the itjerk

my adventures with technology

Category Archives: New Product

new macbooks – overspec’d is overserved

They’re in the store, those shiny new Apple MacBook Pros with the M1 Pro and M1 MAX chips, 10 Core CPUs, up to 32 Core GPUs, up to 64 GBs RAM and 8TB SSD. Go big, Apple hopes, so your $2500 laptop will end up costing $5000! With the iPhone’s 16-core Neural Engine too for all those pictures you’ll be taking with your laptop!

Look how easy it is to add an extra grand or two to a machine? Apple consumers are sheep! Apple Marketing FTW!

google discovery doesn’t work

One of the most useful features of my Pixel 5 is the “swipe right on the home screen” for my Google Discovery page. I use to find my most favorite pieces of information – box scores and upcoming games on the sports teams I follow. Except it hasn’t lately. The remedy is clunky: Go to Settings>Storage>Other Apps and delete the “clear google search data” for the Google app. Viola, they appear back, but only until the next refresh.

I had this issue a while back, maybe a couple years, and the solution was to remove all the items that I’ve hidden from my Interests. Not this time. In fact, the whole Interests is a little wonky too; sometimes items that I’ve search appear with the option to either follow or block. Only sometimes.

It’s a shame because this really is one of the most useful features of my phone. C’mon Google, listen up!

new dell pc

Recently I searched this website for information about my Windows desktop only to find BYOPC 2016 – is that computer really five years old? Indeed it is, so with little hesitation I set out to find a replacement. Why? Foremost, I believe in a four (4) year replacement cycle for desktop computers. Remember, there’s no badge of honor earned from your janky old computer. Performance, security, safety, peace of mind and your itjerk’s respect all factor in. Second, the computer is not Windows 11 compatible, which as an IT professional will be important for me. Finally, it was an inexpensive build, on the noisy side (cheap case) and low on storage (128GB boot drive). Yet as cheap as it was, it served me well, but now it’s time to move on!

As my primary desktop, it was quite easy for me to arrive at the decision to buy a new computer. Building computers is fun, but good, workable options are just inexpensive. Don’t forget, PC makers spend a lot of time designing well-engineered systems; that’s part of what we pay for. I don’t game, so I have little need for power or anything but a standard configuration, including one that is Windows 11 ready. Now, I haven’t had a Dell computer since the old Dimension C521 in 2007, but my recent experiences with my daughter’s Latitude 3190s (despite initial problems) brought me around again.

A quick trip to Dell.com yielded a Vostro 3681 in a small form-factor case, with 8GB RAM, 256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe Solid State Drive and an Intel 10th Gen i5-10400 processor(6-Core, 12M Cache, 2.9GHz to 4.3GHz) processor, all for $499 (after a $50 coupon code). The HDMI port fits well with my KVM, and it has an extra bay for a spare hard drive. Pandemic-driven built-in bluetooth and wifi card in most desktops (here via a second M2 slot) is handy as well. Plus it’s kinda cute, with that red front bezel.

It arrived quickly (Sat->Wed), and within no time I had an extra 8GB RAM installed, as well as the 128GB drive from my old computer. I signed in with my Microsoft account, and OneDrive did a pretty good job of getting everything in place. I did have to ensure that my Documents and Pictures folders did not connect to OneDrive, as I don’t want them to sync nor be in the Cloud. The perfunctory Windows (shipped with 20H2) and Microsoft Store updates were next, followed by Dell’s System Update. I had previously made a list of the applications I needed, so it was off to the races to download and install them. One thing I realized is that my old Quicken 2007 software is a real relic; getting that now requires an annual subscription, so I’m glad I still had the CD! Once I copied the data from my old drive over, I took it out and plugged in a 1TB “scratch disk” from the old computer that I have a bunch of misc files on. It’s an old SATA drive, so I may replace it with a SSD to keep the “silence” the Vostro 3681 provides.

Update: That 1TB “scratch disk” was actually a 500GB drive, and I did replace it with a 512GB SSD.

Nota Bene: Before you wipe clean your old computer, be sure to give the new computer a run through of your most important tasks. For instance, opening my book InDesign and printing a PDF copy yielded a couple missing fonts (which I had) and a PDF preset (which luckily I found). In other words, don’t be in a hurry to throw out the old!

All in all, it’s a silent, snappy little computer that more than provides for what I need in a desktop environment. Good on you Dell.

One the web:
Dell Vostro

hello windows 11, good-bye surface go?

That cute little Surface Go I purchased a year ago fails the Windows 11 compatibility test. Although it has TPM 2.0, seems the processor is off by ten: I’ve got the Gold 4415Y, but the minimum is Gold 4425Y. The PC Health Check app now says coming soon, so let’s see what’s going on.

WTF, Microsoft, pony up and make your hardware compatible!

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