the itjerk

my adventures with technology

google home mini

I went to Microcenter with my family to pick up a couple flash cards (free with coupon) and as soon as we walked in, we were greeted by an end-cap of Google Home Minis. A well-positioned salesperson said “I think they are still on sale for $29.95.” One of my daughters, armed with Xmas money, immediately grabbed one and started pleading with me to allow her to purchase it (she’s only 10 years old).

With out much banter, I acquiesced to both the purchase and her intended location: her bedroom. Second, older daughter also ponied up. Mind you, I sold my Google Home over the holidays because a) I just never got used to the idea that she was always listening to ALL our first floor conversations, and b) I can perform the same commands on my phone – “Okay Google, play Syd Barrett” – and send them to Chromecast Audio.
Google-Home-Mini

Not much larger than a hamburger, the Google Home Mini is quite a bargain at $29.95. According to the web, that’s just about Google’s cost for the thing. Both daughters have Nexus phones (one part of the Fi plan, the younger wifi only), so once home, they quickly downloaded the Google Home app and we began setting them up. The Mini offers my daughters a couple of things that I like: all the music they’d ever want (with a linked Spotify account), an alarm clock, and interaction with voice technology. Let’s face it, in a decade or so, our houses will have voice-controlled access to computer technology in every room. It’s such and amazing and convenient interface: “what’s the weather” or “what’s 56 times 27?” It’s also a single solution for the clock radio and the bluetooth speaker (though I wish it had a time display).

I have to admit, I kinda wanted to buy one myself, but, alas, the sale ended, and so did my desire for it. For now…

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google pixel 2

With $250 off — $150 trade-in on my “warranty repaired” Nexus 5X plus $100 discount for being a Google Fi subscriber — I couldn’t resist upgrading to the Pixel 2. It’s the same size as the 5X, and honestly, not much different other than the price tag. Excellent battery life and 64GB of storage popped out instantly, as did the “swipe up” home screen, but what I like the most about it is that it’s the purest Android experience yet. And it’s not repaired. 😉

no phone

I was at a Xmas party the other afternoon, and after taking my just-over-two-year-old phone out of my front breast pocket, noticed that it was not on. I tried to turn it on, but nothing. No battery? When I got home a few hours later, I plugged it into multiple chargers, went into recovery mode, cleared the cache, tried a factory reset, but same result: wouldn’t start. I chatted Google Fi (my carrier), was transferred twice, then eventually talked to LG, the manufacturer of the LGH790, aka Nexus 5X.

Long story short, it stopped working, stuck in some kind of infinite reboot. LG offered to repair the phone for free (cross-fingers). I then went to their specific website for repairs, filled out everything (including IMEI), went back to Google to get a proof-of-purchase, printed out that and the Fedex label, and have been slowly watching it traverse its way to Texas via ground service. Estimated 8-10 business days for the repair. Over the Xmas holiday, too.

No phone and no camera. Only a computer at home and a computer at work. How do I check my Fitbit? How do I get text messages? What about that ongoing thread about the next “sniding” (record listening event)? What about my Facebook friends? How do I show off my kids’ pix?

Oh first world problems. Sure, it’s liberating not getting work email 24/7 or habitually checking my phone for… well, because that’s what we now do.

I feel anxious, though, like something’s missing. How long can this go on? Evidently much longer…

UPDATE: I received the phone back on Friday 12/22 (using Fedex’s Ship Manager to have it delivered to a local Fedex/Kinko’s). No cost to me and a perfectly new-looking phone.

LG

dnscrypt

Domain Name Service (DNS) is the mechanism by where numeric IP addresses become readable domain names; it’s far easier for me to tell you to visit strawberrybricks.com than a bunch of numbers. When you browse the internet, then, the addresses you type or click on go through a DNS search. Typically, your ISP provides this service, or whomever you get your network connection from – however there is an implicit level of trust involved. Who’s to say that yahoo.com for example, is really yahoo.com? What is the DNS server spoofed the reply? Further, any DNS server can collect a wealth of information by recording your DNS requests. Finally, the speed of your browsing is dependent on how quickly these requests are filled.

Both Google (8.8.8.8) and OpenDNS (208.67.222.222) provide free DNS services that are fast and secure, and supposedly do not track your requests. A third service, Quad9 (9.9.9.9) was very recently launched. Your ISP has a lot of information about you. Switching your DNS to one of these providers is simple (just type them in your router, or network connection), and gives some degree of privacy. Every little bit helps?

DNSCrypt goes one further by encrypting all your DNS requests. It’s an easy enough program to install, available for PC, Mac and Linux, and for routers using DD-WRT. On my Ubuntu box, I needed to install libsodium-dev first, and then was most successful installing DNSCrypt-proxy from source by using the old “configure, make, make install” method with version 1.9.5. Then, you can run it with systemd automatically.

On the web:
DNSCrypt

caa records

If you bother to read this, CAA Mandated by CA/Browser Forum you’ll learn that CAA (Certificate Authority Authorization) standard designed to prevent bad actors from creating unauthorized SSL/TLS certificates has been implemented as of September 2017. CAA records allow domain owners to specify which Certificate Authorities (CAs) are permitted to issue certificates. This is acheived by adding CAA information to your domain’s records at the host level.

Good news. My host added this functionality, and it’s a simple process to now identity who can issue an SSL certificate to your domain. In my case, it’s letsencrypt.org. Now my SSL rating has gone up. Legit.

caa

Oppo BVD-103

Yep, time to get into Blu-ray. This was mostly precipitated by the imminent arrival of a new Gentle Giant compilation, Three Piece Suite, which features 5.1 remixes of tracks from their first three records. The Oppo BVD-103 had been on my radar for a long time… so long, that it was discontinued in favor of the newer UDP-203. But the newer model doesn’t support older formats like HDCD and VCD, so I was off to find the older model.

As much as I thought it could be found for less than the newer model ($550 MSRP), the reality was that I really couldn’t find one. However, Amazon did have a few listed as “Warehouse Deals,” so purchased one for $430 that was listed in “very good” condition. I figured if it didn’t turn out OK, I would simply return it – the beauty of dealing with Amazon!

I received the player with Prime shipping the following day. It was complete with the exception of a manual (which I downloaded from the Oppo website), and the battery contacts on the remote needed a little scrubbing. Otherwise, it was in top condition, and immediately upon connecting the player to my (wired) network, it set opon upgrading its firmware — definitely a good sign. I disabled HDCD decoding on the Oppo to get those discs to play right, and went pretty much default on the other settings for the player.

In addition to providing me Blu-ray capabilities, the UDP-103 is definitely a step up from my previous Oppo universal player, which I purchased about 9 years prior. It sounds better, especially the analog output from the Oppo (which I run through my stereo system), and this funky issue I had with the output volume between digital and HDMI appears to have vanished.

minidlna

When talking about digital music servers other than Squeezebox Server, I feel like a cheater. It’s been my reliable go-to method for serving up my ripped and downloaded music for over a decade now. But not every piece of hardware speaks to it; Beep appeared a while back and saw me install miniDLNA on my linux box, where all my music files reside.

The Digital Living Network Alliance is a trade group that certifies compliance to a standard for delivering digital media. MiniDLNA is an implementation for Ubuntu, and mini it is! No interface (save a bare bones web page at port 8200), it is configured by editing /etc/minidlna.conf.

Set the path to your music; I’m only looking for audio files, so I mark the directory with an A.
#media_dir=/var/lib/minidlna
media_dir=A,/mnt/data/music

Set the database cache directory (important!) and enable logging:
db_dir=/var/cache/minidlna
log_dir=/var/log

Tell it to look for new files or not:
inotify=yes

Set the name of the server presented to clients. This provides a simple way to check if you’re connecting to you server.
friendly_name=My-MiniDLNA

That’s it! Restart the service after you make changes to the configuration,
sudo service minidlna restart

or rebuild the database if you’ve changed or added music.
sudo service minidlna force-reload

There’s a ton more it can do, including serving videos, pictures, etc, and it also offers per-user configuration as well; but for my purpose my newly acquired Oppo BVD-103 can now stream all the music on my computer.

On the web:
MiniDLNA Ubuntu
ReadyMedia

record cleaning

If you didn’t know, I’ve got a lot of albums, the earliest of which I started collecting in the early 1970s. They’ve been through a lot – teenage years, moves, and many of them were bought used. As I catalog them on discogs.com, I’ve been looking at each and every one. Most look pretty good; very good plus or even mint minus; others, not so much: finger prints, dust and who knows what! A record is made of polyvinyl chloride – PVC. It’s pretty hardy stuff, most modern plumbing is made of it. The grooves are more fragile, and once scratched, scuffed, etc, it cannot be undone. Yet anything that gets into those grooves that makes for a less than perfect playing experience can be rectified with proper cleaning. But please have realistic expectations about $3.00 records from Salvation Army. You can’t undue wear to vinyl – scratches and scuffs are permanent – dirt and dust are not.

Now let’s talk about money. If one had unlimited resources, they could just buy a better copy of an album. Or a $5000 ultrasonic record cleaner. Or even pay someone to clean their records. But I didn’t spend 40 years collecting records just to replace them; that wear and tear is my wear and tear, and those records and all they’ve been through are part of my story. And cleaning them, is my work.

The best way to clean records is by using a wet solution and then vacuuming it dry. Record cleaning machines start at about $500, and go up, though the Record Doctor V is only $200. A product like Spinclean handles the washing part, but not the drying; microfiber clothes are okay, but they don’t provide the “lift” that vacuuming does.

The $29 Vinyl Vac is not only one of the least expensive ways to get into vacuuming records, it’s also one of the best! It’s a PVC tube that attaches to the end of a shop vac, and over the spindle on a turntable. The tube has a slot cut into it, with felt around the edge that rides over the vinyl – pictures speak a thousand words, so here it is:
6183536_1
One can absolutely shine in all their obsessive-compulsive glory when talking cleaning habits; my record cleaning regime may not be yours, but if you’ve made it this far, you must be interested. Make no mistake, ideally, I’d prefer to never clean a record. If it was purchased new and handled properly, there shouldn’t be any need to. But my records are road-hardened. It’s time to clean!

The solution: Guess what’s the most effective cleaning chemical in the world? Water! Yep, all the other stuff – surfactants – just help water do its job. I use a 3:1 mix of distilled water and 91% isopropyl alcohol as the base, and add a minute amount of Dawn dishwashing liquid, and Photoflo, a Kodak “wetting” agent, which helps the water spread across the vinyl as well as aide in drying. Isopropyl Alcohol is a solvent for cutting grease, aka finger prints, and dries quickly. While some consider this controversial, it’s diluted, and PVC is thermally bonded. Plus, it’s only on the record for a few minutes at most.

The tools: I use a flat paint brush to scrub the records on my lazy susan, and a 4″ sponge brush to rinse the records. The Vinyl Vac and a shop vac dry the records. After vacuuming, I let them air dry for a short while, before I return them into the sleeve.

The process: Here’s the video.

The result? The records that needed cleaning are now clean. It’s mostly a one and done process, as I don’t expect them to get dirty again. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but these are my records, scratches, scuffs and all.

discogs.com

I have a few passions in life: technology, food (both eating and cooking) and music. I’ve been collecting records since the early 70s and have amassed a man-cave full of them, along with CDs, DVDs, boxsets, cassettes, singles, etc. After doing this for decades, I find slimmer pickings at the shops these days; mainly, because I already own most of the records that I want, and well, people’s taste in music doesn’t really change that much over the years, does it? But I still love collecting, and I still love record shopping.

In 2005, I discovered discogs.com. It’s a website built around a user-contributed database with just about every music release ever, you know, released. Think of it as Wikipedia, but for albums. The coolest feature is the implementation of master release and subsequent pressings. For the collector, one can find the exact pressing in their collection, or the copy that they are looking for, as there’s also a marketplace attached to the site — I guess that’s how they keep the bills paid for running the website.

As with any “user-contributed” sites, discogs.com has its pluses and minuses (the minuses being users that take it upon themselves to police every last change to a listing), but overall, it’s very accurate and very robust. As a marketplace, it’s effortless to drill down to the *exact* release I want; as well as creating a want list for those that I cannot afford! Anyway…

I have a lot of records; to the point of I don’t even know what I have! On a recent record-run, I bought five records that I already owned. Not a lot of money, but it pushed me into action. Discogs.com also has a feature that allows one to catalog their collection to the website, as well as a phone app that lets one access that collection wherever they go. The trick is, you have to enter that collection into the website. Luckily, the phone app has a built-in barcode reader, so adding items to your collection is as easy as scanning them (just keep the app rotation fixed to portrait)! For records, unfortunately, this doesn’t work, as ones prior to 1980 never had barcodes. But it’s easy enough to enter the catalog number from a computer.

It’s a time consuming process, but not one without reward – revisiting items I didn’t know I had – nor one without an end. Figuring out which specific pressing I have (Monarch, Presswell, etc.) can be arduous, even to the point of who cares; but it’s a solution to a very real need, and a damn good one at that. Give me a year and I’ll have most everything cataloged.

Until then, enjoy the music.

ssl grade a

Editing my /etc/apache2/mods-available/ssl.conf to use the following SSLCipherSuite changed my grade from SSLabs from B to A!

SSLProtocol ALL -SSLv2 -SSLv3 -TLSv1
SSLHonorCipherOrder on
SSLCipherSuite ECDH+AESGCM:DH+AESGCM:ECDH+AES256:DH+AES256:ECDH+AES128:DH+AES:ECDH+3DES:DH+3DES:RSA+AESGCM:RSA+AES:RSA+3DES:!aNULL:!MD5:!DSS

Check it out:
https://www.ssllabs.com/ssltest/analyze.html?d=strawberrybricks.com