Monday, November 22, 2021

November, November, Sweet November!

 Well it has certainly been a good long while since I lasted posted. I have been spending my time reading and doing a bit of writing elsewhere. It is National Novel Writing Month, while I decided not to write a 50,000 word novel, I did decide to get a couple of short stories I have been thinking about out of my skull. Those are now done, one story came in at about 5,000 words, while the other 10,000 words. Both along with light revisions, took about 2 weeks in total to write, with most of the work, individually took 2-3 days. I doubt I will revisit either, but I may sit down at some point and do a rewrite on them. I probably need to tighten the stories up and add some details. Both at this point are only slightly better than stream of conciseness writings.

My birthday is this week, I am going to be 58. Aging does not seem weird to me anymore as I slip from middle age into old age. I know I am a few years off from actual old age, but as time goes by, the years seem to go by faster, so 65 is really not all that far off. When I was transitioning to middle age, I was very uncomfortable about it. The problem with middle age is, it is the time in your life when you realize you have not done everything you really wanted to and you start to regret it. Old age is the time when you realize, you will probably never get a chance to do those things, but you accept it.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Review: Mythology, by Edith Hamilton

MythologyMythology by Edith Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book as a Junior in High School as part of an English literature class. It was one of the books that fired up my imagination and influenced me when playing Dungeons and Dragons. Recently, I finished the first 5 books of the Percy Jackson series, this brought back a lot of memories of reading this book and being enthralled by the gods and heroes of Greek mythology, so I decided it was time to reread it.

I gave this book 5 stars because of the nostalgia factor, I just have too many good memories of this book to be unbiased about it. I love these stories, the ancient Greeks had imaginations like no other, their religion had colorful characters doing outlandish things. Every hero was the greatest hero of his time, every woman was so beautiful some god or another fell in love with her and wars were fought as much by gods as they were by men. Reading this book, it becomes clear how the ancient Greeks defined the "Heroes Journey" trope and how influential they are even in the modern age, these stories are told over and over again, being given new spins and alternate points of view.

Having said all that, I have to say Edith Hamilton did take a rather dry, analytical approach to retelling these stories. I am sure much of this had to do with the source material being handed down orally for a thousand years before being written down in Greek or Latin and then translated a dozen times after that. None the less, this is a good read and an imporant part of everyones cultural education.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 10, 2021

Thoughts on Time Travel and the time line.

   Time travel is very likely possible, we know that time is relative to speed and moving at extremely fast speeds, slows down the progression of time for the object/person who is traveling. We also know that time can be dilated around singularities such as black holes. What this tells us is time is mutable, and if time is mutable, it is likely time travel is possible. I am not going to get into the specifics, all I care about at this moment is that time travel is possible and if what we think we know about the universe is true, then time travel is possible.

  The popular hypothesis on time travel is if someone travels back in time and changes the events of the past, this creates an alternate timeline, nothing changes in the original time lin. The person traveling forward to their original time, would find nothing had changed. If the person travels forward in the alternate time line, they would find an alternate version of themselves  who lived the alternate life. This is a convenient, clean method of discussing time travel.

  Another hypothesis is changes to the time line directly impact the future, this was best shown in the Back to the Future movie series, where the protagonist accidentally interferes with his own mother and father getting together, which causes him to start to fade from the time line. Under this premise, if time travel is ever actually achieved and people are going back in time to alter things, this would mean the time line is in flux.

  The first  hypothesis does not interest me much, it is basically “Nothing changes” idea. The second  hypothesis does interest me. The idea that the time line is in flux would mean things as we remember them may not actually have been true a few minutes ago. Our whole perception of history could be changing from moment to moment and we would have no idea, or would we? The human brain is a complex organ and so is the nerve system that make up or sensory inputs, seeing, hearing, smelling, taste and touch. We can perceive things and not know conscientiously that we are  perceiving. For instance very low or very high pitched sounds can affect humans emotionally, even though these sounds are outside of our range of hearing. We see and hear things all the time that we do not notice at the time, but remember them later. What if we can perceive these changes in the time line but only on a subconscious level?

  Think about it, we all have had a sense of deja vu, the sense that we have been here before, but don’t remember it. We have all just met people that we feel like we have known all our lives. We all have these strange memories of events that never happened, parties we never attended, conversations we never had, TV shows that never actually aired. You can find reports of these things all over the internet. Memory is a funny thing and plays tricks on us all the time. On top of that, think about past life memories and premonitions of the future, rather than being just general weirdness, perhaps it is our brains dealing with alterations in the time line.

Mind you, I am making no claims here, I am not saying that feelings of deja vu are proof of time travel. All I am doing here is speculating, asking myself questions and considering possibilities. Let me ask this question, have you ever had a day dream that seemed to be out of your control? A day dream where your mind generated exacting details about events that never happened and places your have never been? A day dream where you are having a deep conversation with someone you only met once or have not seen in years or never met at all? Sure this could just be an over developed imagination, but maybe it is your mind remembering events that were take from the time line.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Thoughts on 3D Printing

 I finally decided to buy a 3D printer. Not really because I needed one for anything in particular, but rather because the price finally fell down to a point where I thought it was worth it. You can now get a decent printer for under $100 and if you wait for sales, you can get the for $60-$70. With some filament and shipping, I was in for about $120. The reason I waited for this price point, is because i have always felt 3D printing was at best mildly amusing and slightly useful. Seriously, these things are about as useful as a CNC machine, if you do it for a living, great, if not, well it collects dust, so spending $300 just seemed a bit expensive for something I might conceivably only use 2 or 3 times a year. At the sub $100 level, they become more practical, even if I end up only using it to print D&D miniatures and Raspberry Pi cases.

So first things first, I bought the EasyThreed K1, shop around and you will find them for $80, the company also sells the X1, which you can find for as low as $60. This printer was amazingly easy to get up and running, it took me less than 5 minutes to put it together and I started my first test print 5 minutes after that. The test print went well and the little rocket printed perfectly without doing anything other than leveling the bed, which is honestly what took the longest in that 10 minute time frame. This thing is easy to learn to operate, I would even trust a 10 year old with this printer it is so easy to operate. Mind you, this is just the hardware, not the software. The test print was already there and ready to print. Getting into designing and preparing a file for printing is far more difficult, but the upside is, there are a ton of files out there on sites like Thingiverse that you can download and print with little effort.

The software is a bit more complicated, if all you plan to do is download things to print, all you need to learn is the slicer software, which is pretty easy, it simply lets you adjust size and positioning on the printer and then converts it to code the 3D printer can understand. If you are going to design your own projects, then you need to learn how to use a CAD program. This printer comes with both a slicer and a CAD program, I am not going to get into it, since I am a Linux user, neither was useful to me. However, Linux has several choices for both of these, and I had no trouble finding something that worked for me. I sat down and learned FreeCAD in a weekend, it is kind of a pain in the ass, but has all the bells and whistles. If you do not want to dedicate a sleepless weekend to learning CAD, TinkerCAD is a free online CAD program that does lack some features, but is easy to use and will do for most projects. I am not going to go into any more detail, there are plenty of websites and YouTube video out there that will teach you how to use CAD and the slicer of your choice.

Now, onto my thoughts on 3D printing. Someday we are going to be able to but a 3D printer for $50, connect it to our phone with an app. The app will allow us to choose what we want to print, and send it to the printer with no fuss. We are not there yet. You can connect most printers to your computer and control it from there, you can also use a package like OctPrint which lets you remote control the printer through a Raspberry Pi. The problem I found is, all this adds layers of complication and points of failure. I got the best results when I simply put the final code on an SD card and manually inserted it into the printer and printed it directly from the printer, my advise, just let the printer print, no need to make it more difficult than it has to be. On the software side, getting things ready to print can be really simple, meaning I have a compatible CAD file (*.stl file), I load it into the slicer software, make one or two minor adjustments for my printer, then export it to a gcode file for the printer. It can also be a seriously fucked up process requiring several days of work, ending in a failed print. I really do not understand at this point why CAD programs do not have the slicer program integrated into it.

So the real question here is, what are these things food for? Well, if you are a serious DIY maker, these things are useful for many things, customer mounting plates for electronics, cases for finished projects, quick and dirty prototyping  of things you will eventually send to a machine shop to be built. If you are looking to start a side hustle, there are people who make a living selling 3D printing services on Etsy. If you are simply a hobbyist looking for a tool, like making D&D miniatures or making one off tools for your garage shop, this could be useful to you. If you do not really fall into one of these categories, you probably do not need a 3D printer. I purposely printed out some common items, mostly because I was teaching myself CAD and needed some easy and straight forward things to design, I did not have to do this, I could have just downloaded the stl files and printed them, but is the fun in that. I made a comb, a tea cup and a coffee cup. While it was fun to design these things from a learning perspective, from a practical stand point, even if I had just downloaded the files and printed them, it would have been far easier for me to go to the dollar store and buy these items and it would have cost me like $2 for all three items and I would have ended up with slightly better plastic crap.

Tea Not Included

I believe in spite of my criticism, that I will continue to use this 3D printer, I am also pretty sure I will eventually get a better one, more expensive model, this one is pretty limited in its uses, primarily due to the size of the objects it is capable of printing, but also because it is missing features that would make the prints better quality and less likely to fail. One of the things I think would be really fun is to print one Christmas decoration a week for an entire year and then decorate a tree only with those decorations. Most of the decorations would probably be standard stuff, but a few of them would be unique, representing an idea either myself or my wife came up with or perhaps representing an event in our lives. It could be seriously cool.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

$20 Dollar Computers

 I picked up three Optiplex 3050 mini computers for $20 each. They came sight unseen, untested and without power supplies. I would have offered more, had the systems come with power supplies and I could have tested them. I purchased a single power supply so I could test the three system. All three are working and took a Debian install, so now I need to buy two more power supplies, which only cost about $17 each, so I am still under $40 for each of them.

Where I am now, is what to do with them. They each have i3 processors, 4GB of RAM and a 500 GB hard drive (not SSD's) and they are less than 4 years old. I am tempted to build a Beowulf cluster, doing this would allow me to do some interesting projects, like find out just how long it would take to break a Windows password or perhaps experiment with machine learning and unleash a Twitter Chatbot on the world just for the LOLs.

Two of them would also make pretty good media servers, as you can see, the middle one in the stack is pretty beat up and probably will not clean up well, having that sit next to a TV would just be unsightly. I am also not sure if the Intel graphic would be up to 4K video playback and there is not much I can do about that.

There are other options for using these machines, but really, I think the Beowulf cluster is the most interesting of ideas. I have a laptop that I use for testing different operating systems and such, I think I will use it as the master node in the cluster. This would remove the need for any keyboard, mice or monitors, since the three nodes would be headless and the laptop would be used to manage the cluster. The laptop also has both an Ethernet connector and wireless, so the Ethernet connector can be used to communicate with the nodes, while still having access the rest of my network and the internet via wireless. I can also setup network sharing on the laptop to provide access to the nodes for updates and such.

At the moment, I am waiting on the 2 power supplies and a network switch. I expect to have those by Wednesday and after that I will begin setting up Skynet.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Summer catch up post

 A few things have come to the fore front of my life recently. 

I have had both vaccine shots now, and the U.S. has exceeded 50% vaccinated and will likely hit 70% by September. This makes me feel much more comfortable about being out and about, even though I still wear a mask most everywhere I go, The reason for this is, just because I have had the vaccine, does not mean I cannot catch COVID-19, it just means my body will fight it off much quicker and I could still be a carrier for a couple of days while my immune system is at work. I would feel really bad if I were to give it to someone who cannot get the vaccine.

I have pretty much been self quarantined for more than a year, my only major in person social interaction since last June has been with my wife. Since my wife and I live in different houses, I have spent the vast majority of the last year by myself. When I went on vacation back to Billings, I thought it would be really great to finally get some real and meaningful person to person contact. It was not great, I found I was very uncomfortable with a house full of people, even if everyone was vaccinated and everyone were people I knew. I had a whole big load of social anxiety. I did not like cramming myself into real cloths everyday instead of throwing on sweat pants and a ratty T-shirt. I did not like wearing shoes, I desperately wanted to go barefoot. I love my family, I did enjoy seeing everyone, but in the end, I just wanted to go home and be by myself again.

I am not sure I want things to go back to the way they were before the pandemic, I kind of like not having to entertain people all the time, I like not having to make excuses for not joining co-workers for lunch, or after work drinks. I like not having to go to movies i don't want to see because my friends want to go see it. I like not having to do small talk to fill uncomfortable silences, I like being able to ignore what people are saying (texting) to me for days and then responding with "Sorry, didn't see this", knowing full well they have lost interest in whatever it was and you know what, I also realized, I don't really care if people do not respond to my texted either.

I read PostSecret every single Sunday, and almost every Sunday I see something profound, this week, it was this one.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Thoughts on the Raspberry Pi aftermarket

 I have owned many raspberry Pi's over the last decade. For the most part I have been pretty satisfied with them as development and project platforms. The Raspberry Pi is well thought out, well designed for its purpose and is well supported by both the manufacturer and the community that has grown around it. What I have not been satisfied with is the third party hardware market that has popped up.

Let me say upfront that not all the hardware I have ordered over the years has been terrible, some of it has worked perfectly. However, the vast majority of these things have failed in some major way making the product either barely usable or not usable at all. Case in point, I recently bought a HyperPixel 4" screen from a company called Pimoroni. This product came highly recommended and was well reviewed and the instructions for getting it working were on the surface fairly easy.

My problems with this device started very early, at first, it would flash on for just a second and then the screen would go blank for no apparent reason, the Raspberry Pi was working fine, I could plug it into the HDMI and get video fine, I could plug other devices into the GPIO and get it working perfectly fine. After 2 days of troubleshooting this, I figured out that the I2C drivers interfered with the screen working properly, when ever those drivers polled the GPIO pins the screen would blank and not come back until a hard shutdown occurred. Completely disabling I2C and SPI on the system made it slightly better, as I could then use it for several hours before the screen blanked. There was absolutely no mention of this problem in any of the documentation anywhere, nor was there any mention of the problem on the Pimoroni forums. I thought maybe I simply had a bad screen, maybe it was just sensitive to the voltage being put out by the GPIO, so I put in an RMA request and pretty quickly, I received a replacement, same exact problem. At this point, I just gave up on it.

Again, if this had been the first time I received a half ass product, I probably would not think much about it, but over and over it has happened. It is a really sad state of affairs when I can jury rig something up on a breadboard from spare parts that works better than the professionally built version. Unfortunately I do do not have any good advise on how to tell the good from the bad here, these crap devices are often well reviewed and have very few publicized problems. All I can really say is, if you can build it yourself, do it, if you can't, well, "May the buyer beware!".

As a side note, if you are looking for a 4" screen for a Raspberry Pi, Miuzei makes a pretty good Touchscreen that works as promised with very few issues, my only real issue with it, is it does use the HDMI port, but that is not a show stopper, it just adds a cable I was looking to avoid.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Building a PC

I do not build computers very often, my daily driver is an Alienware and I am not ashamed of that. The fact is, I am generally too lazy to build out a PC to my spec, when I can generally just go buy a pre build with 99% of what I want at the time. This is not to say I have never built a PC, I have in fact build probably 50 or 60 computers over the years, I simply do not do it anymore. The last time I build one was when I needed a system to run my website on and I needed a lot of memory to run multiple virtual machines and a redundant RAID array, this was perhaps 6 or 7 years ago

A bit more than week ago, I was on vacation and having lunch with the wife where she works. I noticed an older Pentium brand processor sitting on the shelf for about $70, more out of curiosity than anything I asked what type of CPU it was, the wife said it was an Intel G4400 dual core 3.3 Ghz Processor that had been sitting in inventory for over 2 years and she would make a deal with me if I bought the MSI B250I Motherboard they had on the shelf for, that had also been sitting on the shelf for awhile. So I said, sure throw in some RAM and lets see what the bugger costs, it came to just over $200 with 8GB of Crucial 3200 RAM. Not too shabby really. I of course still needed a case and storage, so when I got home I went on Amazon and found a nice small form factor ITX case, yes, the motherboard is an ITX board. The motherboard supports an M.2 card for storage, so I decided to grab a 256 GB SSD M.2 card, with shipping and handling, it came to about $120 total.

I got the case and m.2 card on Wednesday and was ready to put it all together. Two things I already had, was a 1 TB hard drive, that I intended to use as a 2nd drive to install games and store data. The second thing is I decided to use an old AMD R 5440 I had laying around. My experience with integrated video has never been good and with the current pricing of decent video cards being nothing less than outlandish, I figured this was a better option than not. The one thing I lacked was a copy of Windows 10. Yes, I know, I am a Linux guy, but I decided I should probably have at least one system in the house that ran Windows 10. However, for the moment, I decided just to install Linux on the thing until I decided where to get a copy of Windows from.

Assembly of the system took me maybe 20 minutes, sans cable management. System posted on the first power up, and I was mildly proud of myself. The install of Linux took another 20 minutes, and dame that SSD is fast, the fucking machine literally boots in 5 seconds. The next day, I looked around for what a copy of Windows would cost me, which was somewhere in the $130-$140 range, I was not thrilled about this, since that would constitute 25% of the cost of the machine. After thinking about it, I decided to sacrifice the Windows 10 virtual machine I had, that I never really used for anything. I removed the registration key from it, deleted the VM and then used it to activate windows on the new system. 

Keep in mind, this is not supposed to be a power house machine, it is supposed to be an adequate secondary machine. I am pretty satisfied with this build, it has a low profile, it is quiet and it is reasonable fast with the M.2 card in it and even the 1TB spindle drive is not terrible.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Debian Unstable and Brave Web Browser

 Last week I install Debian Unstable on my test machine and as usual, I try new software as well. I find it useful to try other things, because you never know what might end up being useful. In this case I decided to try LXQT as my windows manager and the Brave web browser. None of these things were life changing, but rather mildly interesting.

Ubuntu at its core is based on Debian Unstable, Cannonical grabs Debians development branch, fixes some bug, picks out some reasonable defaults for installed software, adds some shine and calls it a day. I make this sound cheap and easy, but it really isn't, Cannonical does a real service to the Linux community by providing a stable new user friendly distribution. I personally use because it just works. Debian Unstable is not too unlike Ubuntu once it is installed. I update the system in exactly the same way, I have access to exactly the software. The only real difference is, with a default install of Ubuntu I can expect most of the software I use to already be there, with Debian I have to install it after the fact. This is not a big deal for me, because I know what I need and can crank out a script to finish installing everything. For a new user this would likely be a challenge. Otherwise, I found the experience to be or less the same.

LXQT was a bit of a challenge. Mate Desktop is pretty easy to configure, generally I have what I want in 2 minutes on a fresh install. LXQT does not have the easy to configure interface and I had to dig for things, even adding a launcher icon to my taskbar was way too many steps. It is also mildly annoying that it does not automatically enable wireless networking on boot up, I am sure there is a place to change this, I just have not found it yet. The big draw here however is just how light on resources this window manager is. As I have said in the past, Mate on a fresh boot up takes up more than a GB of RAM and once I start opening applications, that can quickly build up to 5 GB. I have a 16 GB machine as my daily driver, so this is not really much of a problem, but if I were using an 8 GB or god forbid a 4 GB machine, this would quickly get get tight. On boot up LXQT takes up around  250 MB and even after I start running applications, does not seem to exceed 1 GB very often. It also does not seem to eat much CPU time either, which is a nice bonus. The affect all this has is a much more responsive system, even large bloated applications like Firefox feel snappier

Finally, the Brave web browser. I have changed web browsers pretty regularly over the years, I am not a madman fan boy about this, I simply want a web browser that gets me where I want to go, I really do not care how it gets me there. Like most of us older computer guys, I started out using Netscape, moved to Mozilla and then Firefox. Once Chrome fixed all of its annoying problems, I started using it, and I used it for a couple of years before Firefox did a near complete rewrite of its code base and caught up with Chrome and surpassed it in many ways. I had heard some nice things about Brave, it is based on the Chrome and has a built in ad blocker, well not quite an ad blocker really. What it does is, it strips out ads from the website you are on and puts in ads of its own. This does not bother me, mostly because I block ads before they ever get to my browser, so even this has little or no affect on me. I have to admit, Brave renders web pages significantly faster that Firefox, I mean seriously, it is noticeable, even javascript heavy web sites load fast. Brave consumes less memory than Firefox, even with 6 or 7 tabs open, it consumes half the RAM Firefox does. While I am not ready to switch my daily driver over to Debian or LXQT, I am switching to Brave, I am impressed with it in almost every way.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Trying out Debian Linux

 So I had some questions about my blogging about trying out different Linux Distributions, along with FreeBSD. The questions mainly concerned why I swapped OS's a couple of times a year. The answer is, I don't. My daily driver machine has been running Ubuntu since I bought it and has only been reinstalled when new Long Term Support (LTS) versions come out. The laptop I carry with me when I travel, closely mirrors my desktop. I have a 2nd laptop, which I refer to as my flop around the house system. This is an older i5 system without an SSD or M.2 card, this is the system I try these different OS's with. There is rarely anything important on it and if there is, it is usually backup to Dropbox, so wiping the OS is never an issue.

Having clarified that, my latest adventure has been installing Debian Linux. I figured having some insight into this was a good idea, since Debian is the upstream provider for Ubuntu. This basically means, the Ubuntu team simply takes the latest testing or unstable version of Debian, add some flash to it and call it Ubuntu. The idea being that if I ever need to, I can always fallback to Debian if Ubuntu fails me.

You would think this would be easy as pie, but there are a couple of bumps in the road. My first instinct was to install a very minimal amount and then build up from there. This was a mistake, I should have installed the GUI upfront, trying to install it afterwards was to be blunt, a shit show. The second thing is, the basic install of Debian does not include the proprietary drivers for common wifi cards, skipping the step where you provide them upfront, makes it geometrically more difficult to get wifi working after the fact. The first install was a terrible pain in the ass.

The second time I did the install, I also downloaded the firmware package and extracted it to a separate usb key and when the installer asked for it, I plugged it in, the firmware was installed and all was good. The next thing I did was during the install it asks you if you want to install a desktop environment, unless you plan to work solely from the command line, you should definitely do this. They give you a choice of several, I chose LXQT, although I could have just as easily chosen Mate, Gnome or KDE. I did have to install the gnome-network-manager package to get the wireless configured properly once I was into my desktop, but otherwise it was pretty painless compared to the first time around.

Once this was done, the next step was to upgrade to the unstable version, the reason for this is, the stable version is geared towards old, tried, tested and stable as fuck. I wanted access to newer software and stability is not necessarily my main concern here, Keep in mind, unstable in Linux does not mean the same thing as it does in the Windows world. Doing this is fairly easy all things considered, I simply updated the repository links from stable to unstable.


deb buster main non-free contrib
deb-src buster main non-free contrib


deb unstable main contrib non-free
deb-src unstable main contrib non-free

After that I simply did an "apt update" and "apt full-upgrade", a little while later, it was done. Start to finish, this took me around 3 hours, including the the first install. I think had I started out following the instructions properly, I think this would have taken me maybe an hour or an hour and a half. In my next post I will let you know what I think after I have had a chance to mess around with things and configure things to my taste.