the itjerk

my adventures with technology

Category Archives: How-to


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.

Set the database cache directory (important!) and enable logging:

Tell it to look for new files or not:

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

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

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, 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:
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.

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 ^(.*)$$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 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, 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 — 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 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 for publishing, at least on 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 /opt/letsencrypt

Then run the config:

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

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:

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