Using a Western Digital My Passport Ultra on Linux

I’ve been trying to build a home file server, mostly to store backups, using a Raspberry Pi and a Western Digital My Passport Ultra as the main storage unit. For years, I used an old Compaq desktop tower as my backup computer, but the fact that it won’t turn on and the fact that it would cost more to fix it than to just buy a Raspberry Pi has lead me down this new road.

But after I bought the My Passport Ultra, I tried to plug it into my laptop, running Debian Sid. It would mount, but I could not access it through the file manager or on the command line. At first, I did what any good Linux user (or librarian) would do: I googled around for an answer. According to everything I read, the encryption on the My Passport Ultra required a Mac or Windows computer to decrypt, and even then you would still have a vestigial piece of their encryption on the drive.

I first tried to use their decryption software using Wine; that didn’t work because it couldn’t find the drive, even though it was plugged in and I had used winecfg to make sure the drive was discoverable. I then tried to use my wife’s old Mac, but quickly remembered why she doesn’t use it anymore and why I got her an Android tablet for Christmas last year: every 20-60 seconds, it would shutdown and reboot, so I didn’t ever have time to try and even download the decryption software.

However, being a Linux user, I decided to just try stuff. So I plugged the drive back into my computer. GParted would not run and would not recognize the drive, so I couldn’t format it that way. However, I finally found a solution, and a simple one at that: I unmounted it and then just ran the most basic formatting command out there.

sudo mkfs.vfat /dev/sdb1

Completely blew threw all of the My Passport Ultra’s supposed encryption (which I think was just software encryption, and nothing on the drive itself was actually encrypted) and made the whole thing completely usable by me. I later formatted it into btrfs for use on my file server, and it is now receiving an rsync of all of the pictures, music, and files from my laptop. Since there is so many threads out there about how it isn’t possible to use this drive on Linux without freeing it on a Windows or Mac computer, I figured I’d write this up so people know that yes, you can do it just on Linux.

Hosting your website on a Raspberry Pi

A couple of years ago, I hosted this website and a couple others on my first-generation Raspberry Pi. However, it didn’t quite have enough power to even support my light usage, and so I went over to DreamHost (started with a very cheap promo deal, which went up to $120 in my second year). This year, my second renewal at the $120 level was coming around, and I thought that that was a lot of money to spend on my website when I have the skills to host it myself.

In the intervening years, I had purchased a Raspberry Pi 2, and it really is a great option to host a website on. With 1GB of RAM and a 900 mHz ARM chip, the power that you’re getting is actually fairly similar (or even better) to what the lowest tier paid hosting sites are giving you. With that in mind, I went back to my Raspberry Pi to get it going and replace my paid hosting with a computer that sits behind my television.

The first thing that I did was to download Raspbian; it is the primary supported Raspberry Pi distribution, and I have a long history with Debian. I did make sure to disable the graphical user interface since I don’t need that on a server and so it runs with a little less overhead. Debian stable is always a great base off of which to build a server, and the current version of Raspbian is built on Debian Jessie. I’ll leave it to the documentation of Raspbian and Raspberry Pi themselves to tell you how to install your system.

I’ve wanted to try out using nginx for a while, but with a time crunch before my DreamHost payment was due, I just went for the old standby: Apache. I can configure Apache in my sleep these days, and so it went quickly and easily.

After doing an “apt-get install apache2” and a “a2enmod rewrite,” you should be ready to create you site configuration file. In the past, I used to struggle to to find the right settings to make the permalinks pretty, but I’ve finally found the right site config to make either simple.

Copy that template into your /etc/apache2/sites-available folder, and name it something like . Change all of the information to match your site, and then run “a2ensite” to activate it. You’ll also need to run a “service apache2 reload” to get Apache going.

You’ll need to put your whole site in the document root found in the site configuration file above. You can hand write HTML in there, or you can go for a full CMS like WordPress, Drupal, Ghost, or many, many others. Once you’ve put the files there, I recommend changing the owner of the files to the www-data user; it helps provide some security should your site be attacked. “chown -R www-data /var/www/” should get that done for you.

On this site, I installed MariaDB (a drop-in replacement for MySQL) and then WordPress, but your choices are endless. I have two sites running on a single Raspberry Pi right now, with a third coming shortly; a “free -h” shows that I’m using 182 MB of memory right now.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Now, to get your site viewable on the larger internet, you have to get your DNS settings straight. Go to your domain name registrar (I use Hover), and go to the DNS tab. Find out what your public IP address is: you can either do it by logging into your router and poking around in there or by Googling and going to one of those sites that tell you.

I was not really able to get IPv6 to work by itself, so I added both the IPv4 and IPv6 address to my registrar’s DNS record. You put your IPv4 address in an A record, and the IPv6 in a AAAA record; I just left the hostname part blank and just added the addresses. Once you save those it should take about a half hour or an hour for the new location of your address to populate to all the DNS servers around the world, and then typing in “” should actually take you to your site.

Your public IP from your ISP may change from time to time, so if your site is suddenly not working check this first.

A Raspberry Pi 2 is a pretty good option for hosting a fairly-low activity site, like a your personal resume, personal website, or a website when you’re just starting out and don’t want to pay for hosting.

Various methods of creating podcasts

Having been the producer of Filibuster – The Black and Red United Podcast, for over 70 episodes, I have gone through a number of methods of recording, most of which have annoyed me in one way or another. People keep asking me, though, how we do this podcast, so I figured I would lay out my tools and all the methods that I have used, and see if any of them work for you. I’ve broken this up into production, hosting, and recording.


First, however, here is the production part which I have always used.

  • I edit the podcast in Audacity, which is a great audio editor that works on Linux, Mac, and Windows.
  • The effects that I typically use are Fade In/Fade Out (for the intro and outro music), Truncate Silence (to remove long pauses and dead air), Noise Removal (to get rid of background hums and hisses), Leveler (to pump out the volume of the outro after I fade it in and out), and Compressor (to even everything out).
  • When everything is done, I export to MP3. Make sure to check your export settings here, because there is never a need for an audio podcast to be 80 MB. I use Variable Bit Rate encoding at quality level 7, which usually gives me a 17-25 MB file, and it sounds perfectly fine.
  • Once the MP3 is exported, you are ready to upload it to your platform of choice.


Proper hosting makes sure that you can get your episode off of your computer and into other people’s ears. Over the course of Filibuster, we have used a number of different methods of hosting, but let me just say this now: You don’t have to pay for it, if you’re willing to do a little work.

  • Buzzsprout was the first hosting platform we used, and it was your typical paid podcast hosting site, like libsyn and many others. Their cheapest real plan is $12 a month, so that’s not great.
  • Through SB Nation, we got a free Pro account with Soundcloud, which is where we currently host the podcast. You can apply for their beta podcasting platform, so that could be a good option for you as well.
  • YouTube is always an easy option, even if you’re not a video podcast, but would be difficult to get into iTunes and other podcast providers; not really recommended unless you are video.
  • The best free option, as long as you have a blog (and who doesn’t?), is to host your audio on the Internet Archive. You can embed it into your post, which I have done to the very first episode Filibuster. Placing a link (<a>) to the raw MP3 in the page as well will embed the file in your RSS feed, allowing it to be used by podcatchers. The feed for your podcast category is then your podcast feed.

Download the MP3 here

  • The catch with the Internet Archive is that they really want you to license it under a Creative Commons license. That’s fine for us, we already license it that way on Soundcloud, so IA would work for us too.
  • Some sites recommend running your podcast feed through Feedburner so that you can submit it to iTunes, but I have not confirmed those things.


This is the part that has caused me the most frustration, going back and forth between methods constantly. A note on recording: whenever possible, record to a lossless audio format such as WAV or FLAC; your final quality will be much better if you do so.

  • Before I took over the producer duties, we recorded via Skype with the producer using Garage Band to grab all of the audio and then do the editing. Update: Via the comments, LineIn and Soundflower were the programs used to record the podcast on a Mac.
  • When I took over, we continued to use Skype to talk to each other; however, since I use Linux, Garage Band was not an option. We started by using Skype Call Recorder, which updates only very rarely (last update in 2013) but still works. We would sometimes have problems with people dropping out, and the recording would get ended if that happened to me.
  • We then switched to Google+ Hangouts On Air for a long time. Despite the fact that it was “live” on YouTube, we only invited those who we wanted to be on the show. After the show ended, I would download the video file, use VLC to rip the audio out of the file, and then proceed to edit in Audacity. However, we had problems with audio clipping, people dropping out of the call, and people getting into the call in the first place. However, if people drop out the recording continues, and you can try and join the call back. This is a decent way to run a podcast, however.
  • Since I like seeing the faces of the people to which I am talking, we have now switched a regular Google video hangout, which I record using Audio Recorder, which records off of my microphone and my sound card; that means that we could switch between communication platforms and not change how we record. If you’re using Linux, I highly recommend this piece of software, which makes recording a podcast very easy.
  • I just use a Blue Snowball USB microphone, which is a massive improvement over the built-in microphone in my computer. If you’re going to do your own podcast, getting a decent microphone is well worth the investment.

That’s all I can think of; any questions?

Cross posted from

Turn your Raspberry Pi into an easy VPN using OpenSSH

There are plenty of tutorials out there on how to turn your Raspberry Pi into a full-fledged VPN, often using OpenVPN. However, many people don’t need all of the features (and all of the setup) of a full VPN server in order to just protect their browsing when they are on unsecured wireless networks (or for whatever other reason you would want a VPN).

Enter OpenSSH. Most of you know it as the program that lets you login to other computers and servers through the command line; for a long time, that’s all I did with it too. However, you can use it as a simple VPN on your Raspberry Pi as well! First, go into your router’s settings and make sure that you have a port open through which your VPN will go; personally, I use port 3312. Then, run the following command on your Pi:

$ ssh -TCD:3312 username@localhost

Where username is the name of your user on the Pi; you will also be asked for that user’s password at the time. Then, all you need to do is configure your browser to use that to connect to the internet. Go to Preferences->Advanced->Network->Connections and click on Settings. Select “Manual Proxy Configuration” and enter your home’s public IP address as the “SOCKS Host.” Put in 3312, or whatever port you chose to use, in the port field and everything should work fine. When you end the ssh session, the proxy will stop working, so remember to switch your Firefox preferences back to “No proxy” or you won’t be able to browse. It is that simple!

Does it matter if libraries and archives aren’t involved with open government data repositories?

Accessing information about government no longer has to mean going to a building and requesting permission to sift through paper documents. It doesn’t even have to mean writing a letter, filling out a complex form, or trying to figure out who to contact about public records or how to access records in the first place.

Technology has enabled faster, more efficient and more user-friendly access to government information — to public information — and governments across the country are increasingly embracing this opportunity in their policies and practices. One way to do this is to adopt open data policies that build on precedent set by existing policy like public records laws.

-From the Sunlight Foundation’s post “Open data is the next iteration of public records.”

Government transparency is a good thing, and so I am happy to see the proliferation of open government data repositories, like and its equivalents at the state level. One worry, however, that I have is that it does not seem that libraries and archives are involved in creating, managing, disseminating, or describing this information. Most of these projects come out of such locations as state’s IT agency, or the budget department, or some other administrative actor. I will admit that I have not looked at all of the open government data repositories out there, so there may be libraries and archives involved in some of them. But this is the kind of data that has traditionally been provided by libraries and archives, and now it is being taken out of our hands and being served elsewhere.

When I initially sat down to write this post, I was ready to be full of angst about the state of archives in our society, and that our roles were being taken over by IT departments and computers. But open data repositories generally deal with data that is machine-readable, and usually machine-created. On the other hand, we archivists have an explosion of digital data to deal with, the natural extension of the explosion of paper records during the middle of the 20th century; emails, word documents, excel spreadsheets, websites, blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook, and more still defy easy manipulation by computers and easy aggregation into data repositories. One could argue that by taking the burden of providing these datasets that are easily described in the aggregate, archivists are thereby allowed to concentrate on records that cannot be described so easily or automatically. In addition, many of these datasets are provided in machine-readable format, which obviously leads itself to be described by machines rather than archivists. One of the things at which archivists excel at is taking a large mass of data that is difficult or impossible to describe automatically and providing access to it to researchers. But there is always an existential pang in my soul when a record previously provided by archives moves elsewhere.

So what do you think? Does it matter? Am I being an open government hipster, saying that libraries and archives were into open data before it was cool? Or should we cheer the move of these types of records to a different sector?

The Library of Virginia now has emails from Tim Kaine’s administration available online!

Since being hired by the Library of Virginia just over a year ago, a part of my job has been to process emails from the administration of Governor Tim Kaine, who was Governor of Virginia from 2006 to 2010. And last week, the first fruits of our labors were realized, with the release of over 66000 emails from Tim Kaine and his executive office. I was only a very small part of this overall effort, but I am proud to be a part of an organization that takes this kind of commitment to making digital public records accessible. You can find the whole collection on our Virginia Memory site; have a look!

Why I use free software

As everyone by now has heard, Google has decided to pull the plug on Google Reader, its RSS feed aggregator. Google’s reason is that Reader has a declining user base and that it wants to concentrate on other projects. I should have known that this was in the works every since they killed the social aspects of Reader and made its link harder to find. Unlike some other companies, Google is providing users with an easy way to extract their data and giving them three months before the service is shut down.

But let’s be clear: their motives are nothing if not in their own self-interest. It was one thing to allow Google Reader to continue to operate when, while it provided no benefit, there was no harm in allowing it to occupy a small section of Google’s massive server farms. But now the rumor is that Google will be launching its own competitor to Apple’s Newsstand, a place where people can pay for digital subscriptions to online content. Many of those content providers publish at least some of that content for free, often with RSS feeds; with Google axing Reader, it removes any perceived conflict that might prevent those content providers from joining up.

I tend to go back and forth on the scale of free software ideology vs. convenience, with this decision by Google propelling me firmly back towards the side of ideology. Projects like Firefox and Debian (both of which I am a proud user), run by non-profits that are big enough to compete with industry backed alternatives, are key to a healthy software ecosystem. Of course for-profit companies, like Canonical, Red Hat, and Google, are necessary and useful members of the free software community; however, having organizations dedicated to free software for its own sake helps get the ecosystem vibrant and alive. While I may not always agree with the goals and methods of the Free Software Foundation, I admire their dedication and think that that are a key member of the community. The ability to have control over your data, without needing to rely exclusively on a third party for its continued existence, is more important than ever in the era of cloud computing. (Its also the reason that I think libraries and archives should be even stronger supporters of free software than they already are, but that is a topic for a separate post.)

As of now, I’m trying out two different replacements for Google Reader: NewsBlur and tt-rss. Both are free software projects: NewsBlur is primarily a hosted service, while you can get the code from GitHub, and tt-rss is only available to those who can install it on a server. Both of these options also have Android apps, which is the other key requirement for me. Right now NewsBlur is still too slammed for me to give it a proper tryout, so tt-rss (installed on my raspberry pi!) is my main feed reader right now. If you are looking for an alternative to Google Reader, try one of those if you can.

AOI, now powered by Raspberry Pi!

Among Other Items, my humble blog, has been undergoing a bit of a change behind the scenes. Formerly, this site was powered by an old desktop computer, probably released in 2002, which had been converted into a Debian server. Now, this site is powered by a Raspberry Pi, a $35 computer which is running a variant of Debian. I can tell that the site is a little slower, but its worth it for the ability to experiment with this new little machine and because of the power savings it will reap.

If you want to learn Linux, I highly recommend getting a Raspberry Pi. Lifehacker has a lot of different recommendations for projects that you can try, and I will probably have some too if you are interested!

Disappearing documents, Archives Team, Facebook, and more: Link roundup 10/4/11

This time, on the link roundup, there are disappearing documents, distributed digital archives projects, inaccurate quilts, government records, and more!

Link roundup, 9/30/2011

Hi all! I am going to start posting a roundup of interesting archives/library/information science related links. Hopefully this will be at least weekly. Today’s installment includes Henry Rollins, sexy archivists, QR codes, a concerto, and more!