I couldn't help but be a little intrigued by all Raspberry Pi hype. A computer smaller than a deck of playing cards, able to run Linux/ChromeOs/etc. and costing only $25-35 (depending on the model), sure sounded interesting. There are no end to computing projects I have in mind to undertake, so this seemed the perfect platform for them, particularly when the Raspberry Pi community is so friendly and supportive.
Well, having had my Raspberry Pi (model 2) for a week now I can certainly say that it's cool alright, but I'm increasingly convinced that its use in the desktop-related computing projects I had in mind is severely limited. The official Raspberry Pi Debian release runs, and includes a resource friendly web browser and other resource friendly apps, but attempting to run anything else is painful. One project I am working on uses JonDo, the magnificent privacy proxy, so I tried to see if the JonDo client would work with Raspberry Pi. It does install, and run, but it is painfully slow as to be utterly unusable (perhaps because of the Java overhead or perhaps because of the encryption demands). So much for that.
The thing I love most about the Raspberry Pi so far has less to do with it and more to do with the discontinued Motorola Lapdock. A couple years ago some people at Motorola and elsewhere thought that what people really wanted was a way to use their phone as a laptop and I remember all the hype surrounding the "lapdock" which would let you do just that. Unfortunately, at a price of $500 people really didn't want it, opting instead for cheaper $250 netbooks and $250-600 iOS/Android tablets. Sad for Motorola but great for anyone now because these over-produced lapdocks have been hitting the deep discount sales sites for the last year or so, currently selling them for $49! What you get for $49 is a fabulously elegantly, slim 10" display with keyboard, touch pad, and built-in rechargeable battery back! I seriously know of no better tech deal ever! Now, the cool part is that rather than use some proprietary connectors the lapdock uses separate micro HDMI and micro USB connections, and being universal standards you can connect a Raspberry Pi or anything else you want up to these connectors! I bought a second Motorola Lapdock to use as part of my emergency computer repair tool kit, with this thing and a few cables I've got a mobile keyboard/mouse/monitor I can hook up to any down server or computer with questionable peripherals.
In the case of Raspberry Pi this means that for $49 (Motorola Lapdock) + $35 (Raspberry Pi model 2) + $10 (cost of cables) you have a $94 laptop. Admittedly it's a pretty underwhelming laptop in a field where vastly more powerful laptops can be had for just over $200, but still... If you're buying a Raspberry Pi for anything other than experimenting then you're doing it wrong.
Watch the video above to learn what cables you need and how to modify them; the girl in the video throws me off a bit, I think it's the Ferdinand the Bull nose ring and reddish hair. Also, check out this cool modification to learn how to add a super capacitor to your Raspberry Pi as a great little backup battery/brownout protector (which is particularly useful with the lapdock).
If you used your Windows 8 Upgrade media to install a clean copy of Windows you've probably discovered by now that Windows 8 won't activate, telling you that your key is for upgrade and not clean install. Don't fret, there is a simple solution which does not require you pointlessly installing an old copy of XP, Vista, or Windows 7!
The easy three-step solution is:
- Modify the registry key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Setup\OOBE and set the MediaBootInstall value to 0 (zero).
- Open an elevated command-prompt (run command as admin) and execute this command: "slmgr -rearm"
I'm not sharing this tip as a way to cheat Microsoft out of a dollar, I'm sharing it because anyone experienced enough to be installing a copy of Windows 8 on a clean hard drive has surely owned enough Microsoft computers over the years to legitimately qualify for the upgrade. With Windows XP through Windows 7 qualifying I know in the last 12 years I've owned and still have legal rights to at least 10 - 15 installations (mostly from retired computers).
This hardly needs to be said, as it's been said a million times before, but as it's been my personal experience and frustration for the last few days I can't help but re-iterate the points myself... For all its awesomeness Linux is extremely, profoundly, mind-bogglingly difficult when it comes to installing the things you need. Case in point, over the last few weeks I've needed to install a VPN client on several different real and virtual machines running different flavors of Linux, namely Ubuntu, Debian, Scientific Linux, and CentOS 6. My ultimate success rate was only 50% with me ultimately abandoning the attempt in the other cases after too many hours wasted; I think I spent about 10 hours in all, trying to install VPN on the four systems. This relatively simple task was made incredibly complicated by the process being similar but seriously different for every flavor of Linux involved.
The basic procedure starts simply enough with needing to install the OpenVPN package. But wait, with various flavors of Linux come various package management systems you need to know, from RPM and Yum to Deb and Apt. And once you know the right command-lines the task becomes immediately complicated by the fact that OpenVPN depends on several libraries which may or may not be available in the repositories to which your Linux of flavor automatically connects. It invariably takes some time working out which repository has the needed libraries, some time wondering about the legitimacy of that repository, some worry that the package isn't entirely suitable for the flavor of Linux you're on, and the configuration changes needed to actually cause Linux to look at that repository. With some flavors of Linux this went relatively smoothly and with others not so much. Eventually I would in each case get the OpenVPN client package and its dependencies installed.
Say whatever negative thing you like about Microsoft Windows, but the install experience on Microsoft Windows would have involved at worst picking x86 or x64 versions and possibly selecting between Windows XP / 2000 and Windows Vista / 7 / 8 versions. Everything you needed would be included in the installer.
And here's where it gets even worse with Linux. As I quickly discovered, the ubiquitous Network Manager applet (akin to the wifi/network icon and applet in the Windows system tray) that's featured in all modern Linux task bars, the applet that makes adding / configuring and connecting to VPN servers quick and easy, still had its Add and Import buttons unhelpfully grayed out. After quite a bit of confusion and much Googling I discovered that for those features to be usable in the Network Manager applet several additional packages (acting as plugins) specific to Network Manager had to be installed allowing it to support OpenVPN. This was not something one would naturally expect, as the VPN tab was already present in the Network Manager applet giving no hint that something was left to be installed. And it's here where I was only partially successful across the various flavors of Linux. With two of the flavors I just couldn't find the appropriate dependencies (of the Network Manager plugins) to get the job done; I found things but they didn't work, were for CentOS 5 when I needed them for Cent OS 6, etc.
And even where I was fully successful on two of the systems the VPN wouldn't connect until a reboot, which I would have been happy doing had the cryptic error I was receiving indicated that might be useful. More Googling required to learn that. And in another case where I came close to getting things working the VPN manager would let me add VPN connections only to then make them unavailable for connection selection, leaving me with no idea why it wasn't working or what to do about it.
Say what you will about Microsoft Windows but there is never a separate installation step required to enable a driver's/software's GUI.
And so it is my profound and lingering frustration that something as miraculously wonderful as Linux continues to be hobbled by user experience which requires vastly more time, patience, intelligence, and dedication than most users will ever be willing to provide. While I understand that the various flavors of Linux are very much a part of its success and ubiquity in everything from web servers to embedded devices in cars to Android tablets, I can't help but wish the desktop Linux space wasn't so fragmented, that putting together a working Linux machine and all its needed packages wasn't so g-d damn much like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. When I think of all that Linux does right, all its hardware support, all its ported software, all its UI options, why oh why can't these relatively basic issues be sorted out?
Ah well... I can dream.
I have owned the Viliv S10 Blade, a Windows-based 10" convertible tablet, for a few years and until now it was a device desperately looking for a suitable operating system. Windows 7 came installed on the S10, but its bloat, overhead, and lack of touch friendly interface made the Viliv S10 no more useful than a ruefully overpriced bargain basement netbook. Flash forward several years and the world has come to embrace the tablet, and Microsoft has re-imagined its operating system with a finger-driven touch interface in mind. I was eager to see if Windows 8 could finally make my Viliv S10 what it always should have been. The good news is that the Windows 8 experience on the Viliv is quite a bit better than the Windows 7 experience; the bad news is that the device is still too laggy (CPU too slow and memory too low) and unable to deliver the fluid, effortless experience you've come to expect from even the lowliest Android or Apple tablet. Nonetheless, if you've got a Viliv S10 you'd be a fool not to squeeze a better experience out of the convertible tablet you already own.
I am hoping to save you the pain I experienced trying to get Windows 8 installed on the Viliv S10 Blade, so read on!
Installing Windows 8
The Viliv S10 Blade has no CD/DVD-ROM drive so you will need to either do a download-based installation of Windows 8 or you'll need to copy the contents of the Windows 8 DVD onto the Viliv (the DVD contents is approximately 2.8 GB) from a DVD drive shared from another computer or via a USB memory stick or SD card. When you're ready, begin the install.
The first thing you'll need to decide is what type of install you'll do, will you keep your user data or your user data and applications/settings. In the ideal world you would want to keep your applications/settings but I tried repeatedly to do an in-place upgrade keeping all my applications and settings (as well as user data) and was unsuccessful. During each install it would hang during the "Getting Devices Ready" step, hanging at 81% (I left it there for 23 hours on one install). After each failure it restores your computer to its pre-install state. I tried uninstalling various software, removing various drivers, and disabling various services within Windows 7 before restarting the Windows 8 install and nothing made a difference; the installation wouldn't get beyond "getting devices ready". Ultimately I chose the option which kept only my user data and the install completed successfully. If your install behaves as mine did you will need to also try the option of keeping only user data.
Once the installation is done you will discover that you have no Internet connection. Do not attempt to turn on the wifi device with the Fn + F2 key combination. Proceed to the next section.
Calibrate the Screen
You will likely find on install that the touch screen is uselessly mis-calibrated. Fortunately the fix is easy, just use the touch pad to go to the Control Panel and do a search for "calibrate" and then do the touch screen calibration. Your touch screen will now work properly.
Three things prevent your wifi from working after the Windows 8 install. 1) Your wifi module is off (and thus Windows doesn't detect it), 2) No suitable drivers are included with the Windows 8 install files, and 3) the available Windows 7 wifi driver will not work without a "patch".
Step 1: Turn on your wifi module.
Press Fn + F2. You can verify in Windows Device Manager that the device is no on, it will appear as an unknown device.
Step 2: Download Necessary Files
By way of this post I found the trick to getting wifi working. A Viliv S7 owner shared the necessary files and his description of the solution (written in Korean).
Go to his page (on another computer) and download the following files: s7_fix_.zip, Wifi_Driver.zip, and Add_Take_Ownership.reg; do a keyword search on the page and you will find the links to the files. Copy these files to your Viliv via SD card, USB stick, etc.
Step 3: Execute Add_Take_Ownership.reg
Double click the registry key file Add_Take_Ownership.reg to merge it into the registry. It will create a new item called "Take Ownership" when you right click a file or folder in Explorer. This will give your user access to that file or folder. You will need this.
Step 4: Install Wifi_Driver.zip
Unpack the Wifi_Driver.zip then go into the Device Manager. On the Marvell and choose "Update Driver Software..." when prompted in the device installation point to that folder.
Step 5: Apply the Patch
Go into Explorer and right click the C:\Windows\System32\Drivers folder. Choose the Take Ownership option from the context menu. With that done, unzip the S7_fix_.zip file you downloaded and copy the contents of it into C:\Windows\System32\Drivers (overwriting the files already in that folder). You may want to make a backup copy of the affected files, just in case you want to restore your machine to its original state.
Step 6: Enjoy Your Wifi!
Your wifi should now work! If it doesn't, try a reboot.
Installing Graphics Driver
The default Windows 8 install uses a generic Windows graphics driver for the Viliv which lacks the graphic acceleration and screen resolution options of the Intel GMA 500 graphics card in the Viliv S10. It is a very good idea to install this official driver from Intel: Intel GMA 500 driver 22.214.171.1240 09/16/2010 .
To install you need to unzip the download to a folder and set the compatibility mode of "Windows 7" before running the Setup.exe. The install will then proceed normally.
Installing Additional Viliv Software / Drivers
Though none are necessary, you may want to install additional Viliv-specific drivers. In general Windows 7 drivers are compatible with Windows 8, so this official source of Windows 7 Viliv S10 drivers is the place to download them.
I've been running Windows 8 on my Viliv S10 Blade for a couple of weeks now and the experience has been mixed. Part of the blame can be placed on Windows 8 which is a curious hybrid operating system, trying to be both entirely touch and mouse friendly while being exclusively neither. You are routinely forced to use apps of both flavors to perform tasks, Windows having provided their new UI approach for only a small subset of routine OS and administrative tasks. The largest frustration with the Viliv and Windows 8 is the lackluster performance, most of the new Windows Store delivered apps work quite well but only if the operating system isn't doing something at the time, and in-app actions like loading resources can make the experience painfully laggy. I suspect if the Viliv had an additional gigabyte of RAM the experience would have been dramatically improved. Still, compared to my absolutely miserable experience of the Viliv with Windows 7 I am at least pleased that my Viliv now once again has a purpose in life. Hope you find renewed pleasure in yours as well.
Inpainting is the editing (aka Photoshopping) of an image by using patterns or features of one area of an image to fill in other (usually nearby) region(s) of the same image. This technique lets you do pretty neat things like repair negative scratches, repair tears or discolorations on prints, or even remove people or things within an image by replacing them with background elements. A few days ago the software site Give Away of the Day was giving away a software product called Inpaint and I had a chance to try it. What I'd done before more manually in Photoshop I could now do with greater ease. I was amazed at the results. For fun I spent a couple of hours playing around with the software to see just how sophisticated a removal you could do.
By just drawing a single line over the snake Inpaint can remove the snake with remarkable effectiveness. I later learned how to make it even better so that you wouldn't see the lighter band you see below.
And now to remove something a little more complicated.
And now to try some image repair...
Think too many people and animals are spoiling a Machu Picchu picture? No problem!
And then I wanted to see just how complicated a removal I could do... so I tried this! It took only a couple of minutes!
And finally I wanted to try something insane... I wanted to see if I could remove all humans from this complicated scene...
I'm pretty amazed what a little inpainting software can do to radically change photos, and all with a $20 product. Definitely worth it!
Router with slow download and upload speeds? Don’t connect it through your UPS’s over-network voltage protection!
This is just a technical note for anyone who winds up with the problem I did the other day... I bought a new wifi router the other day, hooked it up and was shocked to find my download and upload speeds were abysmal, in the 1 Mbps range (rather than the expected 75 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up). I spent an hour trying different firmware in the router, looking for problematic options in the router's config, and replacing cabling. But somewhere in my sleeping hours the answer came to me... My cable modem's network cable feeds into my UPS which then feeds into the wireless router. The UPS provides voltage filtering, arguably useful for preventing distant lightning in my rural neighborhood from destroying more networking equipment than it otherwise might. The idea came to me that the UPS network feature might not be gigabit rated. My old wifi router was not a gigabit router, thus it would communicate with the cable modem at 100 Mbps, within the rating of the UPS. But the cable modem is likely gigabit and the new wifi router is gigabit, and thus they would communicate at gigabit speeds. And the UPS may unwittingly screw up that speed of communication by the filtering it does on the signals passing through. I bypassed the UPS and sure enough everything now works as expected!
The outbound journey went relatively uneventfully, got a one-way rental to drive myself, Francine, and Osita (the dog) from Pennsylvania to Illinois. After a thirteen hour drive spread across two days we met the seller, Wade, got to test drive the vehicle, bought it, and retired to the hotel to contemplate our next move.
Luxury It Ain't
Three major obstacles became immediately clear when I saw the vehicle and got to drive it. The first problem was that the vehicle's cab was tiny. There was arguably room enough for three lean soldiers with little to no gear and little to no leg room. But two average folks and a dog would not fit easily. The second problem was that the engine was deafeningly loud, the Army having made no effort to provide a quiet cabin. The third and most serious was that Illinois happened to be in the middle of a record breaking heat wave and daily temperatures were reaching 107 degrees Fahrenheit. An un-air-conditioned cab combined with a heat radiating engine and transmission was a recipe for disaster. The fact that my dog is super fluffy and inappropriately keeps her winter coat on until September didn't help. I knew I had to solve all three issues before we could start for home.
Where Does a Dog Fit?
There was only one place Osita would fit and that was on the floor board. I put down a furniture moving pad and a dog bed to cushion the harsh metal floor and cover up sharp edges. The difficulty was that she is a large dog and her body took up all the room of the passenger's floor as well as all the room in the middle floor. Her upper body was wedged between the transmission's stick shift and the high-low transfer case shifter. She had to keep her head up and out of the way whenever I needed to shift gears, which involved quite a lot of work on Francine's part.
Osita was a real trooper. She would instantly find her place whenever I had to lift her back in, and she didn't move around at all once she settled. I think it was all the practice in the motorcycle sidecar that touch her such patience for us humans.
Francine was an amazingly good sport for having to put up with very limited leg room and the constant need to keep Osita out of the way.
Silencing the Deafening Roar
I bought Francine and Osita two pairs of the best headphones Lowe's had to sell. Francine could wear hers without modification, but Osita's pair required some changes. I removed the adjustable metal band at the top and replaced it with two straps which could be tightened or loosened with Velcro. I also added a chin strap whose length could also be adjusted. The system worked, but only sort of. My primary concern was that her ears are vastly bigger than ours, and while I could (barely) fit her folded up ear into the headphone ear cup I couldn't imagine that it was pleasant, and I couldn't be sure that the seal was all that effective in terms of loudness protection. I abandoned this solution in the end after a few short trials on the road. They came off too easily and I was just too afraid it would hurt her ear cartilage if left on too long. The only fallback I had available was to use human foam earplugs. I did some Googling and saw people specifically recommending against their use, since human earplugs are smaller than what dogs would need. Without any alternatives I decided to give it a try anyway, but instead of using just one per ear I would use two together in each. This approach seemed to work and would stay put. To what degree it eliminated the sound I can't be absolutely sure. I know when I use a pair they can be finicky; they may seem to be in right and yet need adjustment to block out all the noise. I felt somewhat comfortable, hopefully not foolishly, that her hearing would be protected because I had just a few days earlier read a passage in a book, How Dogs Think?, that mentioned dogs having a biological mechanism by which they can protect their hearing from loud noises (environmental ones that they can expect, versus isolated and unexpected ones like gun shots). If the ear plugs didn't do enough presumably her biology would.
Cooling the Air
Finding a solution for the 107 (and higher) degree heat was the big problem. On the route down I'd tried to improve upon our rental car's poor A/C by buying a few bags of ice and putting some inside zip lock bags distributed in the passenger compartment and some in disposable aluminum pans on the floor board. That did nothing to cool the interior. I knew that the complete lack of space in the cab made it impossible to improve upon this crude method by simply adding more ice. Instead I decided to do the only thing I could think of, create a rudimentary air conditioning system that was powered by ice, with the ice located outside the cab. And that's what I built.
The key components of an air-conditioner related to the design I was going to employ were a refrigerated liquid, some cold coils that would transfer the cab's heat into the refrigerated liquid, an electric fan to accelerate that heat transfer, a pump to facilitate the circulation of the refrigerated liquid, an insulated container to hold said liquid, and hoses to carry the liquid to and fro. I went to the local Pep Boys auto supply store and bought a third-party automatic transmission oil cooler to use as my cold coils, an electronic radiator fan to use as my fan, and fuel line to use as my hose. At the local Walmart I found the bilge pump and large insulated cooler I needed. And a quick trip to Radio Shack got me the switches and wires I'd use to allow me to turn everything on and off at will.
Retreating into the hotel room and out of the heat's insanity I assembled all the parts. At this point I really wasn't sure how efficient the system would be, just how well it could remove heat from the cab, assuming a sufficient quantity of ice. Once I'd installed everything in the vehicle and got a chance to test the system I was very pleased to discover that the system was very efficient at removing heat (that is, blowing cold air). Even so, I wasn't sure if it would be cold enough, the hottest part of the day had already passed. Remembering something from my high school earth science class I went back to Walmart to buy four big boxes of rock salt, which I knew would dramatically lower the freezing point of water and thereby drop temperature of the ice/water even further. I brought along a big bag of tools for this trip and in it my infrared thermometer (it's a useful tool for motorcycle carburetor tuning). I found that adding the rock salt dropped the temperature of the ice/water slush from about 32 degrees to about 3 degrees, which significantly improved the cooling in the cab.
Everything was very nearly a marvelous success, though it didn't take long for several mostly fatal flaws to emerge. Thus, I'm not sure I can recommend this system to others facing similar circumstances.
This system runs through ice very, very quickly. The air conditioning effect of my system would only last for about 45 to 60 minutes, after which the four to five bags of ice would be reduced to warm cabin temperature brine. And as it doesn't make sense to break a 13 hour trip into 45 minute ice refilling segments we only had cool air for the first hour of every three or so. Not to mention that the rate of ice consumption meant the system cost $5-8 an hour to operate, which is just pricey enough to make you think twice. Worse luck, the fundamental resource without which the entire system wouldn't work (ice!) was magically unavailable at all the highway stops in West Virginia; WV was recovering from a serious storm that knocked out power to tens of thousands of residents who had bought up all the ice to save their refrigerated groceries. And the final problem was that an automatic transmission oil cooler was not designed to be used as a cold coil for an air conditioner. The honeycomb lattice of aluminum that does the heat transfer, through which air passes and becomes cold, seemed exactly the wrong size to rid itself of condensation that would form. Cooling hot oil would create no condensation, but cooling hot air does. My cooling system was so efficient that within mere seconds all the honeycomb elements of the oil cooler would be plugged up with water causing making the fan to send much of its uncooled air spilling out wherever it could escape the blocked holes. To keep things working I had to keep running my hand across the face of the cooler to break the surface tension of the water so that it could all run off and allow the fan to work again. This had to be done every minute or so. I tried using some fabric to wick away the water from the honeycomb and re-evaporate it, but that didn't work. And I planned to try introducing a light solution of soap to the radiator surface to see if that might be enough to let it shed its own water, but I never quite got around to it before we got home.
On the first day of our return journey we only made it an hour before the ice ran out and the oppressive heat was just too much. We paused for a few hours in the shade of a tree off the interstate. Once the afternoon had set in and the ice was refilled we made it only another hour or so before a violent storm came upon us and we took shelter in the lobby of a hotel. And when the storm lingered we called it a day. At that rate I began to fear it would be 3-5 days before we'd make it home.
The next day became an unexpectedly long one, and we ended up completing the remaining 640 miles without stopping to sleep. It was not our choice, however. We had planned to stop four hours away from home, but not only was West Virginia out of ice (because of the aforementioned storm), every hotel was full up. We called more than twenty, all the ones that took dogs and a few that didn't. In the end we were left with no option but to drive until we reached home.
While I can't claim to be an expert at driving five ton trucks, but the fact that I didn't hit anything, and had no problems surely says something. I was actually amazed at how well it drove, aside from the miserable uphill speed. I wasn't able to do more than 30 mph on many of the hills coming back. Going only 30 mph when other vehicles are doing 75 mph is certainly not an ideal situation, but the advantage of driving through the night was that the bulk of the hills we encountered were climbed when few others were on the road. The top speed of the vehicle on level ground is only about 57 or so, which meant that in the entire 720 mile trip I don't think I passed a single vehicle.
In the end the toll on man and dog was high. The stress from the drive left us humans bickering through out the next couple of days, and Osita ended up with a vet trip to treat vomiting and mild dehydration.
But all of us restored, my focus will now be on turning the M820 into a mobile gentleman's study (and my office).
I recently bought a 1971 AMC 5 ton Army Surplus M820 Expansible Van. My goal is to transform it into a mobile office in the style of a Victorian gentleman's study.
See some photos of the truck and some first thoughts about how I might redo the interior of the expansible box below.
A few weeks back I stumbled across a forum thread on Holocaust Denial. I'd first read about the topic about 15 years ago when Usenet was the Internet's popular discussion forum. The years hadn't diminished my fascination with the notion that a militant minority fervently denied events occurred which the majority accepts as wholly factual. How could there be disagreement about such seemingly self-evident world events (with millions of people involved as witnesses, victims, perpetrators, etc.)? I'll write more on the topic at some point, perhaps, since I enjoy tracing everyone's ulterior motives and seeing how they influence what should be rational discussion. But for now I'll just mention the horror that greeted me when I logged back on to YouTube after having watched a series of videos on this topic. YouTube had apparently decided that I was a neo-Nazi and wanted to helpfully recommend like-minded channels I should subscribe to. Yikes.
I am pleased, I suppose, that YouTube doesn't play favorites with ideas and allows minority opinions and majority opinions to be heard and subscribed to, but I do wish to god there was a way I could firmly explain to YouTube that interest in a topic does not mean subscription to the idea at the heart of that topic. As there is none, I'll just have to announce for the benefit of any government, conspiratorial, zionist, etc. agency listening, there has been a terrible misunderstanding, and I am not a Nazi.