is secretly transmitted to CrashPlan without the user’s knowledge?

Conclusion

Having started the trial of CrashPlan only a few days ago, I have yet to uncover severe behavior and inconsistencies. It has been a fairly smooth ride so far setting up my own encryption key and backing up three computers.

There was however one weird kink when creating and using keys for encryption. When the key was created on the Windows platform, it could for some reason not be validated on the Mac, which at first made me doubt the service. However, when I created a new key on the Mac, it could successfully be used both on the Mac and in Windows, as well as my Linux server.

If you are planning to use CrashPlan on the Mac, you may experience an unusually high memory load, which is partly the result of CrashPlan being executed using 64 bit Java. There is a simple way to change to 32 bit execution however, which involves editing /Library/LaunchDaemons/com.crashplan.engine.plist and adding “-d32” to the ProgramArguments section. For other memory optimizations and a discussion, have a look at the Reduce memory usage thread on the CrashPlan forums.

Another thing which could be improved upon are upload and download speeds, which are abysmal compared to the available throughput. The speed when backing up my Mac seemed to stabilize at about 3.2 Mbit/s and the speed on my NAS is running at about 1 Mbit/s. Extremes ranged from about 500 Kbit/s to 20 Mbit/s, which is basically all over the place. Not that this is usually a problem once the initial backup has completed, but it could be a lot faster. This is also one of the reasons I am hesitant to become a member once the trial has run out, but I may change my mind, since it is extremely convenient.

The other reason however, is privacy. While I am confident that CrashPlan does not “backup” my encryption key once I have chosen to use my own, there could be programming errors or other problems, exposing this key in some manner.

The alternative would be to setup a backup server at some location with plenty of disk space to mirror all my data, including changes made to file and using some kind of rsync snapshot solution. This requires a somewhat hefty investment on the hardware side however, while CrashPlan is ready to backup anything I throw at it.

When the trial expiration starts to creep up, I will hopefully have some more insight into reasons to stay or quit. Until then, I am staying with CrashPlan.

WP Facebook Like 1.5.0 beta out for testing

I know a lot of you have been waiting for this new feature, and a beta version of the new WP Facebook Like 1.5.0 has been released. The new version lets you turn off the button on specific posts and pages by creating a custom value like this:

Do note that this is a beta version and things may change a bit before the release, but the final version is scheduled to come out later this week.

[Download WP Facebook Like 1.5.0 BETA]

16 Essential iPad Applications

I have been using my iPad for a couple of months now and have grown accustom to certain applications and ways of using them. This is basically a list with my most used and loved applications for the iPad, and what better day to write this article than today, the day the iPad is officially released in Sweden. A lot of people interested in Apple and the iPad have already imported their own ages ago, and Swedish media have been writing about the device for months now. This is however the first day when everyone in Sweden easily can get ahold of one.

The built-in applications will not be mentioned in this article, even though some of them are used extensively by me. Let’s start with the fun stuff.

Media and Entertainment

Cover Art

Air Video

Forget about converting your video library for some movie viewing. If you get Air Video and install the server on your Windows or Mac, you can enjoy super crisp high-definition video on the go without having to convert and copy the media to your iPad. The server can transcode just about anything to fit your current bandwidth. This is a universal application, so you can install it on your iPhone too!

Cover Art

IMDb

If you enjoy movies and want to view plot information, reviews or even watch a trailer, be sure to pick up the excellent IMDb application for the de-facto movie source on the internet.

Productivity

Cover ArtOmnifocus

The best tool for Getting Things Done is definitely Omnifocus. There are applications for the Mac and iPhone as well, and they can all be easily synced together. While having a premium price tag, it makes up for it for being the best task manager available. Some features are even better implemented and more usable than the desktop version.

Cover ArtSimplenote

If you want simple and fast note taking on the iPad, Simplenote is the way to go. It synchronizes with their web service, which means that you can access your notes anywhere. Simplenote only supports standard text, which means no rich text, images or any type of attachments.

Cover ArtEvernote

If Simplenote sounds too simple, Evernote may just be the thing for you. In addition to writing standard text notes, you can upload images and just about any type of file. There are clients for Windows, Mac and the iPhone too, and together with their free web service, you can access your notes everywhere.

Adobe IdeasAdobe Ideas

This excellent and free application is perfect when you need to be creative and create mockups, or just to doodle on while listening to a boring presentation. It has a rather basic tool set, but I find that it works great for anything I want to create. If you need more control and functionality, have a look at Sketchbook Pro instead.

Reading

Cover ArtReeder

If you get your news and website updates in Google Reader, Reeder is for you. With its beautiful, clean and legible interface, going through your daily feeds is a breeze. There is a client for the iPhone available too, and a Mac version is on the way.

Cover ArtRead it Later

You know when you find a very interesting article to read but just don’t have the time to finish it at the moment, Read it Later handles it for you. Adding a site done just by clicking a bookmarklet, and reading the articles on the iPad works exceptionally well.

Cover ArtiBooks

iBooks is the official application from Apple to read books with, and has support for epub and PDF files as well. Being in Sweden however, the store only contains free books, which makes it hard to buy books at the moment.

 

Cover ArtKindle

Kindle in contrast to iBooks makes it possible to buy ebooks directly on your device from the Amazon Kindle store. It even has an iPhone client and syncs notes and reading position between the devices.

 

Cover ArtZinio

If you are into international magazines, you can get PDF versions of most magazines for a great price using Zinio.

 

Cover ArtQiozk

Qiozk is like Zinio, but targeted to the Swedish market, which offer many of the most popular magazines.

Cover ArtThe New York Times

The New York Times application covers a wide range of areas, and will be free until early 2011.

 

 

Cover ArtHuffington Post

If the New York Times is not for you, then perhaps Huffington Post can be the bringer of news and interesting articles. It is a free application which has a lot of sections for viewing.

Other

Cover ArtTwitter

If you are into Twitter, the official application is excellent and provides everything most people need in a Twitter client.

 

Cover ArtiTap RDP

If you need to use Remote Desktop, iTap RDP is the best I have used. Even though it is somewhat pricey, it is rock solid and has innovative features for quick and easy navigation and usage of the remote system.

 

Facebook Like Error

The like button seems to be having some issues at the moment. If you create a new post and like it, the button will sometimes revert back to being unliked when clicked. I took a peek into the inner workings of the button, and there is in fact an error being returned by Facebook, even though it is not displayed by the button.

The important lines from the returned JSON object returned by Facebook says that there is an internal error, which means that there is nothing to be done about the problem from the client side.

“There was an internal error when updating the Page.”

So hold tight and wait for the Facebook team to resolve the issue. I have replied to a thread in the Facebook developers forum and there are lots of other people also having this problem.

Follow the wpfblike(rss) tag or the main feed for updates regarding this issue.

Simplenote vs Evernote

I have been an Evernote user for the last couple of years, and for a long time it has been the only viable option for note syncing between the Mac, iPhone and the web (and recently the iPad). Supporting multiple notebooks and a hierarchical tagging structure, as well as RTF note editing capabilities and GPS location has made it into a very appealing catch-all application.

What brought Evernote over the top however, is the automatic OCR scanning of uploaded images. This basically means that you can find an image by searching for text contained within. I used this feature on a daily basis when snapping pictures of whiteboards during meetings with the iPhone application. Instant meeting notes people!

The problem with Evernote

There is just one problem — Speed. Evernote for iPhone is just a tiny bit too slow for using all the time. You know that one small thing you really should have written down, but you could just not be bothered to open the Evernote app since that would just take a few seconds too long. Instead of using Evernote for exactly what it is designed for, I sometimes pop open Apple’s note app and jot it down there instead (and later of course forgetting all about it).

Okay, I lied, there are some other minor problems besides the speed issues. When writing longer notes, or articles such as this very one, it feels tremendously important to have editing history. Maybe I am just spoiled by using Subversion and Mercurial all the time, but I feel having the possibility to revert back to previous versions of the text makes experimenting fun, and making it easy to try new things. Evernote has no editing history that I am aware of, except for the standard undo/redo available everywhere.

Just for the fun of it, another annoyance with Evernote is the lack of auto-save on the iPhone and iPad. If I am writing something and want to save, I will exit editing mode when saving the article and have to reopen it to continue writing. Why is there no auto-save in the edit window, or at least a save button that keeps the writing window open?

Simplenote enters the ring

I have lately become aware of a semi-new contender in the note-syncing market called Simplenote. In one corner we have Evernote with a million bells and whistles, while we on the other hand have Simplenote with its simplicity and focus on content. The only real feature of Simplenote, except for the obvious feature of writing plain text, is its support for tags.

Okay, I lied again. Simplenote has limited support for revisions, which means that you can go back 10 “increments” (30 in the paid version) of changes. I am not sure about the voodoo in the calculation of these save increments, but at least you have limited support for going back in time to restore an alternate version of your file.

On the happy side of things, Simplenote has very fast and simple (haha) iPhone and iPad applications, which automatically sync to the cloud as well. They have support for tags and the search function is quick and accurate as well. Another nice-to-have-but-not-entirely-necessary feature is the fullscreen edit mode, which cuts out all distractions and lets you focus soley on the words themselves. Think of it as WriteRoom for iOS, but with a white background.

What I say

I have just started trying out Simplenote, so I have no idea about the long-term affects and issues that may crop up. I am somewhat worried about the tag management, since it does not seem to be any way of renaming a tag without having to manually rename the tag in all individual notes. There is no support for tag hierarchies, which may or may not be an advantage — I am not sure yet. The tag drop-down in the website seems limited as well. I would like a list of all tags, almost like folders, where I can dive down to the notes themselves.

In addition, I would like the ability to search for notes within a certain date period in addition to the normal tag and keyword search, or perhaps even a date calendar where I can select the date range and visually see the number of notes written on certain dates.

Another issue I have with Simplenote is the lack on an official application for Mac OS. There are lots of third-party apps, but no one works the way I want. Until such application comes out, the next best thing is to use the website directly, which works remarkably well and is very fast to be honest!

I will keep on using Simplenote for a while, and if it continues to work as fast and easy like now (and if there is a Mac app coming), it is a winner in my book.

What other people say

Shawn Blanc says that All You Need is Simplenote, and John Gruber writes a post regarding Evernote and Simplenote. For an insight into what other people put into their Simplenote, have a look at Minimal Mac’s article What’s in your Simplenote?.

About the Firesheep hack on Facebook

There have been a lot of talk recently about website security since the Firesheep plugin for Firefox was released earlier this month. I think it is excellent that people and mainstream media are becoming aware of these problems, but let’s face it, they have been around forever in the web world.

So what is happening here? I believe that Firesheep receives lots of attention because of the way it makes accessing other people’s cookies extremely user-friendly. Instead of relying on tcpdump, Wireshark or any other type of network sniffing tool, you get this complete package with a sniffer, a filter to find the cookies, and a way to set the sniffed cookie in the browser directly without having to lift a finger. All you need to do is activate the plugin and wait for people to access Facebook over a network.

A cookie is basically a small file containing parameters and values which websites can set to track you when you are accessing their website. This is how Facebook for example knows that you have logged in when you are browsing around on the site. If you disable cookies, you will be requested to log in wherever you try to access a private part of the site. To get a user’s cookie, or any type of information, you can sniff their traffic on the network. You will be able to see everything that is sent and received by that computer. This is how you can easily steal someone’s cookie information.

There are however ways to protect yourself against these types of attacks. The first and most important way is to make sure that you are browsing using https instead of https. What that “s” is telling your browser is to set up an SSL/TLS connection to the server before sending any information. Since SSL is used to encrypt data, everything that is sent or received from that particular server will be secured and it will not be possible to sniff that data and get the cookies.

That is a slight modification of the truth however, since there are ways to get the data anyway. But if you make sure that you do not accept any certificates signed by an unknown authority (your browser will warn you), you will be fairly safe in this regard. Since many sites, such as Facebook, uses SSL only for the login phase, you cannot sniff the password, but only steal already set-up cookies. This basically means that you can do anything to that account except changing the password.

Since lots of websites do not provide a secure alternative, what can be done to make it reasonably secure? The easiest way is to set up a VPN connection to a server somewhere, which will at least prevent people from sniffing your data on wifi hotspots. How to do that is however out of scope for this article.

 

WP Facebook Like 1.4.0 released!

I am pleased to announce the release of a new version of the WP Facebook Like plugin for WordPress! The plugin lets bloggers easily create a Facebook Like button for their posts. Changes from the previous version include:

  • Added options for choosing to insert the button in pages and/or posts.
  • Added a check to verify that the correct PHP version is used when activating. (PHP>=5 supported).
  • Added settings link from the plugin list. (thanks udi86!)
  • Added an automatic language detector, which is now the default. (thanks udi86!)
  • Added Open Graph admins property, which will create a Facebook page for your current article.

I will go into the details of the update below, but if you are in a hurry, just download the new version, or wait for WordPress to automatically detect the new version and offer to upgrade automatically.

Options for inserting the button on posts and/or pages

There are a couple of new settings for enabling the automatic insertion of the button in pages and posts. Earlier, it was only possible to choose whether the button should appear on the front page or not. Now you can, in addition, control whether to show the button on normal posts and pages.

The new options are the first step for adding support for having the button in individual posts and pages.

Added new Open Graph headers

The new version will also insert new Open Graph headers, which are og:type and fb:admin. This lets you enter your Facebook user ID in the options, which will make you the admin of the current page. When you write a new post, just click the like button (you can unclick it right away). This will give you a page on Facebook where you can see who has liked your page and it lets you send them messages.

To get to this admin page, just select the admin link next to the like button.

Note that if you use the button_count layout, you will not see the admin link. Just go to Pages You Admin on Facebook to see all pages.

What are you waiting for? Download it now!

Forced to use the iPad for better or worse

What happens to most users at least once, has now happened to me too. A couple of days ago, when resuming my Macbook Pro from sleep, it woke up as usual, but the screen would not come on. I digged around a bit and found that this is a common problem with the Nvidia chipset for this particular model and build.

Apple would fix this for free, but the problem I, and probably most people face, is how to continue working without the means to do so. I luckily have a Time Machine backup of the entire computer from just a day earlier, so I at least do not have to worry about data loss.

As it happens, I have an iPad, so this would be an excellent way to use it for real. For work stuff I still need a real computer though, so an old Mac Mini at the office would suffice for development and things like that. For personal use however, the iPad will be my closest friend for the next week.

The problem with the iPad is that it is designed to consume website, movies, music and just about anything imaginable (except Flash). It is however, not made for content creation in the same way a normal computer is, so this would be a challenge.

The first thing I did was to hook up my wireless Apple keyboard, making typing more lengthier texts a non-issue. The iPad is responsive and works beautifully with the keyboard in just about any situation.

The first real issue I had is with Evernote, which I use for writing down most types of information. The draft for this post was for instance written in Evernote on the iPad using the wireless keyboard. If there were a good alternative out there for WordPress, I would gladly switch though.

Anyway, what I am trying to do is to be able to rely on the iPad for more than just casual surfing and media consuming. When tied together with a proper keyboard, it can truly be something to actually create content on. I guess the only thing missing is a proper file editor.

How to remove files with special characters in Linux

I recently found myself having to remove a file with special characters. Using rm only gave me “rm: unrecognized option”, which forced me to take off the gloves.

To remove a file with dashes, slashes or other special characters, the easiest way is to access the file using its inode. To get the inode of a file, just do a ls -li. When you have that number, use find to delete the file using the following command:

find . -inum [inode] -exec rm -i {} \;

Good hunting!