Well, we’ve made it to our three-quarter mark of Hong Kong – from here it’s a relatively short journey home, only 6,500 miles from Hung Hom station to London St. Pancras, via Beijing, Moscow and a host of other cities on the way. All of our travel writing is on the other blog, Without Wings, so I decided that I will take some time to write a few tech-centric ones which don’t really fit with the general travel writing audience and post them here…

First off, I’m warming up by writing about how I’ve been making use of my netbook while we’ve been going around. We’re travelling with an eeePC 901 running Ubuntu Natty. As you can see, it is starting to see some of the signs of battle damage, propped up by sellotape in a couple of places and some of its innards recently replaced to make it more useful when editing photos. It is pretty lightweight as far as netbooks go, but we’ve found it more than adequate for hosting an offline mirror of our blog (essential for writing anything when we’ve been at sea or on trains for days on end), email, looking up places to go and booking our onward journey while in the comfort of a hammock on a remote Thai island. I tried to do some coding on there as well but haven’t had time for much more than a bit of web development to improve parts of our blog.

Writing a blog offline…

This one was relatively easy to set up… I have set up the eeePC to have more or less the same web and database servers as our web host, and written a script that allows me to synchronise the files and update my local copy of the database whenever suitable. Our web host is making use of lighttpd, php and mysql for the database backend, so I just use rsync over ssh to copy over any new image files (or other files if I have updated any WordPress plugins), make a backup of the database, compress it and send it over. The script then extracts and applies the new database backup so that the site on the web and the site on my laptop should look and behave identically to the one on the internet.

Here’s the script that I’ve been using, in case any fellow travellers or WordPress enthusiasts can benefit from it.

Script to back up the mysql server (‘dobackups’):

mysqldump -u[username] -p[password] [database] | gzip -c --rsyncable > withoutwings.backup.gz

Script that retrieves a full copy of the site from the remote server and puts it on my laptop.

#!/bin/bash
cd ~/Ubuntu\ One/mysqlbackups
echo Fetching backups from remote server...
echo To make this a little easier, enable public-key authentication on your account
# This script (dobackups) just dumps the backup of the database to a folder called mysqlbackups.
# Edit the script and replace your database details, replacing the 'withoutwings' parts as appropriate...
ssh withoutwings.org.uk mysqlbackups/dobackups
scp withoutwings.org.uk:mysqlbackups/*.gz .
echo Unzipping backups from remote server...
gzip -fd *.gz
echo Sending backups to local mysql instance
mysql -u[username] -p[password] -D[database] < withoutwings.backup


cd /var/www/
echo Fetching web files from remote server...
# Rsync brings in any new pictures/static files from the server to the local copy.
sudo rsync -avz withoutwings.org.uk:www/withoutwings.org.uk/ .
echo Amending config files for local instance.
# This part changes all references to the web site to 'localhost'.
# The only part I haven't worked out yet is how to get the title image to switch too.
sudo sed -i 's/withoutwings.org.uk/localhost/g' wp-config.php
sudo sed -i 's/withoutwings//g' .htaccess
echo update wp_posts set post_content = replace\(post_content, \'http://withoutwings.org.uk/\', \'http://localhost/\'\)\; | mysql -u[username] -p[password] -D[database]
echo update wp_posts set guid = replace\(guid, \'http://withoutwings.org.uk/\', \'http://localhost/\'\)\; | mysql -u[username] -p[password] -D[database]
echo Done!

Staying in touch

When travelling around, has been quite useful having our own platform for getting on the internet, especially in places where certain sites are filtered or I’ve needed to reduce the chance of login details being hijacked by a nefarious net-cafĂ© owner. We’ve been making use of Torbrowser throughout the journey, which has the added benefit of protecting you from most snooping when connecting via an unsecured WiFi connection (incidentally, it turns out WiFi has now joined ‘Hello’ as one of those words universally understood, wherever you are on the planet).

This program encrypts and routes your connection through a series of other computers before making it appear to the outside world that you are based in some Belgian backwater, hopefully allowing you to access websites that would normally be blocked and also providing you with an additional layer of protection from snooping. In countries where your email, Facebook or YouTube are mysteriously absent, this is an extremely useful service and I would definitely recommend helping the project out. If you want to help this excellent project, the best way you can do it is to run a Tor Bridge from your home computer (impact on bandwidth is normally minimal – as far as I can tell, most people use the service to access the news and Wikipedia). This allows people who would otherwise not be able to get access to the network to make a connection. Torbrowser is a complete package, maintained by the Tor Project themselves, that contains all the software you need to browse the web via Tor or run your own bridge node. Make sure to check the signature when you have downloaded it, otherwise you have no way of knowing what your browser is doing behind your back!

Games

When we were staying in Melbourne for a couple of months, I had quite an early wake-up every morning to walk to the offices of the Australian Wheat Board (I would definitely recommend Melbourne and Victoria more generally as a place for a working holiday!). As anyone who knows me reasonably well will attest, waking up earlier than 10 a.m. is not something that really comes naturally, and it takes a good few hours before my mind is up to full speed. As a result, if I need to get up early I often find myself in the awkward position of waking up even earlier and then quietly tapping away at some mindless game in an attempt to battle that mid-morning fuzzy head before I have the chance to make any real mistakes in my bleary-eyed state. Because our little netbook is so underpowered for modern gaming, I have spent the last year in a time warp, merrily playing through some classics from the collection at Good Old Games. In the near future I’ll put up some reviews of the most interesting ones. The short summary is that there’s quite a canon of classics that have inspired the genres we are still perfecting today – and actually the mechanics of most of these games haven’t changed very much in the last decade (notwithstanding the improvements in graphics and user interface since then).

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