Monday, 23 March 2020

Working from home

Today is day one of working from home for me.  The University stopped its face-to-face teaching at the end of last week, and now although the University is still open, there is little justification for going in.  I have contemplated walking in – it's about 15 minute walk for me – and chances are I could get in to my office and shut the door without bumping in to anyone, but for now I'm attempting home working.  

The hardest parts are (1) having my partner and 3 youngest children here and (2) there not being as good a desk or other working space as I have at work.  (1) is hard because I have to resist the temptation to spend the whole day helping with childcare, but at least being here I can help for little bits during the day in short breaks which I couldn't do if I was in the office.  It's just hard to strike the right balance.  I am still full-time at work and have the various associated obligations that go with that.  With a bit of time and practice, I'm sure I'll get there.  For (2) I might need to invest in a better office-type chair to sit in, or to clear some space at the dining-room table.  Our house is in a kind of chaotic state thanks to having builders in building an extension (started last September, end date hopefully another 3 months).  There's only a partial roof on our house, and the dining room in particular is the dumping-place for everything that had to be moved somewhere.  Still, the environment is not too bad for working.

The University have just launched a new VPN program for us to use.  It's unfortunate that their planned roll-out and replacement of the old VPN co-incided with the Coronavirus pandemic, but there you go.  In fact, the VPN only has some minor use for me for accessing those of the University websites which are only available on campus (some management/teaching ones are, some aren't).  The most useful aid to home-working, which the VPN doesn't do as standard is to run a SOCKS5 proxy so that I can make all my web-browsing happen through a machine at work.  It doesn't actually help me access some work-based websites because it doesn't change the DNS to resolve internal-only addresses, but it lets me access journals and other professional websites from a University IP address - something the split tunnel VPN doesn't do.  

Here are some brief instructions for setting up a SOCKS5 proxy from a Unix-based machine (e.g. linux or Mac OSX):

• Use Firefox and install the Proxy Toggle add-on.  Set up its preferences to look like this:

• Open a terminal and type ssh -N -D 1337 -q except that you should replace by a machine at your University that you can ssh into.

• Turn on proxy browsing in your Firefox by clicking on the icon that's been added to the toolbar.  It should look like this:

when the SOCKS5 proxy is not active and this:
when it is active.

When you are done, you can quit the ssh command with ctrl-c and switch the proxy back to the off position. 

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