Ramblings of an IT geek

Alexa, write a blog update for me!

Ok, so she can’t do that, but after inviting Alexa (aka the Amazon Echo) into my house earlier this week I thought I’d do a quick blog!  

I have to say, I’m really impressed and so far Alexa has help me with the following:

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Another non-eOS blog, but this has wasted some of my time this week and thought it might be useful (at least to me in 3 months time!)

In today’s internet world, creating and using a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate (cert) should be much easier.  Ok, it’s actually a lot easier than it used to be a few years ago, but it’s probably still beyond most people running a simple web site/server (including me!)

I first got interested in SSL when I started using ownCloud and initially used a self-signed cert.  These are great for testing stuff out but invariably will generate error messages when accessing the sites through most browsers.  If you have complete control over the machine, you can trust the self-signed cert, but where you don’t it’s a case of ignoring the errors which become a pain every time you go there.

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Rogue One incoming!

Whilst we’re on a Star Wars theme, Rogue One is now less than 20 days away.

I’ve managed to get some tickets to see it at 00:05 on Thursday 15th December at the Cineworld IMAX in the Glasgow Science Centre, so will report back after that.  Having really enjoyed EPVII I’m looking forward to this pre-EPIV instalment.

Not my most extreme Star Wars experience, which would probably be travelling to New York City in May 1999 to see EP1 as it was released in the US 2 months before the UK.  4 of us landed at JFK around 5pm EST, spent a few hours sightseeing around NYC before watching the film 3 times (00:05, 03:00 and 11:00) before jumping in a cab and heading back to JFK for a flight home!  I think it’s the only Star Wars film I haven’t seen in the UK, so you can imagine how disappointed (and tired) I was on the way home!!

Episode IV – A New App?

I’ve decided to try and break this down into 2 blogs, and as a small homage to the greatest film ever made I’m calling the first one Episode IV!  

I thought it would be useful to understand what I use in macOS before diving into the alternatives available in eOS.  This is likely to be a real deal-breaker, as I know some of the things I use daily just don’t exist outside macOS, but let’s cover off some of this to begin.  

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Not with Miley Cyrus!

One of the good things about a default eOS install is the lightweight feel.  It really doesn’t come with a lot installed, which is good if you want to add just what you need, but I do feel it’s missing a few fundamental things.  There are also some settings and switches that can make it feel a little more macOS like, so I’m going to cover these here.  Some might say they’re just apps (and they’d probably be right) but I’m still working on that blog(s)…

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Take 3

You didn’t actually think I was done?  

I’ve actually been playing around some more with my eOS MBA and after installing a few more things and trying a few alternatives managed to break it again!  It wasn’t broken in the same sense that it wouldn’t boot, but I couldn’t install or update anything through the AppCenter (or Ubuntu Software Center I’d installed as an alternative) so after not too much trying to fix I thought I’d start again, hence Take 3.

Are you crazy I can imagine some people thinking?  Possibly, but I also wanted to see how long it would take a 3rd time and how much easier it would be knowing I’d blogged everything last time.  And unsurprisingly it was much quicker and easier!  I’m back to where I left, and have resolved a couple of self-inflicted issues from Take 2:

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You’ve got mail (and a calendar)

I’ve kind of left this until the very end as I knew accessing my mail would be pretty straight forward.  Webmail would always be an option if not, but I’ve configured other mail client in other Linux VM’s so knew this would be fine.

I have 4 e-mail addresses, or which I really only use 2.  The 2 I don’t really use are (I actually used long before iCloud) and  I still receive some mail into both, so have them configured but don’t send anything.  The 2 I use are both hosted by Pickaweb on my own domains – and the one you’re viewing this on

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Enjoy your media on all your devices

Let me start by saying I LOVE PLEX!!!

I needed to get that out of the way, as I’m sure others will love their choice of Media Server just as much, but for me, Plex does almost everything I want, and even some stuff I don’t!

I’ve been using Plex almost from the start in 2009 and had played around with XMBC before that, but it wasn’t until I started using Plex that I realised how great it would be to have all my media content in once place. This was also the start of my journey to what seems like an ever-growing need for storage and various devices to try and provide this.

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VPN phone home

The last piece (I think) of my connectivity puzzle is the remote access back into my network when I’m away from home.  This is really handy when stuff doesn’t work, and by using a Virtual Private Connection (VPN) also provides an added layer of security when I’m using an untrusted WiFi network.

I have an openVPN server running, you guessed it, in a freenas1 jail and use TunnelBlick on macOS and OpenVPN on iOS to connect to it and through it to the internet enabling me to use a connection which I know is secure, rather than one I don’t trust.  Maybe I’m starting to sound a little paranoid, but I figure the more things I can do protect myself, the less chance I am to become another cyber security statistic which can’t be a bad thing 😉

Anyway, VPN is built directly into eOS and is simple to configure in the Network settings.  I simply opened my openVPN configuration file and it appeared to connect successfully.  This is actually difficult to validate whilst I’m already connected to my LAN, so I’ll try and check it out later in the week when I’m away from home, but everything looks like it should work fine.  As I won’t be using this as my daily driver, I probably won’t use this a great deal, but it’s nice to know how easy it was to setup (unlike configuring the openVPN server in FreeBSD, to begin with!)

That pretty much wraps up my connectivity requirements, as I can now access everything at home and (hopefully) away.  There are a few things that can make that a little easier though…

My ownCloud

I configured Dropbox in the last blog, which I use to send scanner output from my WF-3640.  I also use it to sync a number of services between iOS and macOS devices (1Password, YNAB, MacDive, and Mindset to name but a few) but other than that I don’t really use DropBox for data anymore.

For me, and I suspect many others, Dropbox was probably one of the first ‘cloud’ services I used regularly.  I guess I was a bit of a ‘Dropbox Evangelist’ when it first became popular, mainly as it made sharing files so simple, but also because for every friend you recommended they gave you an extra 250MB of free storage!  I can’t remember exactly what you got free, to begin with, but over time I managed to increase my limit to 9.25GB.  But once I’d realised how useful this was for keeping things in sync across multiple devices, whilst being able to share and/or access from any device, it really wasn’t enough.  I know you can get almost an unlimited amount now for a whole range of different providers, and I’ve probably got basic accounts with many of them (Google Drive, Amazon Cloud, Microsoft Onedrive, Box, etc.) but back then it wasn’t particularly cheap to get more storage, and at the time I think I preferred the idea of keeping my data (especially the important stuff) on my hardware.

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September 2020


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