Thursday, March 4, 2021

RE: Raspberry Pi 400

 One of the things I thought I'd talk about with this machine is configuring it to do something useful. On the outside this appears to be pretty easy, the basic Rasbian boot image pretty much has everything you need to be reasonably productive. The problem is, I don't particularly like the basic setup or the choices of applications. On top of that, I prefer Ubuntu to other flavors of Linux, so I wanted to start there. The basic Ubuntu desktop never appealed to me, Gnome 3 is just not my thing and on my desktop, I use Mates. There is a Mates version I can use, but I wanted to do something a little different. The Raspberry Pi 400 is a pretty decent machine and is very capable of running Mates, but it is still somewhat constrained my modern standards and i have no desire to overclock it, so the less resources the windowing system uses, the more resources I have available for applications and multitasking.

My choice for Window Manager is Dynamic Window Manager (DWM), it is the core of the Suckless Desktop, whose design goal is simplicity in desktop design. The whole thing runs on less than than 300K of memory. It does have some limitations and irritations, but the trade offs are acceptable. DWM is very configurable, but this requires you to recompile it to even change the default color scheme and upgrading it, forces you to make all the changes again before doing so. This is a no thanks for me, the default colors are fine, all I really want to do is change the background and that is easy enough without recompiling anything. So I will simply be using apt-get to install and update it.

I will start off with the Ubuntu 20.04 Server image, I choose this because it does not have xorg or graphical applications preinstalled, it is totally command line and is a blank slate for our purposes. I am a lets script this shit kind of guy, so that is what i did, I created some basic config files to get me started and write a shell script to install the software I regularly use, so once I get Ubuntu Server installed, updated and a new user created, I simply copied all of these files, plus the image I wanted to use as my background, over to my home directory via ssh and ran the setup script.

Some notes about what I did here. I removed snap because i have found snap applications run significantly slower than the normal repository versions, so I remove it to keep from accidentally installing from the snap store. I removed gdm3, because I want the system to boot into text mode by default, I will start DWM manually when I need it. You will note that I have two fairly complete sets of applications, text mode and GUI, I would say I am in the GUI 80% of the time, but I do have a bit of a fetish for the command line and sometimes I will spend a lot of time working in text mode only, and this gives me both for when I am in one of those moods. To answer the obvious question, yes I can be fairly productive at the command line, about the only things I can't do is play videos and the internet experience is less than optimal.

Well that is it folks, I have posted all the files below, so you can use them as a template for yourself so you can customize your setup without too much fuss.

Setup script:


# Update the system
sudo apt-get update

# Install text mode applications, tools and libraries
sudo apt-get install mc links cmus htop neofetch wordgrinder emacs-nox tmux alpine sc finch tpp net-tools i2c-tools build-essential -y

# Install GUI and applications, tools and libraries
sudo apt-get install xorg dwm suckless-tools dmenu feh rxvt-unicode firefox thunderbird gnumeric abiword pidgin pluma audacious vlc -y

# Clean up
sudo apt autoremove --purge snapd -y
sudo apt purge gdm3 -y
sudo apt-get autoremove -y
sudo apt-get clean

# Copy config files and fix some things
cp x.tmux.conf ~/.tmux.conf
cp x.xsession ~/.xsession
cp x.Xdefaults ~/.Xdefaults
mkdir ~/pictures
cp background.jpg ~/pictures
sudo cat wifi.txt >> /etc/netplan/50-cloud-init.yaml

 .tmux.conf file

# loud or quiet?
set -g visual-activity off
set -g visual-bell off
set -g visual-silence off
setw -g monitor-activity off
set -g bell-action none

#  modes
setw -g clock-mode-colour colour5
setw -g mode-style 'fg=colour1 bg=colour18 bold'

# panes
set -g pane-border-style 'fg=green bg=white'
set -g pane-active-border-style 'bg=green fg=white'

# statusbar
set -g status-position top
set -g status-justify left
set -g status-style 'bg=green fg=white'
set -g status-left ''
set -g status-right '#[fg=white,bg=black] %d/%m #[fg=white,bg=black] %H:%M:%S '
set -g status-right-length 50
set -g status-left-length 20

setw -g window-status-current-style 'fg=white bg=black bold'
setw -g window-status-current-format ' #I#[fg=white]:#[fg=white]#W#[fg=white]#F '

setw -g window-status-style 'fg=white bg=green'
setw -g window-status-format ' #I#[fg=white]:#[fg=white]#W#[fg=white]#F '

setw -g window-status-bell-style 'fg=white bg=green bold'

# messages
set -g message-style 'fg=white bg=green bold'

 .xsession file

# set background image
feh --bg-scale ~/pictures/background.jpg

# puts a clock in the upper right hand corner
(while true; do xsetroot -name "` date +"%I:%M %p %D"`"; sleep 5; done ) &

# starts DWM
exec dwm

 .Xdefaults file

URxvt*termName: rxvt
URxvt.buffered:         true
URxvt.background:       black
URxvt.foreground:       green
URxvt.cursorColor:      green
URxvt.underlineColor:   red
URxvt.scrollBar:    False
URxvt.perl-ext:         default,matcher
URxvt.urlLauncher:      /usr/bin/firefox
URxvt.matcher.button:   1
URxvt.transparent:    True
URxvt.shading:        50

 wifi.txt file to setup wireless

            optional: true
                "Access Point SSID":
                    password: "Password"
            dhcp4: true

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Raspberry Pi 400

Recently I bought a Raspberry Pi 400. This is a neat little device, basically it is a Raspberry Pi 4 (RPi) built into a nice slim white keyboard. Like the RPi, it has GPIO headers for attaching interesting devices like sensors, servos or small LCD panels. It is powered off a USB-C connector, it has 2 Mini HDMI ports so you can run 2 monitors on it and has USB3 ports. The most important thing about it is the 4 core ARM processor that runs at 1.8Ghz and it has 4 GB of memory, which mean it is fast enough to function as a proper desktop computer.

Now, would I use this as my main computer? Probably not, but as a backup machine, why not. If I were buying a computer for a kid, this would definitely top my list, coming in at $70 for just the system itself. A more complete kit with power supply, Mini HDMI cable, mouse and an SD card preinstalled with an OS is about $100. It does all the basic things a computer needs to do, surf the web, check email, basic document creation, plays MP3's and videos with very little trouble.

There are a couple of downsides as you would expect. For one the keyboard is a bit cramped, I typed this post on it, and I found it to be just a little uncomfortable. It boots of an SD card, which are notoriously slow for disk access, so if you are reading and writing large files, the system will pause for a bit. i found attaching a USB3 Hard rive to it fixes that problem pretty well. Finally, this is not a problem for me, but many other people will, it does not officially run Windows. Some clever hackers have gotten Windows installed on it, but there are missing drivers, and will be missing features like WiFi and Bluetooth support. For me this was not a big deal, I am a Linux guy, so this did not bother me even a little.

Overall, not bad, the RPi 4 was certainly the best Raspberry Pi to hit the market and this does it one better by making it an integrated easy to use computer.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Review: Misfit Magic by Niall Teasdale

Misfit Magic (Misfits, #1)Misfit Magic by Niall Teasdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a mixed bag for me. There were some really cool ideas and some interesting world building, I liked the idea of a society of dragons, socially stratified by color. There is a lot of potential story telling in this world. Unfortunately, the story itself fell a little flat for me, it wasn't terrible, but neither was it particularly ground breaking. The characterizations were very two dimensional, with little or no character growth, with the exception of one character, who was not the protagonist, but rather one of several sidekicks, this characters story arc, was actually more interesting than the protagonist.

One thing I do have address is the sex. Please don't get me wrong, I am no prude, I am all for good sex in a good story, especially lesbian sex. However, in this book it felt a lot like fan service. The author knew his primary readership was going to be horny teenage boys and wanted to throw them some hot babe sex to keep them reading. This did not in anyway contribute to the story, the relationship between Krys and Trudy could have easily been addressed with out the graphic sex scene.

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Thursday, February 4, 2021

Review: I see by my Outfit by Peter S. Beagle

I See by My OutfitI See by My Outfit by Peter S. Beagle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am not really a camper, especially in my old age, I am not inclined to sleep on the ground. I like my bed, indoor plumbing and internet access. Having said that, there is something appealing about being a free spirit and taking a cross country trip on a motorcycle, and live a happy carefree life, even if just for a few weeks.

This book is not a self help book in disguise like so many of these books tend to be. It really is just a story about Peter Beagle and his best friend Phil making a cross country trip to see a girl. The story is mostly about the people they meet along the way. Beagle does not spend a ton of time on any one person, but manages to convey what each persons life is like anyway. All of the people depicted were shown as likeable in some way, I would suppose this is more of a reflection of the time then probably the actual character of the people. In the early 60's life was different and our expectations of other people were different. Mothers taught their children that if you could not say something nice about someone don't say anything at all, and I think Beagle took this to heart while writing this book.

Many of the characters were outright racist, both Peter and Phil were very tolerant of this, even being Jewish themselves, they accepted even anti semitic statements, with a sort of blasé attitude. Beagle. in spite of this, still painted there people in the best light possible, which says more about Beagle's kind heart than anything else. His depiction of Jilly, the hooker from Los Angeles was an interesting one. On the one hand, she was depicted as this person who had lived and adventurous, if criminal life, who was maybe a good person under it all. However as Beagle tells her story, you come to realize that she really is not a good person, not particularly evil, but willing to do what it takes to survive. Jilly is probably the most interesting character outside of Peter and Phil in the book. Beagle also spends the most time on her.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book, it is not an action adventure story by any means, it is just a slice of real life in 1962 America. It reminded me why I like to travel and I don't really mind driving across the country, as long as I have someone fun to share the experience with.

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Saturday, January 23, 2021

Online Gaming

I started playing RPG's online in 2002, mainly because I could not find any players locally who I wanted to game with. I eventually realized, it was not the local players who were the problem, the problem was that I wanted to game with my old group of friends. Unfortunately we had all spread out across the western half of the country over the years.

Once I discovered OpenRPG, I started sending out emails to the people I had gamed back in my home town. Most of them were not interested, but a few were and after a couple of months of putting things together, we got started playing and never really looked back. Next year will be the 20th anniversary of our gaming group. Frankly speaking, I don't think I could ever go back to in person gaming.

2020 of course saw playing RPG's online explode. COVID-19 forced groups online in almost desperate attempts to keep their games going. This was a huge change from just a few years earlier when many gamers would decry online gaming as bad gaming and everyone knows that no game is better than a bad game. That has all changed now and I suspect that even after COVID-19 is a bad memory, many groups will continue online, rather than begin meeting in person again.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Thought Experiment

So, just how close did Donald Trump come to successfully pulling off a coup on January 6th, 2021? It is fairly clear now their aim was to take Congress and the Vice President hostage, conduct show trials and execute them. The Alt-Right is saying this was not a serious coup attempt, but rather a large scale gag that got a little out of hand, because there are all these pictures of people doing silly things and smiling on camera. The problem of course is, this does not take into account the fact that there are also pictures of these thugs with zip ties to be used as handcuff, guns, molotov cocktails and pipe bombs. If this was just a gag, why were these items needed?

These guys obviously thought they had the backing of the majority of America, the  President and once they got the ball rolling, even the military would fall in behind them and they would be celebrated as the heroes of the revolution. They were not entirely wrong about this. There was definitely some collusion going on considering the response by the Capital Police and the apathy displayed by the Pentagon over bringing in the National Guard.

So it is really not that far fetched  to think that had the security on the inside of the Capital Building been just as incompetent as those outside, and had decided not to evacuate Congress and staffers to the bunkers under the building, these assholes could have actually taken Congress hostage. If Congress was forcefully dissolved and the VP assassinated, there would effectively be no one who could Constitutionally remove Trump from power.

Certainly there would be a civil war, but at that point the best we could hope for would be a few bloody days while the military tried to keep a lid on things until Biden could be sworn in as President on January 20th and reconstitute the government. At worst, it would launch a multi year bloodbath and resulting in the death of our democracy.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Thursday, December 31, 2020

In the closing days of 2020

 I got nothing, I sat down a couple of days ago to write something about 2020 and I really have got nothing. Happy New Year Everyone.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Larceny in my heart

Some co-workers were talking today about how one of their children had been caught forging their parents signature. This reminded me that I started doing this in the 7th grade, I had two techniques.

The first, was to get my mom to sign something, take tracing paper and trace over her signature with a heavy pen. Then I would turn it over and rub a pencil all over the back. Then when I needed my Mom's signature, I would just put my tracing paper on the line, and trace over the signature, this would leave a light pencil trace on the line, where I would once again go over it with pen. Worked like a charm.

The second method was to simply sign my Fathers name to whatever needed signing. Since I was always the one signing it, they could compare it all day long and it would always be the same. When someone would ask me saying, I thought your Father did not live in the house and your parents were divorced, I would simply say, yes, that is true, but I am staying with him for a couple of weeks. No one ever questioned me about it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Review: Ready Player Two

Ready Player Two (Ready Player One, #2)Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first question about this book was, did all the people who wrote bad reviews about this book actually read it? Okay, Ernie Cline is not the best writer ever, I doubt there will college courses taught on his works. However, with Ready Player One, he struck a cord, the story worked and he redefined the Cyberpunk genre for a generation. His second book Armada, fell very flat and was more or less a re-enactment of The Last Star Fighter. However, with Ready Player Two, he did regain most of his footing.

The weakest part of the book was the beginning, where Wade Watts is bringing us up to speed with what gas been happening over the last 3 years. This is fine, but way too much time was spent on it and it turns into a bit of slog as it is a lot like reading a Wikipeadia page at times. Cline could have easily compressed this down to maybe 6 pages and dropped anything else the reader needed along the way as it became necessary to know, instead it encompasses the first quarter of the book.

After that the story starts to pick up speed. We become engrossed by the new contest, a couple of the challenges are glossed over a bit, but several of them are quit fun to read. I was especially enjoyed the arena fight with the 7 aspects of the Purple One, Cline very obviously had fun writing this scene and I had a lot of fun reading it.

Over all, a good read, and a solid follow up to Ready Player One. If you are on the fence about reading it, I would say ignore the haters and go for it.

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