5 Tools and Tricks for an Easier Terminal Time

Ahh, the terminal.. it’s a love/hate dealio.

When you know exactly to type, it’s the quickest and most convenient thing ever. But even the most trivial typo will ruin that.

Which is why the phrases “command line” and “user friendly” are so rarely paired. So here’s some tips to make it way easier:

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Linux on the Desktop: a Quick Follow Up

Could this really be true? I’m pinching myself.

After such an excruciating effort to install Linux on the Desktop just a few months ago, I found myself having to do it all again.

But this time, it was easy. That’s in large part thanks to a neat little trick I found to install the wireless drivers without wireless internet. We’ll get to that shortly.

I’ve also distro-hopped from Ubuntu Studio to Linux Mint – which means going from Xfce to Cinnamon. I’ll share my thoughts on both changes.

But first, disaster:

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SPEED TEST: x86 vs. ARM for Web Crawling in Python

Can you imagine if your job was to trawl competitor websites and jot  prices down by hand, again and again and again? You’d burn your whole office down by lunchtime.

So, little wonder web crawlers are huge these days. They can keep track of customer sentiment and trending topics, monitor job openings, real estate transactions, UFC results, all sorts of stuff.

For those of a certain bent, this is fascinating stuff. Which is how I found myself playing around with Scrapy, an open source web crawling framework written in Python.

Being wary of the potential to do something catastrophic to my computer while poking with things I didn’t understand, I decided to install it on my main machine but a Raspberry Pi.

And wouldn’t you know it? It actually didn’t run too shabby on the little tacker. Maybe this is a good use case for an ARM server?

Google had no solid answer. The nearest thing I found was this Drupal hosting drag race, which showed an ARM server outperforming a much more expensive x86 based account.

That was definitely interesting. I mean, isn’t a web server kind of like a crawler in reverse? But with one operating on a LAMP stack and the other on a Python interpreter, it’s hardly the exact same thing.

So what could I do? Only one thing. Get some VPS accounts and make them race each other.

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Linux on the Desktop: Are We Nearly There Yet?

The numbers are pretty stark: Linux might be the backbone of everything from embedded devices to mainframes and super computers. But it has just a 2% share of desktops and laptops.

It seems the only way to get most people to even touch it is to rip away everything you recognise as Linux to rebuild it as Android.

Until recently, I was in the 98%. I honestly wasn’t even conflicted. I used Linux most days both for work and for hobbies – but always in the cloud or on one of those handy little project boards that are everywhere now. For my daily driver, it was Windows all the way.

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Adding PWM, a Free Password Reset Tool, to a Windows Network

People asking you to reset their passwords all the time?

Would it lighten your workload to have them reset it themselves with a web-based interface?

Trying to implement a better password policy to break your users out of bad practices?

Well, there’s a Microsoft service that can handle this for you. But there are license costs. And it turns out that it’s actually not even as good as the open source alternative: PWM. This is a very powerful, self-service password reset tool that integrates with your existing MS Active Directory infrastructure using LDAP.

This guide will show you how to configure PWM start to finish with SSL cert installation and MYSQL database setup included.

I will be using Ubuntu Server 16.04 for this guide. I have tried with 18.04 but with varying degrees of success. It seems that 18.04, at the time of writing this article, has some compatibility issues with some of the packages that get installed in the process.

The official installation instructions are actually pretty good – even a Windows guy like me could figure out most of it. But I got stuck a bit trying to configure the SSL certificates and configuring PWM to use a remote database. Having taken the effort to figure these bits out, I wanted to share what I’d done to make it easier for the next guy 🙂

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5 Things Influenza Taught Me About the Evolution of the Desktop Computer

The flu took me completely out of action recently. It hit me pretty hard.

And, as tends to happen with these things, I ended up binge watching more TV and movies in two weeks hidden under a blanket than in 2 years as a member of wider society.

In the most delirious moments, the vicious conspiracy of fever and painkillers gave me no choice but to stick to bad 80s action movies.

When I was a little more lucid, though, I got really stuck into some documentaries around the early days of desktop computing: Computerphile episodes, Silicon Cowboys, Micro Men, Youtube interviews, all sorts of stuff.

Here are the big things that have stuck with me from it:

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Making Remote Desktop Connections More Secure

The Remote Desktop Connection features in Microsoft Windows allow staff on the road, all over the world, to access their workstation. The productivity benefits of this are obvious.

The security implications are also obvious. Get this wrong and you are handing over full control of the machine to bad people who will harm you if they can profit from it.

So what’s the right way to go about this?

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11 Uses for a Raspberry Pi Around the Office

Look, I know what you’re thinking: a Raspberry Pi is really just for tinkering, prototyping and hobby use. It’s not actually meant for running a business on.

And it’s definitely true that this computer’s relatively low processing power, corruptible SD card, lack of battery backup and the DIY nature of the support means it’s not going to be a viable replacement for a professionally installed and configured business server for your most mission-critical operations any time soon.

But the board is affordable, incredibly frugal with power, small enough to fit just about anywhere and endlessly flexible – it’s actually a pretty great way to handle some basic tasks around the office.

And, even better, there’s a whole world of people out there who have done these projects before and are happy to share how they did it.

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Playing Badass Acorn Archimedes Games on a Raspberry Pi

The Acorn Archimedes was an excellent machine and years ahead of its time.

Debuting in 1987, it featured a point and click graphic interface not so different to Windows 95, 32 bit processing, and enough 3D graphics power to portal you to a new decade.

These days, it’s best remembered for launching the Acorn RISC Machines processor. ARM processors went on to rule the world. You almost certainly keep one in your pocket.

What’s less well appreciated is that the Archimedes was rad for games. For a few years, it was the most powerful desktop in the world and developers were eager to show what they could do with it.

But with such power came a great price tag. The Archimedes was never going to be in as many homes to make as many memories as Sega or Nintendo.

But now, the Raspberry Pi’s ARM chip makes it cheap and easy to play these games on the same operating system and CPU architecture they were written for.

Even better, the rights holders to much of this machine’s gaming catalogue have been generous enough to allow hobbyists to legally download their work for free.

This is a cheap and easy project. In fact, if you already run a Raspberry Pi home theatre or retro gaming rig, all you really need is a spare SD card.

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