Search Results: "metal"

29 October 2022

Louis-Philippe V ronneau: Extruded Schiit Stack

I've been a fan of the products manufactured by Schiit Audio for a while now. They are affordable (for high-end audio gear), sound great, are made in the USA1 and I think their industrial design looks great. I first started with one of their classic "Schiit Stack"2, but eventually upgraded to the Modi Multibit (I wanted the TOSLINK input), added a physical EQ (the Loki) and eventually got a Sys when I bought a Vidar speaker amp. The original Schiit Stack being 2 devices high was pretty manageable as-is. With my current 4-high stack though, things became unstable and I had to resort to finding a way to bolt them together. Mooching from a friend with a 3D printer, I printed this clever mount from Thingiverse. It worked well enough, but was somewhat imperfect for multiple reasons:
  1. The plastic tabs had a tendency of breaking in two when the screws where tight enough for the stack to feel solid.
  2. The plastic wasn't really rigid enough to support the 4 devices properly and the stack, being back-heavy from the cables, was unstable and tipped over easily.
  3. Due to the plastic tabs being fragile, it was pretty much impossible to disassemble the stack.
This last issue was what killed this solution for me. When I tried to replace my Modi 2 by the Modi Multibit, the mount pretty much crumbled away. Sadly, my friend warped a bunch of pieces on his 3D printer while trying to print ABS and I couldn't have him print me replacement parts either. After a while, I grew tired of having these four devices laying around my desk and wasting valuable space. I had tasted the 4-stack and knew how better things could be! That's when I realised the solution was to ditch 3D printing altogether, use aluminum framing extrusions and build my own stack out of metal. The 4 different Schiit devices with the hardware needed to build the extruded frame This was my first time working with aluminium frame extrusions and I had tons of fun! I specced the first version using 10mm x 10mm rails from McMaster-Carr, but discovered they do not ship to residential addresses in Canada... After looking at local options, I then decided to use 15mm x 15mm rails from Misumi. I went with this option since the rails are still small enough not to be an eyesore, but also because this system uses M3 screws, which the Schiit mini series also uses, making assembly much easier. I choose to make the assembled stack quite a bit taller than the previous one made with 3D printed plastic, as I found the headphone amp got pretty hot during the summer and I wanted to provide better airflow. If you are interested in replicating this stack, here are the parts I used, all from Misumi: I didn't order any since I had some already, but you'll also need M3 screws, namely: You can also cheap out and use only M3-10 screws (as I did), but you'll have to use the extra nuts you ordered as spacers. The assembled stack, complete with my lucky cat For the curious ones, the cabling is done this way:
                            
                                                              
          Magni (hp amp)       Vidar (sp amp)  
                                                              
                            
                                      
                            
                                             
                              Sys (switch)   
                                                      
                                     
                                                      
                                                      
                            
                                                              
                 Modi (DAC)        Loki (EQ)    
                                                              
                            
The Vidar is not part of the actual stack, as it's a 600W amp that weights 10kg :D. The last thing I think I want to change in this setup is the cables. The ones I have are too long for the stack. Shorter ones would reduce the wasted space in the back and make the whole thing more elegant.

  1. As in, designed, manufactured and assembled in the USA, from parts, transformers and boards made in the USA. I find this pretty impressive.
  2. A USB DAC and a headphone amp you can stack one of top of the other.

16 October 2022

Vincent Fourmond: Tutorial: analysis of multiwavelength fast kinetics data

The purpose of this post is to demonstrate a first approach to the analysis of multiwavelength kinetic data, like those obtained using stopped-flow data. To practice, we will use data that were acquired during the stopped flow practicals of the MetBio summer school from the FrenchBIC. During the practicals, the student monitored the reaction of myoglobin (in its Fe(III) state) with azide, which yields a fast and strong change in the absorbance spectrum of the protein, which was monitored using a diode array. The data is publicly available on zenodo. Aims of this tutorial The purpose of this tutorial is to teach you to use the free softwareQSoas to run a simple, multiwavelength exponential fit on the data, and to look at the results. This is not a kinetics lecture, so that it will not go in depth about the use of the exponential fit and its meaning. Getting started: loading the file First, make sure you have a working version of QSoas, you can download them (for free) there. Then download the data files from zenodo. We will work only on the data file Azide-1.25mm_001.dat, but of course, the purpose of this tutorial is to enable you to work on all of them. The data files contain the time evolution of the absorbance for all wavelengths, in a matrix format, in which each row correpond to a time point and each column to a wavelength. Start QSoas, and launch the command:
QSoas> load /comments='"'
Then, choose the Azide-1.25mm_001.dat data file. This should bring up a horizontal red line at the bottom of the data display, with X values between about 0 and 2.5. If you zoom on the red line with the mouse wheel, you'll realize it is data. The /comments='"' part is very important since it allows the extraction of the wavelength from the data. We will look at what it means another day. At this stage, you can look at the loaded data using the command:
QSoas> edit
You should have a window looking like this:
The rows each correspond to a data point displayed on the window below. The first column correspond to the X values, the second the Y values, and all the other ones to extra Y columns (they are not displayed by default). What is especially interesting is the first row, which contains a nan as the X value and what is obviously the wavelength for all the Y values. To tell that QSoas should take this line as the wavelength (which will be the perpendicular coordinate, the coordinate of the other direction of the matrix), first close the edit window and run:
QSoas> set-perp /from-row=0
Splitting and fitting Now, we have a single dataset containing a lot of Y columns. We want to fit all of them simultaneously with a (mono) exponential fit. For that, we first need to split the big matrix into a series of X,Y datasets (because fitting only works on the first Y). This is possible by running:
QSoas> expand /style=red-to-blue /flags=kinetics
Your screen should now look like this:
You're looking at the kinetics at all wavelengths at the same time (this may take some time to display on your computer, it is after all a rather large number of data points). The /style=red-to-blue is not strictly necessary, but it gives the red to blue color gradient which makes things easier to look at (and cooler !). The /flags=kinetics is there to attach a label (a flag) to the newly created datasets so we can easily manipulate all of them at the same time. Then it's time to fit, with the following command:
QSoas> mfit-exponential-decay flagged:kinetics
This should bring up a new window. After resizing it, you should have something that looks like this:
The bottom of the fit window is taken by the parameters, each with two checkboxes on the right to set them fixed (i.e. not determined by the fitting mechanism) and/or global (i.e. with a single value for all the datasets, here all the wavelengths). The top shows the current dataset along with the corresponding fit (in green), and, below, the residuals. You can change the dataset by clicking on the horizontal arrows or using Ctrl+PgUp or Ctrl+PgDown (keep holding it to scan fast). See the Z = 728.15 showing that QSoas has recognized that the currently displayed dataset corresponds to the wavelength 728.15. The equation fitted to the data is: $$y(x) = A_\infty + A_1 \times \exp -(x - x_0)/\tau_1$$ In this case, while the \(A_1\) and \(A_\infty\) parameters clearly depend on the wavelength, the time constant of evolution should be independent of wavelength (the process happens at a certain rate regardless of the wavelength we're analyzing), so that the \(\tau_1\) parameter should be common for all the datasets/wavelengths. Just click on the global checkbox at the right of the tau_1 parameter, make sure it is checked, and hit the Fit button... The fit should not take long (less than a minute), and then you end up with the results of the fits: all the parameters. The best way to look at the non global parameters like \(A_1\) and \(A_\infty\) is to use the Show Parameters item from the Parameters menu. Using it and clicking on A_inf too should give you a display like this one:
The A_inf parameter corresponds to the spectum at infinite time (of azide-bound heme), while the A_1 parameter corresponds to the difference spectrum between the initial (azide-free) and final (azide-bound) states. Now, the fit is finished, you can save the parameters if you want to reload them in a later fit by using the Parameters/Save menu item or export them in a form more suitable for plotting using Parameters/Export (although QSoas can also display and the parameters saved using Save). This concludes this first approach to fitting the data. What you can do is How to read the code above All the lines starting by QSoas> in the code areas above are meant to be typed into the QSoas command line (at the bottom of the window), and started by pressing enter at the end. You must remove the QSoas> bit. The other lines (when applicable) show you the response of QSoas, in the terminal just above the command-line. You may want to play with the QSoas tutorial to learn more about how to interact with QSoas. About QSoas QSoas is a powerful open source data analysis program that focuses on flexibility and powerful fitting capacities. It is released under the GNU General Public License. It is described in Fourmond, Anal. Chem., 2016, 88 (10), pp 5050 5052. Current version is 3.1. You can freely (and at no cost) download its source code or precompiled versions for MacOS and Windows there. Alternatively, you can clone from the GitHub repository.
Contact: find my email address there, or contact me on LinkedIn.

15 August 2022

John Goerzen: The Joy of Easy Personal Radio: FRS, GMRS, and Motorola DLR/DTR

Most of us carry cell phones with us almost everywhere we go. So much so that we often forget not just the usefulness, but even the joy, of having our own radios. For instance: From my own experience, as a person and a family that enjoys visiting wilderness areas, having radio communication is great. I have also heard from others that they re also very useful on cruise ships (I ve never been on one so I can t attest to that). There is also a sheer satisfaction in not needing anybody else s infrastructure, not paying any sort of monthly fee, and setting up the radios ourselves.

How these services fit in This article is primarily about handheld radios that can be used by anybody. I laid out some of their advantages above. Before continuing, I should point out some of the other services you may consider:
  • Cell phones, obviously. Due to the impressive infrastructure you pay for each month (many towers in high locations), in areas of cell coverage, you have this ability to connect to so many other phones around the world. With radios like discussed here, your range will likely a few miles.
  • Amateur Radio has often been a decade or more ahead of what you see in these easy personal radio devices. You can unquestionably get amateur radio devices with many more features and better performance. However, generally speaking, each person that transmits on an amateur radio band must be licensed. Getting an amateur radio license isn t difficult, but it does involve passing a test and some time studying for the exam. So it isn t something you can count on random friends or family members being able to do. That said, I have resources on Getting Started With Amateur Radio and it s not as hard as you might think! There are also a lot of reasons to use amateur radio if you want to go down that path.
  • Satellite messengers such as the Garmin Inreach or Zoleo can send SMS-like messages across anywhere in the globe with a clear view of the sky. They also often have SOS features. While these are useful safety equipment, it can take many minutes for a message to be sent and received it s not like an interactive SMS conversation and there are places where local radios will have better signal. Notably, satellite messengers are almost useless indoors and can have trouble in areas without a clear view of the sky, such as dense forests, valleys, etc.
  • My earlier Roundup of secure messengers with off-the-grid capabilities (distributed/mesh messengers) highlighted a number of other options as well, for text-only communication. For instance:
    • For very short-range service, Briar can form a mesh over Bluetooth from cell phones or over Tor, if Internet access is available.
    • Dedicated short message services Mesh Networks like Meshtastic or Beartooth have no voice capability, but share GPS locations and short text messages over their own local mesh. Generally they need to pair to a cell phone (even if that phone has no cell service) for most functionality.
  • Yggdrasil can do something similar over ad-hoc Wifi, but it is a lower-level protocol and you d need some sort of messaging to run atop it.
This article is primarily about the USA, though these concepts, if not the specific implementation, apply many other areas as well.

The landscape of easy personal radios The oldest personal radio service in the US is Citizens Band (CB). Because it uses a lower frequency band than others, handheld radios are larger, heavier, and less efficient. It is mostly used in vehicles or other installations where size isn t an issue. The FRS/GMRS services mostly share a set of frequencies. The Family Radio Service is unlicensed (you don t have to get a license to use it) and radios are plentiful and cheap. When you get a blister pack or little radios for maybe $50 for a pair or less, they re probably FRS. FRS was expanded by the FCC in 2017, and now most FRS channels can run up to 2 watts of power (with channels 8-14 still limited to 0.5W). FRS radios are pretty much always handheld. GMRS runs on mostly the same frequencies as FRS. GMRS lets you run up to 5W on some channels, up to 50W on others, and operate repeaters. GMRS also permits limited occasional digital data bursts; three manufacturers currently use this to exchange GPS data or text messages. To use GMRS, you must purchase a GMRS license; it costs $35 for a person and their immediate family and is good for 10 years. No exam is required. GMRS radios can transmit on FRS frequencies using the GMRS authorization. The extra power of GMRS gets you extra distance. While only the best handheld GMRS radios can put out 5W of power, some mobile (car) or home radios can put out the full 50W, and use more capable exterior antennas too. There is also the MURS band, which offers very few channels and also very few devices. It is not in wide use, probably for good reason. Finally, some radios use some other unlicensed bands. The Motorola DTR and DLR series I will talk about operate in the 900MHz ISM band. Regulations there limit them to a maximum power of 1W, but as you will see, due to some other optimizations, their range is often quite similar to a 5W GMRS handheld. All of these radios share something in common: your radio can either transmit, or receive, but not both simultaneously. They all have a PTT (push-to-talk) button that you push and hold while you are transmitting, and at all other times, they act as receivers. You ll learn that doubling is a thing where 2 or more people attempt to transmit at the same time. To listeners, the result is often garbled. To the transmitters, they may not even be aware they did it since, after all, they were transmitting. Usually it will be clear pretty quickly as people don t get responses or responses say it was garbled. Only the digital Motorola DLR/DTR series detects and prevents this situation.

FRS and GMRS radios As mentioned, the FRS/GMRS radios are generally the most popular, and quite inexpensive. Those that can emit 2W will have pretty decent range; 5W even better (assuming a decent antenna), though the 5W ones will require a GMRS license. For the most part, there isn t much that differentiates one FRS radio from another, or (with a few more exceptions) one GMRS handheld from another. Do not believe the manufacturers claims of 50 mile range or whatever; more on range below. FRS and GMRS radios use FM. GMRS radios are permitted to use a wider bandwidth than FRS radios, but in general, FRS and GMRS users can communicate with each other from any brand of radio to any other brand of radio, assuming they are using basic voice services. Some FRS and GMRS radios can receive the NOAA weather radio. That s nice for wilderness use. Nicer ones can monitor it for alert tones, even when you re tuned to a different channel. The very nicest on this as far as I know, only the Garmin Rino series will receive and process SAME codes to only trigger alerts for your specific location. GMRS (but not FRS) also permits 1-second digital data bursts at periodic intervals. There are now three radio series that take advantage of this: the Garmin Rino, the Motorola T800, and BTech GMRS-PRO. Garmin s radios are among the priciest of GMRS handhelds out there; the top-of-the-line Rino will set you back $650. The cheapest is $350, but does not contain a replaceable battery, which should be an instant rejection of a device like this. So, for $550, you can get the middle-of-the-road Rino. It features a sophisticated GPS system with Garmin trail maps and such, plus a 5W GMRS radio with GPS data sharing and a very limited (13-character) text messaging system. It does have a Bluetooth link to a cell phone, which can provide a link to trail maps and the like, and limited functionality for the radio. The Rino is also large and heavy (due to its large map-capable screen). Many consider it to be somewhat dated technology; for instance, other ways to have offline maps now exist (such as my Garmin Fenix 6 Pro, which has those maps on a watch!). It is bulky enough to likely be left at home in many situations. The Motorola T800 doesn t have much to talk about compared to the other two. Both of those platforms are a number of years old. The newest entrant in this space, from budget radio maker Baofeng, is the BTech GMRS-PRO, which came out just a couple of weeks ago. Its screen, though lacking built-in maps, does still have a GPS digital link similar to Garmin s, and can show you a heading and distance to other GMRS-PRO users. It too is a 5W unit, and has a ton of advanced features that are rare in GMRS: ability to pair a Bluetooth headset to it directly (though the Garmin Rino supports Bluetooth, it doesn t support this), ability to use the phone app as a speaker/mic for the radio, longer text messages than the Garmin Rino, etc. The GMRS-PRO sold out within a few days of its announcement, and I am presently waiting for mine to arrive to review. At $140 and with a more modern radio implementation, for people that don t need the trail maps and the like, it makes a compelling alternative to Garmin for outdoor use. Garmin documents when GPS beacons are sent out: generally, when you begin a transmission, or when another radio asks for your position. I couldn t find similar documentation from Motorola or BTech, but I believe FCC regulations mean that the picture would be similar with them. In other words, none of these devices is continuously, automatically, transmitting position updates. However, you can request a position update from another radio. It should be noted that, while voice communication is compatible across FRS/GMRS, data communication is not. Garmin, Motorola, and BTech all have different data protocols that are incompatible with radios from other manufacturers. FRS/GMRS radios often advertise privacy codes. These do nothing to protect your privacy; see more under the privacy section below.

Motorola DLR and DTR series Although they can be used for similar purposes, and I do, these radios are unique from the others in this article in several ways:
  • Their sales and marketing is targeted at businesses rather than consumers
  • They use digital encoding of audio, rather than analog FM or AM
  • They use FHSS (Frequency-Hopping Spread Spectrum) rather than a set frequency
  • They operate on the 900MHz ISM band, rather than a 460MHz UHF band (or a lower band yet for MURS and CB)
  • The DLR series is quite small, smaller than many GMRS radios.
I don t have space to go into a lot of radio theory in this article, but I ll briefly expand on some of this. First, FHSS. A FHSS radio hops from frequency to frequency many times per second, following some preset hopping algorithm that is part of the radio. Although it complicates the radio design, it has some advantages; it tends to allow more users to share a band, and if one particular frequency has a conflict with something else, it will be for a brief fraction of a second and may not even be noticeable. Digital encoding generally increases the quality of the audio, and keeps the quality high even in degraded signal conditions where analog radios would experience static or a quieter voice. However, you also lose that sort of audible feedback that your signal is getting weak. When you get too far away, the digital signal drops off a cliff . Often, either you have a crystal-clear signal or you have no signal at all. Motorola s radios leverage these features to build a unique radio. Not only can you talk to a group, but you can select a particular person to talk to with a private conversation, and so forth. DTR radios can send text messages to each other (but only preset canned ones, not arbitrary ones). Channels are more like configurations; they can include various arbitrary groupings of radios. Deconfliction with other users is established via hopsets rather than frequencies; that is, the algorithm that it uses to hop from frequency to frequency. There is a 4-digit PIN in the DLR radios, and newer DTR radios, that makes privacy very easy to set up and maintain. As far as I am aware, no scanner can monitor DLR/DTR signals. Though they technically aren t encrypted, cracking a DLR/DTR conversation would require cracking Motorola s firmware, and the chances of this happening in your geographical proximity seem vanishingly small. I will write more below on comparing the range of these to GMRS radios, but in a nutshell, it compares well, despite the fact that the 900MHz band restrictions allow Motorola only 1W of power output with these radios. There are three current lines of Motorola DLR/DTR radios:
  • The Motorola DLR1020 and DLR1060 radios. These have no screen; the 1020 has two channels (configurations) while the 1060 supports 6. They are small and compact and great pocketable just work radios.
  • The Motorola DTR600 and DTR700 radios. These are larger, with a larger antenna (that should theoretically provide greater range) and have a small color screen. They support more channels and more features (eg, short messages, etc).
  • The Motorola Curve (aka DLR110). Compared to the DLR1060, it adds limited WiFi capabilities that are primarily useful in certain business environments. See this thread for more. These features are unlikely to be useful in the environments we re talking about here.
These radios are fairly expensive new, but DLRs can be readily found at around $60 on eBay. (DTRs for about $250) They are quite rugged. Be aware when purchasing that some radios sold on eBay may not include a correct battery and charger. (Not necessarily a problem; Motorola batteries are easy to find online, and as with any used battery, the life of a used one may not be great.) For more advanced configuration, the Motorola CPS cable works with both radios (plugs into the charging cradle) and is used with the programming software to configure them in more detail. The older Motorola DTR650, DTR550, and older radios are compatible with the newer DLR and DTR series, if you program the newer ones carefully. The older ones don t support PINs and have a less friendly way of providing privacy, but they do work also. However, for most, I think the newer ones will be friendlier; but if you find a deal on the older ones, hey, why not? This thread on the MyGMRS forums has tons of useful information on the DLR/DTR radios. Check it out for a lot more detail. One interesting feature of these radios is that they are aware if there are conflicting users on the channel, and even if anybody is hearing your transmission. If your transmission is not being heard by at least one radio, you will get an audible (and visual, on the DTR) indication that your transmission failed. One thing that pleasantly surprised me is just how tiny the Motorola DLR is. The whole thing with antenna is like a small candy bar, and thinner. My phone is slightly taller, much wider, and only a little thinner than the Motorola DLR. Seriously, it s more pocketable than most smartphones. The DTR is of a size more commonly associated with radios, though still on the smaller side. Some of the most low-power FRS radios might get down to that size, but to get equivolent range, you need a 5W GMRS unit, which will be much bulkier. Being targeted at business users, the DLR/DTR don t include NOAA weather radio or GPS.

Power These radios tend to be powered by:
  • NiMH rechargable battery packs
  • AA/AAA batteries
  • Lithium Ion batteries
Most of the cheap FRS/GMRS radios have a NiMH rechargable battery pack and a terrible charge controller that will tend to overcharge, and thus prematurely destroy, the NiMH packs. This has long ago happened in my GMRS radios, and now I use Eneloop NiMH AAs in them (charged separately by a proper charger). The BTech, Garmin, and Motorola DLR/DTR radios all use Li-Ion batteries. These have the advantage of being more efficient batteries, though you can t necessarily just swap in AAs in a pinch. Pay attention to your charging options; if you are backpacking, for instance, you may want something that can charge from solar-powered USB or battery banks. The Motorola DLR/DTR radios need to sit in a charging cradle, but the cradle is powered by a Micro USB cable. The BTech GMRS-PRO is charged via USB-C. I don t know about the Garmin Rino or others. Garmin offers an optional AA battery pack for the Rino. BTech doesn t (yet) for the GMRS-PRO, but they do for some other models, and have stated accessories for the GMRS-PRO are coming. I don t have information about the T800. This is not an option for the DLR/DTR.

Meshtastic I ll briefly mention Meshtastic. It uses a low-power LoRa system. It can t handle voice transmissions; only data. On its own, it can transmit and receive automatic GPS updates from other Meshtastic devices, which you can view on its small screen. It forms a mesh, so each node can relay messages for others. It is also the only unit in this roundup that uses true encryption, and its battery lasts about a week more than the a solid day you can expect out of the best of the others here. When paired with a cell phone, Meshtastic can also send and receive short text messages. Meshtastic uses much less power than even the cheapest of the FRS radios discussed here. It can still achieve respectable range because it uses LoRa, which can trade bandwidth for power or range. It can take it a second or two to transmit a 50-character text message. Still, the GMRS or Motorola radios discussed here will have more than double the point-to-point range of a Meshtastic device. And, if you intend to take advantage of the text messaging features, keep in mind that you must now take two electronic devices with you and maintain a charge for them both.

Privacy The privacy picture on these is interesting.

Cell phone privacy Cell phones are difficult for individuals to eavesdrop, but a sophisticated adversary probably could: or an unsophisticated adversary with any manner of malware. Privacy on modern smartphones is a huge area of trouble, and it is safe to say that data brokers and many apps probably know at least your location and contact list, if not also the content of your messages. Though end-to-end encrypted apps such as Signal can certainly help. See Tools for Communicating Offline and in Difficult Circumstances for more details.

GMRS privacy GMRS radios are unencrypted and public. Anyone in range with another GMRS radio, or a scanner, can listen to your conversations even if you have a privacy code set. The privacy code does not actually protect your privacy; rather, it keeps your radio from playing conversations from others using the same channel, for your convenience. However, note the in range limitation. An eavesdropper would generally need to be within a few miles of you.

Motorola DLR/DTR privacy As touched on above, while these also aren t encrypted, as far as I am aware, no tools exist to eavesdrop on DLR/DTR conversations. Change the PIN away from the default 0000, ideally to something that doesn t end in 0 (to pick a different hopset) and you have pretty decent privacy right there. Decent doesn t mean perfect; it is certainly possible that sophisticated adversaries or state agencies could decode DLR/DTR traffic, since it is unencrypted. As a practical matter, though, the lack of consumer equipment that can decode this makes it be, as I say, pretty decent .

Meshtastic Meshtastic uses strong AES encryption. But as messaging features require a paired phone, the privacy implications of a phone also apply here.

Range I tested my best 5W GMRS radios, as well as a Motorola DTR600 talking to a DLR1060. (I also tried two DLR1060s talking to each other; there was no change in rnage.) I took a radio with me in the car, and had another sitting on my table indoors. Those of you familiar with radios will probably recognize that being in a car and being indoors both attenuate (reduce the strength of) the signal significantly. I drove around in a part of Kansas with gentle rolling hills. Both the GMRS and the DLR/DTR had a range of about 2-3 miles. There were times when each was able to pull out a signal when the other was not. The DLR/DTR series was significantly better while the vehicle was in motion. In weaker signal conditions, the GMRS radios were susceptible to significant picket fencing (static caused by variation in the signal strength when passing things like trees), to the point of being inaudible or losing the signal entirely. The DLR/DTR remained perfectly clear there. I was able to find some spots where, while parked, the GMRS radios had a weak but audible signal but the DLR/DTR had none. However, in all those cases, the distance to GMRS dropping out as well was small. Basically, no radios penetrate the ground, and the valleys were a problem for them all. Differences may play out in other ways in other environments as well: for instance, dense urban environments, heavy woods, indoor buildings, etc. GMRS radios can be used with repeaters, or have a rooftop antenna mounted on a car, both of which could significantly extend range and both of which are rare. The DLR/DTR series are said to be exceptionally good at indoor environments; Motorola rates them for penetrating 20 floors, for instance. Reports on MyGMRS forums state that they are able to cover an entire cruise ship, while the metal and concrete in them poses a big problem for GMRS radios. Different outdoor landscapes may favor one or the other also. Some of the cheapest FRS radios max out at about 0.5W or even less. This is probably only a little better than yelling distance in many cases. A lot of manufacturers obscure transmit power and use outlandish claims of range instead; don t believe those. Find the power output. A 2W FRS transmitter will be more credible range-wise, and the 5W GMRS transmitter as I tested better yet. Note that even GMRS radios are restricted to 0.5W on channels 8-14. The Motorola DLR/DTR radio gets about the same range with 1W as a GMRS radio does with 5W. The lower power output allows the DLR to be much smaller and lighter than a 5W GMRS radio for similar performance.

Overall conclusions Of course, what you use may depend on your needs. I d generally say:
  • For basic use, the high quality, good range, reasonable used price, and very small size of the Motorola DLR would make it a good all-arounder. Give one to each person (or kid) for use at the mall or amusement park, take them with you to concerts and festivals, etc.
  • Between vehicles, the Motorola DLR/DTR have a clear range advantage over the GMRS radios for vehicles in motion, though the GPS features of the more advanced GMRS radios may be more useful here.
  • For wilderness hiking and the like, GMRS radios that have GPS, maps, and NOAA weather radio reception may prove compelling and worth the extra bulk. More flexible power options may also be useful.
  • Low-end FRS radios can be found very cheap; around $20-$30 new for the lowest end, though their low power output and questionable charging circuits may limit their utility where it really counts.
  • If you just can t move away from cell phones, try the Zoleo app, which can provide some radio-like features.
  • A satellite communicator is still good backup safety gear for the wilderness.

Postscript: A final plug for amateur radio My 10-year-old Kenwood TH-D71A already had features none of these others have. For instance, its support for APRS and ability to act as a digipeater for APRS means that TH-D71As can form an automatic mesh between them, each one repeating new GPS positions or text messages to the others. Traditional APRS doesn t perform well in weak signal situations; however, more modern digital systems like D-Star and DMR also support APRS over more modern codecs and provide all sorts of other advantages as well (though not FHSS). My conclusions above assume a person is not going to go the amateur radio route for whatever reason. If you can get those in your group to get their license the technician is all you need a whole world of excellent options opens to you.

Appendix: The Trisquare eXRS Prior to 2012, a small company named Trisquare made a FHSS radio they called the eXRS that operated on the 900MHz band like Motorola s DLR/DTR does. Trisquare aimed at consumers and their radios were cheaper than the Motorola DLR/DTR. However, that is where the similarities end. Trisquare had an analog voice transmission, even though it used FHSS. Also, there is a problem that can arise with FHSS systems: synchronization. The receiver must hop frequencies in exactly the same order at exactly the same time as the sender. Motorola has clearly done a lot of engineering around this, and I have never encountered a synchronization problem in my DLR/DTR testing, not even once. eXRS, on the other hand, had frequent synchronization problems, which manifested themselves in weak signal conditions and sometimes with doubling. When it would happen, everyone would have to be quiet for a minute or two to give all the radios a chance to timeout and reset to the start of the hop sequence. In addition, the eXRS hardware wasn t great, and was susceptible to hardware failure. There are some that still view eXRS as a legendary device and hoard them. You can still find them used on eBay. When eXRS came out in 2007, it was indeed nice technology for the day, ahead of its time in some ways. I used and loved the eXRS radios back then; powerful GMRS wasn t all that common. But compared to today s technology, eXRS has inferior range to both GMRS and Motorola DLR/DTR (from my recollection, about a third to half of what I get with today s GMRS and DLR/DTR), is prone to finicky synchronization issues when signals are weak, and isn t made very robustly. I therefore don t recommend the eBay eXRS units. Don t assume that the eXRS weaknesses extend to Motorola DLR/DTR. The DLR/DTR radios are done well and don t suffer from the same problems. Note: This article has a long-term home on my website, where it may be updated from time to time.

29 June 2022

Aigars Mahinovs: Long travel in an electric car

Since the first week of April 2022 I have (finally!) changed my company car from a plug-in hybrid to a fully electic car. My new ride, for the next two years, is a BMW i4 M50 in Aventurine Red metallic. An ellegant car with very deep and memorable color, insanely powerful (544 hp/795 Nm), sub-4 second 0-100 km/h, large 84 kWh battery (80 kWh usable), charging up to 210 kW, top speed of 225 km/h and also very efficient (which came out best in this trip) with WLTP range of 510 km and EVDB real range of 435 km. The car also has performance tyres (Hankook Ventus S1 evo3 245/45R18 100Y XL in front and 255/45R18 103Y XL in rear all at recommended 2.5 bar) that have reduced efficiency. So I wanted to document and describe how was it for me to travel ~2000 km (one way) with this, electric, car from south of Germany to north of Latvia. I have done this trip many times before since I live in Germany now and travel back to my relatives in Latvia 1-2 times per year. This was the first time I made this trip in an electric car. And as this trip includes both travelling in Germany (where BEV infrastructure is best in the world) and across Eastern/Northen Europe, I believe that this can be interesting to a few people out there. Normally when I travelled this trip with a gasoline/diesel car I would normally drive for two days with an intermediate stop somewhere around Warsaw with about 12 hours of travel time in each day. This would normally include a couple bathroom stops in each day, at least one longer lunch stop and 3-4 refueling stops on top of that. Normally this would use at least 6 liters of fuel per 100 km on average with total usage of about 270 liters for the whole trip (or about 540 just in fuel costs, nowadays). My (personal) quirk is that both fuel and recharging of my (business) car inside Germany is actually paid by my employer, so it is useful for me to charge up (or fill up) at the last station in Gemany before driving on. The plan for this trip was made in a similar way as when travelling with a gasoline car: travelling as fast as possible on German Autobahn network to last chargin stop on the A4 near G rlitz, there charging up as much as reasonable and then travelling to a hotel in Warsaw, charging there overnight and travelling north towards Ionity chargers in Lithuania from where reaching the final target in north of Latvia should be possible. How did this plan meet the reality? Travelling inside Germany with an electric car was basically perfect. The most efficient way would involve driving fast and hard with top speed of even 180 km/h (where possible due to speed limits and traffic). BMW i4 is very efficient at high speeds with consumption maxing out at 28 kWh/100km when you actually drive at this speed all the time. In real situation in this trip we saw consumption of 20.8-22.2 kWh/100km in the first legs of the trip. The more traffic there is, the more speed limits and roadworks, the lower is the average speed and also the lower the consumption. With this kind of consumption we could comfortably drive 2 hours as fast as we could and then pick any fast charger along the route and in 26 minutes at a charger (50 kWh charged total) we'd be ready to drive for another 2 hours. This lines up very well with recommended rest stops for biological reasons (bathroom, water or coffee, a bit of movement to get blood circulating) and very close to what I had to do anyway with a gasoline car. With a gasoline car I had to refuel first, then park, then go to bathroom and so on. With an electric car I can do all of that while the car is charging and in the end the total time for a stop is very similar. Also not that there was a crazy heat wave going on and temperature outside was at about 34C minimum the whole day and hitting 40C at one point of the trip, so a lot of power was used for cooling. The car has a heat pump standard, but it still was working hard to keep us cool in the sun. The car was able to plan a charging route with all the charging stops required and had all the good options (like multiple intermediate stops) that many other cars (hi Tesla) and mobile apps (hi Google and Apple) do not have yet. There are a couple bugs with charging route and display of current route guidance, those are already fixed and will be delivered with over the air update with July 2022 update. Another good alterantive is the ABRP (A Better Route Planner) that was specifically designed for electric car routing along the best route for charging. Most phone apps (like Google Maps) have no idea about your specific electric car - it has no idea about the battery capacity, charging curve and is missing key live data as well - what is the current consumption and remaining energy in the battery. ABRP is different - it has data and profiles for almost all electric cars and can also be linked to live vehicle data, either via a OBD dongle or via a new Tronity cloud service. Tronity reads data from vehicle-specific cloud service, such as MyBMW service, saves it, tracks history and also re-transmits it to ABRP for live navigation planning. ABRP allows for options and settings that no car or app offers, for example, saying that you want to stop at a particular place for an hour or until battery is charged to 90%, or saying that you have specific charging cards and would only want to stop at chargers that support those. Both the car and the ABRP also support alternate routes even with multiple intermediate stops. In comparison, route planning by Google Maps or Apple Maps or Waze or even Tesla does not really come close. After charging up in the last German fast charger, a more interesting part of the trip started. In Poland the density of high performance chargers (HPC) is much lower than in Germany. There are many chargers (west of Warsaw), but vast majority of them are (relatively) slow 50kW chargers. And that is a difference between putting 50kWh into the car in 23-26 minutes or in 60 minutes. It does not seem too much, but the key bit here is that for 20 minutes there is easy to find stuff that should be done anyway, but after that you are done and you are just waiting for the car and if that takes 4 more minutes or 40 more minutes is a big, perceptual, difference. So using HPC is much, much preferable. So we put in the Ionity charger near Lodz as our intermediate target and the car suggested an intermediate stop at a Greenway charger by Katy Wroclawskie. The location is a bit weird - it has 4 charging stations with 150 kW each. The weird bits are that each station has two CCS connectors, but only one parking place (and the connectors share power, so if two cars were to connect, each would get half power). Also from the front of the location one can only see two stations, the otehr two are semi-hidden around a corner. We actually missed them on the way to Latvia and one person actually waited for the charger behind us for about 10 minutes. We only discovered the other two stations on the way back. With slower speeds in Poland the consumption goes down to 18 kWh/100km which translates to now up to 3 hours driving between stops. At the end of the first day we drove istarting from Ulm from 9:30 in the morning until about 23:00 in the evening with total distance of about 1100 km, 5 charging stops, starting with 92% battery, charging for 26 min (50 kWh), 33 min (57 kWh + lunch), 17 min (23 kWh), 12 min (17 kWh) and 13 min (37 kW). In the last two chargers you can see the difference between a good and fast 150 kW charger at high battery charge level and a really fast Ionity charger at low battery charge level, which makes charging faster still. Arriving to hotel with 23% of battery. Overnight the car charged from a Porsche Destination Charger to 87% (57 kWh). That was a bit less than I would expect from a full power 11kW charger, but good enough. Hotels should really install 11kW Type2 chargers for their guests, it is a really significant bonus that drives more clients to you. The road between Warsaw and Kaunas is the most difficult part of the trip for both driving itself and also for charging. For driving the problem is that there will be a new highway going from Warsaw to Lithuanian border, but it is actually not fully ready yet. So parts of the way one drives on the new, great and wide highway and parts of the way one drives on temporary roads or on old single lane undivided roads. And the most annoying part is navigating between parts as signs are not always clear and the maps are either too old or too new. Some maps do not have the new roads and others have on the roads that have not been actually build or opened to traffic yet. It's really easy to loose ones way and take a significant detour. As far as charging goes, basically there is only the slow 50 kW chargers between Warsaw and Kaunas (for now). We chose to charge on the last charger in Poland, by Suwalki Kaufland. That was not a good idea - there is only one 50 kW CCS and many people decide the same, so there can be a wait. We had to wait 17 minutes before we could charge for 30 more minutes just to get 18 kWh into the battery. Not the best use of time. On the way back we chose a different charger in Lomza where would have a relaxed dinner while the car was charging. That was far more relaxing and a better use of time. We also tried charging at an Orlen charger that was not recommended by our car and we found out why. Unlike all other chargers during our entire trip, this charger did not accept our universal BMW Charging RFID card. Instead it demanded that we download their own Orlen app and register there. The app is only available in some countries (and not in others) and on iPhone it is only available in Polish. That is a bad exception to the rule and a bad example. This is also how most charging works in USA. Here in Europe that is not normal. The normal is to use a charging card - either provided from the car maker or from another supplier (like PlugSufring or Maingau Energy). The providers then make roaming arrangements with all the charging networks, so the cards just work everywhere. In the end the user gets the prices and the bills from their card provider as a single monthly bill. This also saves all any credit card charges for the user. Having a clear, separate RFID card also means that one can easily choose how to pay for each charging session. For example, I have a corporate RFID card that my company pays for (for charging in Germany) and a private BMW Charging card that I am paying myself for (for charging abroad). Having the car itself authenticate direct with the charger (like Tesla does) removes the option to choose how to pay. Having each charge network have to use their own app or token bring too much chaos and takes too much setup. The optimum is having one card that works everywhere and having the option to have additional card or cards for specific purposes. Reaching Ionity chargers in Lithuania is again a breath of fresh air - 20-24 minutes to charge 50 kWh is as expected. One can charge on the first Ionity just enough to reach the next one and then on the second charger one can charge up enough to either reach the Ionity charger in Adazi or the final target in Latvia. There is a huge number of CSDD (Road Traffic and Safety Directorate) managed chargers all over Latvia, but they are 50 kW chargers. Good enough for local travel, but not great for long distance trips. BMW i4 charges at over 50 kW on a HPC even at over 90% battery state of charge (SoC). This means that it is always faster to charge up in a HPC than in a 50 kW charger, if that is at all possible. We also tested the CSDD chargers - they worked without any issues. One could pay with the BMW Charging RFID card, one could use the CSDD e-mobi app or token and one could also use Mobilly - an app that you can use in Latvia for everything from parking to public transport tickets or museums or car washes. We managed to reach our final destination near Aluksne with 17% range remaining after just 3 charging stops: 17+30 min (18 kWh), 24 min (48 kWh), 28 min (36 kWh). Last stop we charged to 90% which took a few extra minutes that would have been optimal. For travel around in Latvia we were charging at our target farmhouse from a normal 3 kW Schuko EU socket. That is very slow. We charged for 33 hours and went from 17% to 94%, so not really full. That was perfectly fine for our purposes. We easily reached Riga, drove to the sea and then back to Aluksne with 8% still in reserve and started charging again for the next trip. If it were required to drive around more and charge faster, we could have used the normal 3-phase 440V connection in the farmhouse to have a red CEE 16A plug installed (same as people use for welders). BMW i4 comes standard with a new BMW Flexible Fast Charger that has changable socket adapters. It comes by default with a Schucko connector in Europe, but for 90 one can buy an adapter for blue CEE plug (3.7 kW) or red CEE 16A or 32A plugs (11 kW). Some public charging stations in France actually use the blue CEE plugs instead of more common Type2 electric car charging stations. The CEE plugs are also common in camping parking places. On the way back the long distance BEV travel was already well understood and did not cause us any problem. From our destination we could easily reach the first Ionity in Lithuania, on the Panevezhis bypass road where in just 8 minutes we got 19 kWh and were ready to drive on to Kaunas, there a longer 32 minute stop before the charging desert of Suwalki Gap that gave us 52 kWh to 90%. That brought us to a shopping mall in Lomzha where we had some food and charged up 39 kWh in lazy 50 minutes. That was enough to bring us to our return hotel for the night - Hotel 500W in Strykow by Lodz that has a 50kW charger on site, while we were having late dinner and preparing for sleep, the car easily recharged to full (71 kWh in 95 minutes), so I just moved it from charger to a parking spot just before going to sleep. Really easy and well flowing day. Second day back went even better as we just needed an 18 minute stop at the same Katy Wroclawskie charger as before to get 22 kWh and that was enough to get back to Germany. After that we were again flying on the Autobahn and charging as needed, 15 min (31 kWh), 23 min (48 kWh) and 31 min (54 kWh + food). We started the day on about 9:40 and were home at 21:40 after driving just over 1000 km on that day. So less than 12 hours for 1000 km travelled, including all charging, bio stops, food and some traffic jams as well. Not bad. Now let's take a look at all the apps and data connections that a technically minded customer can have for their car. Architecturally the car is a network of computers by itself, but it is very secured and normally people do not have any direct access. However, once you log in into the car with your BMW account the car gets your profile info and preferences (seat settings, navigation favorites, ...) and the car then also can start sending information to the BMW backend about its status. This information is then available to the user over multiple different channels. There is no separate channel for each of those data flow. The data only goes once to the backend and then all other communication of apps happens with the backend. First of all the MyBMW app. This is the go-to for everything about the car - seeing its current status and location (when not driving), sending commands to the car (lock, unlock, flash lights, pre-condition, ...) and also monitor and control charging processes. You can also plan a route or destination in the app in advance and then just send it over to the car so it already knows where to drive to when you get to the car. This can also integrate with calendar entries, if you have locations for appointments, for example. This also shows full charging history and allows a very easy export of that data, here I exported all charging sessions from June and then trimmed it back to only sessions relevant to the trip and cut off some design elements to have the data more visible. So one can very easily see when and where we were charging, how much power we got at each spot and (if you set prices for locations) can even show costs. I've already mentioned the Tronity service and its ABRP integration, but it also saves the information that it gets from the car and gathers that data over time. It has nice aspects, like showing the driven routes on a map, having ways to do business trip accounting and having good calendar view. Sadly it does not correctly capture the data for charging sessions (the amounts are incorrect). Update: after talking to Tronity support, it looks like the bug was in the incorrect value for the usable battery capacity for my car. They will look into getting th eright values there by default, but as a workaround one can edit their car in their system (after at least one charging session) and directly set the expected battery capacity (usable) in the car properties on the Tronity web portal settings. One other fun way to see data from your BMW is using the BMW integration in Home Assistant. This brings the car as a device in your own smart home. You can read all the variables from the car current status (and Home Asisstant makes cute historical charts) and you can even see interesting trends, for example for remaining range shows much higher value in Latvia as its prediction is adapted to Latvian road speeds and during the trip it adapts to Polish and then to German road speeds and thus to higher consumption and thus lower maximum predicted remaining range. Having the car attached to the Home Assistant also allows you to attach the car to automations, both as data and event source (like detecting when car enters the "Home" zone) and also as target, so you could flash car lights or even unlock or lock it when certain conditions are met. So, what in the end was the most important thing - cost of the trip? In total we charged up 863 kWh, so that would normally cost one about 290 , which is close to half what this trip would have costed with a gasoline car. Out of that 279 kWh in Germany (paid by my employer) and 154 kWh in the farmhouse (paid by our wonderful relatives :D) so in the end the charging that I actually need to pay adds up to 430 kWh or about 150 . Typically, it took about 400 in fuel that I had to pay to get to Latvia and back. The difference is really nice! In the end I believe that there are three different ways of charging:
  • incidental charging - this is wast majority of charging in the normal day-to-day life. The car gets charged when and where it is convinient to do so along the way. If we go to a movie or a shop and there is a chance to leave the car at a charger, then it can charge up. Works really well, does not take extra time for charging from us.
  • fast charging - charging up at a HPC during optimal charging conditions - from relatively low level to no more than 70-80% while you are still doing all the normal things one would do in a quick stop in a long travel process: bio things, cleaning the windscreen, getting a coffee or a snack.
  • necessary charging - charging from a whatever charger is available just enough to be able to reach the next destination or the next fast charger.
The last category is the only one that is really annoying and should be avoided at all costs. Even by shifting your plans so that you find something else useful to do while necessary charging is happening and thus, at least partially, shifting it over to incidental charging category. Then you are no longer just waiting for the car, you are doing something else and the car magically is charged up again. And when one does that, then travelling with an electric car becomes no more annoying than travelling with a gasoline car. Having more breaks in a trip is a good thing and makes the trips actually easier and less stressfull - I was more relaxed during and after this trip than during previous trips. Having the car air conditioning always be on, even when stopped, was a godsend in the insane heat wave of 30C-38C that we were driving trough. Final stats: 4425 km driven in the trip. Average consumption: 18.7 kWh/100km. Time driving: 2 days and 3 hours. Car regened 152 kWh. Charging stations recharged 863 kWh. Questions? You can use this i4talk forum thread or this Twitter thread to ask them to me.

20 May 2022

Louis-Philippe V ronneau: Introducing metalfinder

After going to an incredible Arch Enemy / Behemoth / Napalm Death / Unto Others concert a few weeks ago, I decided I wanted to go to more concerts. I like music, and I really enjoy concerts. Sadly, I often miss great performances because no one told me about it, or my local newspaper didn't cover the event enough in advance for me to get tickets. Some online services lets you sync your Spotify account to notify you when a new concert is announced, but I don't use Spotify. As a music geek, I have a local music collection and if I need to stream it, I have a supysonic server. Introducing metalfinder, a cli tool to find concerts using your local music collection! At the moment, it scans your music collection, creates a list of artists and queries Bandsintown for concerts in your town. Multiple output formats are supported, but I mainly use the ATOM one, as I'm a heavy feed reader user. Screenshot of the ATOM output in my feed reader The current metalfinder version (1.1.1) is a MVP: it works well enough, but I still have a lot of work to do... If you want to give it a try, the easiest way is to download it from PyPi. metalfinder is also currently in NEW and I'm planning to have something feature complete in time for the Bookworm freeze.

2 March 2022

Petter Reinholdtsen: Run your industrial metal working machine using Debian?

After many months of hard work by the good people involved in LinuxCNC, the system was accepted Sunday into Debian. Once it was available from Debian, I was surprised to discover from its popularity-contest numbers that people have been reporting its use since 2012. Its project site might be a good place to check out, but sadly is not working when visiting via Tor. But what is LinuxCNC, you are probably wondering? Perhaps a Wikipedia quote is in place?
"LinuxCNC is a software system for numerical control of machines such as milling machines, lathes, plasma cutters, routers, cutting machines, robots and hexapods. It can control up to 9 axes or joints of a CNC machine using G-code (RS-274NGC) as input. It has several GUIs suited to specific kinds of usage (touch screen, interactive development)."
It can even control 3D printers. And even though the Wikipedia page indicate that it can only work with hard real time kernel features, it can also work with the user space soft real time features provided by the Debian kernel. The source code is available from Github. The last few months I've been involved in the translation setup for the program and documentation. Translators are most welcome to join the effort using Weblate. As usual, if you use Bitcoin and want to show your support of my activities, please send Bitcoin donations to my address 15oWEoG9dUPovwmUL9KWAnYRtNJEkP1u1b.

Petter Reinholdtsen: Run your industrial metal working machine using Debian?

After many months of hard work by the good people involved in LinuxCNC, the system was accepted Sunday into Debian. Once it was available from Debian, I was surprised to discover from its popularity-contest numbers that people have been reporting its use since 2012. Its project site might be a good place to check out, but sadly is not working when visiting via Tor. But what is LinuxCNC, you are probably wondering? Perhaps a Wikipedia quote is in place?
"LinuxCNC is a software system for numerical control of machines such as milling machines, lathes, plasma cutters, routers, cutting machines, robots and hexapods. It can control up to 9 axes or joints of a CNC machine using G-code (RS-274NGC) as input. It has several GUIs suited to specific kinds of usage (touch screen, interactive development)."
It can even control 3D printers. And even though the Wikipedia page indicate that it can only work with hard real time kernel features, it can also work with the user space soft real time features provided by the Debian kernel. The source code is available from Github. The last few months I've been involved in the translation setup for the program and documentation. Translators are most welcome to join the effort using Weblate. As usual, if you use Bitcoin and want to show your support of my activities, please send Bitcoin donations to my address 15oWEoG9dUPovwmUL9KWAnYRtNJEkP1u1b.

16 January 2022

Chris Lamb: Favourite films of 2021

In my four most recent posts, I went over the memoirs and biographies, the non-fiction, the fiction and the 'classic' novels that I enjoyed reading the most in 2021. But in the very last of my 2021 roundup posts, I'll be going over some of my favourite movies. (Saying that, these are perhaps less of my 'favourite films' than the ones worth remarking on after all, nobody needs to hear that The Godfather is a good movie.) It's probably helpful to remark you that I took a self-directed course in film history in 2021, based around the first volume of Roger Ebert's The Great Movies. This collection of 100-odd movie essays aims to make a tour of the landmarks of the first century of cinema, and I watched all but a handul before the year was out. I am slowly making my way through volume two in 2022. This tome was tremendously useful, and not simply due to the background context that Ebert added to each film: it also brought me into contact with films I would have hardly come through some other means. Would I have ever discovered the sly comedy of Trouble in Paradise (1932) or the touching proto-realism of L'Atalante (1934) any other way? It also helped me to 'get around' to watching films I may have put off watching forever the influential Battleship Potemkin (1925), for instance, and the ur-epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962) spring to mind here. Choosing a 'worst' film is perhaps more difficult than choosing the best. There are first those that left me completely dry (Ready or Not, Written on the Wind, etc.), and those that were simply poorly executed. And there are those that failed to meet their own high opinions of themselves, such as the 'made for Reddit' Tenet (2020) or the inscrutable Vanilla Sky (2001) the latter being an almost perfect example of late-20th century cultural exhaustion. But I must save my most severe judgement for those films where I took a visceral dislike how their subjects were portrayed. The sexually problematic Sixteen Candles (1984) and the pseudo-Catholic vigilantism of The Boondock Saints (1999) both spring to mind here, the latter of which combines so many things I dislike into such a short running time I'd need an entire essay to adequately express how much I disliked it.

Dogtooth (2009) A father, a mother, a brother and two sisters live in a large and affluent house behind a very high wall and an always-locked gate. Only the father ever leaves the property, driving to the factory that he happens to own. Dogtooth goes far beyond any allusion to Josef Fritzl's cellar, though, as the children's education is a grotesque parody of home-schooling. Here, the parents deliberately teach their children the wrong meaning of words (e.g. a yellow flower is called a 'zombie'), all of which renders the outside world utterly meaningless and unreadable, and completely mystifying its very existence. It is this creepy strangeness within a 'regular' family unit in Dogtooth that is both socially and epistemically horrific, and I'll say nothing here of its sexual elements as well. Despite its cold, inscrutable and deadpan surreality, Dogtooth invites all manner of potential interpretations. Is this film about the artificiality of the nuclear family that the West insists is the benchmark of normality? Or is it, as I prefer to believe, something more visceral altogether: an allegory for the various forms of ontological violence wrought by fascism, as well a sobering nod towards some of fascism's inherent appeals? (Perhaps it is both. In 1972, French poststructuralists Gilles and F lix Guattari wrote Anti-Oedipus, which plays with the idea of the family unit as a metaphor for the authoritarian state.) The Greek-language Dogtooth, elegantly shot, thankfully provides no easy answers.

Holy Motors (2012) There is an infamous scene in Un Chien Andalou, the 1929 film collaboration between Luis Bu uel and famed artist Salvador Dal . A young woman is cornered in her own apartment by a threatening man, and she reaches for a tennis racquet in self-defence. But the man suddenly picks up two nearby ropes and drags into the frame two large grand pianos... each leaden with a dead donkey, a stone tablet, a pumpkin and a bewildered priest. This bizarre sketch serves as a better introduction to Leos Carax's Holy Motors than any elementary outline of its plot, which ostensibly follows 24 hours in the life of a man who must play a number of extremely diverse roles around Paris... all for no apparent reason. (And is he even a man?) Surrealism as an art movement gets a pretty bad wrap these days, and perhaps justifiably so. But Holy Motors and Un Chien Andalou serve as a good reminder that surrealism can be, well, 'good, actually'. And if not quite high art, Holy Motors at least demonstrates that surrealism can still unnerving and hilariously funny. Indeed, recalling the whimsy of the plot to a close friend, the tears of laughter came unbidden to my eyes once again. ("And then the limousines...!") Still, it is unclear how Holy Motors truly refreshes surrealism for the twenty-first century. Surrealism was, in part, a reaction to the mechanical and unfeeling brutality of World War I and ultimately sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind. Holy Motors cannot be responding to another continental conflagration, and so it appears to me to be some kind of commentary on the roles we exhibit in an era of 'post-postmodernity': a sketch on our age of performative authenticity, perhaps, or an idle doodle on the function and psychosocial function of work. Or perhaps not. After all, this film was produced in a time that offers the near-universal availability of mind-altering substances, and this certainly changes the context in which this film was both created. And, how can I put it, was intended to be watched.

Manchester by the Sea (2016) An absolutely devastating portrayal of a character who is unable to forgive himself and is hesitant to engage with anyone ever again. It features a near-ideal balance between portraying unrecoverable anguish and tender warmth, and is paradoxically grandiose in its subtle intimacy. The mechanics of life led me to watch this lying on a bed in a chain hotel by Heathrow Airport, and if this colourless circumstance blunted the film's emotional impact on me, I am probably thankful for it. Indeed, I find myself reduced in this review to fatuously recalling my favourite interactions instead of providing any real commentary. You could write a whole essay about one particular incident: its surfaces, subtexts and angles... all despite nothing of any substance ever being communicated. Truly stunning.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) Roger Ebert called this movie one of the saddest films I have ever seen, filled with a yearning for love and home that will not ever come. But whilst it is difficult to disagree with his sentiment, Ebert's choice of sad is somehow not quite the right word. Indeed, I've long regretted that our dictionaries don't have more nuanced blends of tragedy and sadness; perhaps the Ancient Greeks can loan us some. Nevertheless, the plot of this film is of a gambler and a prostitute who become business partners in a new and remote mining town called Presbyterian Church. However, as their town and enterprise booms, it comes to the attention of a large mining corporation who want to bully or buy their way into the action. What makes this film stand out is not the plot itself, however, but its mood and tone the town and its inhabitants seem to be thrown together out of raw lumber, covered alternatively in mud or frozen ice, and their days (and their personalities) are both short and dark in equal measure. As a brief aside, if you haven't seen a Roger Altman film before, this has all the trappings of being a good introduction. As Ebert went on to observe: This is not the kind of movie where the characters are introduced. They are all already here. Furthermore, we can see some of Altman's trademark conversations that overlap, a superb handling of ensemble casts, and a quietly subversive view of the tyranny of 'genre'... and the latter in a time when the appetite for revisionist portrays of the West was not very strong. All of these 'Altmanian' trademarks can be ordered in much stronger measures in his later films: in particular, his comedy-drama Nashville (1975) has 24 main characters, and my jejune interpretation of Gosford Park (2001) is that it is purposefully designed to poke fun those who take a reductionist view of 'genre', or at least on the audience's expectations. (In this case, an Edwardian-era English murder mystery in the style of Agatha Christie, but where no real murder or detection really takes place.) On the other hand, McCabe & Mrs. Miller is actually a poor introduction to Altman. The story is told in a suitable deliberate and slow tempo, and the two stars of the film are shown thoroughly defrocked of any 'star status', in both the visual and moral dimensions. All of these traits are, however, this film's strength, adding up to a credible, fascinating and riveting portrayal of the old West.

Detour (1945) Detour was filmed in less than a week, and it's difficult to decide out of the actors and the screenplay which is its weakest point.... Yet it still somehow seemed to drag me in. The plot revolves around luckless Al who is hitchhiking to California. Al gets a lift from a man called Haskell who quickly falls down dead from a heart attack. Al quickly buries the body and takes Haskell's money, car and identification, believing that the police will believe Al murdered him. An unstable element is soon introduced in the guise of Vera, who, through a set of coincidences that stretches credulity, knows that this 'new' Haskell (ie. Al pretending to be him) is not who he seems. Vera then attaches herself to Al in order to blackmail him, and the world starts to spin out of his control. It must be understood that none of this is executed very well. Rather, what makes Detour so interesting to watch is that its 'errors' lend a distinctively creepy and unnatural hue to the film. Indeed, in the early twentieth century, Sigmund Freud used the word unheimlich to describe the experience of something that is not simply mysterious, but something creepy in a strangely familiar way. This is almost the perfect description of watching Detour its eerie nature means that we are not only frequently second-guessed about where the film is going, but are often uncertain whether we are watching the usual objective perspective offered by cinema. In particular, are all the ham-fisted segues, stilted dialogue and inscrutable character motivations actually a product of Al inventing a story for the viewer? Did he murder Haskell after all, despite the film 'showing' us that Haskell died of natural causes? In other words, are we watching what Al wants us to believe? Regardless of the answers to these questions, the film succeeds precisely because of its accidental or inadvertent choices, so it is an implicit reminder that seeking the director's original intention in any piece of art is a complete mirage. Detour is certainly not a good film, but it just might be a great one. (It is a short film too, and, out of copyright, it is available online for free.)

Safe (1995) Safe is a subtly disturbing film about an upper-middle-class housewife who begins to complain about vague symptoms of illness. Initially claiming that she doesn't feel right, Carol starts to have unexplained headaches, a dry cough and nosebleeds, and eventually begins to have trouble breathing. Carol's family doctor treats her concerns with little care, and suggests to her husband that she sees a psychiatrist. Yet Carol's episodes soon escalate. For example, as a 'homemaker' and with nothing else to occupy her, Carol's orders a new couch for a party. But when the store delivers the wrong one (although it is not altogether clear that they did), Carol has a near breakdown. Unsure where to turn, an 'allergist' tells Carol she has "Environmental Illness," and so Carol eventually checks herself into a new-age commune filled with alternative therapies. On the surface, Safe is thus a film about the increasing about of pesticides and chemicals in our lives, something that was clearly felt far more viscerally in the 1990s. But it is also a film about how lack of genuine healthcare for women must be seen as a critical factor in the rise of crank medicine. (Indeed, it made for something of an uncomfortable watch during the coronavirus lockdown.) More interestingly, however, Safe gently-yet-critically examines the psychosocial causes that may be aggravating Carol's illnesses, including her vacant marriage, her hollow friends and the 'empty calorie' stimulus of suburbia. None of this should be especially new to anyone: the gendered Victorian term 'hysterical' is often all but spoken throughout this film, and perhaps from the very invention of modern medicine, women's symptoms have often regularly minimised or outright dismissed. (Hilary Mantel's 2003 memoir, Giving Up the Ghost is especially harrowing on this.) As I opened this review, the film is subtle in its messaging. Just to take one example from many, the sound of the cars is always just a fraction too loud: there's a scene where a group is eating dinner with a road in the background, and the total effect can be seen as representing the toxic fumes of modernity invading our social lives and health. I won't spoiler the conclusion of this quietly devasting film, but don't expect a happy ending.

The Driver (1978) Critics grossly misunderstood The Driver when it was first released. They interpreted the cold and unemotional affect of the characters with the lack of developmental depth, instead of representing their dissociation from the society around them. This reading was encouraged by the fact that the principal actors aren't given real names and are instead known simply by their archetypes instead: 'The Driver', 'The Detective', 'The Player' and so on. This sort of quasi-Jungian erudition is common in many crime films today (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, Layer Cake, Fight Club), so the critics' misconceptions were entirely reasonable in 1978. The plot of The Driver involves the eponymous Driver, a noted getaway driver for robberies in Los Angeles. His exceptional talent has far prevented him from being captured thus far, so the Detective attempts to catch the Driver by pardoning another gang if they help convict the Driver via a set-up robbery. To give himself an edge, however, The Driver seeks help from the femme fatale 'Player' in order to mislead the Detective. If this all sounds eerily familiar, you would not be far wrong. The film was essentially remade by Nicolas Winding Refn as Drive (2011) and in Edgar Wright's 2017 Baby Driver. Yet The Driver offers something that these neon-noir variants do not. In particular, the car chases around Los Angeles are some of the most captivating I've seen: they aren't thrilling in the sense of tyre squeals, explosions and flying boxes, but rather the vehicles come across like wild animals hunting one another. This feels especially so when the police are hunting The Driver, which feels less like a low-stakes game of cat and mouse than a pack of feral animals working together a gang who will tear apart their prey if they find him. In contrast to the undercar neon glow of the Fast & Furious franchise, the urban realism backdrop of the The Driver's LA metropolis contributes to a sincere feeling of artistic fidelity as well. To be sure, most of this is present in the truly-excellent Drive, where the chase scenes do really communicate a credible sense of stakes. But the substitution of The Driver's grit with Drive's soft neon tilts it slightly towards that common affliction of crime movies: style over substance. Nevertheless, I can highly recommend watching The Driver and Drive together, as it can tell you a lot about the disconnected socioeconomic practices of the 1980s compared to the 2010s. More than that, however, the pseudo-1980s synthwave soundtrack of Drive captures something crucial to analysing the world of today. In particular, these 'sounds from the past filtered through the present' bring to mind the increasing role of nostalgia for lost futures in the culture of today, where temporality and pop culture references are almost-exclusively citational and commemorational.

The Souvenir (2019) The ostensible outline of this quietly understated film follows a shy but ambitious film student who falls into an emotionally fraught relationship with a charismatic but untrustworthy older man. But that doesn't quite cover the plot at all, for not only is The Souvenir a film about a young artist who is inspired, derailed and ultimately strengthened by a toxic relationship, it is also partly a coming-of-age drama, a subtle portrait of class and, finally, a film about the making of a film. Still, one of the geniuses of this truly heartbreaking movie is that none of these many elements crowds out the other. It never, ever feels rushed. Indeed, there are many scenes where the camera simply 'sits there' and quietly observes what is going on. Other films might smother themselves through references to 18th-century oil paintings, but The Souvenir somehow evades this too. And there's a certain ring of credibility to the story as well, no doubt in part due to the fact it is based on director Joanna Hogg's own experiences at film school. A beautifully observed and multi-layered film; I'll be happy if the sequel is one-half as good.

The Wrestler (2008) Randy 'The Ram' Robinson is long past his prime, but he is still rarin' to go in the local pro-wrestling circuit. Yet after a brutal beating that seriously threatens his health, Randy hangs up his tights and pursues a serious relationship... and even tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter. But Randy can't resist the lure of the ring, and readies himself for a comeback. The stage is thus set for Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, which is essentially about what drives Randy back to the ring. To be sure, Randy derives much of his money from wrestling as well as his 'fitness', self-image, self-esteem and self-worth. Oh, it's no use insisting that wrestling is fake, for the sport is, needless to say, Randy's identity; it's not for nothing that this film is called The Wrestler. In a number of ways, The Sound of Metal (2019) is both a reaction to (and a quiet remake of) The Wrestler, if only because both movies utilise 'cool' professions to explore such questions of identity. But perhaps simply when The Wrestler was produced makes it the superior film. Indeed, the role of time feels very important for the Wrestler. In the first instance, time is clearly taking its toll on Randy's body, but I felt it more strongly in the sense this was very much a pre-2008 film, released on the cliff-edge of the global financial crisis, and the concomitant precarity of the 2010s. Indeed, it is curious to consider that you couldn't make The Wrestler today, although not because the relationship to work has changed in any fundamentalway. (Indeed, isn't it somewhat depressing the realise that, since the start of the pandemic and the 'work from home' trend to one side, we now require even more people to wreck their bodies and mental health to cover their bills?) No, what I mean to say here is that, post-2016, you cannot portray wrestling on-screen without, how can I put it, unwelcome connotations. All of which then reminds me of Minari's notorious red hat... But I digress. The Wrestler is a grittily stark darkly humorous look into the life of a desperate man and a sorrowful world, all through one tragic profession.

Thief (1981) Frank is an expert professional safecracker and specialises in high-profile diamond heists. He plans to use his ill-gotten gains to retire from crime and build a life for himself with a wife and kids, so he signs on with a top gangster for one last big score. This, of course, could be the plot to any number of heist movies, but Thief does something different. Similar to The Wrestler and The Driver (see above) and a number of other films that I watched this year, Thief seems to be saying about our relationship to work and family in modernity and postmodernity. Indeed, the 'heist film', we are told, is an understudied genre, but part of the pleasure of watching these films is said to arise from how they portray our desired relationship to work. In particular, Frank's desire to pull off that last big job feels less about the money it would bring him, but a displacement from (or proxy for) fulfilling some deep-down desire to have a family or indeed any relationship at all. Because in theory, of course, Frank could enter into a fulfilling long-term relationship right away, without stealing millions of dollars in diamonds... but that's kinda the entire point: Frank needing just one more theft is an excuse to not pursue a relationship and put it off indefinitely in favour of 'work'. (And being Federal crimes, it also means Frank cannot put down meaningful roots in a community.) All this is communicated extremely subtly in the justly-lauded lowkey diner scene, by far the best scene in the movie. The visual aesthetic of Thief is as if you set The Warriors (1979) in a similarly-filthy Chicago, with the Xenophon-inspired plot of The Warriors replaced with an almost deliberate lack of plot development... and the allure of The Warriors' fantastical criminal gangs (with their alluringly well-defined social identities) substituted by a bunch of amoral individuals with no solidarity beyond the immediate moment. A tale of our time, perhaps. I should warn you that the ending of Thief is famously weak, but this is a gritty, intelligent and strangely credible heist movie before you get there.

Uncut Gems (2019) The most exhausting film I've seen in years; the cinematic equivalent of four cups of double espresso, I didn't even bother even trying to sleep after downing Uncut Gems late one night. Directed by the two Safdie Brothers, it often felt like I was watching two films that had been made at the same time. (Or do I mean two films at 2X speed?) No, whatever clumsy metaphor you choose to adopt, the unavoidable effect of this film's finely-tuned chaos is an uncompromising and anxiety-inducing piece of cinema. The plot follows Howard as a man lost to his countless vices mostly gambling with a significant side hustle in adultery, but you get the distinct impression he would be happy with anything that will give him another high. A true junkie's junkie, you might say. You know right from the beginning it's going to end in some kind of disaster, the only question remaining is precisely how and what. Portrayed by an (almost unrecognisable) Adam Sandler, there's an uncanny sense of distance in the emotional chasm between 'Sandler-as-junkie' and 'Sandler-as-regular-star-of-goofy-comedies'. Yet instead of being distracting and reducing the film's affect, this possibly-deliberate intertextuality somehow adds to the masterfully-controlled mayhem. My heart races just at the memory. Oof.

Woman in the Dunes (1964) I ended up watching three films that feature sand this year: Denis Villeneuve's Dune (2021), Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Woman in the Dunes. But it is this last 1964 film by Hiroshi Teshigahara that will stick in my mind in the years to come. Sure, there is none of the Medician intrigue of Dune or the Super Panavision-70 of Lawrence of Arabia (or its quasi-orientalist score, itself likely stolen from Anton Bruckner's 6th Symphony), but Woman in the Dunes doesn't have to assert its confidence so boldly, and it reveals the enormity of its plot slowly and deliberately instead. Woman in the Dunes never rushes to get to the film's central dilemma, and it uncovers its terror in little hints and insights, all whilst establishing the daily rhythm of life. Woman in the Dunes has something of the uncanny horror as Dogtooth (see above), as well as its broad range of potential interpretations. Both films permit a wide array of readings, without resorting to being deliberately obscurantist or being just plain random it is perhaps this reason why I enjoyed them so much. It is true that asking 'So what does the sand mean?' sounds tediously sophomoric shorn of any context, but it somehow applies to this thoughtfully self-contained piece of cinema.

A Quiet Place (2018) Although A Quiet Place was not actually one of the best films I saw this year, I'm including it here as it is certainly one of the better 'mainstream' Hollywood franchises I came across. Not only is the film very ably constructed and engages on a visceral level, I should point out that it is rare that I can empathise with the peril of conventional horror movies (and perhaps prefer to focus on its cultural and political aesthetics), but I did here. The conceit of this particular post-apocalyptic world is that a family is forced to live in almost complete silence while hiding from creatures that hunt by sound alone. Still, A Quiet Place engages on an intellectual level too, and this probably works in tandem with the pure 'horrorific' elements and make it stick into your mind. In particular, and to my mind at least, A Quiet Place a deeply American conservative film below the surface: it exalts the family structure and a certain kind of sacrifice for your family. (The music often had a passacaglia-like strain too, forming a tombeau for America.) Moreover, you survive in this dystopia by staying quiet that is to say, by staying stoic suggesting that in the wake of any conflict that might beset the world, the best thing to do is to keep quiet. Even communicating with your loved ones can be deadly to both of you, so not emote, acquiesce quietly to your fate, and don't, whatever you do, speak up. (Or join a union.) I could go on, but The Quiet Place is more than this. It's taut and brief, and despite cinema being an increasingly visual medium, it encourages its audience to develop a new relationship with sound.

4 January 2022

Jonathan McDowell: Upgrading from a CC2531 to a CC2538 Zigbee coordinator

Previously I setup a CC2531 as a Zigbee coordinator for my home automation. This has turned out to be a good move, with the 4 gang wireless switch being particularly useful. However the range of the CC2531 is fairly poor; it has a simple PCB antenna. It s also a very basic device. I set about trying to improve the range and scalability and settled upon a CC2538 + CC2592 device, which feature an MMCX antenna connector. This device also has the advantage that it s ARM based, which I m hopeful means I might be able to build some firmware myself using a standard GCC toolchain. For now I fetched the JetHome firmware from https://github.com/jethome-ru/zigbee-firmware/tree/master/ti/coordinator/cc2538_cc2592 (JH_2538_2592_ZNP_UART_20211222.hex) - while it s possible to do USB directly with the CC2538 my board doesn t have those bits so going the external USB UART route is easier. The device had some existing firmware on it, so I needed to erase this to force a drop into the boot loader. That means soldering up the JTAG pins and hooking it up to my Bus Pirate for OpenOCD goodness.
OpenOCD config
source [find interface/buspirate.cfg]
buspirate_port /dev/ttyUSB1
buspirate_mode normal
buspirate_vreg 1
buspirate_pullup 0
transport select jtag
source [find target/cc2538.cfg]
Steps to erase
$ telnet localhost 4444
Trying ::1...
Trying 127.0.0.1...
Connected to localhost.
Escape character is '^]'.
Open On-Chip Debugger
> mww 0x400D300C 0x7F800
> mww 0x400D3008 0x0205
> shutdown
shutdown command invoked
Connection closed by foreign host.
At that point I can switch to the UART connection (on PA0 + PA1) and flash using cc2538-bsl:
$ git clone https://github.com/JelmerT/cc2538-bsl.git
$ cc2538-bsl/cc2538-bsl.py -p /dev/ttyUSB1 -e -w -v ~/JH_2538_2592_ZNP_UART_20211222.hex
Opening port /dev/ttyUSB1, baud 500000
Reading data from /home/noodles/JH_2538_2592_ZNP_UART_20211222.hex
Firmware file: Intel Hex
Connecting to target...
CC2538 PG2.0: 512KB Flash, 32KB SRAM, CCFG at 0x0027FFD4
Primary IEEE Address: 00:12:4B:00:22:22:22:22
    Performing mass erase
Erasing 524288 bytes starting at address 0x00200000
    Erase done
Writing 524256 bytes starting at address 0x00200000
Write 232 bytes at 0x0027FEF88
    Write done
Verifying by comparing CRC32 calculations.
    Verified (match: 0x74f2b0a1)
I then wanted to migrate from the old device to the new without having to repair everything. So I shut down Home Assistant and backed up the CC2531 network information using zigpy-znp (which is already installed for Home Assistant):
python3 -m zigpy_znp.tools.network_backup /dev/zigbee > cc2531-network.json
I copied the backup to cc2538-network.json and modified the coordinator_ieee to be the new device s MAC address (rather than end up with 2 devices claiming the same MAC if/when I reuse the CC2531) and did:
python3 -m zigpy_znp.tools.network_restore --input cc2538-network.json /dev/ttyUSB1
The old CC2531 needed unplugged first, otherwise I got an RuntimeError: Network formation refused, RF environment is likely too noisy. Temporarily unscrew the antenna or shield the coordinator with metal until a network is formed. error. After that I updated my udev rules to map the CC2538 to /dev/zigbee and restarted Home Assistant. To my surprise it came up and detected the existing devices without any extra effort on my part. However that resulted in 2 coordinators being shown in the visualisation, with the old one turning up as unk_manufacturer. Fixing that involved editing /etc/homeassistant/.storage/core.device_registry and removing the entry which had the old MAC address, removing the device entry in /etc/homeassistant/.storage/zha.storage for the old MAC and then finally firing up sqlite to modify the Zigbee database:
$ sqlite3 /etc/homeassistant/zigbee.db
SQLite version 3.34.1 2021-01-20 14:10:07
Enter ".help" for usage hints.
sqlite> DELETE FROM devices_v6 WHERE ieee = '00:12:4b:00:11:11:11:11';
sqlite> DELETE FROM endpoints_v6 WHERE ieee = '00:12:4b:00:11:11:11:11';
sqlite> DELETE FROM in_clusters_v6 WHERE ieee = '00:12:4b:00:11:11:11:11';
sqlite> DELETE FROM neighbors_v6 WHERE ieee = '00:12:4b:00:11:11:11:11' OR device_ieee = '00:12:4b:00:11:11:11:11';
sqlite> DELETE FROM node_descriptors_v6 WHERE ieee = '00:12:4b:00:11:11:11:11';
sqlite> DELETE FROM out_clusters_v6 WHERE ieee = '00:12:4b:00:11:11:11:11';
sqlite> .quit
So far it all seems a bit happier than with the CC2531; I ve been able to pair a light bulb that was previously detected but would not integrate, which suggests the range is improved. (This post another in the set of things I should write down so I can just grep my own website when I forget what I did to do foo .)

31 December 2021

Russell Coker: Links December 2021

Wired magazine has many short documentary films on YouTube, this one about How Photography is Affecting Our Brains is particularly good [1]. Matt Blaze wrote an informative blog post about Faraday cages for phones [2]. It seems that the commercial shielded bags are all pretty good while doing it yourself with aluminium foil may get similar results or may get much worse results with no obvious difference in the quality of the wrapping. Aluminium foil doesn t protect that well and doesn t protect consistently. A metal biscuit tin performed quite well and consistently, so that s a cheap option for reducing signals. Umair Haque wrote an insightful article about the single word that describes most of the problems the world faces right now [3]. Forbes has an informative article about the early days of the Ford company when they doubled wages, it proves that they didn t do so to enable workders to afford cars but to avoid staff turnover (which is expensive) [4]. Also the Ford company had a fascistic approach to employees, controlling what they were allowed to do in their spare time if they wanted the bonus payment. The wages weren t doubled, there was a bonus payment that would double the salary if the employee was eligible for the bonus. One thing that Forbes gets wrong is that they claim that it was only having higher pay than other companies that provided a benefit and that a higher minimum wage wouldn t, the problem with that idea is that a higher minimum wage would discourage people from having multiple jobs and allow more families to not have the mother working (a condition for a man to get the Ford bonus was for his wife to not work). The WSJ has an interesting article about Intel s datacenter for running all the different configurations of CPUs that they have supported over the last 10 years for security tests [5]. My Thinkpad (which is less than 10yo) is vulnerable to one of the SPECTRE family of exploits as Intel hasn t released microcode to fix it, getting fixed microcode out for all the systems from major vendors like Lenovo would be a good idea if they want to improve their security. NPR has an interesting article about the correlation between support for Trump in counties of the US with lack of vaccination and Covid19 deaths [6]. No surprises, but it s good to see the graphs. Cory Doctorow wrote an interesting article on the lack of slack in the current American education system [7]. It s not that bad in Australia but we are unfortunately moving in the American direction. Teen Vogue has an insightful article about the problems with the focus on resilience [8], while resilience is good we should make it a higher priority to avoid putting people in situations where they need to be resiliant than on encouraging resilience.

29 December 2021

Noah Meyerhans: When You Could Hear Security Scans

Have you ever wondered what a security probe of a computer sounded like? I d guess probably not, because on the face of it that doesn t make a whole lot of sense. But there was a time when I could very clearly discern the sound of a computer being scanned. It sounded like a small mechanical heart beat: Click-click click-click click-click Prior to 2010, I had a computer under my desk with what at the time were not unheard-of properties: Its storage was based on a stack of spinning metal platters (a now-antiquated device known as a hard drive ), and it had a publicly routable IPv4 address with an unfiltered connection to the Internet. Naturally it ran Linux and an ssh server. As was common in those days, service logging was handled by a syslog daemon. The syslog daemon would sort log messages based on various criteria and record them somewhere. In most simple environments, somewhere was simply a file on local storage. When writing to a local file, syslog daemons can be optionally configured to use the fsync() system call to ensure that writes are flushed to disk. Practically speaking, what this meant is that a page of disk-backed memory would be written to the disk as soon as an event occurred that triggered a log message. Because of potential performance implications, fsync() was not typically enabled for most log files. However, due to the more sensitive nature of authentication logs, it was often enabled for /var/log/auth.log. In the first decade of the 2000 s, there was a fairly unsophisticated worm loose on the Internet that would probe sshd with some common username/password combinations. The worm would pause for a second or so between login attempts, most likely in an effort to avoid automated security responses. The effect was that a system being probed by this worm would generate disk write every second, with a very distinct audible signature from the hard drive. I think this situation is a fun demonstration of a side-channel data leak. It s primitive and doesn t leak very much information, but it was certainly enough to make some inference about the state of the system in question. Of course, side-channel leakage issues have been a concern for ages, but I like this one for its simplicity. It was something that could be explained and demonstrated easily, even to somebody with relatively limited understanding of how computers work , unlike, for instance measuring electromagnetic emanations from CPU power management units. For a different take on the sounds of a computing infrastructure, Peep (The Network Auralizer) won an award at a USENIX conference long, long ago. I d love to see a modern deployment of such a system. I m sure you could build something for your cloud deployment using something like AWS EventBridge or Amazon SQS fairly easily. For more on research into actual real-world side-channel attacks, you can read A Survey of Microarchitectural Side-channel Vulnerabilities, Attacks and Defenses in Cryptography or A Survey of Electromagnetic Side-Channel Attacks and Discussion on their Case-Progressing Potential for Digital Forensics.

12 December 2021

Andrej Shadura: Coffee gear upgrade

Two weeks ago I decided to make myself a combined birthday and Christmas present and upgrade my coffee gear. I ve got my first espresso machine back in 2013, it was a cheap Saeco Philips Poemia, which made reasonably drinkable coffee, but not being able to make good coffee made me increasingly unhappy about it. However, since it worked, I wasn t motivated enough to change anything until it stopped working. One day the nut holding the shower screen broke, and I couldn t replace it. Having no coffee machine is arguably worse than having a mediocre one, so I started looking for a new one in the budget range. Having spent about two months reading reviews for all sorts of manual espresso machines, I realised the best thing I can probably do for the money I was willing to spend at the time was to buy a second-hand Gaggia Classic. Which is what I did: I paid 260 to a person who apparently decided they prefer to press a button to get their espresso rather than have to prepare it themselves. My first attempts at making espresso weren t very much successful, as my hand grinder couldn t produce the right grind for espresso (without using pressurised baskets), so I quickly upgraded it to the 50 De Longhi electric grinder, which was much better for espresso.
Gaggia Classic 2015 and De Longhi grinderGaggia Classic 2015 and De Longhi grinder
This setup has worked for me for nearly 4 years, but over the time the Gaggia started malfunctioning. See, this particular Gaggia Classic is the 2015 model, which resulted in the overhaul of the design after Gaggia was acquired by Philips. They replaced the boiler, changed the exterior design a bit, and importantly for me replaced the fully metal group head with the metal and plastic version typically found in cheap espresso machines like my old Poemia.
The Gaggia Classic 2015 group headThe Gaggia Classic 2015 group head
The trouble with this one is that the plastic bit (barely seen on the picture, but it s inserted into the notches on the sides of the group head) is that it gets damaged over the time, especially when the portafilter is inserted very tightly. The more damaged it gets, the tigher it is necessary to insert the portafilter to avoid leakage, the more damaged it gets and so on. At one point, the Gaggia was leaking water every time I was making coffee, affecting the quality of the brew and making a mess in the kitchen. I made a mistake and removed the plastic bit only to realise it cannot be purchased separately and nobody knows how to put it back once it s been removed; I ended up paying more than a hundred euro to replace the group head as a whole. Once I ve got the Gaggia back, I became too conscious of the potential damage I can make by overengaging the portafilter, I decided it s probably the time to get a new coffee machine.
Gaggia Classic 2015 vs 2019Gaggia Classic 2015 vs 2019
The makers of Gaggia listened to the critics and undid the 2015 changes to the Gaggia Classic design, reverting to the previous one and fixing it they basically merged the fixes many of the owners of the old Gaggia did themselves. The group head is now without any plastic, so I don t have to worry that much about damaging it accidentally. A friend pointed out that my grinder is probably not good enough and recommended a couple of models to me; I checked Kev s Coffee Blog and found a grinder, Sage Dose Control Pro, which was available on sale in my local shop for a reasonable price. I ve also got a portafilter holder to make tamping more comfortable I used to tamp against an edge of the sink:
The final setup:
Gaggia Classic 2019 and Sage BCG600 Dose Control ProGaggia Classic 2019 and Sage BCG600 Dose Control Pro
What I learnt from this is that the grinder does indeed make a huge difference. I am now able to consistently produce brews I would only occasionally get with the old De Longhi grinder. There is one downside to the new grinder. Grinder review at Alza.sk Happy with my new purchase, I went to read this review and thought to myself: lucky me, my grinder is absolutely quiet! And then I realised that the noise in my kitchen is not, in fact, produced by the fridge, but the grinder. Well, a cheap switched plug solved the issue completely (I wish sockets here each had a switch like they usually to in the UK!) Switched plug

5 November 2021

Jonathan Dowland: 25 things I would like to 3D print

Last year I started collecting ideas of things I would like to 3D print one day, on Twitter. Twitter is fundamentally ephemeral, so I'll collect it here instead. I got up to 14 items on Twitter, and now I'm up to 25. I don't own a 3D printer, but I have access to one at the work office. Perhaps this list is my subconcious trying to convince me to buy one. What am I missing? What else should I be thinking of printing? Let me know!
  1. Some kind of 45 leaning prong to dry bottles and flasks on
  2. A tea tray and coasters
  3. a replacement prop arm/foot for my computer keyboard (something like this but for the Lenovo Ultranav)
  4. some attempted representation of Borges Library of Babel, a la @jwz The Library of Babel, again
  5. an exploration of the geometry of Susanna Clarke s Piranesi
  6. further iterations of my castle
  7. Small tins to keep loose-leaf tea in
  8. Who am I kidding, bound to be a map from DOOM. E1M1 perhaps, or something more regular (MAP07? E2M8?) See also this amazing print of Quake 3: Arena's "Camping Grounds"
  9. replacement bits for kids toy sets, e.g. a bolt with long shank from Early Learning Centre Build It Deluxe Set, without all 4 of which you can't build much of anything
  10. A stand for a decorative Christmas bauble (kid's hand print on it) A roll of cellotape works pretty well in the mean time
  11. DIY bits-and-bobs sorter/storage (nuts and bolts etc)
  12. A space ship from Elite/Frontier. Probably a Cobra mk3 or maybe a Viper mk2. In a glow-in-the-dark PLA which i d overpaint with gunmetal except for the fuselage
  13. A watch stand/holder/storage thing Except it would look nicer in wood (And I m more inclined to get rid of all but one watch instead)
  14. Little tabbed 7 dividers for vinyl records, with A-Z cut into the tabs 12 ones might be a stretch (something like this)
  15. A low-profile custom trackpoint cover like the ones by SaotoTech (e.g.)
  16. A vinyl record. (Not sure that any 3D printer I would have access to would have the necessary resolution. I haven't done any research yet.)
  17. A free-standing inclined vinyl record display stand (e.g.)
  18. A "Settlers of Catan" set. I've got the travel edition which is great but it would be nicer to have a larger-sized set. There are some things I really like about the travel set that the full-size set lacks; so designing and printing a larger set myself could incorporate them. Also I don't feel inclined to buy the full-size set for 50 or so to end up with essentially the same game I already bought. No doubt I'd spent at least that much in PLA.
  19. Little kids trinkets. Pacman ghosts, that sort-of thing. Whatever my daughters come up with next.
  20. Lego storage/sorters.
  21. Some kind of lenticular picture. Perhaps a gift or Christmas card combined in one.
  22. A bracket to install a Gotek drive in my Amiga 500 (e.g.). I've managed without but the fit isn't great.
  23. An attempt at using the 3D printer for 2D drawing. I would never get the same kind of quality results you can get from a proper plotter, but still Take a look at some proper plotter art!
  24. Garden decorations. I like the idea of porous geometric shapes that you can plant mosses or ferns into, but also things which might be taken over and "used" by nature in ways I hadn't thought of.
  25. Floor plans / 3D plans of my house (including variations if I remodelled)

5 August 2021

Ian Wienand: Lyte Portable Projector Investigation

I recently picked up this portable projector for a reasonable price. It might also be called a "M5" projector, but I can not find one canonical source. In terms of projection, it performs as well as a 5cm cube could be expected to. They made a poor choice to eschew adding an external video input which severely limits the device's usefulness. The design is nice and getting into it is quite an effort. There is no wasted space! After pulling off the rubber top covering and base, you have to pry the decorative metal shielding off all sides to access the screws to open it. This almost unavoidably bends it so it will never quite be the same. To avoid you having to bother, some photos: Lyte ProjectorIt is fairly locked down. I found a couple of ways in; installing the Disney+ app from the "Aptoide TV" store it ships with does not work, but the app prompts you to update it, which sends you to an action where you can then choose to open the Google Play store. From there, you can install things that work on it's Android 7 OS. This allowed me to install a system-viewer app which revealed its specs: Another weird thing I found was that if you go into the custom launcher "About" page under settings and keep clicking the "OK" button on the version number, it will open the standard Android settings page. From there you can enable developer options. I could not get it connecting to ADB, although you perhaps need a USB OTG cable which I didn't have. It has some sort of built-in Miracast app that I could not get anything to detect. It doesn't have the native Google app store; most of the apps in the provided system don't work. Somehow it runs Netflix via a webview or which is hard to use. If it had HDMI input it would still be a useful little thing to plug things into. You could perhaps sideload some sort of apps to get the screensharing working, or it plays media files off a USB stick or network shares. I don't believe there is any practical way to get a more recent Android on this, leaving it on an accelerated path to e-waste for all but the most boutique users.

4 August 2021

Petter Reinholdtsen: Mechanic's words in five languages, English, Norwegian and Northern S mi editions

Almost thirty years ago, some forward looking teachers at Samisk videreg ende skole og reindriftsskole teaching metal work and Northern S mi, decided to create a list of words used in Northern S mi metal work. After almost ten years this resulted in a dictionary database, published as the book "Mekanihkk rs nit : Mekanikerord = Mekaanisen alan sanasto = Mechanic's words" in 1999. The story of this work is available from the pen of Svein Lund, one of the leading actors behind this effort. They even got the dictionary approved by the S mi Language Council as the recommended metal work words to use. Fast forward twenty years, I came across this work when I recently became interested in metal work, and started watching educational and funny videos on the topic, like the ones from mrpete222 and This Old Tony. But they all talk English, but I wanted to know what the tools and techniques they used were called in Norwegian. Trying to track down a good dictionary from English to Norwegian, after much searching, I came across the database of words created almost thirty years ago, with translations into English, Norwegian, Northern S mi, Swedish and Finnish. This gave me a lot of the Norwegian phrases I had been looking for. To make it easier for the next person trying to track down a good Norwegian dictionary for the metal worker, and because I knew the person behind the database from my Skolelinux / Debian Edu days, I decided to ask if the database could be released to the public without any usage limitations, in other words as a Creative Commons licensed data set. And happily, after consulting with the S mi Parliament of Norway, the database is now available with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license from my gitlab repository. The dictionary entries look slightly different, depending on the language in focus. This is the same entry in the different editions. English
lathe
dreiebenk (nb) v rve, v rvenbea ka, jorahanbea ka, v tnanbea ka (se) svarv (sv) sorvi (fi)
Norwegian
dreiebenk
lathe (en) v rve, v rvenbea ka, jorahanbea ka, v tnanbea ka (se) svarv (sv) sorvi (fi)
(nb): sponskj rande bearbeidingsmaskin der ein med skj reverkt y lausgj r spon fr eit roterande arbetsstykke
Northern S mi
v rve, v rvenbea ka, jorahanbea ka, v tnanbea ka
dreiebenk (nb) lathe (en) svarv (sv) sorvi (fi)
(se): ma iidna mainna uohpp vuolahasaid jorri bargo vdnasis
(nb): sponskj rande bearbeidingsmaskin der ein med skj reverkt y lausgj r spon fr eit roterande arbetsstykke
The database included term description in both Norwegian and Northern S mi, but not English. Because of this, the Northern S mi edition include both descriptions, the Norwegian edition include the Norwegian description and the English edition lack a descripiton. Once the database was available without any usage restrictions, and armed with my experience in publishing books, I decided to publish a Norwegian/English dictionary as a book using the database, to make the data set available also on paper and as an ebook. Further into the project, it occurred to me that I could just as easily make an English dictionary, and talking to Svein and concluding that it was within reach, I decided to make a Northern S mi dictionary too. Thus I suddenly find myself publishing a Northern S mi dictionary, even though I do not understand the language myself. I hope it will be well received, and can help revive the impressive work done almost thirty years ago to document the vocabulary of metal workers. If I get some help, I might even extend it with some of the words I find missing, like collet, rotary broach, carbide, knurler, arbor press and others. But the first edition build from a lightly edited version of the original database, with no new entries added. If you would like to check it out, visit my list of published books and consider buying a paper or ebook copy from lulu.com. The paper edition is only available in hardcover to increase its durability in the workshop. I am very happy to report that in the process, and thanks to help from both Svein Lund and B rre Gaup who understand the language, the docbook tools I use to create books, dblatex and docbook-xsl, now include support for Northern S mi. Before I started, these lacked the needed locale settings for this language, but now the patches are included upstream. As usual, if you use Bitcoin and want to show your support of my activities, please send Bitcoin donations to my address 15oWEoG9dUPovwmUL9KWAnYRtNJEkP1u1b.

22 July 2021

Junichi Uekawa: Added memory to ACER Chromebox CXI3 (fizz/sion).

Added memory to ACER Chromebox CXI3 (fizz/sion). Got 2 16GB SO-DIMMs and installed them. I could not find correct information on how to open this box on the internet. They seem to be explaining similar boxes from HP or ASUS which seem to have simpler procedure to opening. I had to ply out out the 4 rubber pieces at the bottom, and then open the 4 screws. Then I could ply open the front and back panel by applying force where the screws were. In the front panel there's two more shorter screws that needs to be opened; after taking out the two screws (that's 4+2), I could open the box into two pieces. Be careful they are connected, I think there's audio cable. After opening you can access the memory chips. Pull the metal piece open on left and right hand side of the memory chip so that it raises. Make sure the metal pieces latch closed when you insert the new memory, that should signify memory is in place. I didn't do that at the beginning and the machine didn't boot. So far so good. No longer using zram.

21 June 2021

Shirish Agarwal: Accessibility, Freenode and American imperialism.

Accessibility This is perhaps one of the strangest ways and yet also perhaps the straightest way to start the blog post. For the past weeks/months, a strange experience has been there. I am using a Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse for almost a decade. Now, for the past few months and weeks we observed a somewhat rare phenomena . While in-between us we have a single desktop computer. So me and mum take turns to be on the Desktop. At times, however, the system would sit idle and after some time it goes to low-power mode/sleep mode after 30 minutes. Then, when you want to come back, you obviously have to give your login credentials. At times, the keyboard refuses to input any data in the login screen. Interestingly, the mouse still functions. Much more interesting is the fact that both the mouse and the keyboard use the same transceiver sensor to send data. And I had changed batteries to ensure it was not a power issue but still no input :(. While my mother uses and used the power switch (I did teach her how to hold it for few minutes and then let it go) but for self, tried another thing. Using the mouse I logged of the session thinking perhaps some race condition or something might be in the session which was not letting the keystrokes be inputted into the system and having a new session might resolve it. But this was not to be  Luckily, on the screen you do have the option to reboot or power off. I did a reboot and lo, behold the system was able to input characters again. And this has happened time and again. I tried to find GOK and failed to remember that GOK had been retired. I looked up the accessibility page on Debian wiki. Very interesting, very detailed but sadly it did not and does not provide the backup I needed. I tried out florence but found that the app. is buggy. Moreover, the instructions provided on the lightdm screen does not work. I do not get the on-screen keyboard while I followed the instructions. Just to be clear this is all on Debian testing which is gonna be Debian stable soonish  I even tried the same with xvkbd but no avail. I do use mate as my desktop-manager so maybe the instructions need some refinement ???? $ cat /etc/lightdm/lightdm-gtk-greeter.conf grep keyboard
# a11y-states = states of accessibility features: name save state on exit, -name
disabled at start (default value for unlisted), +name enabled at start. Allowed names: contrast, font, keyboard, reader.
keyboard=xvkbd no-gnome focus &
# keyboard-position = x y[;width height] ( 50%,center -0;50% 25% by default) Works only for onboard
#keyboard= Interestingly, Debian does provide two more on-screen keyboards, matchbox as well as onboard which comes from Ubuntu. While I have both of them installed. I find xvkbd to be enough for my work, the only issue seems to be I cannot get it from the drop-down box of accessibility at the login screen. Just to make sure that I have not gone to Gnome-display manager, I did run

$ sudo dpkg-reconfigure gdm3 Only to find out that I am indeed running lightdm. So I am a bit confused why it doesn t come up as an option when I have the login window/login manager running. FWIW I do run metacity as the window manager as it plays nice with all the various desktop environments I have, almost all of them. So this is where I m stuck. If I do get any help, I probably would also add those instructions to the wiki page, so it would be convenient to the next person who comes with the same issue. I also need to figure out some way to know whether there is some race-condition or something which is happening, have no clue how would I go about it without having whole lot of noise. I am sure there are others who may have more of an idea. FWIW, I did search unix.stackexchange as well as reddit/debian to see if I could see any meaningful posts but came up empty.

Freenode I had not been using IRC for quite some time now. The reasons have been multiple issues with Riot (now element) taking the whole space on my desktop. I did get alerted to the whole thing about a week after the whole thing went down. Somebody messaged me DM. I *think* I put up a thread or a mini-thread about IRC or something in response to somebody praising telegram/WhatsApp or one of those apps. That probably triggered the DM. It took me a couple of minutes to hit upon this. I was angry and depressed, seeing the behavior of the new overlords of freenode. I did see that lot of channels moved over to Libera. It was also interesting to see that some communities were thinking of moving to some other obscure platform, which again could be held hostage to the same thing. One could argue one way or the other, but that would be tiresome and fact is any network needs lot of help to be grown and nurtured, whether it is online or offline. I also saw that Libera was also using a software Solanum which is ircv3 compliant. Now having done this initial investigation, it was time to move to an IRC client. The Libera documentation is and was pretty helpful in telling which IRC clients would be good with their network. So I first tried hexchat. I installed it and tried to add Libera server credentials, it didn t work. Did see that they had fixed the bug in sid/unstable and now it s in testing. But at the time it was in sid, the bug-fixed and I wanted to have something which just ran the damn thing. I chanced upon quassel. I had played around with quassel quite a number of times before, so I knew I could play/use it. Hence, I installed it and was able to use it on the first try. I did use the encrypted server and just had to tweak some settings before I could use it with some help with their documentation. Although, have to say that even quassel upstream needs to get its documentation in order. It is just all over the place, and they haven t put any effort into streamlining the documentation, so that finding things becomes easier. But that can be said of many projects upstream. There is one thing though that all of these IRC clients lack. The lack of a password manager. Now till that isn t fixed it will suck because you need another secure place to put your password/s. You either put it on your desktop somewhere (insecure) or store it in the cloud somewhere (somewhat secure but again need to remember that password), whatever you do is extra work. I am sure there will be a day when authenticating with Nickserv will be an automated task and people can just get on talking on channels and figuring out how to be part of the various communities. As can be seen, even now there is a bit of a learning curve for both newbies and people who know a bit about systems to get it working. Now, I know there are a lot of things that need to be fixed in the anonymity, security place if I put that sort of hat. For e.g. wouldn t it be cool if either the IRC client or one of its add-on gave throwaway usernames and passwords. The passwords would be complex. This would make it easier who are paranoid about security and many do and would have. As an example we can see of Fuchs. Now if the gentleman or lady is working in a professional capacity and would come to know of their real identity and perceive rightly or wrongly the role of that person, it will affect their career. Now, should it? I am sure a lot of people would be divided on the issue. Personally, as far as I am concerned, I would say no because whether right or wrong, whatever they were doing they were doing on their own time. Not on company time. So it doesn t concern the company at all. If we were to let companies police the behavior outside the time, individuals would be in a lot of trouble. Although, have to say that is a trend that has been seen in companies that are firing people either on the left or right. A recent example that comes to mind is Emily Wilder who was fired by Associated Press. Interestingly, she was interviewed by Democracy now, and it did come out that she is a Jew. As can be seen and understood there is a lot of nuance to her story and not the way she was fired. It doesn t give a good taste in the mouth, but then getting fired nobody does. On few forums, people did share of people getting fired of their job because they were dancing (cops). Again, it all depends, for me again, hats off to anybody who feels like dancing or whatever because there are just so many depressing stories all around.

Banned and FOE On few forums I was banned because I was talking about Brexit and American imperialism, both of which are seem to ruffle a few feathers in quite a few places. For instance, many people for obvious reasons do not like this video

Now I m sorry I am not able to and have not been able to give invidious links for the past few months. The reason being invidious itself went through some changes and the changes are good and bad. For e.g. now you need to share your google id with a third-party which at least to my mind is not a good idea. But that probably is another story altogether and it probably will need its own place. Coming back to the video itself, this was shared by Anthony hazard and the Title is The Atlantic slave trade: What too few textbooks told you . I did see this video quite a few years ago and still find it hard to swallow that tens of millions of Africans were bought as slaves to the Americas, although to be fair it does start with the Spanish settlement in the land which would be called the U.S. but they bought slaves with themselves. They even got the American natives, i.e. people from different tribes which made up America at that point. One point to note is that U.S. got its independence on July 4, 1776 so all the people before that were called as European settlers for want of a better word. Some or many of these European settlers would be convicts who were sent from UK. But as shared in the article, that would only happen with U.S. itself is mature and open enough for that discussion. Going back to the original point though, these European or American settlers bought lot of slaves from Africa. The video does also shed some of the cruelty the Europeans or Americans did on the slaves, men and women in different ways. The most revelatory part though which I also forget many a times that because lot of people were taken from Africa and many of them men, it did lead to imbalances in the African societies not just in weddings but economics in general. It also developed a theory called Critical Race theory in which it tries to paint the Africans as an inferior race otherwise how would Christianity work where their own good book says All men are born equal . That does in part explain why the African countries are still so far behind their European or American counterparts. But Africa can still be proud as they are richer than us, yup India. Sadly, I don t think America is ready to have that conversation anytime soon or if ever. And if it were to do, it would have to out-do any truth and reconciliation Committee which the world has seen. A mere apology or two would not just cut it. The problems of America sadly are not limited to just Africans but the natives of the land, for e.g. the Lakota people. In 1868, they put a letter stating we will give the land back to the Lakota people forever, but then the gold rush happened. In 2007, when the Lakota stated their proposal for independence, the U.S. through its force denied. So much for the paper, it was written on. Now from what I came to know over the years, the American natives are called First nations . Time and time again the American Govt. has tried or been foul towards them. Some of the examples include The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository . The same is and was the case with The Keystone pipeline which is now dead. Now one could say that it is America s internal matter and I would fully agree but when they speak of internal matters of other countries, then we should have the same freedom. But this is not restricted to just internal matters, sadly. Since the 1950 s i.e. the advent of the cold war, America s foreign policy made Regime changes all around the world. Sharing some of the examples from the Cold War

Iran 1953
Guatemala 1954
Democratic Republic of the Congo 1960
Republic of Ghana 1966
Iraq 1968
Chile 1973
Argentina 1976
Afghanistan 1978-1980s
Grenada
Nicaragua 1981-1990
1. Destabilization through CIA assets
2. Arming the Contras
El Salvador 1980-92
Philippines 1986 Even after the Cold War ended the situation was anonymolus, meaning they still continued with their old behavior. After the end of Cold War

Guatemala 1993
Serbia 2000
Iraq 2003-
Afghanistan 2001 ongoing There is a helpful Wikipedia article titled History of CIA which basically lists most of the covert regime changes done by U.S. The abvoe is merely a sub-set of the actions done by U.S. Now are all the behaviors above of a civilized nation ? And if one cares to notice, one would notice that all the above countries in the list which had the regime change had either Oil or precious metals. So U.S. is and was being what it accuses China, a profiteer. But this isn t just the U.S. China story but more about the American abuse of its power. My own country, India paid IMF loans till 1991 and we paid through the nose. There were economic sanctions against India. But then, this is again not just about U.S. India. Even with Europe or more precisely Norway which didn t want to side with America because their intelligence showed that no WMD were present in Iraq, the relationship still has issues.

Pandemic and the World So I do find that this whole blaming of China by U.S. quite theatrical and full of double-triple standards. Very early during the debates, it came to light that the Spanish Flu actually originated in Kensas, U.S.

What was also interesting as I found in the Pentagon Papers much before The Watergate scandal came out that U.S. had realized that China would be more of a competitor than Russia. And this itself was in 1960 s itself. This shows the level of intelligence that the Americans had. From what I can recollect from whatever I have read of that era, China was still mostly an agri-based economy. So, how the U.S. was able to deduce that China will surpass other economies is beyond me even now. They surely must have known something that even we today do not. One of the other interesting observations and understanding that I got while researching that every year we transfer an average of 7500 diseases from animal to humans and that should be a scary figure. I think more than anything else, loss of habitat and use of animals from food to clothing to medicine is probably the reason we are getting such diseases. I am also sure that there probably are and have been similar number of transfer of diseases from humans to animals as well but for well-known biases and whatnot those studies are neither done or are under-funded. There are and have been reports of something like 850,000 undiscovered viruses which various mammals and birds have. Also I did find that most of such pandemics are hard to identify, for e.g. SARS 1 took about 15 years, Ebola we don t know till date from where it came. Even HIV has questions for us. Hell, even why does hearing go away is a mystery to us. In all of this, we want to say China is culpable. And while China may or may not be culpable, only time will tell, this is surely the opportunity for all countries to spend and make capacities in public health. Countries which will take lessons from it and improve their public healthcare models will hopefully will not suffer as those who will suffer and are continuing to suffer now  To those who feel that habitat loss of animals is untrue, I would suggest them to see Sherni which depicts the human/animal conflict in all its brutality. I am gonna warn in advance that the ending is not nice but what can you expect from a country in which forest area cover has constantly declined and the Govt. itself is only interested in headline management

The only positive story I can share from India is that finally the Modi Govt. has said we will do free vaccine immunization for everybody. Although the pace is nothing to write home about. One additional thing they relaxed was instead of going to Cowin or any other portal, people could simply walk in using their identity papers. Although, given the pace of vaccinations, it is going to take anywhere between 13-18 months or more depending on availability of vaccines.

Looking forward to all and any replies have a virtual keyboard, preferably xvkbd as that is good enough for my use-case.

3 June 2021

John Goerzen: Roundup of Unique Data/Storage Hosting Options

Recently I have been taking another look at the services at rsync.net and it got me thinking: what would I do with a lot of storage? What might I want to run with it, if it were fairly cheap? Let s start taking a look at what s out there. I m going to try to focus on things that are unique for some reason: pricing, features, etc. Incidentally, good reviews are hard to find due to the proliferation of affiliate links. I have no affiliate relationships with anyone mentioned here and there are no affiliate links in this post. I ll start with the highest-end community and commercial options (though both are quite competitive on price for what they are), and then move on to the cheaper options. Community option: SDF SDF is somewhat hard to define. What is SDF? could prompt answers like: There s a lot there. SDF lets you use things for yourself, of course, but you can also join a community. It s not a commercial service backed by SLAs it s best-effort but it s been around more than 30 years and has a great track record. Top commercial option for backup storage: rsync.net rsync.net offers storage broadly over SSH: sftp, rsync, scp, borg, rclone, restic, git-annex, git, and such. You do not get a shell, but you do get to run a few noninteractive commands via ssh. You can, for instance, run git clone on the rsync server. The rsync special sauce is in ZFS. They run raidz3 on their arrays (and also offer dual location setups for an additional fee), offer both free and paid ZFS snapshots, etc. The service is designed to be extremely reliable, particularly for backups, and it seems to me to meet those goals. Basic storage is $0.025 per GB/mo, but with certain account types such as borg, can be had for $0.015 per GB/mo. The minimum size is 400GB or $10/mo. There are no bandwidth charges. This makes it quite economical even compared to, say, S3. Additional discounts start at 10TB, so 10TB with rsync.net would cost $204.80/mo or $81.92 on the borg plan. You won t run Nextcloud on this thing, but for backups that must be reliable, or even a photo collection or something, it makes perfect sense. When you look into other options, you ll find that other providers are a lot more vague about their storage setup than rsync.net. Various offerings from Hetzner Hetzner is one of Europe s large hosting companies, and they have several options of interest. Their Storage Box competes directly with the rsync.net service. Their per-GB storage cost is lower than rsync.net, and although they do include a certain amount of free bandwidth with each account, bandwidth is not unlimited and could result in charges. Still, if you don t drive 2x or more your storage usage in bandwidth each month, it would be cheaper than rsync. The Storage Box also uses ZFS with some kind of redundancy, though they don t specifcy details. What differentiates them from rsync.net is the protocol support. They support sftp, scp, Borg, ssh, rsync, etc. just as rsync.net does. But then they also throw in Samba/CIFS, FTPS, HTTPS, and WebDAV all optionally enabled or disabled by you. Although things like sshfs exist, they aren t particularly optimal for some use cases, and CIFS support may just be what you need in some situations. 10TB with Hetzner would cost EUR 39.90/mo, or about $48.84/mo. (This figure is higher for Europeans, who also have to pay VAT.) Hetzner also offers a Storage Share, which is a private Nextcloud instance. 10TB of that is exactly the same cost as 10TB of the Storage Box. You can add your own users, groups, etc. to this as your are the Nextcloud admin of your instance. Hetzner throws in automatic updates (which is great, as updates have been a pain in my side for a long time). Nextcloud is ideal for things like photo sharing, even has email and chat built in, etc. For about the same price at 2TB of Google One, you can have 2TB of Nextcloud with all those services for yourself. Not bad. You can also mount a Nextcloud instance with WebDAV. Interestingly, Nextcloud supports external storages as backend for the data. It supports another Nextcloud instance, OpenStack or S3 object storage, and SFTP, SMB/CIFS, and WebDAV. If you re thinking you d like both SFTP and Nextcloud access to a pool of storage, I imagine you could always get a large Storage Box from Hetzner (internal transfer is free), pair it with a small Nextcloud instance, and link the two with Nextcloud external storage. Dedicated Servers If you want a more DIY approach, you can find some interesting deals on actual dedicated server hardware you get the entire machine to yourself. I ve been using OVH s SoYouStart for a number of years, with good experienaces, and they have a number of server configurations available. For instance, for $45.99, you can get a Xeon box with 4x2TB drives and 32GB RAM. With RAID5 or raidz1, that s 6TB of available space and cheaper than the 6TB from rsync.net (though less redundant) plus you get the whole box to yourself too. OVH directly has some more storage servers; for instance, you can get a box with 4x4TB + 1x500GB SSD for $86.75/mo, giving you 12TB available with RAID5/raidz1, plus a 16GB server to do what you want with. Hetzner also has some larger options available, for instance 2x4TB at EUR39 or 2x8TB at EUR54, both with 64GB of RAM. Bargain Corner Yes, you can find 10TB for $25/mo. It s hosted on ceph, by what appears to be mostly a single person (though with a lot of experience and a fair bit of transparency). You re not going to have the round-the-clock support experience as with rsync.net, nor its raidz3 level of redundancy but if you don t need that, there are quite a few options. Let s start with Lima Labs. Yes, 10TB is $25/mo, and they support sftp, rsync, borg, and even NFS mounts on storage backed by Ceph. The owner, Sam, seems to be a nice guy but the service isn t going to be on the scale of rsync.net or Hetzner. That may or may not be OK for your needs I mean, you can even get 1TB for $5/mo, so there are some fantastic deals to be had here. BorgBase does Borg hosting and borg hosting only. You can get 1TB for $6.67/mo or, for instance, 10TB for $53.46. They don t say much about their infrastructure and it s hard to get a read on the company, but for Borg backups, it could be a nice option. Bargain Corner Part 2: Seedboxes There s a market out there of companies offering BitTorrent seeding and downloading services. Typically, these services offer you Unix ssh access to a shell, give you a bunch of space on completely non-redundant drives (theory being that the data on them is transient), lots of bandwidth, for a low price. Some people use them for BitTorrent, others for media serving and such. If you are willing to take the lowest in drive redundancy, there are some deals to be had. Whatbox is a popular leader here, and has an extensive wiki with info. Or you can find some seedbox.io shared storage plans for instance, 12TB for $32.49/mo. But it s completely non-redundant drives. Seedbox has a partner company, Walker Servers, with some interesting deals; for instance, 4x8TB for EUR 52.45. Not bad for 24TB usable with RAID5 but Walker Servers is completely unknown to me and doesn t publish a phone number. So, YMMV. Conclusion I m sure I ve left out many quality options here, but hopefully this is enough to lay out a general lay of the land. Leave other suggestions in the comments.

30 May 2021

Russ Allbery: Review: The Silver Chair

Review: The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis
Illustrator: Pauline Baynes
Series: Chronicles of Narnia #4
Publisher: Collier
Copyright: 1953
Printing: 1978
ISBN: 0-02-044250-5
Format: Mass market
Pages: 217
The Silver Chair is a sequel to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and the fourth book of the Chronicles of Narnia in original publication order. (For more about publication order, see the introduction to my review of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.) Apart from a few references to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader at the start, it stands sufficiently on its own that you could read it without reading the other books, although I have no idea why you'd want to. We have finally arrived at my least favorite of the Narnia books and the one that I sometimes skipped during re-reads. (One of my objections to the new publication order is that it puts The Silver Chair and The Last Battle back-to-back, and I don't think you should do that to yourself as a reader.) I was hoping that there would be previously unnoticed depth to this book that would redeem it as an adult reader. Sadly, no; with one very notable exception, it's just not very good. MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW. The Silver Chair opens on the grounds of the awful school to which Eustace's parents sent him: Experiment House. That means it opens (and closes) with a more extended version of Lewis's rant about schools. I won't get into this in detail since it's mostly a framing device, but Lewis is remarkably vicious and petty. His snide contempt for putting girls and boys in the same school did not age well, nor did his emphasis at the end of the book that the incompetent head of the school is a woman. I also raised an eyebrow at holding up ordinary British schools as a model of preventing bullying. Thankfully, as Lewis says at the start, this is not a school story. This is prelude to Jill meeting Eustace and the two of them escaping the bullies via a magical door into Narnia. Unfortunately, that's the second place The Silver Chair gets off on the wrong foot. Jill and Eustace end up in what the reader of the series will recognize as Aslan's country and almost walk off the vast cliff at the end of the world, last seen from the bottom in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Eustace freaks out, Jill (who has a much better head for heights) goes intentionally close to the cliff in a momentary impulse of arrogance before realizing how high it is, Eustace tries to pull her back, and somehow Eustace falls over the edge. I do not have a good head for heights, and I wonder how much of it is due to this memorable scene. I certainly blame Lewis for my belief that pulling someone else back from the edge of a cliff can result in you being pushed off, something that on adult reflection makes very little sense but which is seared into my lizard brain. But worse, this sets the tone for the rest of the story: everything is constantly going wrong because Eustace and Jill either have normal human failings that are disproportionately punished or don't successfully follow esoteric and unreasonably opaque instructions from Aslan. Eustace is safe, of course; Aslan blows him to Narnia and then gives Jill instructions before sending her afterwards. (I suspect the whole business with the cliff was an authorial cheat to set up Jill's interaction with Aslan without Eustace there to explain anything.) She and Eustace have been summoned to Narnia to find the lost Prince, and she has to memorize four Signs that will lead her on the right path. Gah, the Signs. If you were the sort of kid that I was, you immediately went back and re-read the Signs several times to memorize them like Jill was told to. The rest of this book was then an exercise in anxious frustration. First, Eustace is an ass to Jill and refuses to even listen to the first Sign. They kind of follow the second but only with heavy foreshadowing that Jill isn't memorizing the Signs every day like she's supposed to. They mostly botch the third and have to backtrack to follow it. Meanwhile, the narrator is constantly reminding you that the kids (and Jill in particular) are screwing up their instructions. On re-reading, it's clear they're not doing that poorly given how obscure the Signs are, but the ominous foreshadowing is enough to leave a reader a nervous wreck. Worse, Eustace and Jill are just miserable to each other through the whole book. They constantly bicker and snipe, Eustace doesn't want to listen to her and blames her for everything, and the hard traveling makes it all worse. Lewis does know how to tell a satisfying redemption arc; one of the things I have always liked about Edmund's story is that he learns his lesson and becomes my favorite character in the subsequent stories. But, sadly, Eustace's redemption arc is another matter. He's totally different here than he was at the start of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (to the degree that if he didn't have the same name in both books, I wouldn't recognize him as the same person), but rather than a better person he seems to have become a different sort of ass. There's no sign here of the humility and appreciation for friendship that he supposedly learned from his time as a dragon. On top of that, the story isn't very interesting. Rilian, the lost Prince, is a damp squib who talks in the irritating archaic accent that Lewis insists on using for all Narnian royalty. His story feels like Lewis lifted it from medieval Arthurian literature; most of it could be dropped into a collection of stories of knights of the Round Table without seeming out of place. When you have a country full of talking animals and weirdly fascinating bits of theology, it's disappointing to get a garden-variety story about an evil enchantress in which everyone is noble and tragic and extremely stupid. Thankfully, The Silver Chair has one important redeeming quality: Puddleglum. Puddleglum is a Marsh-wiggle, a bipedal amphibious sort who lives alone in the northern marshes. He's recruited by the owls to help the kids with their mission when they fail to get King Caspian's help after blowing the first Sign. Puddleglum is an absolute delight: endlessly pessimistic, certain the worst possible thing will happen at any moment, but also weirdly cheerful about it. I love Eeyore characters in general, but Puddleglum is even better because he gives the kids' endless bickering exactly the respect that it deserves.
"But we all need to be very careful about our tempers, seeing all the hard times we shall have to go through together. Won't do to quarrel, you know. At any rate, don't begin it too soon. I know these expeditions usually end that way; knifing one another, I shouldn't wonder, before all's done. But the longer we can keep off it "
It's even more obvious on re-reading that Puddleglum is the only effective member of the party. Jill has only a couple of moments where she gets the three of them past some obstacle. Eustace is completely useless; I can't remember a single helpful thing he does in the entire book. Puddleglum and his pessimistic determination, on the other hand, is right about nearly everything at each step. And he's the one who takes decisive action to break the Lady of the Green Kirtle's spell near the end. I was expecting a bit of sexism and (mostly in upcoming books) racism when re-reading these books as an adult given when they were written and who Lewis was, but what has caught me by surprise is the colonialism. Lewis is weirdly insistent on importing humans from England to fill all the important roles in stories, even stories that are entirely about Narnians. I know this is the inherent weakness of portal fantasy, but it bothers me how little Lewis believes in Narnians solving their own problems. The Silver Chair makes this blatantly obvious: if Aslan had just told Puddleglum the same information he told Jill and sent a Badger or a Beaver or a Mouse along with him, all the evidence in the book says the whole affair would have been sorted out with much less fuss and anxiety. Jill and Eustace are far more of a hindrance than a help, which makes for frustrating reading when they're supposedly the protagonists. The best part of this book is the underground bits, once they finally get through the first three Signs and stumble into the Lady's kingdom far below the surface. Rilian is a great disappointment, but the fight against the Lady's mind-altering magic leads to one of the great quotes of the series, on par with Reepicheep's speech in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
"Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."
This is Puddleglum, of course. And yes, I know that this is apologetics and Lewis is talking about Christianity and making the case for faith without proof, but put that aside for the moment, because this is still powerful life philosophy. It's a cynic's litany against cynicism. It's a pessimist's defense of hope. Suppose we have only dreamed all those things like justice and fairness and equality, community and consensus and collaboration, universal basic income and effective environmentalism. The dreary magic of the realists and the pragmatists say that such things are baby's games, silly fantasies. But you can still choose to live like you believe in them. In Alasdair Gray's reworking of a line from Dennis Lee, "work as if you live in the early days of a better nation." That's one moment that I'll always remember from this book. The other is after they kill the Lady of the Green Kirtle and her magic starts to fade, they have to escape from the underground caverns while surrounded by the Earthmen who served her and who they believe are hostile. It's a tense moment that turns into a delightful celebration when they realize that the Earthmen were just as much prisoners as the Prince was. They were forced from a far deeper land below, full of living metals and salamanders who speak from rivers of fire. It's the one moment in this book that I thought captured the magical strangeness of Narnia, that sense that there are wonderful things just out of sight that don't follow the normal patterns of medieval-ish fantasy. Other than a few great lines from Puddleglum and some moments in Aslan's country, the first 60% of this book is a loss and remarkably frustrating to read. The last 40% isn't bad, although I wish Rilian had any discernible character other than generic Arthurian knight. I don't know what Eustace is doing in this book at all other than providing a way for Jill to get into Narnia, and I wish Lewis had realized Puddleglum could be the protagonist. But as frustrating as The Silver Chair can be, I am still glad I re-read it. Puddleglum is one of the truly memorable characters of children's literature, and it's a shame he's buried in a weak mid-series book. Followed, in the original publication order, by The Horse and His Boy. Rating: 6 out of 10

29 May 2021

Joey Hess: the end of the olduse.net exhibit

Ten years ago I began the olduse.net exhibit, spooling out Usenet history in real time with a 30 year delay. My archive has reached its end, and ten years is more than long enough to keep running something you cobbled together overnight way back when. So, this is the end for olduse.net. The site will continue running for another week or so, to give you time to read the last posts. Find the very last one, if you can! The source code used to run it, and the content of the website have themselves been archived up for posterity at The Internet Archive. Sometime in 2022, a spammer will purchase the domain, but not find it to be of much value. The Utzoo archives that underlay it have currently sadly been censored off the Internet by someone. This will be unsuccessful; by now they have spread and many copies will live on.
I told a lie ten years ago.
You can post to olduse.net, but it won't show up for at least 30 years.
Actually, those posts drop right now! Here are the followups to 30-year-old Usenet posts that I've accumulated over the past decade. Mike replied in 2011 to JPM's post in 1981 on fa.arms-d "Re: CBS Reports"
A greeting from the future: I actually watched this yesterday (2011-06-10) after reading about it here.
Christian Brandt replied in 2011 to schrieb phyllis's post in 1981 on the "comments" newsgroup "Re: thank you rrg"
Funny, it will be four years until you post the first subnet post i ever read and another eight years until my own first subnet post shows up.
Bernard Peek replied in 2012 to mark's post in 1982 on net.sf-lovers "Re: luke - vader relationship"
i suggest that darth vader is luke skywalker's mother.
You may be on to something there.
Martijn Dekker replied in 2012 to henry's post in 1982 on the "test" newsgroup "Re: another boring test message" trentbuck replied in 2012 to dwl's post in 1982 on the "net.jokes" newsgroup "Re: A child hood poem" Eveline replied in 2013 to a post in 1983 on net.jokes.q "Re: A couple"
Ha!
Bill Leary replied in 2015 to Darin Johnson's post in 1985 on net.games.frp "Re: frp & artwork" Frederick Smith replied in 2021 to David Hoopes's post in 1990 on trial.rec.metalworking "Re: Is this group still active?"

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