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Linode: After 319 Days of Uptime

If there is one VPS provider that I really like and use it’s Linode (ref link). In my opinion they are not over hyped or overrated, they do what they do best: offer quality VPS, have multiple locations, nifty features (such as load balancing) and most importantly the best (and quickest) support.

Recently Linode started a wave of upgrades:

  1. 20% increase in storage (December 2012)
  2. Network upgrade that included upgrading the transfer allowance (March 2013)
  3. Host node upgrades running newer Intel Xeon E5-2670 CPUs + 8 cores per VPS (March 2013)
  4. RAM doubled on all plans (April 2013)

After reading about the RAM upgrade and simply had to get my VPS running with all of the above (out of the above my VPS I was only taking advantage of the network upgrade). I made the difficult decision to sacrifice my 319 days of uptime :-(…



linodeuptime Linode: After 319 Days of Uptime

I started off with the disk upgrade which took my VPS offline for a few minutes while I resized the HDD and restarted the Linode. Then I decided to go through the migration to the new host nodes running the newer processors (aka 8 cores + double RAM).

15 minutes later, my VPS is safely back up, running on new hardware, with more RAM, disk space and bandwidth :-D!

I wonder what else Linode have under their sleeves…?

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Fixing Windows Phone 8 to Windows 8 Tethering Issue

I have recently decided to jump over to the Windows Phone side, having been on Android and even developing a couple of apps on Android (I still like the platform though!).

I went for the very popular Nokia Lumia 920 (sure it is bulky compared to the HTC 8x, but it has a more solid build) and to be honest I’m not missing much compared to Android (email + WhatsApp + GPS navigation are the apps I use the most).

One of the great things about smartphones these days is the ability to tether (for those unfamiliar with the term: share your phone’s data with other devices over WiFi or sometimes even USB). I tried to tether my Windows Phone 8 to my Windows 8 Pro laptop and unfortunately I kept getting “Limited Access”. I tried just about everything from switching DNS to reinstalling drivers and I can’t remember what else.

I was frustrated, I thought my phone was broken somehow. A search online did not help much since people were either using phones with providers that “crippled” the tethering feature or had it removed completely. I bought my phone from the Nokia dealer in Bahrain (Intercol) and know for a fact that is supposed to be unlocked.

Then it hit me, in my frustration I never tried tethering to my Windows 7 desktop, my Android phone or even my PS Vita. Surprisingly they had no problem accessing the Internet, something was wrong with Windows 8. I attempted to tether to my Windows 8 work laptop and bam, limited access… Windows 8 was¬†definitely¬†the culprit.

After days of trying I finally found the solution, although I can’t explain the reason why it works, it just works! What you need to do in Windows 8 is enable FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standards), just follow these steps:

1. Right click on your tethered WiFi connection (which is currently showing “Limited Access”) and open up “View connection properties”.

win81 Fixing Windows Phone 8 to Windows 8 Tethering Issue

2. Go to the “Security” tab and click on “Advanced Settings”.

3. Tick the “Enable FIPS” box (its the only box there). Hit the OKs.

win82 Fixing Windows Phone 8 to Windows 8 Tethering Issue

4. If the connection still shows “Limited Access” just disconnect and reconnect. It should have Internet access now.

Hope this clears your tethering frustrations :-P!

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Linode’s Clairvoyant Support Team

I swear Linode's (shameless referral linking :-p) support team have a crystal ball or something on their desks! So a couple of days ago my VPS at Linode was going up and down then down for a few minutes. I decided to send in a ticket wondering if there was some issue going on. Just have a look at the timestamps:

linodescary Linodes Clairvoyant Support Team

Yes, that is a reply to my question 7 SECONDS after I opened the ticket! You don't even find canned responses that quick! Oh and my Linode VPS was back up and running when I got the reply. So not only was it a response, it was also a resolution!

One of many reasons I recommend Linode if you are ever looking for a VERY reliable VPS (they use Xen).

This is not the first time I write about them: here is a review I wrote about them and another about their uptime. I wonder if they're better than Rackspace's Fanatical Support? Wouldn't be surprised, they definitely beat Liquid Web's Heroic Support!

 

 

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Outlook.com: A Cleaner Hotmail

With the arrival of instant messaging many years ago, and more recently social media networks, people thought that the death of e-mail would be coming inevitable soon. Big players such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft (just to name a few) tried to resuscitate e-mail by increasing attachment size, providing unlimited storage and integrating e-mail closely with other products helping e-mail celebrate its 40th birthday (that's a millennium in Internet years!). In my opinion the complete overhaul in webmail also helped e-mail face off against its competitors.

My first ever webmail account was a Hotmail account (I believe I signed up back in 1998). I then went through several other providers before settling with Gmail. Why? Hotmail's SPAM filtering is really bad compared to Gmail, the URL structure isn't bookmark friendly (yes you can bookmark a Gmail conversation) and the interface was simply horrible. However, it looks like Hotmail may just be giving Google a run for their money with their new interface: Outlook.com

As the name suggests, the new web interface shares the same new as Microsoft's e-mail client Outlook. The Outlook web interface is not the new face of Hotmail and it has come with several new features (clean look, Twitter and Facebook integration, office and no ads).

outlookcom1 300x143 Outlook.com: A Cleaner Hotmail

I was quite surprised to see how CLEAN the Metro interface looked! Compared to the old interface, there is really no comparison. Almost like a breath of fresh air. It's even much cleaner than Gmail's interface.

outlookcom4 300x119 Outlook.com: A Cleaner Hotmail

Composing e-mails is more comfortable as well. I really liked the clear separation between the sections where you add recipients, compose your message and either send, save or cancel your message. This was also the first time I bothered trying out a smiley :-p!

outlookcom3 300x59 Outlook.com: A Cleaner Hotmail

Similarly to Gmail, the new Outlook interface also has that floating toolbar (reply, delete, junk, move etc…) that follows as you scroll through your email.

 

outlookcom5 300x92 Outlook.com: A Cleaner Hotmail

Until now, Outlook has been just another e-mail interface. This is where it is truly different: it allows you to connect to your other online accounts. This connection will also apply if you have linked Windows 8 to your Microsoft account. At the moment I checked I had Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Flickr and Google. I have seen other people also have YouTube as an account integration option.

outlookcom6 300x231 Outlook.com: A Cleaner Hotmail

If for some reason you do not like your Hotmail account dressed up in the Outlook interface, you can simply revert back to the old interface by clicking on the settings (the wrench). I see no reason why someone would want to go back to the old interface though (I very, very rarely use Hotmail anyway)!

Is e-mail dead, definitely not in Microsoft's opinion since they are providing more than just e-mail thanks to allowing integration with other accounts you use around the web. Would I start using Hotmail again? Not in the near future, my Gmail account is my main account and change is something difficult ;-). I might consider it if Microsoft really improved their SPAM filtering algorithms which is one area that hasn't changed in my opinion.

Long live e-mail!

 

 

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Yummy Raspberry Pi

Disclaimer: If you are reading this because you thought I am talking about "raspberry piE" then I am sorry to disappoint you :-(. This is about "Raspberry Pi" the computer! For PIE here is the top result.

Wow where to start. Guess an introduction first. The Raspberry Pi is a cheap (around $35) computer that comes as an open circuit board. You get to see the components in the nude, touch the chips and components (not recommended due to ESD and a little shock icon wink Yummy Raspberry Pi ) and even add other compatible boards to it.

raspi1 300x224 Yummy Raspberry Piraspi2 300x224 Yummy Raspberry Pi

What makes the Raspberry Pi so special? For one it is quite powerful (taking price and size into consideration of course). It comes with a Broadcom BCM2835 (SoC: CPU, GPU and RAM sandwiched on a chip), 256MB of RAM that can be split between OS and the GPU, 2 USB ports, an Ethernet port, HDMI output (yes, the GPU has enough juice to output 1080p video), RCA video output and the popular 3.5mm audio jack. It also comes with GPIO (General Purpose Input / Output) that will let you connect to other boards (some available, others coming). All you need to run the OS is simply an SD card! And it only needs 3.5W from a USB power supply to run it (the micro USB type B available on some phone chargers today). Basically all you need is any TV with either the old video input or HDMI and a USB keyboard and mouse (or you can simply use Ethernet (it comes with a 10/100 port) for SSH and get rid of the keyboard and mouse).

raspi3 300x224 Yummy Raspberry Pi

It took quite a bit of waiting for me to get my Raspberry Pi. I actually had to register on a waiting list (many months ago), when it was my turn (invited to order on the 21st of June) I ordered and paid in full but had to wait a bit longer (16th July) before they shipped my Raspberry! It was also the first time any of my Aramex Shop and Ship packages had to go through customs (a circuit board definitely looks awkward, especially these days).

raspi4 300x224 Yummy Raspberry Piraspi5 300x224 Yummy Raspberry Pi

Software wise, the Pi runs Linux for now. A wide range of distributions are available, the more popular and recommended one being Raspbian (Raspberry + Debian). A more complete list of distros available may be found here (including some media servers). I  opted for the recommended Raspbian, that comes with an LXDE desktop. To be honest, the desktop is slow compared to one of those cheap Chinese tablets running Android. However, if all you need is the shell then the Pi is for you.

raspi7 300x224 Yummy Raspberry Piraspi8 300x224 Yummy Raspberry Piraspi9 300x188 Yummy Raspberry Pi

Given that the Raspberry Pi is targeted for kids and for educational purposes, it does have its applications in other areas. Here are just a few current and upcoming projects based on the Pi.The official site also showcases what people are doing with their Pis. At the moment I have decided to run my Raspberry Pi as a seedbox: no more noisy, power hungry PC left running overnight ;-)!

Here are a few great links for the Raspberry Pi:

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TRA Publishes Bahrain’s Internet Ecosystem Report (by Renesys)

The TRA of Bahrain has published a mid year report about Bahrain's Internet environment (or ecosystem). This report was compiled by Renesys, Internet intelligence experts. If you are into networking or would like to know more how your Internet at home is routed then you'll enjoy reading it.

Download it from the TRA here.

Some interesting points:

  • STC (aka Viva) is providing most of the upstream to providers across the country (66% of traffic going through them). This is good because STC in Saudi Arabia transit with MANY connectivity providers (Level 3, Tinet, Tata amongst others).
  • Many ISPs are have now single-homed to STC or BIX.
  • The bad, Bahrain is the ONLY country in the GCC that does not have a single IPv6 network…

Hopefully the next report will contain some information about newcomer Greenisis.

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Linode’s 9th Birthday Giveaway!

Linode (to me, the best VPS provider in the solar system) is going to be celebrating its 9th birthday on the 19th of June with a super giveaway! Yes, this is a party where you don't need to bring any presents, but get presents from the birthday boy (or company) themselves.

The giveaway is for all, new and existing customers and it is quite simple. According to their blog post if you are a new customer, signup for one of their amazing Xen VPS and you'll get $100 in credit. For existing customers it is even better ;-), add any VPS (aka Linode) or a NodeBalancer and you can get 3 months of service free! So it is possible to get a Linode 2048 (worth $79.95) for free during August, September and October!

Are there any catches? Yes of course. The party (giveaway) starts on Tuesday after 4 PM GMT (16:00 or 1340121600 in epoch) and there is $250,000 worth of services to be given away (live countdown on their home page). The good news is that you will know immediately if you are in or out through the "black box" on the signup page that will be updated in real time with the amount left.

So go ahead, give Linode a try for your hosting needs.

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Viva Bahrain Launches Facebook Zero

Viva Bahrain has just launched "free Facebook" aka Facebook Zero to its customers. If you have a phone with data access (data bundles not necessary) and a mobile browser you can access Facebook Zero through one of the following addresses:

You get a basic Facebook interface suitable for mobile phones (much like m.facebook.com) and you will be allowed to access most of Facebook's services (updates, feeds, messages etc…). You will be charged if you decide to open a photo or click on a link that leads to an external page (any link taking you away from Facebook). Also note that due to the nature of SSL, if you add https:// to one of the URLs above you will be charged even though it is a Zero URL.

If you do end up doing something that will get you charged, the data fees are very affordable: BD0.002/100KB (Prepaid) or BD0.003/200KB (Postpaid). Alternatively you can add a data bundle to your account.

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What to do With an Old Netbook?

Many of us at the moment probably own one or more of these devices: a laptop, desktop, smart phone, possibly a tablet and maybe a netbook. If we exclude the smart phone, the weakest device in your arsenal now is probably the netbook.

Netbooks were great. It's light, extremely portable, has a decent battery life and you can do all your browsing and emailing in convenience. However today, notebooks are extremely affordable and have much better specs than a netbook. Then the tablet arrived, it used to be expensive with Apple dominating the market, but thanks to Android a plethora of tablets have poured in the market. By now, you are probably doing your netbook stuff on your tablet (email, browsing, videos, social networking etc…) or combining the netbook usage with some high end gaming or graphics on your notebook.

Now you've got a netbook lying around, doing nothing but picking up dust. So, what other uses can you find for your old netbook? Here are a few I came up with:

Give It Away

This one is pretty obvious, if you have someone that doesn't own a computer the netbook will probably be the best gift ever! You could also give it to a younger sibling or donate it to some charity or thrift shop to be sold. Quick and easy disposal. Someone like me however, would skip this option.

Try a Different Operating System

Your netbook most likely came shipped with Windows XP or Windows 7 Starter, I'm leaning to a majority of XP netbooks. Heard of Linux? No, it is not a hacker thing. Although technically incorrect, Linux is an alternative operating system. However they come in flavors (Linux is the kernel), depending on usage. For beginners I would recommend Ubuntu. Simply download it, get a flash drive, download and run Unetbootin to create a bootable flash drive and let your netbook boot from the flash. Ubuntu will give you the opportunity to try it out without touching your hard disk contents.

For the geeks: install something like FreeBSD and show off your devilish netbook!

Run a NAS

Netbooks aren't really suited for running a Network Attached Storage (NAS) servers because they usually come with small capacity drives. However, if you just need to attach an external USB drive and you've instantly upgraded usable storage. For a quick NAS solution try FreeNAS. It is built upon FreeBSD but has everything you need to start a NAS almost immediately after installation. It comes with an easy to use web interface and several plugins to expand its capabilities. Don't let the system requirements fool you, for a small network your 1GB of RAM netbook should be ok.

I will probably be doing this with my old netbook.

Donate its CPU Cycles

Although I do not recommend it on netbooks, you could "donate" CPU time to one of several grid computing projects out there. Your CPU will be running at (or almost) maximum capacity searching for disease cures or aliens. Reason I do not recommend it is that firstly, the CPU will get hot and netbooks do not have the best cooling fans. Secondly, the CPU in a netbook is pretty slow, so you will complete computation projects pretty slow as well (may take days for a single work unit).

WiFi Repeater

If you live in a large house or one with many walls that make it difficult for WiFi signals to pass through, you may want a repeater of some sorts to extend the signal. Rather than buying a wireless extender, try a software solution. If you are running a Windows 7 netbook simply install Connectify and a few clicks later you have a wireless router that uses your current WiFi network. Place the netbook somewhere in the middle and you'll get better coverage throughout your house. Or, share WiFi with your friends (and your other devices) through your netbook in places that charge for, or have authenticated Internet access such as hotels, coffee shops, convention halls etc…

Other Uses

A few other uses (but that may not be as practical): automating your home (light on, lights off with a clap, sort of :-P), network firewall (requires at least 2 network cards), sell the parts (HD and RAM probably easiest accessible) or sell it online (is it worth much?)

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Incremental Backups with Google Drive

With Google Drive out (my take on it here), I was looking for what to do with the free 5 GB of storage. I do not want to store anything sensitive on it, neither do I want to use it to store media since I have much more than 5 GB worth of that. One thing I am paranoid about is having a backup of important stuff which I store in a folder that syncs across all of my computers (using Wuala, a great multi platform service).

I thought, how could I store a backup of this folder on Google Drive, while at the same time keep it encrypted with a password known to me only? Most importantly I need something that can do backups incrementally to save time and bandwidth. I could simply throw everything into an encrypted 7zip archive and password protect it. However, if changes are significant it might require uploading the archive over and over for simple changes (emphasizing the need for incremental). Then there is the issue of scheduling the whole backup process, logging into my Google Drive account and uploading the backup.

Then I came across an excellent backup program for Windows called Duplicati. In a nutshell Duplicati can:

  • Encrypt using 256-bit AES (which is very hard to crack, assuming the password is strong icon wink Incremental Backups with Google Drive ).
  • Performs full and incremental backups.
  • Multiple upload destinations.
  • Rules and filters if you don't want certain file types to be uploaded.
  • Splitting files, better for unstable connections.
  • A wizard: Probably the most important feature to bind everything above!

duplicati1 Incremental Backups with Google Drive

The wizard is very easy to go through. You basically select what you want to backup, choose a password for encryption (optional), select the destination, enter authentication for destination and you're basically ready.

 

duplicati2 300x223 Incremental Backups with Google Driveduplicati3 300x223 Incremental Backups with Google Driveduplicati4 300x223 Incremental Backups with Google Driveduplicati5 300x223 Incremental Backups with Google Drive

Tip: In case you want to backup to Google Drive, you should set the destination to Google Docs in the wizard (remember Google Drive is still being rolled out). Now you know how to backup safely to your Google Drive :-).

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