Free software such as Linux is great at many things, including keeping your data very safe.  That is, if you are in relative control of it yourself.

Nautilus window open in GNOME.

Transferring sensitive files from one machine to another – offline, via USB stick.

Linux is also used by the likes of Google, Facebook, et al., not to mention most western governments.  In fact, its flexibility, suitability and cost-effectiveness means it’s pretty much there, in most pieces of consumer electronic equipment, plus any networking kit employed in telephone exchanges and data centres, through to the end points – the receiving servers which constitute “the cloud”.

Its use and application is rich and strange: sometimes in your interests, and often, arguably, not so.  But whether you’re a Linux/UNIX, Windows or Mac user, taking care of your own data is vital for a life of value!

Making your digital life private, again

Is it possible to retract data that you previously opted to store online, and be confident that cloud service providers no longer keep it stashed somewhere?  There are two responses to this:

  • “yes”
  • “no”

Let’s assume for a moment that “yes” is, by far, the prevailing truth.  “Yes”, data which I previously uploaded was properly deleted when I deleted it, and an online service provider no longer has any copy, nor any meta data about my data (ok, I’m laughing now).

“there are many ways in which you can protect your data, and protect your privacy”

Many of us have done it: uploaded photos to Google Photos, posted images or event information to Facebook, shared our location on Twitter, set up an account on … well, the list goes on.   But forgetting the “privacy” policy of such entities, just for a second (well, ok then – it’s not that easy to put aside “We store data for as long as it is necessary to provide products and services to you and others”, but even so!!), there are many ways in which you can protect your data, and protect your privacy.  It starts with a little effort and time.

First things, first: get a backup routine!

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is your data security.  For example, consider the following:

  • Is any of your personal data stored on company equipment?
  • Do you absolutely know, hand on heart, that your data is backed up?
    • Did you go ahead and do that yourself?
    • Did someone sign a certificate and say, in no uncertain terms, that they did that on your behalf?
    • When?
  • When did you last audit your data?

A friend of mine recently lost years of pristine digital photos due to a failure of company equipment (“the company laptop”) and because he hadn’t backed them up to a secondary device – even though he had one of sufficient capacity in his possession!

Don’t let this be you!  Get a routine in place for backing up. Even if it’s only monthly, usually cameras and phones have enough capacity to store a month’s worth of shots.

Designate somewhere safe for your backup!

A safe location can be anywhere.  You don’t have to get a fireproof safe – although I’m not saying don’t!  But if you backup your personal data at home, try not to keep your backup at home.  A USB drive costs so little these days, that it’s the perfect medium for backing up photos and then taking it to work and locking in your desk drawer.

Encrypting your data is always a good idea for a removable storage device, provided you can easily remember a strong password.  Although the ease of managing encrypted removable storage varies between operating systems (note, it is very easy to encrypt data on GNU/Linux).

Test restoring from your backup and backup again!

A backup is no good if you can’t restore files from it.  Luckily, with a simple backup process you can easily monitor and validate that your backups have occurred successfully.  If you are confident that your system backups work ok, do another one.  Then store.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

How does this keep my data private?

By setting a rule for yourself to back-up your own data, you won’t become so dependent on cloud services for backing up your photos.

Common objections to keeping data off the cloud include the oft-argued (but ill-conceived) notion that it’s free of cost.  Let’s just examine this for a brief moment:

  • Data centres cost hundreds of thousands, to millions of £/$/€ to build
  • Running costs are tens to hundreds of thousands of £/$/€ each month
  • They must be staffed, too – requiring monthly salaries
  • If everyone is uploading for free, how can it pay for itself?
  • There must be an end-purpose: the end does not justify the means!

The value of your “free” data storage is in the metadata that is stored with it.  Tied to your user account (that same user account you might use to log in to other services, signifying your activity at other times even when not using the primary service…) is data – in the form of metadata – that describes it quite clearly.

What photo metadata tells my cloud provider about me

That photo which was kindly synced to your cloud provider’s account will contain data, like:

  • Where you were (where you live, work, visit, or where friends, family live, work, etc)
  • What local time it was (when you may not be working, placing you into a social demographic)
  • What equipment you were using (which brand you like to buy)
  • What network you were using (who you are a customer of)
  • What the weather was like at the time of the photo
  • Who you were with from the faces of people you were with & photographed … thus registering where they were at that time too (thanks to facial recognition technology and perhaps against their will)
  • Due to prominent colouring in the photo, whether you were inside or outside
  • … and much more.

When free is not free

If I am a massive indexing engine and I start aggregating and analysing these data, I will be able to determine some interesting trends:

  • How many people use my service in an area/region/country
  • How many people who use the service were in a particular area/region/country at a specific time
  • How many of those use Camera brand “B” or Phone brand “A”
  • How many faces I recognise (people who have opted in to facial recognition)
    • Who is in whose “networks” and extended networks (friends of friends)
  • How many faces I don’t recognise (potential targets for acquisition – new users)
  • How many people like being outdoors on a bright, dry day
  • And how many don’t
  • Whether you like being outdoors … or not
  • Who you like being with during those conditions
  • What you might be doing at that time, on that type of day, in those conditions, with those people, while using your “brand X” device.

we are now at a stage where it is easier to get a phone, and rely on Facebook for photo storage

Some people I know seem apathetic towards online security, and yet suspicious towards cloud service provider’s intentions too.  Perhaps we are now at a stage where it is easier to get a phone, and rely on Facebook for photo storage, than to “bother” seeking alternatives.  “The answer is not readily to hand, so let’s move on.”

Living a life less ordinary

The problem with systems is that they need parameters.  Do a search on something, somewhere, and you’ll be sure to see ads and sponsored links of that thing, somewhere else.  This is, and has been for a while, the new internet “norm”.

Breaking out of this “think, search (hunger); feed (consume with contextual data)” lifestyle has been described as the “search bubble”.  A self-fulfilling data management and presentation matrix based on your lifestyle habits.

By adopting a simple routine such as taking care of your own data and not subscribing religiously to online services, it’s possible to find not only more sanctity in life’s unique moments, but also more richness from the due consideration of others.  Where people know you a little less, and are curious to know you a little more.

Gtypist menu options
Gtypist menu options

GNOME Terminal showing gtypist menu

Looking for a free software program to help me learn to touch-type, and shortly after my search started I found GNU Typist.  And GNU Typist (gtypist) is a gem.

The instructions are simple and the purpose of the program is equally simple: to “condition” the user into adopting and maintaining good typing habits.  After starting the basic lessons (“Quick QWERTY course”), it soon became clear that my touch-typing capability was far poorer than I had hoped and my typing speed these days is generally just luck-driven.

Thankfully, a considerate fellow called Simon Baldwin decided to write gtypist, and here we are.  The online documentation is equally useful; not only do you get help regarding how to acquire, install and invoke gtypist on your machine, but also a list of alternative free software typing programs which are a good fit in various situations (general, education, games-playing, etc).  Like most GNU software, a man page is also provided.

It is so easy to take this effort for granted, and yet how useful is this resource! Such is the way with free software: quite often, somebody already had that itch and had to scratch it.


Brasilia style – a good option for any Saturday morning

I’m consciously reworking my way through Taylors’ range of filter coffee.  Many times before we’ve had the Italian style medium roast and, in addition, we’ve also gone for the number 6 strength “Hot Lava Java”.  But sometimes you need a milder option, to more gently ease you into into a state of caffienated bliss.

Score out of 5 … 3. It’s a mellow cup, but perhaps missing some depth to the flavour. Not disagreeable at all though.  Would still recommend.


#coffeeftw #saturday




View from the Admiralty Buildings, Grenwich

View from the Admiralty Buildings, Greenwich (22 Mar 2015)

Despite it’s controversial history and, some might argue, “dodgy” financial underpinning, I can’t help but admire Greenwich.  It’s a part of London relatively untouched by the progress of time; where the city-at-large surrounding it has left it be, as a kind of comforting “nod” back to its imperial glory.

These days, of course, it’s not the done thing to refer to the British Empire as glorious.  Oh no, that’s far, far too politically incorrect.  Instead, we must loosely use in reference words such as “enslaving”, “pillaging”, “disempowering”  and, simply, “colonising”.

Such are the mists of time, allowing us  now to moralise on a spirit of adventure and exploration, taking for granted that the world is now known, the risk of travel is small and our collective enlightenment a “given”.

Yet I pause for thought when considering the next leap into the unknown – space, and what harvests me may assume ours to take and do with as we please.

If ever there was a time to unify people towards common goals, for the betterment of us all, now is it.

I’ve decided I need to dance more in my life.  Being a techy-programmer-web_developing-CEO-type, there is so little time anyway.  With the remainder, I usually indulge in sci-fi, walking the dog, eating… and occasionally sleeping too.  Yet, being almost an artificial intelligence by any reckoning, I can tell you that Androids are too busy to dream.

Well, this has to stop!  No more sleeping!  Only raving.  It’s essential.

A trip to Miami is essential too.  After all, you can’t be #superhuman all the time!



For those who value freedom.

I was lucky to have spotted a recent social media post, alerting me to showings of CITIZENFOUR in London over the past weekend. CITIZENFOUR, in case you are not aware, is a film made by celebrated filmmaker Laura Poitras (Praxis Films), who accompanied journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill to Hong Kong to interview Edward Snowden in the summer of 2013.

My partner and I took a train to Wimbledon. It was an uncharacteristically warm day, summer-like in all regards except the browning of the leaves. The trees looked tired as we marched along to the station; we weren’t missing this film for anything.

In contrast to the anticipation building up inside of me, waiting to see this film, Wimbledon itself was very ordinary. People going about their normal lives. Appetizing whiffs of just-cooked food were wafting over from the market stalls. Traffic was permanently in a hurry with barely any regard for pedestrians’ safety. And the shoppers held an equally high regard for the traffic too, voluntarily stepping out in front of anything coming.

And the shoppers …
voluntarily stepping out in front of anything coming.

The matinée showing at the bijou HMV Curzon cinema was starting just after lunch. I wanted to get there early so that, in anticipation of the queues, we would be assured of a good seat. When picking up our tickets, we spoke to a member of staff behind the bar/counter about the expected numbers.

Staggeringly, four seats had been booked. Including ours. Citizens: four.

To my slight relief, more than four people eventually turned up and attended the showing. Twenty, maybe. Perhaps thirty, tops. In a 110-seat room. And they were comfortable seats too. The best you’d find in any cinema, with lots of leg room and deep, comfortable cushions.

A Tale of Two Cities

After reading Lawrence Lessig’s blog post of his recent cinema outing in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with 500 movie-goers attending their picture house, I wondered how there could be such disparity across the pond. For us, there was no line to stand in before entering, and perhaps adding insult to injury, our tickets were not even checked by a member of staff when we walked in to pick our (unallocated) seats.

Perhaps it was the over-air-conditioned screen that turned people away. Considering that outside it was the very end of the British summer and we saw temperatures of 20 deg C, inside was another story altogether. We were lucky if it was more than 14. But I don’t think this was the reason for the poor turn-out; any evidence of forward-thinking would surely have improved the attendance?

What does this say about continued British apathy towards such fundamental issues?

A somewhat senior lady who attended the film, mentioned to me on her way out, “I don’t think I meant to come and see that. I thought it was something else.Citizen Kane, perhaps? I hope she wasn’t one of the original four who bought in advance…

Perhaps people felt it was a story already told. In some ways it was – but arguably, in many ways the whole story had not been told until now. A couple of reveals towards the end of the film were new information to me. Stuff I wasn’t aware of, from reading the Snowden book.

The Wombles

I am glad that a healthy number of people in the US are curious about this subject and decided to explore it further. You might expect this from the residents of Cambridge (Mass.), with its connection to Free Software and socio-political activism, and well done to them.

So, a quick glance at the population numbers of both areas provides some fairly meaningless stats on which to close.

Cambridge’s popn = 107,000 or so. Wimbledon’s: around 60,000.  Roughly speaking, for every 214 residents in Cambridge, one person attended Saturday’s matinée there. Only one person of every 3,040 in Wimbledon managed the same feat.  What does this say about continued British apathy towards such fundamental issues?

I am left feeling that provided Centre Court and strawberries are always available, Wimbledon won’t care much.  Unless, of course, someone personally has an infraction with the law, as a result authoritarian paranoia.  Then, perhaps, it might fill a column in page 7 of the local rag.  Residents might even chat about this at a local pub, in-between opinions on the state of the brew.

But to complain against wrongdoings is normal.  It’s human nature to focus on the oppressors rather than the oppressed.   Luckily, for us, in respectable communities there still burns a glimmer of hope that sense may prevail.

This is a remarkable story of how restoring some balance in nature can have hugely positive ecological effects.


“In 1995, wolves were re-introduced into the Yellowstone National Park, after being wolf-free for 70 years. What naturalists and biologist never imagined, was that the most remarkable thing would take place.”

It is remarkable indeed, and so elegant in demonstrating how nature should be respected if the world as we know it is to survive.

In the spirit of the upcoming Hallo’ween, today is my unofficial #deadmouseday.  I am challenging myself to go without using my computer mouse all day – which has already been a considerable challenge in WordPress when creating this post.

The mouse is dead!

The mouse is dead!


Let’s see how far I get…