Archive of November 2008

Dropbox is Smart

Rands in Repose on just what makes Dropbox so special:

The magic of Dropbox is that it doesn’t ask you to think about what you do. You care about one thing: do I have access to the most recent version of my files? And with Dropbox, yes, you do. Wherever you are, so are your files.

I’ve been espousing Dropbox for a while now, but this is a well-articulated macro view.

Intrepid Ibex VPN Connection Fails

At the end of last week, I performed an upgrade from Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) to 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex). Although it’s not really part of this story, I should specify that I tried to perform an upgrade. The upgrade was so catastrophically botched somehow, that it ended up being a complete repartitioning of my work laptop. Nonetheless, over the weekend I got back to a reasonable level of stability and productivity except that I was completely unable to connect to my office VPN.

Evidently this is a pretty well-reported bug affecting a number of folks. My attempts to connect to VPN “out of the box” were greeted with a complaint that “no valid VPN secrets were found.” A number of folks reported success if they simply removed their password from the configuration dialog, but that didn’t work for me. After doing so, I got a spectacularly unhelpful message that my “Connection to [my network] failed.” Super. Thanks for playing.

I spent hours searching and trying various “solutions” before finally stumbling on a clearly articulated set of instructions that worked. They did, however, require updated network-manager packages. In case I ever have to do this again, I don’t want to spend those same hours, so I’m going to try to document the steps I took so I can reflect on them later. Maybe they’ll help someone else too.

To get those add the following source to /etc/apt/sources.list:

deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/network-manager/ubuntu intrepid main

Once done, update:

$ sudo apt-get update

Once updated, system updates should be reported and they should include network-manager and network-manager-pptp. Those need to be installed. Once everything is installed, these instructions should finish the job and provide a working VPN connection.

Ubuntu is pretty solid, but not everything “just works”. Quite.

Remove Conflicted Files from Dropbox

Because I use Dropbox to share selected runtime data (read: Firefox profile information) across machines and because I occasionally forget to exit the runtime environment (read: Firefox) when I move between those machines, Dropbox creates conflicted files from time to time. The conflicted files are saved separately and are named something like this:

places (my.machine.name's conflicted copy 2008-11-13).sqlite

The file above is my Firefox bookmarks database. I have no idea how it came to be in a conflicted state, but the ugly truth is that I don’t care. I assume that Dropbox saves these files as a safety measure against losing their customers’ data and so that the customer can perform a diff on those files if they choose. I don’t choose. I keep convenience files in my Dropbox, not critical files, so the files themselves are not worth the effort it would take to find and evaluate the delta between the “good” file and the conflicted file.

To that end, I’ve taken to simply removing them and because I don’t want to browse the directory structure or do this in any other manual way, I let my operating systems do the work for me. This is easy in Unix and, since two of my machines (my two primary machines) are Unix-based (OS X and Linux), it’s easy for me:

$ cd ~/Dropbox
$ find . -type f -name "* conflicted *" -exec rm -f {} \;

Poof. Now they’re deleted and Dropbox will delete them from my Windows boxes for me. I’m sure that there’s a way to do something similar on Windows, but my DOS skills atrophied many moons ago.

Set or Change the Greasemonkey Script Editor

In my life, particularly my technical life, there are a number of things that I do regularly, but not frequently. A consequence of the lack of frequency (or maybe of getting older) is the inability to remember exactly what I did to accomplish the task successfully the last time I did it. A consequence of the regularity is that my inability to remember annoys me. I know I’ve done it, I just can’t remember how.

One of those things that I need to do regularly, but infrequently, is edit Greasemonkey scripts for Firefox. All too often, I select Tools > Greasemonkey > Manage User Scripts > [Script I Want to Edit] > Edit only to be seized by that familiar paralysis that is normally reserved for trips to the refrigerator when nothing happens.

I know exactly why nothing happens, I just can’t remember how to fix it. Fortunately, that’s what blogs are for, so here are the steps to set (or update) the default editor for Greasemonkey scripts:

  1. In the Firefox address bar, type about:config and press Enter.
  2. In the Filter input, type greasemonkey.editor.
  3. If the preference exists, just double click on the preference name and, in the popup, enter the file path of the preferred editor.
  4. If the preference does not exist, right click in the preference list and select New > String. When prompted for the preference name, type greasemonkey.editor and press OK. At the next prompt, enter the file path of the preferred editor.

Strip ^M Characters from Files

Because I regularly move between operating systems, I often need to use Windows-created files on Linux. Because of the difference in EOL notation between the operating systems (notice how I carefully avoided any editorial comment on that difference?), that means regularly encountering the ^M character.

While I’ve never found a situation where the character creates a real problem for me, it’s certainly annoying to see those things all over a large file. In the past I’ve used elbow grease and/or various shell scripts to clear these, but today I found out that Ubuntu (probably other distros, as well) offers a utility to do this quickly and easily.

The package is named tofrodos and, while not installed by default, is available in the repository. To install & use:

$ sudo apt-get install tofrodos
$ dos2unix <file to convert>

Couldn’t be easier, right? This is the thing I love best about Linux.

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