More for my reference than anything. The command to start up a simple web server in the current directory on OS X is:
python -m SimpleHTTPServer 8000
Useful for testing simple websites.
(originally posted as http://greentechteam.org/site/green-impact-at-the-it-service-desk)
My department have done so much to promote sustainability and green issues, but in this article I am going to concentrate on the work done by my team – the IT Service Desk.
In 2012 IT Services were awarded a Green Impact Gold Award for the first time. As part of that initiative we looked at the way we work and made some changes. We cut down on paper, explored virtualisation technologies, and set up a green board in the office to make everyone aware of environmental issues and how each person could contribute.
In 2013 we went a little further, and started a more proactive approach to bringing down the carbon footprint of the team, and raising awareness of the role each of us has to play in building a sustainable future.
Initiatives we undertook in 2013 include:
Putting together a whole workstation by re-using and scrounging furniture and IT equipment. We have used a lot of the old kit from Aston Web C-block that was going to be binned, and have actually saved a fair bit of money by doing things this way. People often forget that reusing things is generally better than recycling them, and this initiative nicely demonstrates that. Also, we did it all in about two hours, and carried all the furniture ourselves rather than using a van.
Along similar lines, we have also just refurbished another office using furniture from C-block, and cascaded our old furniture to other parts of the library.
We have a new Green Board, in the corridor outside our office. We have all the usual things, plus a Green Ideas Tree. Students can write suggestions on it, and we can pass these on to the relevant people periodically. We also have a poster detailing iPhone and Android apps to do with sustainability and environmental concerns (including QR codes so people can download them).
For years we have re-used old PCs as servers, test machines, and as a way to have access to as many different OS/browser combinations as possible for testing purposes. This year we measured the power consumption of these older machines and found they were using significantly more electricity that the other computers in the office. As a result of this we now use virtual machines for anything that doesn’t involve running something on specific hardware, which has cut down massively on power consumption, as well as making the office feel a lot less cluttered.
And finally, we’re also trying to raise awareness with our staff. Just little things like asking them to justify having a second monitor, making sure PCs and printers are switched off when not being used, and trying to avoid using fans, heaters, and anything else that consumes a lot of power. We also use an online Knowledge Base as our primary way of disseminating information to students, which cuts down on the amount of paper we use.
Hopefully what we have done so far has made a difference, but we already have plans for the next twelve months to build on this good work and hopefully aim for a Gold Plus award this time next year.
I’ve been working with Macs and with OS X for most of the past 18 months. As a result of this, most of my hardware has shifted from generic Dell and Sony machines running Linux, to Macs running OS X. I still maintain a couple of physical Ubuntu/Debian machines, but mostly virtualise now, especially as by using powerful Apple hardware I can create VMs that are significantly more powerful than their physical counterparts.
I do most of my work on either a Macbook Pro or Macbook Air, both of which were the absolute bottom-of-the-range at the time they were purchased. I generally have one of these machines with me wherever I am. I also have access to a more powerful Mac desktop, as well as several VMs covering OS X, Windows, Debian and Ubuntu.
At home I have a 2011 Mac Mini, a generic monitor, and the same keyboard and mouse I was using 5 years ago. I back everything up to a large external hard drive and a NAS device that also streams media to an ancient Mac connected to the TV in the living room. I also have several laptops set up for specific purposes, but am in the process of moving everything important onto a series of VMs hosted on the Mac Mini.
I also have a Kindle 4 (the £89 no frills model), and am really enjoying being able to read books on the train without breaking my back or zapping the battery on my phone.
Since I went truly cross-platform, I’ve simplified things a fair bit. I use Chrome (home) and Firefox (work) for browsing, and use Google’s web-based apps for pretty much everything. At work I use Microsoft Office 2011 for those things that require it, but am getting to the point where I can be fully productive with a web browser and a terminal session. This makes moving between Mac OS X and Ubuntu easy, as does having everything I’m working on in Dropbox so that as long as I’m on one of my machines I can sync my changes back home instantly.
I think if I was starting again with setting up what I needed to make me truly productive, I’d go for a maxed out Macbook Air coupled with a 27″ Thunderbolt display in every place I worked. I’d also want a Debian or Ubuntu server to deal with backups, storage, and working on Linux specific tasks. None of this is out of the question, but is hard to justify until the machines I currently use cease to be of use.
I’m liking Google+ a lot so far. It looks like Google have taken everything they learned from Buzz and Wave, everything they’ve borrowed from Facebook, and a few other nice features, and rolled them together into something I think I’ll probably use quite a lot.
I like the idea of Circles in particular. I know a lot of people from all sorts of different places, and I like the idea of being able to aggregate their posts for my benefit, whilst easily segregating what I write so that it only reaches interested parties. I know other social networking sites do this to some extent, but this is the best application of that feature I’ve come across so far.
This Christmas I got a Samsung Galaxy phone running Android. I’ve never had a phone that could do much more than make phone calls and send text messages before, and my new phone feels a lot more like a small computer than anything I’ve owned before.
My initial impression is very positive. It will deal with most of my email and internet needs, and because most of what I use is Google based, everything is integrated perfectly. I can see this phone being used for about half of what I use my netbook for, and I might even be tempted to leave the house with just the phone on occasion.
I’ve also set up an app called talkmyphone, which allows me to optionally forward all my phone’s alerts to my IM client on my computer. So if my phone is downstairs and I’m upstairs then I can still read and reply to texts and know I’ve been called. I may have to experiment with this further at a later date.
As far as other things go, I’ve got dropbox set up, and can take photos and make videos which sync straight to my dropbox account (and thus to all my computers). I’ve also copied a few Gb of music over, and was pleasantly surprised that it will sync with Rhythmbox, although I think I’ll be managing music manually as I have a lot of music and only 14Gb of space on the phone.
As far as phone calls and texts goes, it works fine, and does what I need it to, which was actually my main fear about getting a smart phone. I was a little worried that something that can do everything would do the core tasks less well, but this doesn’t seem to be the case at all.
Oh, and I discovered Angry Birds. It ate an hour of my life and about 20% of my battery. I may have to explore it again soon.
I was having a conversation recently about backups, and how Dropbox is great for ensuring that you don’t lose valuable files. However, the free version of Dropbox can only handle a maximum of 8Gb, and once you start looking at music and photographs then I think most of us would probably need a paid Dropbox account to make this method worthwhile.
Alas, the paid Dropbox accounts only come in 50 or 100Gb denominations, and can come across as quite pricey. I think there’s certainly a market for smaller and cheaper paid options, and I think that a 20Gb account at a reasonable price would get a lot of interest.
But yes, I digress. I though what would be useful (for me at least) would be to detail how I back up my data, and also how I sync it between the various machines I use (which is part of the same process for me).
I’m a great fan of Dropbox, and I use it to sync data between my machines and to collaborate with people on all sorts of work and non-work projects. What I keep in Dropbox is anything that might change, or that I will need to access on all my computers. This largely boils down to:
I also sync my browsing history and bookmarks through Firefox Sync, meaning that on a new/reinstalled computer I just need to install two applications and I can have a fair approximation of my most useful data within a few minutes, regardless of what operating system I’m using.
For actual backups I have a 2Tb NAS (Network attached storage) that backs up my Ubuntu laptop via DejaDup, and my Mac via Time Machine. All my other computers just reply on Dropbox and Firefox sync. I also maintain a few directories available to either just myself or to everyone on our home network. These are things I might want access to occasionally on multiple machines, but that are too weighty for Dropbox:
These total about 200 Gb, and I can access them from anywhere on our network (and further afield if I wished to configure the NAS to do so, which I don’t). Each of these items exists on one of my other computers already, but the NAS represents a repository of everything, and would be the one thing I’d save in a fire to ensure I had at least one copy of everything that was important.
I also have a 500Gb portable hard drive that I manually back up things to sometimes, but that I largely use when I’m away from home and want access to more movies and music that I can sensibly fit on my netbook.
I used to have a very complicated email backup system, but since I switched to Google Apps then I tend to let Google do most of the work and just back up my mailbox as part of my DejaDup/Time Machine backups. I also dump a copy of all my useful documents into Google Docs occasionally, and use it largely for real-time collaboration (which Dropbox can’t really handle).
So yes, that’s about it I think. I wouldn’t recommend this for everyone, but it certainly seems to be working for me at the moment.
Visually this looks really good, although I think it would be much more useful to someone who actually uses a Blackberry.
In other news, I’ve been taking the iPad to every meeting I’ve been to over the last few weeks, and have actually found I’m getting a lot of use out of it. Somehow it seems rude to pull out a laptop to demonstrate something quickly, but the iPad seems totally permissible in these circumstances. Yes, there are things I’d change, but it is certainly an enjoyable mobile computing experience.
Instapaper is something I think I’d use a lot if I had an ebook reader. Basically, it takes web pages and turns then into ebooks for offline reading. At present it’s not a great deal of use to me, but for anyone with an ebook reader or an iPad it might prove very handy.
I’ve just been linked to from http://usesthis.com/community/. This makes me happier than it probably should, and may bring the occasional new reader (and fair few more spammers, who I’ve already had the joy of blocking).