Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On the Utility of SneakerNet

I've been seeing a lot of bloggers drop or lessen the amount of blogging they do due to a firewall at work, or, more usually, a web filter that blocks some but not all sites based on a whitelist / blacklist combo.  Here are some thoughts on the topic.

First of all: Perspective. Let us not forget that you're there to do the boss' bidding, which probably doesn't include blogging. Getting fired for blogging means you won't have money for playing WoW, and who wants THAT?  So, please, use common sense and be careful.  You're each precious to us all in your own way.

Second topic: proxies. A Proxy in this case is a URL that your browser will go to instead of the site you request; it will request the site you request from the proxy, and the proxy will pass it back to you. Since the site URL never shows in the address bar, the web filter won't catch it.  In theory.

A lot of people will suggest using proxies to get around web filters. There are a few problems with that.
  • Any proxy that you have heard of will probably end up on the filters' blacklist. So, it's a temporary solution at best.
  • Your IT department may pick up on it, and, if your company is anything like Meta's, have a clause in your employment contract that states that circumventing security - and they can tout this as a security thing - is grounds for termination. That's a bad thing.
  • A smart IT department (What? I'm sure they're out there!) will lock down IE on the average PC in the shop, which means you can't go to a proxy anyway (You need to access the configuration settings, which are usually inaccessible for a locked down IE install).
  • Also, such a shop probably won't let you install Firefox or something that you can set up a proxy with (Running Firefox on a stick can get you around this, however, but shouldn't be attempted if you're not comfortable with it.).
Basically, proxies are an imperfect solution.  In your case it may work, or it may not. Needless to say, if you know how to install a proxy, you don't need my help finding one, and I'm hesitant to recommend one that might be on someone's blacklist already.

Third option: SneakerNet. A lot of people overlook this simple yet effective technique. It works off of the idea that there are two steps to blogging: Creation and Formatting.
  • Creation is the part that takes up the most time - gathering your thoughts and piecing them together in some coherent form. Whether you have access to the blog or not, the process of creation proceeds more or less the same, barring visual cues that you might need.
  • Formatting is what makes a post look like it looks, and that is usually taken care of by your blog editor.  It might also include adding pictures and links at specific points, but it pretty much requires the act of creation on which to hang its finery.
Creation can take place in several ways, such as being created in a word processor (so you get to play with some formatting) or a text editor.  The important thing is to get your ideas into a file that you can then transport elsewhere.

Speaking of transport: My preferred method is to do so on a USB stick, though you can also email it to yourself - though that leaves tracks.

Point being, creating your blog content is the heavy lifting of any blog posting process, and it's pretty agnostic in terms of format. You almost always have access to a text editor, and in today's office environment, access to a USB stick and USB port to connect it to.  Unless there are heavy security processes involved, this almost always works, and gives you the means to continue to blog without having to break too many rules along the way, should you be of a mind to misbehave.

The process of creation is the core of any blog post, and yet, the most flexible in how it can captured.  If you're having problems in this area, SneakerNet may be the answer to your woes. Hopefully, one preferable to not blogging.