Finding a green webhost for your next project

I've had a few people ask me online about the cleanest host for running your services online is. My recommendations are below.

I should start first saying that like most questions related to quantifying CO2 emissions, the more you look into it, the complexity you uncover.

As such, the recommendations below will be incomplete, but if you're in the UK, they're at least some starting point. I'm looking for people who would be up for compiling a guide for this:

If you want to keep data inside the UK - use Memset

Memset have been banging the low CO2 emissions computing drum for a while now since 2006 at least, and are priced fairly competitively with other UK providers.

I use them for my personal hosting, and I've used them for client hosting before.

If you want to use Amazons's Web services and stay in the Europe - use AWS Frankfurt

"Jeff Bezos is the internet's ultimate apex predator"

If you're expecting run a business with any kind of online component, you ignore Amazon at your peril, because the chances are high that they already carry out some processes that are part of your business model better and more cheaply than you, and they will destroy you if you try to compete with them on this front.

Fortunately, Amazon Web Services, offer a dizzying, and confusingly named range of these processes as services now  so you can pay them to take care of those parts, so you can focus on the parts that differentiate your offering.

For example, rather than being responsible for the management of a database for your data, you can use a hosted version like  Amazon's Relational Database Service (RDS) so you're not the one having to fix servers at 4am when something breaks, or their search engine service, so you're not managing a cluster or search servers yourself.

AWS's carbon footprint has traditionally been somewhat murky, with them being avid consumers of coal in north Virginia.

If you're in Europe, the new Frankfurt Data centre in Germany is apparently Carbon neutral, keeps your data inside the EU, and means you have access to many of the web services that you might rely on for a competitive advantage. Outside Europe,  AWS in North America's western region is based in Oregon, which relies on hydro power much more than coal, so using them is a good compromise.

I'm increasingly using the Frankfurt Datacentre for client work, because AWS's services and libraries are so good.

If you want to a greener cloud provider, you use some web services, but you're not so bothered about keeping inside Europe - use Google Cloud Platform

Google have been long time leaders when it comes to the greening of cloud computing, and they have an increasingly wide range of web services that mean you're not managing your own search engines and so on if you use them.

However due to the way their networks work, I'm not sure if there's a away to ensure that data stored with them is kept inside the EU, which may make them unsuitable for your project.

I've been using them for providing the compute and storage parts of a few projects,and some of kicking the tyres of their other services. If they offered a hosted PostGresSQL service, I would recommend them more highly, but otherwise I'm pretty happy with them.


I just dashed this post out now, in response to a tweet this so there are obviously glaring emissions. I'd like to find other people interested in this subject. - if you run a service, or use one, please leave a comment, and I'll update this post.

I intend to put together a free online guide about this subject, which some more structured justification of choosing one provider over another in the near future.


Warning about a Google Docs Phishing Attack

This morning I came across a warning from Lily Dart, one of DXW's team of extremely talented web-types.

Google Chrome
As she said, it was pretty convincing, and seems to have caught a few of my friends already, which makes me think it's convincing enough to make it worth warning others here.

If you see an email invite come in that looks like the first pic on this:

Google Chrome

Which takes you to a screen that looks like this:

Google Docs - Online documents, spreadsheets, presentations, surveys, file storage and more

…it's very likely to be a phishing attack to harvest your username and password.

Don't enter your details.

If in doubt, you can check with the original sender, to see if they meant to send it.

If they didn't, it's very, very likely to be this phishing attack at work again.

Here's the link to Lily's original tweet

How to update Boxen on your mac with changes from upstream

I use Boxen to manage which development software is on my mac, which can be useful to keep track of changes. It's also handy for staying familiar with puppet when you're not working with it directly at work.

The downside to keeping a machine under config management is that you can't always just run brew install shiny_new_software_package when you need to get a new version of Ruby installed or something similar, as Boxen tends to use a few nonstandard defaults.

It's also worth pulling in the latest upstream updates to the Boxen repo from time to time, to make sure you're benefiting from fixes and upgrades made there.

AS much for my future self as anyone else, here's a guide on upgrading your version of Boxen you've checked out an installed onto your own mac with updates from the upstream repo.

Add an upstream for the official boxen repo

cd ~/src/our-boxen
$ git remote add upstream

Get upstream updates

Then we’re going to fetch the stuff from the upstream repository:

$ git fetch upstream

Merge in upstream changes

Now we’re going to merge the updated repository with our own:

$ git checkout master
$ git merge upstream/master

Resolve conflicts, and run boxen to update machine

After this, you'll usually need to clear up any conflicts in your puppet file. In my case, some packages I had added over the last few months, like Go, or PhantomJS were now in the default list of Puppet modules that comes with Github. I had to remove the extra mentions of these in the Puppetfile, so it only declared a dependency on them once.

After this, you should be to rm the now out-of-date Puppetfile.lock, and run boxen, to a) generate a new Puppetfile.lock and also install all the new bits of software declared in the Puppet manifests you use to manage your mac.

This guide by Graham Gilbert was incredibly helpful in working through these steps myself today. Thanks Graham!

How I use Twilio to forward phone calls for me into the internet

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I am a new resident of Berlin, after living almost all of my life in London. Also, almost all my family is still in Blighty, as are almost all of the people I work with in my day job.

In a given day, I'll rely on Google Hangouts, Skype, IRC, Slack and Hipchat to stay in touch, and conduct video and voicecalls on my ipad or laptop. When I need to call UK numbers, my easiest option is to use Skype to call, using SkypeOut (now simply referred to as "Calls to mobiles and landlines")

Getting around unreliable connections

Sometimes however, you if you're somewhere with a poor upstream connection to the internet, the sound quality on voice calls like can become unacceptably poor.

This tends to happen more with Skype than Hangouts for me during the week, but is common enough to make using it at times, untenable.

If you don't have a landline where you are, then you're reduced to relying on a mobile phone to call another country, which is rarely a cheap way to call someone, nor for them to call you.

Bouncing phone calls into the internet with Twilio

Recently, I tried to solve this problem with Twilio, and it's worked well enough so far to share here. At a glance, here the steps you need to take to do this:

  1. Buy a UK number with Twilio
  2. Register with Twilio to make international calls
  3. Setup a forward inside Twilio to your local phone number
  4. Receive phone calls on the UK number, and pick up on your German mobile

There is a cost to this - you pay a monthly fee to have a UK number, and you still need to foot the bill for forwarding the phone call to your mobile in your own country. However, this is usually cheaper making a single phone call of any length from a mobile to another country.

Interested? Here's how to do it for yourself.

Buy a UK number

Once you're registered with Twilio, the first step is to buy a number, for the country you want to people to call:

Twilio User - Account Phone Numbers Available GB Local

Register for international calls

At this point, it's possible to forward calls people make to this number, to another number in the same country. If you try to forward a phone call to a phone number in another country, you'll end up with a failed call, and the twilio logs will show an Warning: 13227 - Dial: No International Authorization error.

You need to authorise international calls by filing a ticket - this part is a bit clunky, but your request is answered quickly. I file one evening, and had it approved the following morning.

Set up a forward to your local phone number

Assuming you've been able to activate international calls, the next step is to use the Twilio API itself to connect someone calling your UK twilio number to a phone of your choice.

To do this, I suppose you could write a simple Sinatra style webapp, that posts to relevant endpoints of Twilio's API, then deploy that to heroku for free.

An easier way to do this is, is to just use a Twimlet, a pre-built PHP app, that uses the Twilio API to make a phone call to the number you set, when you fill in the details at the Twilio Forward page.

Your twimlet url generated should look something like the number below:

# My real number has been replaced with xxx's in this example

You add it to your number listing when logged into Twilio, like so:

Phone Number 442033225777 | Dashboard | Twilio

Receive phone calls on the number, and pick up whereever you redirect it to

Now, when someone rings the number you registered with Twilio, it triggers a POST to the Twilio API endpoint responsible for starting a phone call, and connects the caller to the number you've specified to dail.

Because you're relying on a voice network, rather than unpredictable wifi, phone calls should have a more consistent sound quality, and it becomes much easier and cheaper for people to call you if they need to.

This whole exercise assumes the mobile you're forwarding calls to is in an area of reliable mobile coverage - but assuming a) you have that, b) there's no convenient bolt-on tariff for your phone contract and c) roaming and international calls are still unreasonably expensive, this seems to work fairly well so far.

So now you know.

Mostly settled in Berlin

Well, that went by pretty fast. My last post was a plea for help in finding somewhere more permanent than a series of Airbnb flats to live in.

And now, in the last few days of May, I'm now settled, not in trendy Neukoln, but the slightly less hip, though-very-central Mitte.

Running past the Reichstag

I have to say, I love living in the centre of Berlin. Any fears I had about missing London's comforts have mostly proven unfounded - there's a fantastic coffeeshop on my street. I live next door to a cocktail bar, and if I'm prepared to leave the safety of my street, I'm surrounded by decent restaurants in every direction.

When I have gone running around the area, to burn off my last döner kebab (it's totally acceptable to eat them when the sun is up over here), even short runs have taken me past the Berlin equivalent to of the houses of Parliament, the Reichstag, or past the Berlin Wall.

I've even found that Berlin has a small, but growing craft beer scene, so it's possible to drink more than just Pilsner, Weissbier and lager when you go out. Hell, there's even a meetup group for friendly beer nerds I've discovered through a friend. Result!

Still working as much as London

Part of the attraction of moving to Berlin is the improved quality of life over London, because life is cheaper over here. So far that part is delivering, but I still find myself working about as much as I do in London (I am doing more than eat and drink and run, I assure you).

Now that I:

  • have a roof over my head
  • I legally exist in this country
  • I have an idea how much life costs over here

I'm hoping to spend a chunk of this summer learning more than the shameful amount of German I know presently, discovering the city properly.

Come visit!

Looking for a place to live in Berlin

I've been in Berlin three days. I more or less have work sorted out so I can afford to eat. However, I don't have anywhere to live after the end of this month.

In this post, I'll try to use social media to find an apartment in Berlin.

What's the German for "lazyweb flat hunting"?

One thing I've quickly learned about Berlin is that while month to month rents are far more reasonable than London, you need to jump through quite a few hoops before you can rent on a formal basis, and renting through an agent involves paying some fairly hefty fees (often in the region of two month's rent plus VAT).

So, after seeing a friend, Jon Worth find a place without having agents take their pound of flesh, I figured I might give it a go.

Granted, he has a very well established online presence as a blogger, speaker, writer and trainer, so his post probably reached more people than this will, but it's still worth a try, right?

So, what am I looking for?

Location - ideally around Neukölln, but Central/South East works too

The majority of my friends, and members of my girlfriend's family seem to be congregated around Kreuzberg and Neukölln so far, and the coworking spaces that catch my eye are fairly close to Kotbusser Tor, or Mitte, so that's where I'm looking at present.

That said, Berlin's transport system is good enough that I'm not religious about Neuköln. It's just the neighbourhood I know best so far.

Flat size and features - kitchen, 3-4 bedrooms

After a fantastic send-off party back in London last Sunday, I now have a sizeable backlog of people who want to visit, and I have a fellow Londoner, Debbie Davies, coming to live with us in Berlin too, so we're looking for an apartment with three bedrooms (ideally four, to use as a home office without disturbing people visiting).

We're ideally looking for an unfurnished place, with a balcony, but we'd need a fitted kitchen (Einbauküche).

Why a fitted kitchen? One thing I've learnt is in Berlin, you're often expected to bring your own kitchen when you rent, and funnily enough, we don't have any fitted cabinets and worktops among the boxes of stuff we're schlepping to Germany once we find a place.

 Cost and availability - €1000-1200, April onwards

Me and my girlfriend are in Berlin now, and we're looking at spending something in the region of €1000-1200 warm (i.e. including the cost of heating), based on what we think we're looking for, and what we can find available on,, and

We're happy with subletting (untermieten), and but we'd need to be able to do the whole "put your name on the door" thing, so we can get a bank account, and the SCHUFA-Auskunft, that allows for renting in a more formal fashion.

We're looking to move in the first week of April, although we have some flexibility there if need be, and stay there until at least the end of summer.

Reckon you can help?

I'd really appreciate any help in my search, as I post this on Facebook, Twitter, and this blog, so if you know anything, please tweet me at @mrchrisadams, leave a comment below, or send me an email.

Alternatively, if know someone who might, and you shared this page through your own networks, I'd be a pretty happy kid.

Lets see if this works (crosses fingers).

Farewell Blighty, hallo Berlin!

I've been meaning to write this post for about three months.

The thing is, every time I sit down to write about when and why I'm moving to Berlin, something urgent comes up, and this ends up on the back burner.

Which is stupid - one of the main reasons for getting this post online was to help me find work, establish a network before I arrived, and most importantly, find somewhere to more to live.

But now, three days after arriving in the Berlin, I'm finally getting it out the door, onto the interwebs.

Oh well, better late than never.

Why Berlin?

I was born in Australia, and came to London at 8 weeks old. I've lived in the capital pretty much my whole life, and it's been pretty good to me.

I've grown up in London, studied in London, and worked in London, and I've considered myself incredibly lucky to have done so.

I maintain that if Earth were to ever have a capital, it would be London.

That said, it would be nice to live in another large city, in another country for a decent chunk of time before I die, so I've been looking around at options over the last year or so.

So, I've been looking for a city that isn't London, that is:

  • Affordable, and ideally reachable without flying
  • Friendly to native English speakers, with limited experience in other languages
  • Home to a decent tech scene, for work and personal development
  • Home to enough history and culture to allow for a rich life outside of my little tech bubble

I considered Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona (I even worked remotely from there for a couple of weeks while at AMEE in 2012), but Berlin was the city I kept coming back to.

Why? Well, lets see how it compares.

It's a £50 train ride away, and I can afford to live there

It's straightforward to travel from London to Berlin by train, and if you book early enough, it's pretty cheap too. You can travel from London to Berlin by train for about £50, leaving at 7am, and arriving at around 17:30 the same day - in fact this is how me and my girlfriend made it here.

Also compared to the eye-watering costs of living of London, Berlin feels almost comically cheap.

The same money I was spending to rent a 1-bed flat in Newington Green gets a comparatively palatial 3-4 bedroom apartment. I'm finding the price of food, and going out comparing favourably to my London life too.

You can get by while you learn the local language

This is a bit of a double edged sword, but after being Berlin a week in December, and being here a few days, I'm a) initially relieved at how little German I need to rely on to get by and b) worried if this means I'll ever attain any level of fluency.

That said, I am setting aside some time to learn German, which is turning out to be much more fun than I expected.

This largely down to Duolingo (see Shit Duolingo says to understand why) and the German For so far, and the highly amusing way German compound words can be formed, as outlined you can see in Rhabarberbarbara:

The tech scene is fantastic

In London, the tech scene is almost absurdly good - there's just so much happening, and so much of it is accessible.

In fact, this is largely how I found my feet in tech - through meeting people at hackdays, meetups, coworking spaces and suchlike, I found gainful employment in the city, in a way my 18-year-old self would have thought impossible.

In London, over the last few years, I was able to work on growing WP-London then Cleanweb London, into healthy communities in their own right.

Barely after being in Berlin for three days, it's been trivial to fill my calendar for the next month with similar events, and while working with a few volunteers to get Cleanweb Berlin off the ground, finding a venue has proved to be surprisingly straightforward.

Berlin is soaked in history

When I've been in Australia and America, the idea of ancient history being a mere two or three hundred years or so, has tickled me, after growing up in country where you can drink in pubs that have been serving beer longer than the United States has existed.

Berlin, by contrast, is almost overwhelmingly heavy with history. You can't walk streets without seeing constant reminders of the devastation of the World Wars, or the division of the city by the Berlin Wall, and there are myriad museums and galleries around the capital.

What now?

I had planned to find work freelancing with a few of the tech startups that I've been interested in while in London.

However, after letting clients and acquaintances know I'd be leaving in advance while back in the UK, I appear to be pretty much booked up for the forseeable future, so when I'm not working with London clients, from one of the many co-working spaces in town, I'll be concentrating my time in Berlin on growing the cleanweb community, and getting to know my new home town.

Wish me luck!

Me and my girlfriend both have friends in the city, and I'm currently staying in a room booked on Airbnb, for the rest of the month, while we find our feet. We're working our way through Jon Worth's guide for moving to Berlin as best as we can, now that we're already here.

If you know me and you live in Berlin, or you're coming to Berlin any time soon, let me know, the chances are it's been too long since I last saw you :)

Also, if you're feeling generous, I'd be very grateful if you can help me find somewhere to live.

WhatsApp and on why they don’t sell ads

I don't really use WhatsApp much, but their post last year about why they don't sell ads came up in my stream this weekend, and it seemed worth noting:

When we sat down to start our own thing together three years ago we wanted to make something that wasn’t just another ad clearinghouse. We wanted to spend our time building a service people wanted to use because it worked and saved them money and made their lives better in a small way. We knew that we could charge people directly if we could do all those things. We knew we could do what most people aim to do every day: avoid ads.

No one wakes up excited to see more advertising, no one goes to sleep thinking about the ads they’ll see tomorrow. We know people go to sleep excited about who they chatted with that day (and disappointed about who they didn’t).

It's echoed somewhat by the initial post by founder Dalton Caldwell:

Years later a site called Github came out. It was good. They had no advertising, but charged money for certain features. They quickly became profitable because the service was so good and so important, people were willing to pay. Github has become a much-loved brand and service, and many would agree that it is a key piece of infrastructure in the technical renaissance we are currently experiencing. Github is apparently profitable, and it sounds like the people that work there spend their time trying to make the best service possible, as opposed to spending their time trying to extract additional pennies out of their users.

Also, given the revelations about GCHQ and the NSA indiscriminately listening in on what we previously thought of as private spaces, the idea that personal data isn't the currency you pay with to access a useful service is an attractive one.

And as a result, I'm giving it another go today, to see how well I get on with the service. Matt Gemmell's post earlier in April this year is a good background if the service is new to you.

Unsurprisingly, I'm mrchrisadams on, - say hi.

Connboxes, project looking glass, and ambient videopresence in 2013

I’ve had this post in a tab on Chrome on my iPad for yonks now, and finally this weekend I finally got round to reading the lovely BERG piece about the Connbox project they did with Google back in 2011.

There’s a reason the post lingered in Chrome for as long as it did – it’s a typical Matt Jones behemoth of a post, and it takes a good 20 mninutes to read through fully and watch the videos to fully understand the nuances of the prototype physical products they’re building.

Carve out 30 minutes

If have any passing interest in product design though, or how people relate to each other through computers, I’d recommend making the time to work through the piece – it’s easily one of the most satisfying pieces I’ve read in some time, especially when you bear in mind this was all done in 2011.

Ambient videopresence in 2013

Since this work was originally done, Google Hangouts has been launched, and if there are any remote workers, the majority of tech companies I have friends in use daily.

What’s also interesting is that we’re seeing some of the ambient qualities of video being picked up outside of top secret projects like this:

It’s not uncommon to have long running Google hangouts in use for staff to dip into, like extremely high bandwidth IRC now. There are even [hubot plugins] specifically to make this easy to do], from more commoon Campfire or IRC chats used in tech teams.

As the price of these gadgets heads ever downwards, you’re also seeing similar projects appear as well, with full instructions for setting these up yourself. Tom Taylor’s recent piece, Project Looking Glass is a fantastic post to look into if any of this has piqued your interest, as it explains how he did this for hook up the Glasgow and London offices of Newspaper Club.

Taking the digital out of video conferencing

One thing that really struck me where when reading both Tom and Matt’s piece was how all the high tech gubbins affords much more analogue, interactions with each other again.

Watch this video here, showing a) using scribbled notes to communicate textually, and crucially toward the end, how they use a fleeting glances at the screen to find cues to speak to communicate with each other.

You can see the same with Tom’s looking glass too:

Through the Looking Glass

Reading this post has inspired me somewhat to pick up a Raspberry Pi and see if I can get Herenow working on it, to see what I can learn about using small, internet connected boxes and physical presence.

There go the next few weekends…

Further reading

  • Connbox – Prototyping physical presence
  • Project Stargate – always on video connection for remote offices
  • Project Looking Glass – Tom Taylor’s variant, made from Raspberry Pis, spare monitors, and cheap webcams, for about £150.
  • Matt Web’s Glancing – an early, fascinating experiment in capturing the fleeting, ambiguous quality of real life interactions.
  • HereNow – A toy app I’ve been building, to allow people to automatically declare their presence to small groups of friends in spaces served by wifi.

Letting unsuccessful features live on in stagnation is far more insidious than ripping off the bandaid…

At Facebook, this is pretty standard practice. We test many different interesting ideas that come out of hackathons or team brainstorms, like the ability to save posts for later, useful if you’re in a hurry and see a post that you want to respond to or an article you’d like to read later. However, we only wanted to launch the feature if enough users used it and found it valuable. If not, then it wasn’t worth taking up space as yet another action link on every story. A test helped us verify that it was, in fact, something only a small group of people used, so we decided ultimately to not launch it.

Nice story about how Facebook takes into account the extra cognitive cost of having a feature added in the UI, after deploying, and then using that decide if they want to launch a feature or not.

Hoping to think more clearly, through thinking out loud