the itjerk

my adventures with technology

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!

google home

Yeah, I’m a sucker for IoT things like this. Amazon’s Alexa found a new home via eBay in Rockford, and I have to admit, we felt a little empty with the gap she left. “Alexa, what’s the weather” mostly.

So I jumped on board when Google announced their own voice-activated assistant, Google Home. I preordered directly from Google for $129 sometime in October, and it arrived just this week. Setup required me to download the “Google Home” app on my android phone, and I was then prompted to enter my Google account info. A simple process, it did some updates, knew somehow it was in my kitchen, and connected to my home wifi network.

Firstly, there is no privacy with these devices. Google knows who I am, where I live, and can listen to all the conversation maybe even in the entire house. That near-field technology is quite good, and even when laying down in an adjacent room Google Home could hear my commands, all given with the obligatory “Okay Google” salutation.

Unlike Alexa, Google Home, or rather the Google Assitant is quite smart, rattling off answers to questions like “Who just won the World Series” and whatever else we could think of. The biggest surprise was when I asked her to play some music. I have precious little in Google Play, but based on one album I bothered to upload sometime ago (The Blossom Toes’ Ever So Clean), she offered a quite satisfying playlist of late 60s psychedelia I could imagine. Bravo.

So here she will sit, ever listening and patiently awaiting our commands, until we too get bored with her!

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

uh-oh, what bricked my nexus 5X usb

I did the July 5th, 2016 Security Update for my Nexus 5X running Marshmallow 6.01 and guess what – no usb connection. The phone charges when connected, but no USB menu when I swipe down from the top. My better half also happens to have the same phone, which with the same cable still connects to the same computer. Her Android security patch level? June 1, 2016.

Called Google to tell them yet all they wanted to do was a factory reset. Oh the woes of level 1 support…

Screenshot_20160712-212941

Ends up that I did finally backup my phone to my google drive and do the factory reset.  USB still not working so thank goodness my phone was still under warranty. Replacement on the way. So what bricked the USB? Bad cable? Bad USB port? Or was it that security patch? I’m thinking I need a warranty…

Update: USB still not working with the replacement phone, so Google is sending me another!

project fi from google

I dumped T-Mobile. Not because there was any issue, rather, since upgrading to a phone that supports LTE I’ve been quite please with them. No, this was strictly based on price. Instead of paying $64 per month, I am now down to $38 for the same service: unlimited talk and text, plus 1GB of cellular data.

What’s Project Fi? It’s Google’s virtual wireless service. It uses the chip inside the Nexus 5x or 6 to pass calls between Wifi and cellular networks. Of the latter, it includes T-Mobile, Verizon and now US Cellular. So that’s the catch: you have to use their specific phones, which for me was fine because I already had one. If you don’t have their Nexus phone, Google offers a no-interest payment plan.

Upside? It’s less expensive for at least equal service. I do notice that in buildings where cellular service was spotty (you know, those dark back stairwells and basement tunnels), Wifi can fill in the gaps in coverage. Downside? Well, when the kids start youtubing on a cellular network. Since you only get charged for the data you use, if you have a month where you’re under what you signed up for, you’ll get a credit on your next bill. The flip side however is that you’ll also get charged (at the same data rate) when you go over your data limit. T-mobile would allow me to go over my data limit for the same cost, but at excruciatingly slower speeds.

Screenshot_20160613-120248

On the web: Project Fi

 

yes, I joined the u-verse

Sixteen years is a long time, that’s how long I’ve been using my Speedstream 5360 ADSL modem to jump on the information superhighway. The service was first provided Ameritech, then SBCGlobal, and finally AT&T. The latter has been pestering me for a while now to “upgrade” to the digital services of U-verse, and I got suckered by a Customer Appreciation Days letter to make the call.

The good news is it was a simple transition. The tech came to the house and checked out my wiring, made a few changes (replaced the wall plate with their own) and backported the telephone to other jacks in my house. ^I changed my old trusty router WAN connection to connect to the AT&T equipment, that way I don’t need to use their Wifi, and can point my router out to the internet. I also set the DNS on my WAN connection to use OpenDNS servers.

(^To put your router on the internet, go to Firewall>Applications, Pinholes & DMZ and select (1) your router and (2) DMZplus mode. Restart your router and it will have an internet IP (not the one from the U-verse Router)).

U-verse replaces copper wire with fiber-optic technology from the node (box in the alley) to the central office. It’s faster, offers voice-over-ip telephony and tv services. Deals aside, it is slightly less expensive for the same services, but with a better 6mbps internet connection.

Goodbye Speedstream router and goodbye POTS!

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.