the itjerk

my adventures with technology

Category Archives: How-to

america

It’s not often – ever? – that I get political as the itjerk, but here we go:

As the events of 2017 unfold each and every day, I find myself shaking my head with each gaffe the Donald makes, waiting only for the smoke to clear and find another nefarious raping of a public “good.”

What’s wrong with America?

1. Ignorance. There was a great meme that highlighted the “blue” vs “red” of America, labeling most of the latter (basically white people in less-concentrated population areas) as Dumbfuckistan. America seriously has an ignorance issue folks, perhaps best epitomized, sadly enough, in the line “I’m not a terrorist, I’m a patriot.” All the hot topics – abortion, illegals, gay marriage, the flag, Jesus, libertarianism, guns, support for the military, etc – it’s all smoke. Bullshit social issues that #oldwhitemen get the dumbasses all worked up about so they vote accordingly. In the meantime, the #oldwhitemen are a) widening the divide between the country and b) dismantling all the public good our country has to offer. Public Education, healthcare, social security, even welfare; just like diversity, these are not signs of weakness. They are America’s strength.

2. #oldwhitemen. Why anyone is voting for people over the age of 55 is beyond me. Get rid of the old, entrenched, archaic politicians that have been bought by lobbyists many times over. They live in another era, one that believes in the industrial military complex, and that “communism” and “socialism” are evil. Wake up: die Mauer fell almost 20 years ago, and the places with the highest standard of living are in Northern Europe, countries that have – wait for it – social democracies. Admittedly, Swedes, Finns, Norwegians, etc are pretty homogeneous societies and they probably agree on most things: “Yes, we like good roads. Yes, we need healthcare for all.” But it boils down to racism: #oldwhitemen are greedy bastards.”I’m not giving my money to THOSE people.” So don’t vote for #oldwhitemen, the women that love them, and younger guys that you know will grow up to be them. Okay? We need new thinking, a new generation, and new ideas. America’s a pretty smart place. We invented the internet, computers, rock-n-roll, all sorts of groovy things; how do we make public service worthy of our best and brightest?

3. Capitalism. I wish I could go back to college and get a PhD in Economics so I could rewrite the text books on present-day capitalism. Greatest economic system or not, guess what: just as the founding fathers wanted to keep religion out of government, we must now keep corporations out of government. It’s THE major failure in America over the past 30 years. Government must be there to protect people from unfettered capitalism. Citizens United is wrong. Now, look at the change in wealth distribution over the past 30 years. While #oldwhitemen drug the rest of us with consumerism, they’ve grabbed all the money. They’ve vilified taxes led us to believe that “social programs” – the largest part of our federal budget – is a bad thing Versus what, military spending? Net neutrality is another example. Who gives a flip about Comcast, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc. It’s there job to figure out streaming and unlimited data and all that. We’re supposed to enjoy better, faster and more because of the competition the ISPs have with each other, right? Yet instead, they lobby and pay off the politicians, and install their lackeys in the FCC. Two decades later, we pay more for an internet connection than ever (which btw ranks 17th or so in the world). This is not capitalism. It’s rigged capitalism.

So let’s sum it up:
1. Don’t be stupid. Don’t vote with your so-called heart. It’s probably in the wrong place, especially if you live in Indiana.
2. Stop voting for #oldwhitemen. Just stop. Even Bernie. Where’s our Justin Trudeau?
3a. Our government was supposed to be “by the people, for the people.” Not “for the corporations.”
3b. Taxes are not evil, they pay for all the stuff a society needs: nice roads; schools and universities; social security for grandma and grandpa; birth control, so less idiots are born; the internet – well, it could if we stood up for it!

Once every couple of years, each of us have the opportunity to change all this by voting. So please, get your head out of Snapchat, Amazon and internet porn, for a few hours anyway, and vote. It’s a little bit of work, but the look at the stakes: #ignorance #oldwhitemen #capitalism.

Let’s make America smart again.

ssl 24/7

While I’ve had ssl on my website for sometime (for anything login related), I had never enabled it by default. First, I had to install the patch the Video Filter module to work with https connections to Youtube. Then, using the developers tools built into Chrome, I found I had a http link to a Facebook logo (I have no idea why it isn’t local). That had to be fixed in the site’s theme. Finally, I found I had the remnants of ShareThis in a block. Although I deleted the module eons ago, I forgot about the block (which is how it appears on a page). Thankfully, those developer tools in Chrome made it plain as day. Now that all that was fixed, I edited the .htaccess file for the site, and entered the following to force https connections. (Remember to restart Apache after you edit .htaccess.)

RewriteCond %{SERVER_PORT} 80
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://mywebsite.com/$1 [R,L]

With a free certificate from Let’s Encrypt, why not enable ssl. Oddly enough, only Chrome, Firefox and Microsoft browsers make it obvious when your connection to a website is secure. What’s up with that Apple?

the book is finished

I finished writing my book: 632 pages. All text. No pictures. Yep, lots of words. It’s a record guide, so non-fiction, but lots of facts. And my audience (mostly old white men) are very picky about getting facts correct, like “It was ‘THE Fountain of Salmacis,’ not ‘Fountain of Salmacis.'” Anyway, I’ve spent the last few months proof reading and fact-checking those 632 pages. Boring, tedious, but being who I am, I just had to get it done. Letting go — knowing when to stop checking-as well as stop writing — was even more difficult.

Anyway, the book is self-published (more below), which means, despite a few kind souls that helped with fact-checking, and a younger soul that I paid to edit my non-final text, and my wife, bless her soul, it was really down to ME to get everything correct. I wonder if a “traditional” publisher could have offered more?

The first edition was published in 2007. Hard to think it was a decade ago, my kids were just babies then. Social media was too! Now, I have soo many options now to market the book, it’s exciting. Foremost, the book doesn’t suck (to borrow a Cubs’s manager Joe Maddon phrase), in fact, for the topic, it’s pretty darn good. And with all the fact checking, those few nasty Amazon reviewers will have NOTHING to bark about. Heck, maybe some adventurous young white men may even want to read it!

I sold 3,000 copies of my first book via Lulu.com. One day, after the book had been in print for a couple of years, sales stopped. That normal November, December surge of 40 books fell to zero. So, rather than argue “what happened to the sales,” I withdrew it from print. As the next edition was readying for sale, I looked at alternatives to Lulu. I found CreateSpace.com, an Amazon company. The process of approving a title is a little more clunky (CreateSpace must do something manually because it takes 24 hours once you submit files), but here’s the slam dunk for CreateSpace:

I’m going to retail the book for $34.95. For direct print sales — someone clicking on my link to buy the book at Lulu.com — my royalty is almost 30%, which is great. But the sales through Amazon — so-called retail print-where 99% of people will buy my book — I just can’t accept $2.67 per copy. And if I were to lower the price of the book, say discount it to $29.95, that rate drops to $0.67!

Enter CreateSpace: Perhaps(?) because it’s an Amazon company, I can earn that 30% on those retail print Amazon sales, which also includes the UK and the EU. The print book isn’t as high quality as Lulu, but each copy costs me $5.00 less to buy outright and I make more money on each sale. Well, not that much worse quality then!

It’s not like I wrote 632 pages for anything but the love of music. But I’ve easily shelled out $2000 for editor, images, art, transcriptions, press, promo copies, postage, etc — let alone the money I’ve spent buying the music that the book covers. And after recouping those expenses, I’d like a little slush fund to buy a few “holy grails” for my collection …at least until I get an IRS form 1099 from CreateSpace to file with my income taxes next year. Ugh.

Buy your copy here: The Strawberry Bricks Guide to Progressive Rock

hide xml from browsers

I publish a daily rss feed, an “Album Of The Day” type thing, that feeds various social media pages as well. It works automatically, so I don’t really have to do anything, other than make sure dlvr.it is working correctly (sometimes one needs to renew app permissions). Down side, is that there’s a huge xml file out there that is easily accessible from any web browsers. It’s not that big of a deal, because, after all, I am publishing bits each day. But two lines of codes hides it from honest people:

First, create a css stylesheet. To hide everything, make sure the css applies to the root element of your xml file, which in my case is “albums”. Then you only need one line of code in your css file.

albums {visibility: hidden;}

Next, in the xml file, reference your stylesheet:

<?xml-stylesheet href=”rss.css” media=”screen” type=”text/css”?>

Ptoof! Empty page!

Of course, if you really want to hide that xml source, you’ll need to move it to a directory that’s not visible like /var/.

happy new year

Since the last post, I’ve been working on the Revised and Updated version of my Strawberry Bricks Guide to Progressive Rock, using Adobe InDesign under Windows 10. Love Windows 10, and InDesign is a great program for book layout. The Index and Table of Contents features are a lifesaver, too. I will also be switching to CreateSpace.com for publishing, at least on Amazon.com. Back to work!

raid, finally

I’ve always kept my media on a second drive in my linux box and backed it up to a remote NAS. While a perfectly acceptable setup, what I always wanted was two mirrored drives with all my data. The computer already a WD Red 1TB drive so I thrilled when I found another of the exact same drive for $67. Always a best practice to use the same model when building a mirrored RAID1.

I bought a Syba 2-port SATA RAID controller card that plugged into the empty PCI-e slot on the motherboard. It was only $25, but honestly if I had a motherboard with more features, I wouldn’t have needed it. Nonetheless, after moving the drives around in the case so the power connectors would match up to all the drives, I booted the computer and used CTRL-R immediately to get to the card’s BIOS to setup the RAID. It didn’t initially recognize all the drives, so I booted into Ubuntu and used the program Disks to format the new drive. (I also edited /etc/fstab and took out the reference to the old single drive). Rebooting again, the card recognized both drives, and then setup them up as a RAID1 using the card’s BIOS utility.

Continuing into Ubuntu, I again ran Disks and formatted the new single drive. I then edited /etc/fstab with the new mount point (which I had to create), and then ran a sudo mount -all to access it.

Now it’s time to copy everything back to my new mirrored data drive. Remember, when it comes to data, you must have two copies of everything you’d ever expect to keep. But two drives mirrored are really only one copy (think accidental erase), so I’ll still need to keep a backup of files I want to keep forever.

byopc 2016, windows edition

I have an upcoming project, formatting the next edition of my progressive rock guide, that requires the use of InDesign. My old Dell PC died earlier this year, and as a stop gap I took the guts of this computer and put it in a new box. I got a copy of Windows 10 Education from the day job, and while it was perfectly fine for doing what I normally do on Windows (finances, work email) at home, it was – no surprise – very sluggish with the Adobe Creative Cloud products. And since this job is a big deal, I didn’t want to be frustrated while working on it.

I looked into buying a Windows computer. The local Microcenter had a few decent Intel Core i5 models for under $500, but to be honest they all were cheap builds and according to reviews loaded with crapware. So I decided to look at parts to byopc. Starting with a 6th generation Skylake Intel Core i5 processor for $180, I started to work backward because although the book job will pay off, I’m cheap! The i3-6100 was less expensive at $109. The major difference between the i5 and the i3 is that the latter only has two actual cores; but for my needs, that’s acceptable, especially considering the savings. I picked up a Gigabyte GA-H110M-S2H motherboard for $29.99, which includes a $30 discount for the processor combo, and 8GB of DDR4 memory to match the board. I also decided to get a SSD drive, the Toshiba OCZ Trion 150 Series for $40, figuring that that SSD would more than make up in performance for the step down in processor.

The total cost for the parts was under $250, and it took about two hours to put the computer together, install Windows and download my applications again. I needed to update the Intel 530 display driver right away because the computer had some trouble coming out of sleep mode. But otherwise the computer is fast, has a fresh install of Windows 10 (Anniversary Edition is now updating), and the old hard drive is still there with all my old files. If I haven’t said this before, Windows 10 is one of Microsoft’s best versions yet. I thoroughly enjoy using it, especially on a quick, modern machine.

Now to get working on that book!

ubuntu 16.04 xenial xerus

Last week the first point release for Ubuntu 16.04 LTS triggered the update on my 14.04 computer and I went for it. There are several questions that pop up and need an answer for the upgrade to continue, so it’s an attended upgrade. I didn’t pay too much attention to what was upgraded, removed, not supported, etc, I just figured I would figure out whatever I need to.

Drupal 6 didnt work out of the box because 16.04 ships with Php7; but it was easy enough to install Php5.6, with the help of this repository (the guy is an official packager for Debian) so now I again have a local copy of my website.

I also needed to upgrade Logitech Media Server to 7.9, which is a beta version, but once installed, my Slimserver – the thing that got me into linux so many years ago – started working again right away.

I have to admit, that with the LTS releases, there really isn’t much of a point to upgrading, because the base distribution is supported for five years. At that point, it’s time for a new computer and a clean install.

On the web: Xenial Xerus

let’s encrypt – free ssl

Let’s Encrypt is “a free, automated, and open certificate authority” from the ISRG (and now apparently the EFF), and a growing list of technology big-names. And in the sounds too good to be true department, they offer not only free ssl certificates, but an easy to use tool that configures your web server, or ACME – automated certificate management environment, in a just a few easy steps. Encrypting web traffic should be utilized not only with sites running e-commerce or email, but whenever the use of passwords is involved.

First step is to install the client via git:

sudo git clone https://github.com/letsencrypt/letsencrypt /opt/letsencrypt

Then run the config:

cd /opt/letsencrypt
./letsencrypt-auto --apache -d yoursite.com

The client will ask a few questions about the certificate you want to install. Most importantly, remember that you probably need to apply it to your default-ssl.conf. To test your new certificate, use SSLLabs website:

https://www.ssllabs.com/ssltest/analyze.html?d=yoursite.com&latest

The tutorial below even shows you how to add renewal options to cron for set and forget ease. Remember to git pull and stash to keep everything up to date. And most of all, it’s a free service!
On the web:

Let’s Encrypt – Free SSL/TLS Certificates

How To Secure Apache with Let’s Encrypt on Ubuntu 14.04

raspberry pi 3

You know, every time I get a new raspberry pi computer, a month or so later there’s a new and improved model out. So that rPi 2 B I got the kids for Xmas is now rendered obsolete by the latest rPi 3 B. Built-in wifi and bluetooth, faster processor  from the 64bit 1.2GHz quad-core chipset, faster RAM and GPU, and hopefully the same footprint because I really like the fancy “official” case they are in.

BTW, I did pickup a rPi Zero for $5, but until I find an HDMI-mini to HDMI cable that costs less than $5, I guess it will just remain in its wrapper.