the itjerk

my adventures with technology

Category Archives: New Product

iphones

Never got around to posting this, but I did buy my teenage daughters each the iPhone 11 for Xmas. The presentation they gave me, while grammatically a nightmare, was mostly compelling. I’ll share below. Good thing we have jobs, because those suckers cost me $1200, plus about $16 per month for insurance.
Google Family Link does NOT work with the iPhone, but I can get them to add their location to my Google Maps. I also set some parent restrictions on their phones with my AppleID.

roon 1.8

Five emails from Roon Labs announcing their latest version, 1.8. Take a look below, that’s the home screen. Seriously. A big “one step back.” No additional features, a horrible UI and UX that’s shaky. Is Roon becoming nothing but a frontend for streaming services? Well, like any other old component in the rack, it’s time to look for the next one and upgrade.

google hangouts to google chat?

Hey Google, I understand that for whatever reason you are switching Google Hangouts to Google Chat, but please do not forget to transfer the Group Hangouts over. I have one for my family, it’s how we communicate, you know, as a family.

Hangouts was a nice solution for communicating with my wife and our kids. We use it exclusively for intra-family communication. No messages, no texts, no messenger, etc., just Hangouts. So when that green bubble notification comes up, we immediately all know it’s a family matter. In addition to the app, it also sits conveniently at the bottom left of Gmail.

C’mon Google, do the right thing. Convert the Group Hangouts over to Chat!

Edit Jan 27th – Our family hangout appeared in Google Chat under Rooms! thanks Google!

pixel 5

Santa brought me a Pixel 5 for Xmas. The old Pixel 2 was a venerable phone, but “typing” had become more than troublesome, and knowing I had just performed the last Android update, I got the bug to upgrade. Didn’t get much of a deal, $50 off an unlocked model, plus I traded in my daughter’s Pixel 3a (more on that later). I had thought about a Pixel 4a, but the cheaper glass and plastic case made me think otherwise – and no, I don’t care about a headphone jack.

To be honest, the two phones are incredibly similar. In fact, I prefer how the Pixel 2 felt in my hand – the slightly rectangular bezel made it easier to grip. Sure, the Pixel 5 has 5G, another camera, etc, but what I notice the most is that the screen bleeds to the very edge of the phone case. Whoopdedoo. It’s uncomfortable to reach my fingers down to the bottom edge. Thankfully I found out how to restore the three-button navigation at the bottom (Settings>System>Gestures), I sure was not up for “swipey-swipey-hold” all the time. Switching between phones was nearly perfect – only my VPN and SSH clients need to be setup from scratch again.

The $649 question: Was it worth it? Not really. I probably should have held off until next year to upgrade. If you really ting about it, the smartphones are a mature product. The hand is only so big, and there’s really not much to add to improve the experience. Another camera? More storage? 6G network? Better screen? These are all incremental at best. In the future let’s hope that phones are more about longevity – having the ability to keep getting software updates – rather than just replacing hardware every few years. Ho-hum.

my data and the cloud

Working from home gives me a lot of time in front of my computer. Being who I am – an itjerk – I’ve decided to streamline all my cloud services, and clean up my data wherever and everywhere it may be.

First, let’s talk a little about data. Data is ubiquitous. Folders, files, drives, cloud, it just piles up. Keeping it organized though is the key to keeping it safe. Specific categories of data require specific solutions. Here’s mine:

  1. Documents. These are almost exclusively on my PC’s home folder, or in Google Drive. I’ll use OneDrive to keep them backed up, until they are archived (see below).
  2. Photos. Camera photos are in Google Photos (Android Phone user) and then eventually backed up to my RAID1 and external drives, while other photos are in Pictures folders, or shared with Cloud services.
  3. Music. This resides on a RAID1 on my Linux computer, and is backed up to an external drive.
  4. Archived Data. IMPORTANT! Every year I create a folder on my Desktop for all the digital ephemera I collect. It gets backed up to my RAID1 and external drives. I also clean/clear out my home folders, or at least I endeavor to.
  5. Backups. Yep, that’s a class of data. I have a backup of my home folders on my RAID1 and external drives.
  6. The zillion other random photos and files. They are everywhere! In the cloud, in my Downloads folder, on flash drives and backup disks; this is the thing to organize and clean up!

Cloud services are great, but it’s pretty easy for things to get out of hand if you have too many. Here’s a quick overview of my Cloud Services:

Google Backup & Sync. Google let me down when they removed Google Photos from their sync services. I had my photos syncing down to a D: drive on my PC, which was easy enough to backup to external drives. Maybe too easy? No more – it’s a manual download process. Fuckers. Anyway it can do exactly what it says – backup your computer to the cloud, and the cloud down to your computer – but I’m moving on. Google knows enough about me.

Google Drive. This does have exceptional value to me, especially when I was writing my book, as a “work-in-progress” repository for documents. However, like all cloud services, it’s also a wasteland for random bits of data – photos, saved files, wip documents that never finish, transfers – all of which needs cleaning up much more so than backing up. I’ll use it for working in the cloud, but not as a repository for data.

Mega. Anyone remember Kim Dotcom? Whatever happened to him? Anyway, I use Mega to backup my book files. It’s a task-specific solution that serves my need, and is free.

OneDrive. I’m a newly converted fan. Why? Well, I use it extensively at work, but also because of my Surface Go: I used my Microsoft account (Live? 365?) to initially create my user account, and since the Go has only a 64GB hard drive, OneDrive’s is a must (but to be honest, I don’t store any data on the Go). But here’s another essential feature of OneDrive – it can automatically backup your Desktop, Documents and/or Pictures folder. The free plan comes with 5GB of storage, which is good for two of those folders, and 100GB plan only costs $2/month. It does have a Personal Vault (password protected folder), but it only holds three (3) files! LOL! Well integrated into File Explorer, and works with a Mac.

Dropbox. The original cloud, I think, it just ended up being a whole lot of meaningless files for me. I’ll keep the account but only for sharing with others.

Adobe Creative Cloud. I used CC apps for my book, but as this is provided by my work, it’s not a personal solution for me.

iCloud. I’m not an Apple user, but if I were, I would probably use this instead of OneDrive.

Box. Another service I use at work, but redundant with OneDrive.

Amazon Drive. If you have a Prime account, it offers unlimited photo storage. That’s tempting, but Amazon knows enough about me already. Plus, I want my precious digital photos in my physical possession.

So what’s the plan? Use Google Drive as a work space, and OneDrive as my primary cloud. As for the rest of my data, I’ve got a spare D: drive on my PC that I’m using as a staging point as I clean out my various folders and drives. Time I have, OCD I’m great at, so let’s execute the plan!

wireguard vpn

On my to-do list for my newly christened Ubuntu box was to install a VPN. I had previously used OpenVPN-AS (Access Server), which is a lite version (two user) of OpenVPN that uses a web interface for most configuration. I also considered using “regular” OpenVPN but to be honest, there’s a fair amount of work in setting up keys, and I didn’t want to use scripts downloaded from github. Enter WireGuard.

Here’s the pitch. “WireGuard® is an extremely simple yet fast and modern VPN that utilizes state-of-the-art cryptography. It aims to be faster, simpler, leaner, and more useful than IPsec (and OpenVPN), while avoiding the massive headache. It intends to be considerably more performant than OpenVPN.” In short, it’s easy to configure, lightweight to use, and it’s already in the Ubuntu 20.04LTS repo.

To install WireGuard, we install the program, create keys, configure the virtual network device (wg0), and then configure the client (Android).

#install WireGuard
$ sudo -i
$ apt update && install wireguard

#generate server keys (these are stored in /etc/wireguard/)
$ umask 077; wg genkey | tee privatekey | wg pubkey > publickey
cat publickey

#configure the WireGuard interface wg0 (leaving peer empty for now)
$ cd /etc/wireguard
$ nano wg0.conf

[Interface]
Address = 192.168.6.1/24
SaveConfig = true
ListenPort = [port]
PrivateKey = [server privatekey]

[Peer]
PublicKey = [client publickey]
Allowed IPs = 192.168.6.2/32

#open port on firewall for WireGuard to listen
$ ufw allow [port]/udp

#enable and start Wireguard server
$ sudo systemctl enable wg-quick@wg0
$ sudo systemctl start wg-quick@wg0
$ sudo systemctl status wg-quick@wg0

#now that the service is started, let’s stop it, and configure our client.
#first we create client (keys we’re not going to save them)
$ sudo systemctl stop wg-quick@wg0
$ wg genkey | (
read privk
echo "android-private-key: $privk"
echo "android-public-key: $(echo "$privk" | wg pubkey)"
)

#edit wg0.conf and enter the publickey for your client, then restart WireGuard
$ sudo systemctl start wg-quick@wg0
$ sudo systemctl start wg-quick@wg0

#now let’s create a config_file for the client.
$ exit
$ cd ~/Desktop
$ nano config_file

[Interface]
#client
PrivateKey = [client privatekey]
Address = 192.168.6.2/24

[Peer]
#server
PublicKey = [server publickey]
AllowedIPs = 192.168.6.0/24
Endpoint = [ip or host name]:[port]
PersistentKeepalive = 15

#save the file and generate a qrcode to scan with your phone
$ qrencode -t utf8 < config_file

That’s it! I installed the WireGuard app on my Pixel phone, selected QR code for the connection and scanned the image, then the app asked me to name my new connection. All set, I connected and viola, I have my own VPN server.

Couple of notes. Pay attention to the IP addresses and masks; they must be exact. You can use whatever port you want for WireGuard to listen, and it works well with DuckDNS dynamic hostname. Multiple peers can be configured as well. The Android app could do a better job “hiding” both keys, but there you are.

On the web:
WireGuard

microsoft surface go 4/64

I have had a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 for quite a few years now. It’s a “hand-me-down” from work, that gives me access to Active Directory, etc. when I’m not in the office. Nice computer, but it’s showing its age, type pad is glitchy, front camera doesn’t work – but what do you expect for free?

I’ve been using that and what amounts to be a terrible tablet (Lenovo Tab 7) – painfully slow, always needs updates, poor battery life – in my man cave for running Roon controller, and that old Surface for running REW, Room EQ Wizard software. Here’s the thing. This room is my sanctuary. Once I’m at home, I leave my phone in the kitchen, not to be bothered. I want to sit in the sweet spot when I play digital music, and not get up; one must get up to play vinyl! So, the desktops won’t do. Plus, I need the portability of a notebook or laptop for room correction. So having a Windows computer that can do all that, and a few other things – having a working webcam – is a real bonus. Yes, the itjerk loves Windows, and that old Surface.

IMG_20200428_142828
I looked on CDWG’s site and found the Microsoft Surface Go 10″ Pentium Gold 4415Y 4GB RAM 64GB EDU in stock for $390. Wow. In stock! Plus, as an EDU edition it comes with a license for Windows 10 Pro. So a couple days later, here I am settling in with my new Go. It’s very elegant hardware, with a screen that’s great on my eyes, though maybe a bit small. But the kickstand and touch screen are fantastic! I didn’t initially get the cover type pad, but will, eventually.

The Surface Go was only current to Windows build 1809, which meant a ton of updates. I know what I’m getting into with a Pentium with 4GB RAM. It’s just fine to run a few applications and surf the web; after all, I’m not planning on using Adobe Creative Cloud on it. But updating to the current 1909 build took a long time. The tablet has one USB-C port and one 3.5mm audio out – minimal to say the least. Thankfully it doesn’t use that USB-C for charging; speaking of which, that’s one universal ding the Surface Go gets – battery life. Another thing to look out for is disk space. 64GB is pretty paltry, especially considering I only had 14.5GB free after all those updates (though running Disk Cleanup freed 38GB, including 32GB from the Previous Windows version). TGFTC? (Thank God For The Cloud)!

All in all, it’s great solution because as a Windows notebook, I can do more than I could with an Android tablet, and as a tablet it’s much more convenient and less expensive than a notebook.

One the web:
Meet Surface Go – Portable Power – Microsoft Surface

farewell, dvd?

I have some DVDs. I don’t know what to do with them. Playing DVDs is passé, right? Everyone has at least a couple services they subscribe to (we have Netflix and Amazon Prime), and everything is on Youtube anyway. But I thought maybe I could rip them to my computer.

In order to rip them to disk, I first installed libdvd-pkg (which allows Ubuntu to decrypt and play DVDs), configured it, and finally installed Handbrake, which is the software that rips the DVDs. Easily done from the command line:
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install libdvd-pkg
sudo dpkg-reconfigure libdvd-pkg
sudo apt-get install handbrake

Ripping DVDs takes a time – it’s pretty much in real time, a rather boring, cpu-intensive and disk-intensive chore. Then, what do I do with all these gigabytes on my drive? I’m not watching them on my computer, no, that’s passé too.
yessongs
Step in VLC media player. Under Playback>Renderer lo and behold I find my Vizio TV. Now I’m Chromecasting away… as long as port 8010 is open!

Another physical format bites the dust.

spotify

rekkids

I come from the age of vinyl. I love my physical formats. Mix tapes, not playlists. I never really considered paid streaming services, mainly because I own all the music I listen to. But things change… When we purchased our new vehicle, we were presented with the convenience of bluetooth. My daughters had been using Spotify for years, albeit with “free” accounts. They’re really not into music that much, so I guess not being able to skip songs and having to listen to ads are no big deal – much like when I was younger, back in the days of FM radio.

Anyway, we purchased a Spotify “Premium Family” plan for $15/month (with the first three (3) months free). It allows up to six (6) family members the ability to play any song ad-free, any time, with the added convenience of offline listening. The last item is key, because it avoids data charges when not on wifi or ethernet – like in the car. So, at the cost of roughly one (1) new CD per month, Spotify is not only inexpensive, it’s good for everyone in my family.

So how’s Spotify?

1. Foremost, the vast majority of artists don’t earn much by having their music streamed on Spotify. Why? Spotify pays out their revenue “pro-rata” vs “user-centric” – the more streams one has, the bigger piece of the total Spotify revenue pie one earns, as opposed to the latter method, where my $15 would be split among what my family listened to that month. There are a lot of arguments, moral and otherwise, around this, and I’ll save that for another post. But make no mistake, if you want to support musicians, go see them live and buy their merchandise with cash. Period.

2. The Spotify app for Android is the worst app of all time. I can’t say anything good about it, other than it works. You’d think being the single point of contact between the company and its consumers, that Spotify would put some effort into the app, you know, a better user interface, personalization options, alternate layouts, etc. Nothing. Total crap.

3. Spotify works with bluetooth. I don’t really listen to music directly on my phone or my computer(s), but I can stream to the car’s radio, my Google Nest Mini, my kid’s Google Home Mini’s (if I really want to pester them) and my Hifiberry. I imagine there’s no need for a portable MP3 player either with Spotify, phones have plenty of storage these days. Also, Spotify does not integrate with Roon, the music management software I use in my house. Why? My guess is the terrible sound quality Spotify serves would be even more terrible on a great hifi. But there are other services that offer high-quality streaming.

4. It’s all about selection. As an aficionado of a rather specialized genre of music, I am astounded at what’s available on Spotify. Japan’s Flower Travellin’ Band, Wales’ Man, Finland’s Tasavallan Presidentti are right beside the catalog favorites (Yes, Genesis, Renaissance) and classic rock I would expect to find. But what’s most frightening, is that it’s all there – there’s no need to buy anything. For a guy that spent decades hunting dusty record bins for every rarity he could find, just about everything, right there, instantly, for $15 a month. Wow.

5. Whatever your take on it, paid streaming services are the future. That’s the big curve of technology – from recording, to physical format, the internet, data files, wireless and now streaming – all the part of one big continuously evolving arc. And in addition to Spotify, Amazon, Apple Music, Deezer, Google Play Music, I Heart Radio, Pandora, Qobuz, and Tidal are ready for you to sign up.

The future now. A big, endless plate of all you can eat music.

Spotify

the joy of a very good wireless router

img23

Wifi in the home has been wanting for some time now, so I went to my local Microcenter and purchased an Orbi System from Netgear. It was model RBK20W and was a whopping $173.99. So what is it? Orbi is a “Whole Home Mesh WiFi System” – fancy term for a router and a wall plug Satellite. It’s good for 3500 sq feet, which is enough to cover the three floors in my house. I did a perfunctory review-check and CNET rated it highly. FWIW…

What sold me on it was this: the two pieces of hardware actually “sync” to form one unified network throughout my home. That’s great news, because those wifi-extenders I was using didn’t really work that well. In certain rooms, we would need to toggle our wifi to get it working, and the issues I have had with the Google Home/Nest Minis may also be related.

Anyway, setup was a breeze because the Orbi has browser-based configuration, a big plus over using an app, and another selling point. After a quick firmware update, I setup my WAN, LAN, DNS servers and SSIDs for both wifi and Guest-wifi. I did need to go into my U-verse modem and mark the new router for DMZ services. One niggle, I had to buy a switch because the router has only one (1) ethernet port.

All seems pretty good, I did check “beam forming” to boost quality, and did move the satellite’s placement. The web interface does have a very graphic display detailing Attached Devices to the router, including which access point it’s connected to. It also allows device annotation and is great for seeing exactly what’s connected in my home. Happy wifi days ahead? We can hope!

One the web:
Orbi Wifi System (RBK20W)