Friday, December 31, 2021
Well this is it, the closing day of 2021. Really it has not been a terrible year. Sure we are still in the middle of COVID, but lets be honest, we were always going to be dealing with this for 3-5 years, we just did not want to admit it to ourselves. But really, 2021 did not turn out too bad, we got vaccines, so we could start going out again, businesses opened up and we got a little normal back. Things got reorganized at work and I have found myself doing more interesting work with actual challenges instead of just bullshit busy work. I spent more time with Shannon, we actually got out of town a couple of times to have some fun. My visit to Billings was far less stressful than it was in 2020. Over all, 2021 was a good year and I am fairly optimistic about 2022.
Happy New year everyone!
Sunday, December 19, 2021
Over the last couple of days I have entered into Crypto mining. No I have not bought a $12,000 Bitcoin miner, I am not that crazy. No, I joined a Monero mining pool, which allows me to put low powered machines to work mining the Monero crypto coin and still some small amount based on how much work these otherwise idle machines do, everyone who contributes CPU cycles gets a cut. I put 2 Raspberry Pi 4's to work along with 2 Optiplex 3050 mini's to work on this project. The 2 Pi's are averaging about 90 hash's per second, the two Optiplex's are averaging around 600 hash's per second. Over the last couple of days as I put my mini farm to work I have acquired 0.0003 Monero or about $0.05. Yeah, I know, its not much, but hey, if I eventually get 1 complete Monero, at its current price of $190, That will pay for every penny of what I have sunk into this equipment over the last 2 or 3 years, then of course I can start paying off the power this sucks down.
I am not a big believer in the whole crypto currency thing. Frankly to me it is like gold in World of Warcraft or maybe even Monopoly Money. It have no real value except what people attribute to it and eventually all those big mining operations and hedge fund managers who are hoarding all this crap are going to cash out and it is all going to come crashing down. There is no way I would ever spend $190 of actual cash on buying a Monero or god forbid $47,000 for a Bitcoin.
So why then am I putting effort into mining it? Well for one thing it is an interesting technical challenge setting up the hardware, compiling the code, getting everything working. Second, though eventually this is all going to come crashing down, until then there are some uses for crypto currency, especially Monero, which has some extra security features on it that make tracking it much more difficult. While I have no intention of doing anything illegal, you just never know when you will need a stash of untraceable money at your disposal.
Anyone interested in getting started should watch this video, it is a great starting place.
Monday, November 22, 2021
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
Edit for update 12/12/2021:
Since I put this system together I have been on the hunt for a brand new in box low end video card for a reasonable price. Unfortunately that has not been easy, the only thing really available in the sub $100 range has been GT 710 Nvidia cards, which were total junk 10 years ago when they were first released. The lowest acceptable cards I could find like the GT 1030, were still going for at least a $150 and that was more than i was willing to spend for a slightly less junk video card. Best Buy had a Christmas sale and I was finally able to get a GT 1030 for $100. So I think for the time being, this system is done.
Saturday, April 24, 2021
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
Saturday, April 17, 2021
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 http://deb.debian.org/debian/ buster main non-free contrib
deb-src http://deb.debian.org/debian/ buster main non-free contrib
deb http://deb.debian.org/debian/ unstable main contrib non-free
deb-src http://deb.debian.org/debian/ 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.
Monday, March 22, 2021
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is an interesting book, it is actually two stories that blend together to make one long fascinating multi generational family drama. From the incestuous grandparents, through the post WWII parents building a mid 20th century nuclear family, to Cal, born as an intersex (hermaphrodite) and raised as girl, this story is captivating on many levels. The central character is supposed to Cal, but he really is not, he is just one character among a cast of equally interesting characters.
The story starts with Desdemona and Lefty, a brother and sister couple escaping post WWI Turkey, to remake themselves as a married couple in America. The Desdemona and Lefty relationship is an uncomfortable one, the author tried to build an epic love story here, but there is a definite ick factor here. Their story is not really about the oddity of the relationship or really even the relationship itself, but rather it is about transformations and making a new life for ones self.
This transformation and building of a new life, parallels Cal's own story, upon the discovery of Cal's condition, she runs away and starts a new life as a man. There is even a bit of an ick factor, while Cal is a teenage runway he becomes a performer in burlesque show where his genitals are displayed for the entertainment of paying customers. Interspersed throughout the book is the story of a middle aged Cal meeting a woman who excepts him for who he is, this part of the story is very short and told in single paragraphs throughout the book.
In between Cal and his grandparents is the story of Milton and Tessie, Cal's parents, who are also cousins. Their story is not so much about transformation, but more about what life was like for ethnic immigrants and their children in the mid 20th century as they build a life together and have children. Their lives fall apart a couple of times, but always they seem to bounce back, stronger than before.
Over all, really good book, strong characters, interesting story lines built with strong writing. I liked the way the author faded from one story to another, with little to no transition. In one paragraph you will be reading about Lefty's gambling problem in the 1960's and in the next reading about Cal spending time with a women in the early 2000's. The transitions are smooth and a couple of times I did not even realize they had happened, it just felt like the natural flow of the story.
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Thursday, March 11, 2021
I have been using Linux for decades. At this point I have it down pretty well, even to the point where it is easier than Windows 10 for me. Sometimes I get bored with the "It just works" shit I take on a task just because it is hard. If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you have seen me switch Linux distributions, and even try out FreeBSD.
This wee, my project has been trying out tiling windows managers. Normally I just use Mate, which is pretty straight forward and not too different from using Windows, although it is far more configurable. A tiling window manager, to quote Wikipedia, is
"a tiling window manager is a window manager with an organization of the screen into mutually non-overlapping frames, as opposed to the more popular approach of coordinate-based stacking of overlapping objects (windows) that tries to fully emulate the desktop metaphor."
Something like this:
In other words, instead of windows floating all over the place, the windows are nicely lined up, wasting no desktop space. The really nice feature of most of these tiling windows managers is they are light on resources. When using Mate, it is not unusual for 5GB of RAM to be in use at any given times. While using one of these, I have never seen RAM usage climb above 1 GB. Of course there is a trade off in functionality and ease of use. Of course this was not about functionality or ease of use, this was about abusing myself. I tried two of them out, DWM and 13, compared to Mate, neither were great, but one was definitely better than the other.
DWM is made by the Suckless organization, I have some really bad news for them however. DWM does not suck less. I get it, these guys want to build light weight tools, with a minimum of features. Okay, got it, but seriously, it should not be necessary to recompile from source code to change the colors of the tool bar. In fact any changes at that you might want to make, require you to change the source code and recompile. Apparently, to them, this is a feature, not a bug. In my mind, reading and writing a configuration file would not be a terrible leap in bloat. To their credit, they do provide patches for the more popular modifications people make, unfortunately, it is exactly no ones job to maintain these patches, and I found 80% of them I could not even apply the patch without jumping through hoops and when I did get the patches installed properly, many of them failed to function properly. So after fucking with this for 2 days and getting little more than a basic install working, I decided this was a non starter.
i3 is slightly better in terms of configuration. They at least understand the utility of a configuration file to make small useful changes. Mind you it took me the better part of a day googling things to finally get a usable desktop so it was not all fun and sunshine, however once I figured out the basic syntax of the config files, it was relatively easy to add functionality. I would not consider i3 to be easy by any means, but it sucks less than DWM. The thing i3 really had over DWM, is once I got everything setup more or less the way I wanted it, it was pretty easy to save the config files and write a script to automate installing all the needed software and placing the config files where they needed to be, so duplicating my setup on another system would be trivial.
Overall, I am a bit meh! about this whole tiling windows manager thing. I like the idea of this kind of organizational structure and desktop management, but honestly there is no reason why it should take 7 hours setting up a decent working desktop with my preferred colors, properly sized and readable fonts that do not make my eyes bleed, and some useful applets like WiFi, Battery and volume control. Now that it is done, I will probably use it for a while, but if I ever decide to seriously change windows managers, I will choose one that has a setup wizard, not one that requires me to know that #012FFF is the hexadecimal value of my favorite shade of blue.
Thursday, March 4, 2021
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.
# 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
cp background.jpg ~/pictures
sudo cat wifi.txt >> /etc/netplan/50-cloud-init.yaml
# 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
setw -g clock-mode-colour colour5
setw -g mode-style 'fg=colour1 bg=colour18 bold'
set -g pane-border-style 'fg=green bg=white'
set -g pane-active-border-style 'bg=green fg=white'
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'
set -g message-style 'fg=white bg=green bold'
# 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
wifi.txt file to setup wireless
"Access Point SSID":
Tuesday, March 2, 2021
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
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.
View all my reviews
Thursday, February 4, 2021
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.
View all my reviews
Saturday, January 23, 2021
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
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.