Getting Things Done

I’m fairly new to the concept of Getting Things Done (GTD), in fact, I suspect like many people, I’ve been introduced to it partly from the Free App of the Week promotion on iOS, where Things from Cultured Code is free for both iPhone and iPad – they’re separate apps – until the 28th (and the desktop application is discounted by 30%).

I’m not going to try and explain the concepts of GTD to you, there’s plenty about it online, and actually found this video to be quite helpful in helping me figure out how I should be using Things. This blog post was actually one of the tasks I had in my ‘Next’ list…admittedly for the last 3 days, but today I’m finally checking it off!

I think one of the reasons I’ll probably keep on using things is partly because I’m very prone to saying that I’ll do something, or that I need to do something, but then completely forgetting about it. I can remember to do things regularly; like go to work on week days, or shower in the morning, or eat… I can only assume, therefore, that I’ll be good at remembering to review items I have in Things. As soon as those items are in ‘Today’, I’ll have to move them or do them, because I don’t like having badge icons on my phone.

For me personally, I think something like this will be more of a benefit than I currently think, purely because (as mentioned above) I frequently forget what I needed to do. Adding the things I need to do to the Inbox just to get them off my mind has already been a benefit (even though I’ve only added around 15 items so far…).

While there are other software solutions available to use, such as OmniFocus, but for now I’m going to stick with Things and see how that goes. Who knows, maybe it’ll even help me keep up with writing posts on here (and thereby improve my writing!) – I already have another post I want to write…

Relocation, relocation, relocation

Rather than just mimicking the phrase “location, location, location”, there have been 3 things that have moved recently.

My Job
I recently moved job, after finding that I wasn’t enjoying things there anymore. An added bonus is the whole career progression aspect, but also the new experiences and people I’ll meet. Not to mention the table tennis, which I really need to improve on!

My Home
A mere 6 weeks after getting married, my new wife and I were told that we had to move, as the landlord of the place we were living had sold it. Cue a mad rush to find somewhere else to live! Luckily we’ve found somewhere that’s bigger and not much more expensive, and generally better for us than where we were, so with hindsight, a nice turn of events.

My Server
I believe I’ve mentioned his before, but my server is hosted with Digital Ocean. I’ve had nothing but good experiences with them; sure I’ve had to use their support a couple of times, but not because of reliability issues, more to understand how to do something with the control panel, or a billing type issue. I had to use their support again the other day, when I tried to move this server over to the new London data centre they launched, following an error when transferring a snapshot from the Amsterdam DC to London. The initial ticket, and subsequent responses were all received within 45 minutes – nothing marked as urgent, that’s just the response time for ‘normal’ users. Can’t argue with that!

A short 5 minutes (plus DNS propagation time) after the snapshot was in London, I’d got the server up and configured in a new home. If only moving house was so easy…

Office for iPad

Most of the people I know, and I suspect, most people that own an iPad, knew it was a ‘when’ Office for iPad was going to get released, rather than if. After new CEO Satya Nadella announced Office for iPad (or rather, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) earlier today, along with Azure Active Directory, I had a couple of thoughts, which I’m going to share here.

Firstly, perhaps most importantly, is a view I think many share. This release comes far too late. Now, granted, the new flatter look of iOS 7 compliments the UI of Office 2013, open which Office for iPad is clearly based, but it’s still too late. Particularly now Apple give iWork away with any iOS device purchased since September last year. Microsoft should have released this a year ago, at least; the reason for the delay could be anything, and what’s done is done. Business users will likely get onboard with this release quite quickly, but I’d be willing to bet it’s only going to be those that are almost fully invested in a Microsoft environment.

Office for iPad uses a ‘freemium’ business model (I hate that word…), in that it’s free for all users to download, and they can view documents just as they would on the PC/Mac versions of Office. To edit, however, you need a subscription to Office 365. Currently, until Microsoft release the Personal Plan, the cheapest option is £80 per year, or £8 per month (it’s actually £79.99 and £7.99 respectively, but let’s not fall for that), or $100 yearly / $10 pcm in the US. This isn’t an extortionate amount, but I know that for some people, that’s going to price it out of their reach, when it could come in quite handy for them.

Taking my fiancée as an example (or if you’re reading this 9 days after it’s been posted, my wife); her job required quite a bit of travelling between locations, as well as a fair amount of work preparing documents, so she used Pages on her iPad. It was perfect, save for the having to convert to Word documents to send to people, and convert back when opening email attachments. Pages handles it fine, but it’d be nice to avoid that step and use something familiar throughout the document’s lifecycle (e.g. Office for iPad).

Now, I’m by no means a business expert, but surely not including an in-app purchase to enable editing of documents was short-sighted, and a big mistake? Sure, if they take the approach of free app updates when the next version of Office is out, then some users get a really, really cheap deal from an in-app purchase, but if a new app is released, where Office 365 users get the editing functionality by signing in, and another in-app upgrade is available for those without 365, then Microsoft get the best of both worlds? I genuinely cannot understand the decision to not take that approach, it certainly rules the use of it out for me.

The final thing that I think was missing, is an updated version of Office for Mac. It’s been 3 years since a new version was released, and it’d be nice to bring the whole UI in line with the new iPad apps and Office 2013 for Windows. It’s a much needed update that I hope is one of the things Satya Nadella said we’d be hearing about in the ‘next few weeks’.

Aside from the things noted above, I can’t fault the app’s Microsoft have developed here, without checking out the editing side of things, they look incredible, anybody who’s used a modern (i.e. Ribbon UI) version of Office will feel right at home… I just can’t shake the feeling that this won’t quite be the launch people thought it would be.

Configuring msmtp on Ubuntu Server 12.04

As mentioned in my previous post, I use msmtp on my server for sending email from my blog to notify of comments etc. Here I’m going to write how I configured it for use with Gmail for sending emails. Note that I’m actually using a Google Apps for Domains account here, not a standard Gmail account.

When I switched over to my new VPS, I had some issue in setting it up, when, in reality, setting msmtp up to use Gmail as the actual mail sending couldn’t be much simpler. Turns out most of my issues where caused by not installing a single package, which I believe is actually a recommended package when pulling msmtp from apt.

First off, install the packages we need to get up and running:
sudo apt-get install mstmp ca-certificates msmtp-mt
Once these are installed, we need to write a default config; by default, msmtp looks at /etc/msmtprc, so that’s the file I created:

# Set defaults.
defaults
# Enable or disable TLS/SSL encryption.
tls on
tls_starttls on
tls_trust_file /etc/ssl/certs/ca-certificates.crt
# Setup WP account's settings.
account wordpress
host smtp.gmail.com
port 587
auth login
user $_ email@domain.com _$
password $_ password _$
from $_ email@domain.com _$
logfile /var/log/msmtp/msmtp.log

You’ll need to change the relevant parts (those wrapped in $_ _$, as well as the account name) to suit whatever your settings actually are. I should note that the logfile location can of course be changed too.

Save that, and then we’ll create the directory for the log file, and change the permissions for the log directory and the config file, as msmtp won’t run if the config file has permissions that aren’t restrictive enough.
sudo mkdir /var/log/msmtp
sudo chown -R www-data:adm /var/log/msmtp
sudo chown 0600 /etc/msmtprc

Now that’s configured, I chose to setup logrotate for that directory, though this step is optional, it should help keep things a little tidier in /var/log; create the file /etc/logrotate.d/msmtp to look something like this:

/var/log/msmtp/*.log {
rotate 12
monthly
compress
missingok
notifempty
}

You may choose to not set this up, or set it up differently, depending how much you’re going to use msmtp, but for infrequent use, that should be fine.

Now we just need to edit the php config, and then test it, which is simple enough. Edit /etc/php5/apache2/php.ini and find the sendmail path, changing it from the default:
sendmail_path =
to
sendmail_path = "/usr/bin/msmtp -C /etc/msmtprc -a account_name -t"

Make sure to change the account name to whatever you specified in the config file!

Finally, restart apache by running sudo service apache2 restart, and then we can test it by entering php -a, and then using the following at the php prompt:

mail ('personal@email.com', 'Test Subject', 'The body text');
exit();

This will show any errors that occur after entering the first line, but hopefully it’ll have sent successfully and you’ll receive the ‘Test Subject’ email! That’s all, your php sites should be able to use Gmail’s SMTP server to send mail out using your Ubuntu server.

Now, I’m no expert on setting up a completely secure Linux server, but that’s how I got msmtp setup and working for me; if there’s something horribly wrong with this, please let me know in the comments, or however you feel the need to get in touch, and I’ll gladly update the post.

New Host

Yesterday, I came across Digital Ocean as a VPS provider, and started looking at the various features they offer in comparison with my current provider, Linode.

Straight off the mark, it was clear that Digital Ocean was cheaper, or that I’d get more RAM/Transfer for the same price. The way the CPU allocation works is a little different, however, as Linode offer CPU based on priority, whereas Digital Ocean’s droplets (their name for a VPS) are allocated cores. In the end, I decided if I was going to switch, I’d stay with something that was the same cost, and get a bit more for my money.

As the title suggests, I took the plunge today, and setup the server (again) this afternoon in a few hours. It didn’t take long to copy the content over from the Linode VPS, as I just did it using SCP directly on the servers.
One thing I really like about Digital Ocean is the control panel for the droplet; it’s a nice clean UI, and makes things exceptionally easy to use (the DNS page, for example, as shown on this page). The new VPS is running Ubuntu 12.04.4 as well, so copying things over was a pain-free experience… almost.

I use msmtp to send email from the server using Gmail; this is used solely for WordPress to be able to send out emails. I had this setup previously on the Linode VPS and it was all working as expected… not so on the new server. It took me a little while to figure out what was wrong, but I’ll write up a new blog post in the coming days about what I did to configure it, with my sample config, just so at least I’ll know myself if I come to do this again!

So far, I’m liking Digital Ocean, and what they have to offer. I’ll see how things go over the coming months, but from what I’ve experienced so far, I expect I’ll be very happy with the new server.

The Wolf Among Us: Episode 2

Wow/Gasp/More!

3 different choices I’m faced with when considering how I’d describe episode 2 of Telltale Games latest release. For those of you unaware, Telltale are the masterminds behind the brilliant ‘The Walking Dead‘ game, 5 episodes making up the full game, something they’re doing again with The Wolf Among Us, and Season 2 of The Walking Dead (again, game, not TV show).

The game is based on the characters from Vertigo Comics exceptional Fables series. I started reading these at the end of 2013, just after playing Episode 1 of The Wolf Among Us, and I caught up to issue 136 by mid-January, I was hooked. What’s nice though, is to see how the game takes only the characters and settings from the book, I’ve yet to see any story arc come across from book to game. I like that, it brings a fresh twist to the characters, aside from them being rendered in a beautiful comic book style (and in 3D, no less).

It’s been around 4 months since the last episode of TWAU (the full name is annoying to type repeatedly, forgive me); Telltale admitted to having issues during the development of this episode, which caused the slip from the 6 weeks or so people had come to expect from past experience. After all that, was it worth the wait?

Of course it was, I’d hope that was obvious from the first 3 words of this post! Without giving things away, we’re dropped right into the immediate aftermath of the ending of Episode 1, and how Bigby deals with said events. It soon becomes clear that there’s more at play than originally thought (in the 2nd episode of 5, however, what else do you expect?), and we soon follow Bigby as he pulls a thread and witnesses just how much becomes unravelled as a result, going further than most would have imagined.

Throughout the game, we’re making the moral choices one has come to expect from Telltale, although I’m too nice; even in a game, I struggle to be the bad guy when I’m invested in a game like this! At the end of it all, however, I was left hungry for more… Episode 3 cannot come soon enough; I’ll just settle for the next Episode of The Walking Dead Season 2 before that though…

1Password

Earlier today, I was looking at recommended software for OS X, and one thing seemed to be quite high on each list I came across; 1Password, by AgileBits.

As the name kind of gives away, it’s a password manager, which works on OS X, Windows, and the major mobile OS’s (OSes?). One thing worth noting at this point is pricing, OS X and Windows require separate licences, though both can be bought together at a discounted price (compared to buying the 2 separate); mobile apps are a further cost.

So with that in mind, I decided to take a look at the 30 day trial on offer, with a view to using the software in my daily routine for the next 3-4 weeks, and seeing if this can be the thing to sway me into using a password manager, something I’ve avoided for years.

I have to say, so far, it’s doing a good job of convincing me…

A Fresh Start

It’s be a long time since I’ve blogged about anything, and one or two times I’ve thought about actually posting something, and then changed my mind because I didn’t think it would “fit” with the content of the blog as it was. That’s wrong. I should be able to blog about what I want, when I want; the logical conclusion was to wipe the slate clean and start afresh.

Today, following in the footsteps of Matt Helmke (unintentionally, I might add), I’ve changed the aggregate feed for Planet Ubuntu, so that only posts with Ubuntu related content (and this one) will be displayed there. I don’t expect there to be many, as I’ll explain shortly. I do want to touch on something I read on the planet yesterday though, and that’s Randall Ross’s post on changes he feels should be made to the planet. I agree with most of them, the theme used today looks quite tired, and I do think the planet could be a better source of Ubuntu information.

So why do I not expect there to be many Ubuntu related topics? Since I stepped down as a forum administrator almost 2 years ago, and then from the forum staff team entirely only a few months later, I’ve drifted away from the Ubuntu community a little. I’m slowly getting back into things, now that I’ve setup my server again, and I’m occasionally on the forum to see what’s going on. It’s a slow process, and I’ll never be as active as I once was, because life changes; I’m in full-time work, which takes up a lot (sometimes too much) of my time, I’m getting married in April, and my interest in ‘tinkering’ with my OS all the while has waned.

I still believe wholeheartedly in the Ubuntu project, and despite (still) owning an iPhone, I really, really have to resist buying a phone just to try the Ubuntu phone OS on a weekly basis. I’ll still be around, and I suspect there’ll be stuff I post from time to time related to Ubuntu, but the majority of my posts will now be things that interest me, or that occurred in my life.

So here’s to a new start, and to seeing whether I actually stick with blogging this time around!

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