Noodlings | Christmastime, xLights, Exploring Media Servers and Computer History

To squeeze one more blathering in before the end of the year, here are a few things I am noodling around currently.

The 10th Noodling arriving, not because anyone asked for it…

Christmastime Activities

Post Christmas Day shopping yielded me a really nice find, specifically something pretty fantastic from Lowe’s that allows me to fix my AC light strands. A Holiday Living Light Tester. The directions could have been a bit more clear… maybe worth a video… but I was able to recover three of my LED bush nets. Since they retail for about $10 each, that has made the purchase worth it already. This device is supposed to work with LED as well as incandescent lights. I’ve only tested it on LED thus far and it works well.

This is a device that I wish I had discovered long ago.

Christmas Lights Sequence to Music with xLights

Very comprehensive software that allows you to look at the wave forms, change playback speed and make it easier to adjust the actions to occur at the right time. I’ve only began to scratch the surface of the power and capability of this and the reality is, I don’t know what I don’t know on using this software. My set up is really quite simple, therefor I can’t take full advantage of its capabilities.

Some of my favorite effects to date are the butterfly, marquee, fireworks, life and fan. They currently give me the visual excitement for which I am looking to put into the sequences.

There are many more effects to discover but due to the limited nature of my display as it currently is, I can’t do some of the more fancy enhanced items, yet.

I recorded a two videos an posted them to YouTube, they are nothing terribly special, but I am quite pleased with how it turned out.

Funny aside, I went to record the second sequence and there was a car parked in front of my house, waiting to watch it.

I did decide to employ an FM transmitter so that people can listen to the music in their vehicle but I don’t actually have a sign to inform that fact.

More on the Christmastime Lights here

Exploring Media Servers

PLEX

The old boy on the block that is well known. I haven’t used or tried it yet but this is still the one I hear the most about. Because it is the popular one, I tend to go for other things… for reasons unknown

Jellyfin

This will be the next version I try. I have noticed that they do have a Docker image so I am going to take this as an opportunity to learn some things about docker while I’m at it. The key feature of this one is it is completely open source and that has a great appeal to me.

Emby

This is the media server with which I started this journey and am currently testing. I planned to test the others already but I have been engaged in other matters. It has decent name recognition but did go closed source after they gained some momentum. I have been using this for about a few weeks and the features I like are that it works much like you would expect in Netflix. If you activate notifications, you’ll be notified about a “new release” when you put something in your repository of media. I thought that was kind of cute. Setting it up is pretty trivial and I will be doing a write-up on this as well.

I want to do reviews of each of these media servers with my openSUSE Tumbleweed based workstation / server and see how it goes. Really, there is enough horsepower, I can have all three running and see how each of them, play out, as it were.

Restoring my Nexus 6P To Working Order

As a kind of Christmas gift to myself, I spent the 5th day of Christmas disassembling and installing a new battery into this phone. I shelved the project in August but didn’t put it out of sight. Seeing it almost daily, I’ve had it gnawing on me to get it done and I finally did it.

I bought a battery replacement kit on eBay for this phone that had most of the tools I needed. I had no interest in doing a tear down video as there are plenty of those on YouTube. YouTube Video demonstrating battery replacement of the Nexus 6P. Although the repair of the device was rather annoying and tedious, you know, just difficult enough to scare off smarter people than me, the part that took me the longest was updating the phone and installing LineageOS with everything working.

There was only one issue, really, working cell service. The problem ended up being that the was a security lock out that prevented the SIM from being accessed and disabling it is what ended up fixing it.

More on the repair and installation of LineageOS here

BDLL Followup

As we wrapped up the year in BDLL challenges, our task for this week was to make some predictions about the year 2020. They didn’t have to be Linux related so, exactly but since Linux and tech is the focus of the show, it would only make sense to keep it as such.

What I am wishing for, in 2020, is commercial grade CAD / CAM, manufacturing technology software to come to Linux, not necessarily for home use but for use in business.

Specifically, what I would like to see is Fusion 360 by Autodesk supported in some level on Linux. It already runs well in Linux through Lutris but having actual support for it would be fantastic. I would also like to see PTC’s Creo running on Linux. PTC once supported Linux with earlier offerings of their mechanical design package but no longer do so today. It would be great to see.

BDLL Community Predictions for 2020

openSUSE Corner

Tumbleweed Snapshots 20191210, 20191211, 20191213, 20191214, 20191216, 20191221

Aside from bug fixes, removing dependencies that are not needed, here are some of the highlights of the last six snapshots

Rammina, an rdp client to version 1.3.7 which included improvements to translations, better authentication MessagePanel API, Printer sharing improvements, and various bug fixes

NetworkManger, updated to 1.8.25+20. Applet scales icons for HiDPI displays.

Bluez, the bluetooth stack, received a version update to 5.52. Fixed AVDTP session disconnect timeout handling, disabled one more segfaulting patch, and fixed numerous issues.

KDE Plasma updated to 5.17.4. Discover Fwupd will no longer whine when there is unsupported hardware. Improvements to KWaylend integration, and numerous other fixes and improvements.

GNOME Desktop was updated to 3.34.2 which has undoubtedly further improved the experience for it’s users.

GTK3 updated to 3.24.13+0

Gstreamer Plugins, updated to 1.16.2. Fixed numerous issues in the v4L2video codecs

Wireshark updated to 3.0.7 which addressed CVE-2019-19553 CMS dissector crash

Akonadi has been updated to 19.12.0 There weren’t any features added but improvements and bug fixes were implemented.

Wireguard updated to version 0.0.20191219 that added support for nft and prefer it, and fixed other various issues.

YaST updated to 4.2.47, bug fixes and refinements to how it operates

php7 updated to 7.4.0 where systemd restrictions for FPM were relaxed and other various improvements

Tumbleweed Snapshot Reviewer gives 20191210 a stable 99; 20191211 a stable 99; 20191213 a stable 91, 20191214 a moderate 90; 20191216 a stable 96 and 20191221 a stable 98.

Computer History

This is a new segment I am going to try out for a few episodes to see how it fits. Since I am vintage tech enthusiast, not an expert, I like looking back and seeing the interesting parallels between the beginning of the home computer or micro-computer revolution compared to now.

The Computer Chronicles is a program that spanned for 20 seasons, starting in 1983. The original hosts, Stewart Cheifet and Gary Kildall’s first episode focused on Mainframes to Minis to Micro computers and it was such a fascinating discussion. Stewart Chiefet asks Gary, right of the bat, if he thinks whether or not we are at the end of the line of the evaluation of computers hardware or if there major new phases of this evolutionary process.

Gary responds with “no” and saying that they are getting smaller, faster and less expensive. He speculated that they will get so small you will lose them like your keys.

Couldn’t help but think if Gary was still alive today, how many times would he have lost his cell phone today and would he think back to those words. I know that I lost my cell phone in my house, the one I just fixed three times.

Watching the demonstration of the TX-0, the first transistor powered computer give a demonstration was quite fascinating.

The Super computer from the 1960s filled entire rooms while they experimented with parallel processing In the 1970s, computers miniaturized to Something resembling a single server rack and were called minis and were considered portable because they were on wheels. The late 70s and into the 80s, micro-computers came into prominence and although substantially cheaper the Mainframes, Minis and Micros, still far more expensive than what can be picked up today.

I found this particular episode very interesting due to the excitement of how small computers were getting but by today’s standards, really quite large. The hunger for speed was just as apparent in 1983 as it is today in 2019… almost 2020.

The micro-computer they demonstrate here is a Hewlett Packard HP-150 which was an attempt at being user friendly with a touch screen interface. Nothing like the touch screens of today as it uses infra red transmitters. It is noteworthy that in the demonstration of the machine by Cyril Yansouni, the General Manger of the PC Group at HP, it was stated that the most intuitive tool to interact with the computer is your finger. That holds true today, looking at how people interact with tablets and mobile devices. The interaction seemed rather clunky by today’s standards but I think it is pretty cool to see the innovation of the time. Mr. Yannsouni also stated that he doesn’t think that this alone is the most ideal interface. He stated that he thinks that there will be some combination of touch, keyboard, mouse and even voice that will be something more idea. I think he was correct on this. This machine, the HP-150 has a kind of goofy look about it but at the same time, pretty cool as well. I’m really glad it was demonstrated.

The direction that was being discussed here was the future of computer technology. Herb Lechner stated that the future will be networking computers together through local area networks so data can be shared. Gary Kildall and Cyril Yansouni speculated, very excitedly, that the data communication will be over the phone system as the future of networking because local networks are too expensive and difficult to set up. I wonder what they would say today about this.

What I really learned from this particular episode is that, one, our desire for smaller, faster, better computers hasn’t changed. There was experimentation on form and function of computers with what the best of technology had to offer for the time and there was lots of fragmentation, far more than anything we have today. I also learned that most of the experts tend to be wrong about the future of technology, that hasn’t changed today either.

The Computer Chronicles, Mainframes to Minis to Micros (1983)

Final Thoughts

2020 is on the horizon, and to quote my favorite fictional character of all time, Doc Brown, “the future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one.” Make 2020 the best year you can, be kind to one another and should things not go as you planned, don’t hold any resentment against yourself or those around you.

Restoring my Nexus 6P To Working Order

As a kind of Christmas gift to myself, I spent the 5th day of Christmas disassembling and installing a new battery into this “shelved” phone of mine. It is something I have wanted to do since the battery started fading and I finally got to it.

I bought a battery replacement kit on eBay for this phone that had most of the tools I needed. I am not going to provide you a tear down video, there are plenty of those on YouTube and if you are interested in that, click here. This will tell you everything you need to know and possibly more. I am going to focus more on the ares of difficulty and the installation of LineageOS.

Pixel was an okay phone but was a bit too small for my hand, I didn’t like how it fit in my phone holder in my truck, the battery didn’t end up being much better on that phone after about 6 months of use and I couldn’t put LineageOS on it because it is locked down.

Repair Supplies

The video gives you a list of tools to use to do the repair. I didn’t have everything, exactly as they suggested. I grabbed my whole kit of tools available and this is what I ended up using:

Plastic triangle opening tool of two different thicknesses

Tweezers. I used whatever tweezers I had in my tool box which ultimately came from the bathroom medicine cabinet. I would recommend a better set but something is better than nothing

Box cutter. I didn’t have a precision knife set as per recommended in this video and I would highly recommend something like that and I won’t do another repair without it. The box cutter worked but that is a little like using a sledge hammer when all you need is a 16 oz claw hammer. Sure, it gets the job done but makes a bit of a mess of your project surface.

Paper clip in place of a sim card ejection tool.

Heat gun. Mine was probably overkill but it worked fine.

Small Cross-recessed (Phillips) screw driver. The battery kit came with screw drivers but I prefer my nicer, more professional set. Even I can show up to a party in the right outfit from time to time…

The video recommends playing cards but those were chewed up pretty quick on me so I had to use some more ridged cardboard to slide between the battery and the body of the phone. Your mileage may vary. In my case, this “Hello Fresh” junk mail bit worked better than a playing card. Basically, anything ridged that is not so stiff as to crease the battery and cause it to vent with flame.

I used a spudger but not a fancy black nylon one, this one was able to pry and get between the frame and the screen well enough.

Double sided sticky tape to put the lower back panel back on

I also used a dental pick to help with the picking at the device. I recommend something like this for so many of your smaller projects, especially if you have giant sausage fingers.

1 hour of time to devote to the project

The two areas of extra care for this project is removing the glass around the camera and the battery.

The glass needed to be loosened up with the heat gun, gently, as to not over heat the device. Doing so can cause irreparable damage to the device. Once I got this portion heated up enough, the glue started to let go of the glass plate enough to allow me to get that knife in there. This would have been easier with smaller, more precise tools. Thankfully I didn’t break it.

Once the glass and the plastic cover are removed, that will expose the 6 screws holding the device together.

The spudging tool will be required to carefully pull the body of the phone from the screen assembly. I was “fortunate” that this phone has a bit of an area of buckling around the volume button and made it a bit easier to get the case away from the screen assembly.

The phone comes apart and exposes all the little secrets of its design. It also exposed the fact that this thing is incredibly dirty and needed a good cleaning with some isopropyl alcohol.

The other area of concern is the battery. It is imperative you take extra care as to not bend the lithium-polymer battery too much or this will “vent with flame” and it can be a rather spectacular event, one that I was not interested in having. There is a small amount of clearance that will allow you to start prying away at this battery. I carefully used the heat gun to loosen the glue here as well. Once I got the battery up a little, I used several card like things to pry this up.

The rest of the instruction per the video was spot on but the emphasis on the glass and the battery was a bit understated, from my view.

Reassembly of the device was pretty straight forward. It assembles pretty easily. Install the battery, I reused the adhesive pads from the previous battery. Then carefully install the cables, make sure they are fitted well. The glass still had enough adhesive on it that it will keep the glass in place. The bottom plastic bit needed some double-sided tape to keep it in place.

Since this phone wasn’t exactly a “looker” when I started, I am not concerned about how it looks when complete. It is also in a case that will help to hold things in place.

Upgrading the Operating System

This was actually a lot more time consuming than fixing the battery, I am sorry to say. When I started the phone I was greeted with this error about a vendor mismatch.

I have seen this error before so it wasn’t a big deal in fixing this. I downloaded the Google image and flashed the vendor image as per the instructions I found here. In short, here is the process I went through:

  • Downloaded the nightly ROM and the Gapps (mini Gapps) and put them on your phone
  • Download the Google Angler image
  • Wiped device (do not wipe the internal storage)
  • Flashed the three image files (using fastboot commands)
  • fastboot flash bootloader bootloader-angler-angler-*.img
  • fastboot reboot bootloader
  • fastboot flash radio radio-angler-angler-03.78.img
  • fastboot reboot bootloader
  • Flash the Lineage ROM and the mini Gapps
  • Wipe cache, reboot

I admit these instructions are not as verbose as I normally give. If you have any issues, please leave a comment or email me and I will take the time to make it more verbose.

After this process, the phone would not recognize SIM for cell service. I tried flashing the radio and vendor image and still, nothing. I used this little trick from here which also didn’t help, it only told me that it didn’t know the IEMI.

That trick is, on the dial pad, Type in *#*#4636#*#*
It exposes some very interesting bits of information about your phone.

I reinstalled using these instructions several times. Service mode didn’t provide me any solutions and I feared that I somehow erased the very definition of the phones cell radio identification.

As a kind of last ditch effort, I installed the stock Android image and the cell phone signal miraculously worked again. Installing Lineage OS once again left me with no access to the radio. After some more web crawling, the solution sort of come from this Reddit post that said the issue has something to do with the system lock not releasing the cellular radio to the system.

Sure enough, after disabling all the security features, and rebooting the cell service works once again. The specific issue is with this “Secure start-up” where it requires a bit before starting the system. There is some kind of bug in this that is causing issues. Where exactly, I have no idea.

In order to implement this solution, to disable the “Secure start-up” feature and prevent the SIM from being locked out. Go to, Settings > Security & Privacy > Screen lock. I prefer a pin lock screen and when you do enter your desired pin, you are asked for your “Secure start-up” preference. Say “No”, rebooting the device and the cell service will work normally.

I have installed all the important applications and I am back to full mobile capacity… which… is a pretty short list, really.

Final Thoughts

Phones today are, frankly, terribly designed. The process to replace the battery is unnecessarily tedious. At this point, I would consider any phone without a user accessible battery a terrible design and I will not purchase another phone that locks away a battery. That signals a design with planned obsolescence. All that does is encourage greater levels of e-waste. I have great hope in the up and coming PinePhone that may not have the performance capabilities of a modern “flag-ship” phone but no matter how much it may lack in processing power, storage, or RAM, it does have a replaceable battery. That means it won’t be a turd of a design that you get from the likes of Apple, Samsung or Huawei.

LineageOS is now a must to have a good Android experience. I tried to go several months on Google-locked Android and frankly, that is not a good experience. The lock down of applications on the phone is terrible. I should be able to remove whatever applications I want. I have reaffirmed that I will not purchase another locked mobile device, newer does not mean better and stock Android is vastly inferior to Lineage OS Android. It’s not even a fair comparison on the significant user improvements the Lineage team puts into Android.

Ultimately, I look forward to the PinePhone. To have an unlocked, user serviceable device that may be a bit less capable on raw performance is a welcome upgrade to just about any mobile phone out there. Give me a headphone jack and access to my battery! I am now done with these mobile nightmare devices.

References

Nexus 6P Repair Video
Lineage OS installation Guide
Reddit Post on SIM not detected
PinePhone from Pine64
Factory Install Google Android on Nexus 6P
Vendor Mismatch Fix for LineageOS on Reddit

Another Christmastime Blathering | Linux Powered Lighting

Christmastime is a time of hope and joy, despite the cold and darkness that comes with it. It is like it stands in defiance against the darkness, warms people and brings out the best, or at least, has the potential to do so.

Link to YouTube video of light show.
Link to Second YouTube video of light show

I had a life event three years ago where I went through the darkest time in my life. It was the most horrible event of my life that I would wish upon no one. That awfulness combined with the lack of light and the blowing bitter-cold in the winter months in Southwestern Michigan was loudly overwhelming. In such situations, you have two options, give up and die or defy the oppressive darkness and stand against it. Since I am responsible for three kids, I was not about to just roll over and give up. The only answer was to not permit all that is negative swallow me up and make a stand against it. I had to do something and that something was Christmas lights; to drive the darkness from my house and from my soul.

It started out with just the run-of-the-mill lights you would get at any store. Strings or nets of lights in varying lengths. The house looked pretty decent. I only did a bit of the front of the house, hanging them off of the gutters and wrapping the columns and so fort. It was enough, essentially, to stave off the dark from the front of the house. I was able to turn on and off the lights through a remote system that I had used years prior but this was the first year I put some real effort into it.

It was in 2017 that I stepped up my game a bit. I purchased a photocell enabled remote system that would automatically shut down in the morning. I put lights completely around the roof line and on the dormer. This was officially my first “Griswold like” effort where my house was noticeably brighter than anyone else on the the street. This was the first time I wrapped my trees and made a walkway of lights or put lights on my bushes. I also had the lights wrap around the house entirely because I wanted to see light outside of any window.

I also decided to keep those lights up well past the Christmastime. I had to continue to drive the darkness back and thrust joy upon myself.

My next year, I added more lights, changed up the light wrap on the lamp to multicolored and a blindingly bright spiral Christmas tree. Another enhancement was made to my back gate to make entering the home an even greater experience. One that would welcome me and give me a great smile. Having the light truly made coming home late or leaving early a welcoming and warm experience, even when it was ridiculously cold and unpleasant. It helped to take the sting out of life’s unfortunate dealings quite nicely.

It was this year that a coworker friend of mine introduced these “Pixel Lights” to me and showed me some of his creations using these lights and what he did with his house. I was impressed, very, very impressed and this particular sequence was, and still is my favorite.

I knew that I must do something similar but my largest concern was, I didn’t want to toss out my current investment in LED lights that I put into my house. Many discussions of discovery later and I had a plan which I initiated this past September for my own home. I now had a plan for what I was going to do different for my home. I had a very limited idea of how to execute it but I knew what I needed and obtained all the various parts and how I was going to utilize much of this throughout the year, not just for Christmas. I will have more in-depth post on this later but I was able to build.

Bit by bit, the pieces arrived and I started to build my light system. This wasn’t going to be just a dumb box you flip a switch, but rather a Linux powered system that I would breath life into and almost give a kind of personality. It would automate my lights, turn on and off with reliability and maybe even save me some energy (I can’t verify that but I can pretend).

This particular device is a Kulp Lights F8-B connected to a Beagle Bone Black and running Falcon Player which sits on top of a Linux core. I also added a board to turn those Pixel signals to power AC things. In my case, 8 channels of AC light strands and 1 channel for the inflatable Santa.

At this point, I could only get the lights to work in test mode. I tested to see how far I could run the Pixel Strands and maintain fidelity in the lighting quality and I wanted to see how the AC light strands would be implemented. My next step was to understand how to sequence them properly. That was done through this application called xLights. It took several YouTube videos to understand how to set up the layouts to coincide with the physical layout and channels of lights from the controller. I didn’t figure out most of this until the light channels were mounted on the house. I was also at this point where the weather was becoming less cooperative so I had to get the lights up without me fully understanding what I was doing. I also had to make quick fixes of lights along the way that had, for whatever reason left me with a “pixel being out of place“.

The final result, after getting all the Pixel Lights mounted and programmed left me pretty pleased with the results. I now had lights that were much, much more robust that I wouldn’t have to take down that could change for each of the seasons. I had better control over the AC lights and the inflatable Santa and I think the overall aesthetic was vastly improved. There certainly are more lights.

I again changed the wrap on the lamp post but that is because it is now a waterproof RGB light strip to which I can change the color. It will soon get an enhancement with a NodeMCU but that is another discussion. The lights along the roof and the fence are Pixel Lights. The fence lights will come down but the roof lights will stay.

It truly feels bright and happy around my house. The lights turn on when it starts to get dark. Shut down when I am sleeping and are back on before I awaken. I was going to leave it here, but my oldest called me out on my not sequencing the lights to music. I was content and quite happy with what I had but my boy reminded me of my commitment to time the lights to music. I had a few songs in mind but ended up going with the song that inspired me long ago: Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Wizards in Winter”. There is a video of that on YouTube. Those were all incandescent lights and probably done with a micro-controller and without the benefit of any sequencing software.

My next step was to break out all the AC powered items into logical groups that I could easily control with xLights. This process added several more extension cords to my already somewhat untidy setup but once it was completed. It turned out much better and introduced a whole new set of fun activities I can have with these Christmas lights.

The xLights application is a little bit daunting to look at when you first start into it. Once you understand the basics, it is pretty easy to navigate your way through and start experimenting with things. This first sequence is basically one big experiment but I like how it turned out.

Most of the time, my lights are on and they don’t do much beyond twinkle and drive back any oppressive darkness from my home. It lights things up around me quite nicely and makes for spending any time outside of the house much more delightful. The light that comes through the windows feels as though it is full of life. They remind me of the hope, joy and optimism of Christmastime. It is an electronic symbol of the light that was brought to this earth so many years ago that carries over into modern western tradition today.

The lights are red, green, blue and Amber. They twinkle and shift position periodically.

Once every twenty minutes, this sequence will start and I am quite pleased with how it turned out. I am happy with it now but after watching it a few times, there are certainly areas for improvement with my yard objects. Specifically, more are needed but I have a plan.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Wizards of Winter (2019)

I have a joyful, childlike smile on my face every time my eyes glance outside the window and see the twinkle and I am nearly jumping up and down when I hear the faint sound of that Christmas rock and I can see the lights flash through the curtains. I often run to the front door just to see my very first light sequence and I do not tire of it. Not sure about my neighbors but so far, the feedback has been positive.

Final Thoughts

This wasn’t the cheapest technology adventure I have ever pursued. It’s certainly not the most practical either but I can say with much confidence that this has been good for my soul and I don’t have any bit of remorse on the time and money this cost me. In fact, I am noodling around my ideas for next year already to make it better.

I will put together some sort of short, quick start, guide for putting together a light display for those inclined to do something similar. This is all built on free and open source software which makes the whole project that much sweeter. I have a Linux computer that continually thrust joy upon me and reminds me that no matter what awful things may happen to me, not to roll over and give up but to stand up and slug my way through. It reminds me that there is joy to be had even when the cold, bitter, darkness of life has fallen around you.

For this, I say thank you to anyone that has had even the slightest hand in Linux or any of the tools that has made my life a little better. It truly means a lot to me. You may never know how far reaching your positive contributions have been to people, personally and professionally. So again, thank you.

2001 Ford F-350 Radiator Replacement

My trusty old Diesel powered truck developed another issue, the radiator was leaking coolant and I couldn’t help but think about the many Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes where Geordi La Forge telling the bridge, “We have a coolant leak”

That began my task of gathering things and knowledge to get this process started. I consulted one of the smartest people I know, a buddy of mine that lives locally that is quite literally one of the smartest people I know. He encouraged me that I could do it. He also directed me to a site that provides parts at a much reduced cost. I am all about saving money.

Preparation

In order to replace my leaky radiator, I prepared by making a few purchases and gathered a few items:

  • Purchased a radiator online to save a few bucks
  • Adequate amounts of replacement coolant
  • Coolant system lubricant
  • Buckets to collect the coolant
  • A couple funnels and some tools

I watched a YouTube video and was mentally prepared for the task at hand.

Step 1: Drain The Radiator

In order to remove the radiator, I had to drain it first. There is a little drain at the bottom of the radiator that makes it super easy to open up. I opened up the cap on the overflow to allow for air to flow in as the coolant escapes.

Step 2: Disconnect the Hoses

In order to get to the overflow hose at the top of the radiator, the overflow tank, which is an interesting design to me because it also contains the radiator cap… but it’s not on the radiator… Part of the jack kit also resides at the top of the radiator and integrated into the radiator retention bracket.

Once the brackets are removed, the hose clamps are easily accessible. The hose clamp to the engine return line uses a 5/16 driver while the smaller hose to the overflow is the squeeze kind that a channel lock does a fine job of releasing the compression forces.

The next task was to remove the connections at the bottom of the radiator. Two hoses and two lines to the transmission. I want to note here that I should have removed the hoses before I removed the transmission lines. I didn’t realize that the transmission coolant lines were not filled with coolant but transmission fluid. I should have known better. The fan shroud was was held in place by 2 screws and is retained at the bottom by tabs that fit into slots on the bottom of the radiator.

Step 3: Remove the Radiator

Once the disconnected I allowed the radiator to drain a bit more and I removed it from the truck. The radiator design is rather clever in that there are pegs at the top and bottom of the radiator that retain radiator in its place. It was actually nicely engineered to be easy to service, which makes me think, how often do they expect radiators to be replaced. The only area of difficulty was that the fan shroud had to be pushed out of the way as to make clearance for the connection points. It made for a little bit of struggle to get it out but really, it wasn’t that bad.

Step 4: Install the New Radiator

I pulled the new radiator from its box and made the unfortunate discovery that the radiator was damaged. The side of the radiator was crushed enough that I didn’t feel good about installing it. I wasn’t about to put a damaged radiator and live on hopes and prayers that it works. Since I didn’t want to go another day without my crusty old truck, I called a local parts store, AutoZone, to be exact, and found that they had one radiator in stock, it wasn’t the inexpensive version either, it was their high dollar unit. So much for saving money with the online company.

Step 5: Drive to the Parts Store to Get Another Radiator

I made the trip to get a radiator that wasn’t partially smashed and since I did lose a notable amount of transmission fluid, I picked up a couple quarts. I was pretty sure that I didn’t lose more than a quart but better to have extra on hand than not enough.

Step 6: Install the Radiator, Take 2

Installing the radiator was actually much easier than removing the radiator. Probably due to the fact there was nothing to drain. I started by attaching the fan shroud, then the transmission cooler lines to stop the bleeding of fluid there. Next I put the rest of the brackets in place, bolted the overflow in place so that I could connect that to the lower part of the radiator. I attached the hoses at the top of the shiny new part and began the filling process and double checking all my connections because I was not interested in making any silly mistakes that could lead to a fluid catastrophe. I added two gallons of coolant and started the truck to get the fluids circulating. I added two more gallons of coolant and almost a quart of transmission fluid. The transmission fluid was a bit tricky as I had to shield the fluid from being blown at me by the spinning fan.

What I forgot to do was add the coolant lubricant early on. That was my only mistake

Step 7: Happy Dance

I successfully completed the radiator replacement and had no drips. I am quite happy that I was able to do it myself. I need a “win” in life in this area. Not that I want to go from playing in Linux to playing with Automobiles but I am a strong proponent in self-empowerment and owning your own hardware, in this case, owning my vehicle.

Final Thoughts

I don’t see a future in being a mechanic for me. It’s certainly not my strong suit and does require a greater level of patience than messing with computers, at least for me. I have a greater appreciation for the skill and capabilities of mechanics are are truly are a people with a special talent and grace upon their lives to do the work that they do.

References

2000 F250 Radiator Replacement video on YouTube

Elementary OS | Review From an openSUSE User

There are some Linux distributions that have a wide audience and there are others that focus in on a specific customer or user. If I were asked to describe who I think ElementaryOS is targeting, I would certainly say, not me. The reason being, ElementaryOS goes for a particular look and they have a specific design for how they intend that you use the interface. Straying from the interface guideline is not recommended. I reviewed this distribution as a part of the BigDaddyLinux Live Challenge.

This is my biased review as an openSUSE Tumbleweed, Plasma Desktop user that values shaping his environment to suit his needs. Bottom Line Up Front, ElementaryOS has a clear design intent with a goal on user experience. It is a principled project that has a vision of what a human to machine interface should be and how applications should also interact and present information to the user. These guidelines, however clean they may be, are not to my liking. Although I do appreciate the work and the stubborn adherence to an ideal it does not agree with me. I prefer an interface that I can make my own and shape to my needs as they change. ElementaryOS is far too rigid and the lack of system tray makes it a non-starter and a lack of minimize button makes it annoying. There is not dark theme (but it is coming) and no option for double-click. It is almost as if Qt based applications were not even a secondary or tertiary consideration so applications that I must use are encumbered. All that said, this is me, I would never steer you away from trying ElementaryOS. I have my requirements and they may not be the same as yours.

Installation

I installed ElementaryOS in VM and on actual hardware. Most of my time was on actual hardware but I also wanted to test it in VM so for the demonstration of a simple installation. If you want anything more complex, I will not be the one to demonstrate it. What I will tell you is that setting up is… elementary.

When you start the media, you are given two options, right out of the gate. I appreciate that you can “try or buy” it and not have to start a mandatory live session. Your next task is to set the keyboard layout.

Next you are requested your preference on downloading updates and to install third party repositories. I select both because I prefer having my system up to date and third party repositories generally pull in all that multimedia goodness required for a “full-featured” desktop experience.

Quite nicely, you are given a “sanity check” before beginning the installation process. It tells you the consequences of your actions. For this VM installation, not a big deal but putting it on the test hardware, this is more important as I am not interested in blowing away the data on my home partition that moves from distro to distro.

Next will be your user preference and from what I can determine, no root preference. Though, it is typical in Ubuntu land to rely exclusively on the “sudo” for any root level actions. Both ways have their positives and negatives.

The installation process continues, surprisingly without any of the typical distribution specific propaganda. Once complete, you are asked to remove the media and and press any key to restart the system. This process is pretty quick, but of course, your results are dependent on your hardware performance.

That’s all there is to it. It’s really very easy and I will refrain from making another “Elementary” joke.

First Run and Impressions

There was much hype around the login screen, so I was expecting something pretty spectacular. I guess, I was, yet again a victim of they hype-train as I didn’t really see anything particularly exciting about the login screen.

I know that each user tile is representational of the user’s session and maybe that is really cool for some but I didn’t see the grand appeal. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the unique touch but it doesn’t exactly do anything for me. I’ll chalk that up to me just not getting it… whatever “it” is.

In order to get going with Elementary, I decided to install my needed applications. Installing Telegram, I was greeted with a warning about this application being “non-curated” and may give you problems. Specifically, that it may not receive bug fix or feature updates and may access or change system or personal files without permission. When actually running it, the version was out of date as well which was a bit annoying.

I am going to try to stay open minded here but this warning just seems a bit over the top. The whole reason for open source software is that the code can be audited by the community and if there are issues, it would be taken care of and the idea of having software in official repositories of these distributions is in a way an honor and usually go through some kind of vetting process. At least, on openSUSE they do and I can look at the change log and see who has last touched it. I tend to trust members of the [openSUSE] community anyway. If I were more involved with the Ubuntu world, I would tend to trust that community in the same way so I sort of feel like this is a bit insulting.

It should also be noted that due to the lack of dark theme in Elementary, my dark theme preference in Telegram looks a bit odd juxtaposed to the light Elementary OS theme. It should also be noted that this version is far behind too at 1.2.17. Not sure if that is due to it being on an Ubuntu LTS or not. It works so I can’t complain much.

Multiple screens on Elementary works pretty well. No complaints there. I am grateful that the second screen doesn’t get the top bar as well as the the dock along the bottom.

Obviously, the screens are of different size and resolution.

I do appreciate that the firewall configuration tool is available by default. It is, however, disappointing that it is not activated by default. I do realize that makes it less friendly to configure network devices for normal users but I’d rather the complaint be concerning lack of ease in connecting to things as opposed to your machine getting compromised.

In my time of using Elementary to do some of the tasks I set out to do, I needed to download and use an AppImage of xlights. This was my first practical usage of the file manager. To make the file executable, it was as easy as a right-click and setting the permissions. Tho, the file name font excessively large for the size of the dialogue box so it looked a bit rough.

The lack of double-click made for some other usability issues. I inadvertently launched more than one instance of xlights. I also want to note that unlike Plasma, I didn’t get an automatic option to launch from the menu (or krunner) after launching xlights once in Elementary. Not really a big deal, but it is yet another reason why Plasma makes life very convenient. Elementary also didn’t give me an easy way to add a menu entry either, so that was unfortunate. Really, there wasn’t any way to, by default, add this AppImage in a convenient manner to my desktop, outside of navigating to it each time.

I found it rather disappointing that I was not able to change the single-click to double-click in Elementary. There is an option to change the double-click speed but not to actually employ double-click. No idea about this discrepancy but none the less, this is not what I would call a positive in the usability experience.

I was very happy about the ease of adding a network printer to ElementaryOS. It was an incredibly easy and straight forward process.

To prevent from dragging this on too long, I will only mention a few other things. Installation of another browser, outside of Epiphany is a must. I, of course, went with Firefox. The main reason, I was unable to stream media from my local Emby server or Netflix. I didn’t look into the reasoning for its difficulty with multimedia but it’s there.

The process of using Flatpaks on Elementary was also less than ideal, from my perspective. The “sideload” process was not my favorite. I wish it was more like other distros but instead it is a very age-old Windows style of downloading and installer and running it. I can see that it can be easier for some users but I would prefer just using the terminal or even Discover on Plasma.

This process does work but the application didn’t appear in the Applications menu until after I restarted the user session. That is also an unfortunate user experience hit but it isn’t the end of the world either. Just another little papercut.

It should also be noted that I did have some issues getting Syncthing to work but once I was able to get it to connect once, the first time, it was smooth sailing from there. Adding Syncthing to the Start up process was as easy as searching for “Start Up” in the Applications Menu and adding the entry.

The biggest usability hit that basically makes ElementaryOS… not usable… for me is the lack of a system tray. I have heard the reasons for not having one but I think they are all rubbish. Is it a potentially dated method? Perhaps but I happen to really like the system tray. It is such a fantastic place to keep track of the applications running in the background. The lack of system tray on Elementary makes using Discord less than stellar, combine that with the lack of minimize button makes using some applications unenjoyable.

Like

Although I didn’t really address it, a nice feature of ElementaryOS is the “Do Not Disturb” feature. If you are doing something, like, say, live streaming, recording audio or perhaps in a meeting giving a presentation, it’s nice to have a “do not disturb” feature to just shut off the notifications. That is well done.

The App Center gives this great ability to pay for applications to support developers. I am glad that ElementaryOS has pioneered this sort of business model and I hope that this will propagate outside of just the ElementaryOS ecosystem. The ability to easy contribute to an open source project is a fantastic thing.

The simple, almost pre-school like interface. Now, I just ragged on the interface for a bit but I do want to say that this interface is incredibly simple and easy to get along with for those that just don’t need the controls.

Don’t Like

It is often touted that ElementaryOS is the nicest looking or highest polished desktop. I can see why people say that but I don’t agree with that statement at all. There are far too many paper-cut issues that negatively affect usability of the system. It’s the little things like lack of double-click, lack of system tray, lack of menu editing function, menu entries not automatically populating from Snaps and Flapak unless you restart the session, AppImages you launch are not remembered as a recent application and with the lack of menu editing functionality, combined with the inability to add links to applications on your desktop just makes it frustrating.

I will say, there could be a way to fix all these things but that requires doing some digging and seeing how other people fixed ElementaryOS to make it more functional. You can install MenuLibre or AppEditor. Here is an article on how to fix this.

Firefox not installed by default, Epiphany does not have feature parity with Firefox. I know that Epiphany fits the look better but it is just a subpar web browser. Many distros will install Firefox by default and that would be preferred. The main issue I had was my inability stream video content on Epiphany from Emby server. This is quite surprising because every feature reduced browser I use can stream video content.

The dock doesn’t display additional windows when there is more than one of the same application. For instance, if you have more than one full screen window open, like Firefox, a click on the dock button opens all the instances up. In order to select which instance, you have to right-click and select it. Plasma has a far more sensible tool that allows you to select the appropriate. Another option would be some kind of hover pop up that would show you your options. Essentially, the dock is very lacking so I don’t care for it.

Lack of minimize button is somewhat aggravating. Sure, I can click on the dock button but that time to search for the appropriate icon is far slower than just clicking the minimize button on the corner of the window. Super+H is a good alternative but that keystroke does take my hands off of the mouse, which again slows me down. Alt+Tab is an incredibly linear way of getting to other applications. It wouldn’t clutter the window at all to add the feature.

Flatpak setup is not what I would consider ideal. The workflow to download a .flatpakref and “sideload” is fine but it would be nice if they just had the Flathub activated by a flick of a switch. I see that it WORKS but it is just more frustrating to use than not. It could be a me problem but I have seen better solutions implemented elsewhere. I will concede that if this is the better way to do it I still don’t like that the Flatpak for Syncthing GTK is fairly out of date and has one of the irritating multiple entries bug going for it. This version of Syncthing’s auto discover on the network was not working either. That is not a ding on ElementaryOS.ElementaryOS Home Page

Filemanger is a bit anemic. It is incredibly basic and doesn’t have some of the nice features you would see on other file managers like Dolphin, specifically split view so you can see two directories side by side. The work around is to use the tiling feature of ElementaryOS and put two file managers beside one another but that is also less than ideal. The Properties tool has the font size so large that the name is unreadable. So, that needs some work too.

Final Thoughts

Although I have a long list of things I do not like about ElementaryOS, it is really not a bad experience. There just happen to be a lot of paper cuts and the lack of built in ability to tweak the issues. Many, many desktop environments may have these small paper cut issues that gnaw at you but they also give you the ability to smooth them out by giving you access to tools to do it. I am sure, with enough time and effort, installing the right tools and tweak packages, I could have fixed all the irritations that I had with the interface. However, it is quite clear, that is not what the designers want you to do. They want you to not have certain features to fit their vision. The issue is, as I see it, ElementaryOS is targeted for those that like a specific way to work with their computer. Since I am unwilling to give up the efficiencies provided by Plasma, Elementary OS does not fit. It is too far of a step back in time for me to be comfortable here.

Keep in mind, this is my opinion. These are my irritations and they may all be nonsense to you. I would never discourage you from trying ElementaryOS. It is unique in its style and flair with an incredibly stubborn design intent and I don’t think that should change their course at all. Whatever it is that they are trying to accomplish, I hope that they achieve those goals. Computers are supposed to be personal and developers are making it personal, as they see fit.

I do think you should give ElementaryOS a spin, at least in a VM, maybe on a spare laptop you have laying around. See what you like about it or don’t like about it. If you think my observations and impressions are wrong, feel free to leave a comment or send an email. I only spent a couple weeks on ElementaryOS so there is a lot I don’t know. I will not continue to run it, for the time being. I will certainly give it a try again in the future.

References

ElementaryOS Home Page
How to Edit Start Menu Items on ElementaryOS

Noodlings | Smoking a Turkey not my Linux Powered Lights

Life gets in the way of my nerding. I’d apologize but I don’t exactly see me as being accountable since this is not exactly a source of income for me. So, I’ll do these as much and as often as I can.

The 9th Noodling strolling in unfashionably late to a party

Smoking a Thanksgiving Turkey

Bought a turkey to smoke for Thanksgiving. I had to buy a 5 gallon bucket to brine the thing in. Using a basic brine of brown sugar and salt. I realized that I don’t have a large enough smoker to hold the turkey whole so my solution is to cut it in half so that I can put it on two of the racks.

What I learned

  • My smoker thermometer is probably wrong
  • I would have been wise to swap the halves of the bird sometime through the smoking process
  • I used to much wood so it was a bit too smokey tasting
  • Those turkey bones made for some great post-Thanksgiving soup
  • Next turkey should be a bit smaller or just do a couple chickens instead
  • What would be really great is to have a smoker that has some sensors like temperature, humidity, particulate matter and a couple probes to put in various places in the meat so that I can get better data on the cooking process

Linux Powered Christmas Lights

I have wanted to some kind of computer controlled Christmas lights since I first saw this light display on YouTube to the tune from the Trans-Siberian Orchastra, “Wizards of Winter.” Since then, this has been something I wanted to do. This was the year that I finally did it and this is what I used.

  • BeagleBone Black rev C
  • Kulp Lights F8-B “Cape” that controls the pixel lights
    • 8 local ports for strings of lights
    • Each string can have approximately 700 pixels
    • Multiple expansion options
  • Pixel2Things AC board to power the traditional AC strings of lights and the blow up Santa and Painfully bright White Christmas tree
  • 12v 30Amp Power supply
  • ABS Electrical Junction box enclosure
  • 10 Pair of Ray Wu connectors to build extension cables and to wire into the F8-B
  • 200 ft of 18 AWG 3 conductor cable to build extension cables
  • 500 ft of 18 AWG 2 conductor cable for power injection, although, I didn’t end up needing it.
  • 8, two conductor extension cords from the hardware store for the Pixel2Things AC devices, the traditional department store lights and the blow up Santa
  • 1, 40 ft, 3 conductor extension cord for powering the control box and for extra wire as needed

Light Setup

  • Currently running 1148 pixels totaling 3444 light channels
  • xlights software AppImage which works very well in openSUSE. Using it not tied to music but just as an animation.

The Plan

Turning some of my “Christmas Lights” into all the holidays lights.

Next year I will be building some props, candy canes, arches and Christmas trees, add a low powered FM transmitter to do light shows to music but not so much that my neighbors will want to burn my house down

BDLL Follow Up

Working through evaluating the Ubuntu 19.10 releases. I’m impressed with the Ubuntu Proper release. It is a great project that has so many high quality derivatives.

Ubuntu Proper (GNOME)

I am going to just say that Ubuntu has my favorite expression of GNOME. The Competitive advantage of Ubuntu GNOME is the clean experience and the additional features that just make sense for a typical desktop user

Ubuntu MATE

A solid experience and it just doesn’t disappoint. You can choose between the different desktop paradigms of Windows Like, Mac Like, and Unity Like. It’s such a smart Desktop and frankly I think this should be the Ubuntu Proper experience, but that is my opinion.

Lubuntu

The LXQt desktop with the best out of box polish. There are some other things I would polish out on it, specifically, to drop openbox as the window manager and use Kwin but that is easily done for any user. In fact, I did a little write up on it.

Kubuntu

A great Plasma desktop experience and although it has some really great defaults, I still prefer some of the other integration better on openSUSE. Specifically that Firefox uses the Plasma file dialog box instead of the clunky GTK version. Since the default layout is not a big deal to me as that is easily changed and I have been doing so since the KDE 3 days, there isn’t a great reason to choose Kubuntu over an openSUSE Plasma. However, I will say, it is my favorite of the Ubuntu flavors. They just happen to do Plasma justice and for someone new to Linux that wants a premium Linux experience, this would be a candidate to send them there.

Xubuntu

Xfce based Ubuntu. I didn’t actually try it but since I know what I am getting with Ubuntu and I know what I am getting with Xfce, you just can’t go wrong with it. For those that like the Xfce experience and want to try their hand in the Ubuntu world, this is a good place to go.

openSUSE Corner

Tumbleweed Snapshot Releases

  • Mesa 19.2.4 bug fixes from 19.2.3
  • Linux kernel 5.3.12
  • Tumbleweed gets a new OpenSSH Version
  • KDE Plasma 5.17.3 buxfix update fixed Mouse KCM acceleration profile on X11. I did notice that there were mouse issues shortly after that announcement with GNOME’s mouse issues.
  • kcalendarcore package update with KDE Frameworks 5.63.0
  • YaST Packages updated
  • Firefox 70
  • Libvirt 5.9.0
  • ALSA 1.2.1.1 dropped patches and fixed regressions for the UCM parcer
  • Update of ModemManger 1.12.0, a D-BUS-activated daemon that controls mobile broadband devices and connections. That update had several improvements and changes to include adding support for Mobile Station Based Assisted-GPS in addition to Mobile Station Assisted-GPS.
  • firewalld 0.7.2 added 15 new service definitions and provided a new option, FlushAllOnReload in firewalld.conf

There was also an email from the Tumbleweed release manager, Dominique Leuenberger that a build fail notification for the python-numba package in openSUSE Factory has not been addressed for the past four weeks and unless somebody steps up and submits fixes, the python-numba will be removed.

Tumbleweed Snapshot Reviewer give 20191203 a stable score of 95; 20121206 Stable 98; 20121207 Stable 99

openSUSE Board Elections

Two seats are open for election on the openSUSE Board

References

KulpLights.com
Pixel2things.com
xlights
Wizards of Winter Christmas Light Display 2004
Tumbleweed Snapshots from news.opensuse.org
openSUSE Board election 2019-2020 – Call for Nominations, Applications

Data Recovery from IDE (PATA) Drive

I am not one to turn up my nose to old technology and I typically am excited about anything a little bit older or vintage to explore. In fact, I am generally excited to take a screwdriver to just about any piece of technology out there. I will say, there has been a recent exception.

I was brought a computer to extract some pictures and such off of it to put on a flash drive. It is a Pentium 4 Compaq which means it is a 32 bit machine. I am sure hasn’t been turned on in a long time. I am guessing 6 years or greater. I do remember setting this computer up years ago with openSUSE Linux but I didn’t have the root password for it. Since there was some sort of file system error that fsck wouldn’t correct and I didn’t have root access either, so that made it problematic as well. If you are thinking it was a BTRFS problem, you are thinking wrong. It was XFS that had an issue as this was before openSUSE started using BTRFS on root.

I took the side panel off of the machine to get the drive out, but try as I might, I was not able to remove the drive from the inside. There are fasteners in the side of the drive that are not accessible but in a kind of track.

So, I decided, I would take it out of the front of the machine. after some prodding and probing, I was able to get the face of this derelict machine off and finally be able to remove the thing. The 3.5″ PATA (IDE) drive sits right below the 3.5″ floppy drive. Removal of the drive was now trivial. The plastic retainers just had to be pressed on the side of the drive enclosure and the drive slid neatly out of the front of the machine.

I had to dig into my storage bin of hard drive related components and I pulled out an IDE to USB adapter. The first one didn’t work, nor did the second, the last one I pulled out was able to actually read the IDE drive and I don’t have any idea why this was a problem. I have used the adapters for years recovering data from these old drives, however, the last time I did such a thing was 2012.

Pulling the contents of the data from the drive took an incredibly long time, much longer than I expected. Transferring 74.1 GiB of data over a PATA interface with a maximum theoretical speed of 133 MB/s really demonstrated how spoiled I have become with SATA drives and SSDs. I walked away and worked on other things due to my lack of patience so the actual time it took is unknown to me. I suppose I could do the calculations…

Using this site here, Calctool.org, it tells me that it could have taken no less than 70.8 minutes. That is probably about right.

After I transferred all the data locally, I exported the pictures and such to three USB flash drives to be used on whatever computer they wish. The question remains, what do I do with this machine? I could put something 32-bit on there just to see how it would work but the question is, which one? The top contenders for me are openSUSE, MX Linux, BunsenLabs and PuppyLinux (some variant). Maybe I’ll let one of my kids do it as a learning exercise.

Final Thoughts

I can seldom resist the urge to play with technology, it is a weakness. Basically, as long as the request isn’t, “can you install a non-Linux operating system on it” I am all about it. Recovering data can be a fun project, although, admittedly, this was less fun than other machines due to the obstacles in removing the hard drive

I find it remarkable how fast the years of tech seems to be flying by. It seems like only yesterday that PATA (IDE) was the standard on everything and I didn’t have any complaints about disk speed when it was the standard. Now, using that fifteen or more year old drive, just for the process of removing the data, was so much slower than what I remember, or maybe I am becoming less tolerant of waiting for my technology. Either way, as much as I like vintage tech, I do appreciate many of the new standards, like SATA, because not only is it faster but has a more robust connector… and the more I look at it, I see how it resembles the edge connectors of old.

It is also worth noting that the transfer speeds of PATA drives theoretical maximums is slower than what many have as an internet connection speed. Something to think about.

References

CalcTool.org