Saturday, March 14, 2020

Sharing files from Synology NAS without Quickconnect, Cloud Station or Synology Drive

I needed a way to allow people to download photos.

Things I tried:

 -  Icedrive, but the photos are RAW, so very big - making cloud is a bit slow and clunky.  Plus I hit the free storage limit, which took simply ages to fix.  I wanted a solution where I could share files direct from my NAS without a lot of tedious uploading and syncing.

-  I tried setting up separate private folders in Photo Station for this, but I didn't like that solution.  Photo Station isn't made for that.  It's messy and wrong.


-  I read that you could share via File Station, but it needed Quickconnect.  I wasn't keen on using Quickconnect for several reasons, not least of which was the Quickconnect URLs look really amateur.

-  I also researched Synology Drive A LOT.  It does support public links, and would do this.  But it is so heavily focused on collaboration and synchronization that it just seemed wrong for me.
 


As it turns out, you can easily generate and send public links to your NAS files using your own domain name or IP address.  That's what I wanted.

(Possibly this is so blindingly obvious that everyone knows about it, and I just missed it somehow.)


This assumes:

-  You have a domain name that points to your NAS, or
-  You have a static IP in your router, or
-  You have a router-based dynamic IP setup that doesn't change often.

Steps:

1.  If not already done, forward ports 5000 and 5001 to your NAS.

2.  If you have an external IP already set up, go to Control Panel / External Access / Advanced and put your domain name, static IP or current dynamic IP in "Hostname or static IP".

Obviously, if your IP is dynamic and it changes, you'll have to change this field manually.  Doesn't happen often these days.


To share:

A.  In File Station, right-click any file or folder, select "Share".

B.  The "Shared link" will come up. 

Because you filled in "Hostname/Static IP" in (2), above, your link will include your NAS external domain/IP address.  (Otherwise, it will contain your local server name, which is no good externally.)


C.  Optionally,  you can set "Validity period" (for time limits), "Enable secure sharing" (for password protection, or "Get QR Code" (if you think a QR code will somehow be useful).

D.  Send the "Shared link" to anyone (by email or whatever).  Obviously, if you've set up a password, send that too.

Your recipient can then click the link and be taken directly to the correct folder within your NAS, where they can download the files.


To be clear, this is sharing - as in download-only access.  The recipient can't delete, edit, upload or modify, and it doesn't support things like video streaming.  If you want to do those things, use Synology Drive (or Video Station or Plex for streaming support).

You will note there are no special security settings for this; you don't need to disable anything.  The NAS treats your public user like any other user.


As a "bonus", you can go to [yourdomain.com]:5000 or [your.ip.address]:5000 from any web browser, and log into DSM remotely, just like you would at home.

I say "bonus" because there were (I think) a couple of old versions of DSM that had security bugs with this kind of access, and exposing any interface to the 'net is a security risk.  I recall I wasn't at risk since I had no remote access enabled on my NAS at the time.


I think I will go get a new domain name specifically for my new file sharing links, just because I can.

Monday, January 27, 2020

The marketing practices of Soda PDF

While I hate to diss on a Canadian company, I am (still) pretty mad about this one.  Mad enough to bother posting this 2 weeks later.

For those considering Soda PDF as an Acrobat alternative, it seems pretty good.  It's also possible to pick it up for considerably off the "retail" price, making it seem like a good deal.


However, what is mentioned nowhere on their site is that the price is not a one-time purchase.  It is, rather, an annual subscription.

They claim this to be a "misunderstanding", but this is obviously intentionally deceptive on their part.  Their site does not state that the price is for an annual plan

It is mentioned in the checkout process, where the item purchased is listed as a "yearly plan".  So they can argue it's your fault for not noticing.  But these are two very small small words on a fairly busy ordering page, making it easy to miss.



There are also additional items:

1.  Certain features - such as digital signatures and OCR - are not included in the base subscription price.  Rather, these are add-on modules.

Aside from some asterisks and a footnote on their main page, I was unable to find any mention of:
  -  Which features are available only as add-on modules; or
  -  How much each add-on module costs.

Nobody fails to mention these things accidentally, making these omissions obviously intentional.

Now, some people like that they can pay only for the features they need.  But the utter lack of transparency is concerning.

2.  The only mention I saw about actually buying these add-on features is during checkout, where you get a pop-up offering you a feature "bundle" for a discounted price.

However, this is another annual subscription.  This is not mentioned in the pop-up.

The bundle price is usually very small, enticing you to go ahead.  And as soon as you click on "Add to purchase", the purchase completes, with no option to review the new bundled items you just selected. 

You could argue that it is "obvious" that the add-on is a subscription since the base product is also a subscription.  But it's not obvious that the base product is a subscription, so that's not an argument.


3.  They do list their desktop "edition" software, but it is on a separate site that is almost impossible to find from their ads and landing pages.  I found it entirely by accident, and only after I had accidentally purchased the annual subscription-based plan.

4.  Their purchase form has a checkbox that says "I agree to receive email communications about this service."

Ummm - what "service", exactly?  It doesn't say.

The implication is obviously that you should check that box to get your bill / invoice, activation code, or whatever.  But I unchecked it and still got those.

What it actually seems to mean is that you're signing up for their newsletter and promotional emails.  Which is certainly not clear.


With all of the factors above, it's my opinion that Soda is being intentionally deceptive.  They're doing almost everything they can to get you to buy the subscription, but doing just enough to make it your fault if you do so unintentionally.


Lest you argue, you can compare against the Foxit PhantomPDF site, and the Wondershare PDFElement site, both of which clearly lay out one-time and subscription options on the same page.  Cloud storage providers, such as pCloud, Icedrive,  and others also manage this trick, which is quite obviously not difficult.



You could always say I'm just mad about losing $50.  Except I didn't - I did get a refund.  Yet I remain pissed.

If I used such tactics in my business, I would not only lose clients, I would be strung up by my professional association for being unethical.  Too bad the same isn't going to happen to Soda.



I'm not saying their software is bad.  But be sure you read the product description very carefully, and know what you're getting before you complete that purchase.

I utterly loathe subscriptions and so asked for a refund.  After some very unsubtle prodding as to how great the subscription model is, and can we offer you a discount, they eventually refunded my purchase.

If you're still interested, and as far as I know, their stand-alone, one-time-purchase desktop program is called "Soda PDF Edition".  The page was here, and don't forget the little "Add OCR" button at the left.  But it's much more expensive than their ads would indicate.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Be wary when renewing your NEXUS card

Google search results may show results such as "www.nexus-card.com" at the top of the search listings. 
These companies are NOT the CBSA - they are private.  They charge $100-$125 on top of the actual government fee of $50 $USD.

You do not need to use such a company to acquire or renew a NEXUS card.  So, that's basically $100 for nothing.

When renewing, be sure you're dealing directly with the government.  Correct renewal link here.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

How to install Kodi advancedsettings.xml file on a Chromebook

On a PC, putting an advancedsettings.xml file in your Kodi directory is easy.  Copy and paste via Windows Explorer, done.

Same for an Android box or tablet.  Copy and paste using "My Files" or anything similar, done.


On a Chromebook, not so much.  Chromebooks hide the OS files.  Copy & paste is not possible.

However, it is possible to put an advancedsettings.xml file into Kodi on a Chromebook.


NOTE: This guide assumes you know how to point Kodi to another device that holds your advancedsettings.xml file, such as a USB stick, external hard drive, internal storage, or whatever.  If you don't know how to do that, go away and find out.

(Hey, you may as well.  You're probably going to need that same info to set up your video sources later.)

Steps:

1.  Make your advancedsettings.xml file. 

Here is a really simple file.  All it does is exclude certain directory names - like "Extras" - from being scanned into the Kodi library.

<advancedsettings>
  <video>

    <excludefromscan>
      <regexp>Extras</regexp>
      <regexp>Featurettes</regexp>
    </excludefromscan>

    <excludetvshowsfromscan>
      <regexp>Extras</regexp>
    </excludetvshowsfromscan>

  </video>
</advancedsettings>


Yes, you could regex the hell out of it.  But it's, like, 12 lines long.

You can obviously modify as you see fit - see the guide here.

 2.  Put it somewhere that is accessible by your Chromebook. 

This location might be:
-  a USB stick
-  an external hard drive
-  an SD card
-  a network location

or whatever.



3.  Go to the Play Store and install Kodi on your Chromebook.

4.  Run Kodi.

5.  Before you do anything else, go to Settings / File Manager.  Guide here.

Why?  Per the wiki:

"The File Manager allows the maintenace of files from within Kodi on platforms that have no underlying and easily accessible operating system."

Sounds like what we need.

6.  On the left-hand side, open "Profile directory".  This is the place where advancedsettings.xml needs to go.

(No, you can't really verify that.  But don't worry, it is the right spot.  And even if it wasn't, you can't really bolix up Kodi or your Chromebook by copying this kind of file to the wrong spot.)

7.  On the right-hand side, open "Add source".  Point it to wherever your "advancedsettings.xml" file currently lives.

Note:  I can't tell you exactly how to do this since it depends on your storage device (USB stick, network, etc.)  If you don't know how to do this, go away and find out, and come back.

7.  Click/tap on your advancedsettings.xml file in the right-hand pane, and hit Copy.

Note: Exactly how you copy depends on your OS (Windows, Android, etc.).  It's done via the "Context" menu, known as the right-click menu under Windows.  Right-clicking on the file name usually works.  For touch devices, press & hold may work.

8.  Change to the left-hand pane, and hit Paste.

Note: Exactly how you paste depends on your OS (Windows, Android, etc.).   Right-clicking in the left-hand pane usually works.  For touch devices, press & hold may work.


That's it - you've copied your advancedsettings.xml into the right Kodi directory.  Restart Kodi and the new settings should be in effect.

You can now go ahead and set up your sources.  The items excluded by your advancedsettings.xml file will naturally be excluded, as intended.