the itjerk

my adventures with technology

Category Archives: How-to

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 did work 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

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.

nexus 7 repaired

The old nexus 7 2nd generation tablet wasn’t charging. Figured my daughter had jammed the micro usb plug in the wrong way, or mangled it while using it plugged in. Ends up the charging board must eventually go bad as the seller on eBay had already sold 190 of these babies. $60 later and the tablet is charging.

genius (sic)

“I tried following the instructions on that site but unfortunately I don’t really understand what they want me to do. For example I downloaded the correct version but I do not know how to run it at the command line.”


dns, search engines and browsing

Secure browsing is much more than clearing your browser’s cache when done surfing. While Tor Browser isn’t for everyone, two quick and easy things I recommend are using DuckDuckGo as your default search engine and switching to either GoogleDNS or OpenDNS for your web browsing. And use a modern, up to date browser!

DuckDuckGo bills itself as “the search engine that doesn’t track you”, which is reason enough to switch. The search engine results are very good, but even better, the use of bangs (!) allows searches directly to thousands of sites, including encrypted to Google (g!). Plus, it’s easy to install as the default engine on your browser.

DNS servers help resolve domain names and their numeric ip addresses. Most ISP’s DNS is notorious for being spotty, and of course, not very private. Using either Google or OpenDNS’s can speed up your browsing, protect from DNS hijacking, and offer protection from phishing. There’s a lot more to using these services than I’ll write, but just entering them into your router is the place to start.

Remember, however, that browsing security also ends with one’s exit on the web. Subject for another time…

One the web:
Google Public DNS

el capitan, thank you

Don’t know if it’s just me or not, but doing a clean install on an old Mac computer has been a pain, since 10.6 Snow Leopard. Back in the early days of Mac OS X, you could boot a Mac into firewire mode and copy an image over. As Apple moved away from firewire, that became more and more difficult. Doing a clean install of an operating system became even more problematic after the switch to Intel processors, as Apple made version-specific demands on installers; this disc only worked with this machine, etc. Of course a few years ago, Apple did away with optical drives all together.

Fortunately, that’s changed, and now making a bootable flash drive is easy business. To perform a clean install of 10.11 El Capitan, go to the App Store and download the free installer, it’s about >6GB and will end up in your /Applications directory. Take a big enough USB drive, format it to “Mac OS Extended (Journaled)” and name it “Untitled”. Providing you keep these defaults the same, you just need to run this simple command to make your very own bootable installer:

sudo /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ --volume /Volumes/Untitled --applicationpath /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ --nointeraction

Boot the Mac by holding down the option (Apple) key and you’ll be able to choose the USB drive as your startup device and proceed with a clean install.

Now that Apple is giving away free upgrades to their OS X, there’s really no reason to not run the latest and greatest version of OS X. (Well, maybe*). El Capitan will run on most any Mac that’s got a 64 bit processor, and you’ll have to go back a decade or so to find one that doesn’t have one – like my little Mac Mini with its core solo* that keeps chugging along after all these years!