I blog to build technology mindfulness in the fast-paced digital realm. I talk about staying safe, finding balance and having fun behind our screens.

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RaspberryPiFeatured

Raspberry Pi: a short introduction

April 1, 2016

What is it?

The Raspberry Pi simply is a mini-computer… that fits in the palm of your hand, no bigger than the size of a debit card:

raspberry_pi_b_2

There’s nothing easier than using it: you plug the pocket computer to a screen and to the Internet, you insert a memory card on which you have installed an operating system ahead (there are versions of Linux dedicated to the Raspi, like Raspbian), you plug it to a socket and there you go, it’s ready to enjoy!

Officially launched on February 29th, 2012, the Raspberry Pi is developped via the Raspberry Pi Foundation by David Braben and Eben Upton.

Why it’s great?

The Raspberry Pi is designed to encourage the learning of computer programming: despite its small size, it allows to take your first steps in coding and set up really various projects, as it can as well read HD videos or take control of electronic devices remotely.

As for me, I love the fact of being able to see the components of a computer on the bare Raspi, I find it to be fascinating:

raspberry-pi-b-plus

But its success is above all caused by its affordable price: a Raspberry Pi 2 model B can be found for about 35€, and the most recent model of the range, Raspberry Pi zero, is available for the amazing price of $5!

Adding a few complementary element (case, cables, keyboard…) to our 2B Raspi model, we get a computer for less than 150€ — yes, really, I assure you! We can easily understand this argument made the Raspberry Pi an indispensable gadgets for geeks and curious minds from all over the world!

Finally, the big plus of the Raspberry Pi is to be really well documented on the Web, since we can find a great number of websites dedicated to finding projects ideas, tips, accessories and so on.

What to do with a Raspberry Pi?

To tell the truth, there’s a lot you can do with this, as long as you have a little imagination, some good googling skills and the patience for doing things collectedly and right to the end… I’d say in summary that the Raspi does not have a unique predetermined use, and that’s it’s up to each of us to see what project is more interesting by trying, hacking and starting again!

Here’s a little selection of a few nice projects:

And if you search well, you’ll find bunches of other cool ideas (fr) to make using a Raspi! Also don’t hesitate to take a look on the Raspberry Pi Official Project Book, available here in PDF: 200 pages presenting lots of projects, tutorials and tests to try out with your Raspberry Pi device.

The complete starting kit

The official website offers a list of providers where you can buy the different models of Raspberry Pi.

For my part I own the Raspberry Pi 2 model B, and I just love it! Here’s a complete starting kit for you to get on your own little workarounds:

Kit Raspi démarrage

  • The Raspberry Pi 2 model B kit for 70€ on Amazon, containing the Raspi of course, but also a black case, a 8Go mini-SD card (just great for getting started!), a HDMI cable for plugging the Raspi to a screen and a Ethernet cable for putting it online.
  • I recommend you to add a Wifi dongle (10€) to that kit, it’s more convenient for Internet connection.
  • If you don’t already have a wireless keyboard, you can get the Logitech K400 (35€), which is great for having an integrated Touch Pad, so you don’t need a mouse!
  • Finally, the “Raspberry Pi User Guide” (20€) is an essential book for Raspi beginners: origins of the project, installing and setting the Raspi up, doing your first projects, troubleshooting…

Raspberry Pi user guide

So, you’re ready to embark on the Raspberry Pi? Don’t hesitate sharing your fave projects or tips on this post’s comments below!

There is no Coud

“There is no Cloud, it’s just someone else’s computer”

March 27, 2016

Why “there is no Cloud”?

This little biting sentence aims at reminding us that behind this poetic and reassuring word, the Cloud is in reality some very tangible infrastructure, as well described in this Gizomodo piece of writing on the topic (really, this is definitely a must-read!):

“Cloud” is a buzzword that vaguely suggests the promise and convenience of being able to access files from anywhere. But the reality is that the cloud is hardly floating like mist above our heads — it’s a physical infrastructure, its many computers housed in massive warehouses all over the world.

As it turns out, these data-centers inevitably belong to someone, most of the time to compagnies that can potentially, via the renowned terms and conditions nobody reads, strip our data from us :

If your data lives “in the cloud”, it actually lives on a company’s server, and you more or less pay a membership fee to work in that company’s sandbox. Depending on that company’s terms of service, you may or may not actually own or control that data once it lives in cloud storage. This raises a few glaring concerns in terms of security and privacy.

So here it goes, I’m not saying you shouldn’t use these Cloud services (yes, you see exactly what I’m talking about: Dropbox, Google Drive or even SkyDrive), but simply that we might keep in mind our files and data are well and truly stored on “someone else’s computer”, and that we might take some precautions to ensure good security for them…

Best practices for protecting your data in the Cloud

Like I often say in my vision of cyber-security, I think that simple actions are already enough for avoiding a good part of risks — here are a few best practices especially dedicated to our Cloud accounts.

Picking strong passwords

We know that our folders in the Cloud can contain many important (ID documents scans, bank statements…) and/or very personal files (pictures, work documents…).

That’s why it’s essential to protect access to these files using sufficiently strong passwords — without hesitation for me Cloud accounts count among the items for which I pay particular attention on the passwords I use, for ex. like my online bank account or my e-mail one!

Alright, so what are the techniques for building strong passwords?

You can try the Diceware method, which consists in using dice to randomly select a set of 4 or 5 words from everyday life — ex. “order lion urban curriculum” create the password “orderlionurbancurriculum”, not hard to memorize or type but almost impossible to guess, and very long to crack!

diceware method for strong passwords

Other possibility: creating yourself a “passwords algorithm”, some kind of magic formula that’s unique to you, allowing you to easily remember quite complex passwords such as “04_PaNiLoNi:WPjm!” — I let you read my blog post dedicated to this method to discover how to do that.

You can then test the strength of your passwords on “How secure is my password” but be cautious! — never type in your ACTUAL password in such a tool, always use an equivalent (same length, same number of symbols, uppercase letters, etc.), you never know…

Encrypt your files

For some documents considered to be particularly sensitive (for me, this is about any document where my name and address are to be found), encryption can be quite useful for better protection.

For using encryption the easy way, you can give a try to open-source AxCrypt* software. Once installed on your computer, you only have to make a right-click on the file you want to encrypt and select AxCrypt > Encrypt — you enter the password of your choice, you’ll then be asked for it anytime you want to open the encrypted file in question. Here, it’s that simple!

AxCrypt use

* I had troubles with the 1.7 version available for download on the official website (it kept triggering anti-virus alerts, as well as “not enough resources available” messages). As for 2.0 Beta version, it wasn’t as simple and easy as I wanted. Anyway, I went through SourceForge for finding back the functional and efficient version I had in mind.

After your file is encrypted you can transfer it in the Cloud.

Know your data

Before uploading all your files and photos on a Cloud service, I think it can be wise to ask yourself the following questions: “Am I comfortable with placing this file on a perfect stranger’s computer?”.

If the answer is no or even “I don’t know”, maybe it’s better to keep that file in question locally on your devices, even if it means making backups on a USB stick or external hard-drive — some storage device you actually own yourself!

Switch to self-hosted Cloud

owncloud

For forewarned users, OwnCloud allows to create your… well, own cloud: the tools is open-source, allowing to access your data on any device, offering sharing features and so on — just like a Dropbox, only you remain the owner of your data. As for me I’ve been using OwnCloud for 6 months, and I’m just thrilled about it!

>> Check out the online OwnCloud demo.

To do that, you’ll have to install OwnCloud on your own web hosting — for “beginner” users who might feel discouraged about that (which I totally understand!), there are one-stop solutions that are free or really affordable: a list of providers is to be found on the dedicated page, and for my part I’d recommend the “mother Zaclys Cloud” — about 10€ per year for 10Go storage, made in France, it’s really worth it!

Hey, I love that “There is no Cloud” logo!

Me too, I’m a great fan of it! This is a design from Chris Watterson, and you can have it on a mug or t-shirt on his official website shop page, or even as a sticker on Stickermule for 4.17$.

there is no cloud mug

With this, no more excuse for uploading the whole content of your computer on a Cloud with mindlessly…!

internet-pollution-cachee

Internet, the hidden pollution

March 16, 2016

Documentary: “Internet, la pollution cachée”

I became aware for the first time of energy consumption stakes related to technology thanks to the excellent documentary “Internet, la pollution cachée” (the hidden pollution of Internet) — directed by Coline Tison in 2014, who also is the author of a book on this topic (fr).

I won’t say more since I offer you to discover the movie in question by yourself (really, it’s definitely worth watching!) — in addition, you’ll find in this blog-post many resources and thoughts to delve a little more into the matter, and find about interesting good ideas for reducing the environmental impact of new technologies.

Digital world: virtual, but not only!

We often tend to forget our virtual world isn’t actually quite so, since it relies on very tangible infrastructures, from cables maze to storage bays.

In the following video, Andrew Blum takes us to explore the physical components the Internet is made of after a squirrel chew a cable in his garden and knocked him offline — a must-see for understanding the amazing infrastructure of our online network!

Internet pollution in a few numbers

  • Between 1990 and 2003, our virtual world produced five millions gigaoctets of data. In 2011, it took 48h to generate the same quantity. In 2013, only 10 minutes.
    .
  • Per hour: 10 billions emails sent, that’s the same as the electrical production of 15 nuclear power plants during one hour or as 4,000 two-way airplane trips between Paris and New-York.
    .
  • If Internet were a country, it would be the 5th world consumer of energy.
    .
  • Internet is responsible for 2 to 3% of carbon dioxide emissions in the world, an imprint that’s equivalent to the one of the whole air traffic.
    .
  • In 2008, information and communication technologies contributed up to 2% of greenhouse gas emissions. This number might double until 2020.
    .
  • Greenhouse gas emissions related to digital technologies are divided as shown below (source):

pollution internet

Well yes, if we could have thought the expansion of digital tech had a positive effect on reducing global pollution (less paper, etc…), Greenpeace indicates it actually is not the case:

“While there may be significant energy efficiency gains from moving our lives online, the explosive growth of our digital lives is outstripping those gains.”

We all have a role to play

You, me, us users

It might be obvious but I prefer to write it loud and clear: as daily tech users, we all can pay attention to our habits in order to reduce our individual environmental impact.

Alright then, but where shall we start?

Here, the “e-cleaning days” campaign by Orange (French telephone operator) offers a short video along with a few simple gestures on the theme of managing our emails:

Orange e-cleaning days

Next on, let’s start changing some of our bad habits such as charging our smartphones all night long (fr), and of course switch off devices when we’re not using them — and not let them on standby!

We can also take a look on the website of Adème (Agence de l’environnement et de la maitrise énergétique) who published a guide of best-pratices “Internet, courriel, réduire les impacts” (PDF, fr) — a very smart recap with nice contents for raising awareness but as well explain how things work:

Adème PDF extrait pollution internet

Web professionals

When creating a website, some best-practices of “eco-conception” can be implemented by digital professionals: the Opquast organization takes an inventory of 115 good practices for doping your website and reducing its ecological imprint — of each of which a detailed description is available. A book taking over these practices also is available here.

Pros can as well take care of selecting services providers known for their green approach — ex. hosting service providers using mostly renewable energy.

Finally, concerning data-centers, optimizations can be made for limiting the loss of energy, as David Atienda Alonso explains (electronic engineering professor and director of the embedded system lab at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne):

“Most of the time, only 50 to 60% of data-centers’ calculation power. If optimizing at the same time the cooling system and the calculation power, we can manage to reduce energy consumption of data-centers by about 50%.”

Non-governmental organizations

greenpeace-clickclean

In its annual “ClickClean” report, Greenpeace takes stock on the environmental impact of digital big companies. The website dedicated to this report enumerates in a very readable way the firms and the origins of their energy resources, along with a scoring from A (clean energies) to F (harmful energies):

ClickClean

greenpeace_clickclean_Amazon

And in its approach of raising awareness for the general public, Greenpeace as well offers a free Chrome browser extension to see the energy score of websites we visit in a single glimpse:

screenshots clickclean scorecard 2

Startups

Here are some nice examples of projects on the topic of ecology / technology from French startups — yeah, turns out green IT can obviously be a source of innovative work creating value and employment!

The Web giants

We can easily doubt that GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft) have a considerable impact on the Web’s energy consumption — by the way, since its launch in 2010, Greenpeace’s barometer as previously mentioned stroke a blow to the image of these big companies, who since made noteworthy efforts on this pollution topic :

Voilà, that’s it for this overview on the hidden pollution of Internet! As I always say, it’s already a good thing to be aware of the topic’s issues, and that small actions can make a big difference.

And if you know any other interesting green IT initiative, don’t hesitate to share it in comments!

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