Not much going on these days. We're all just waiting for vaccines to become available for the general public. Looks like it's now pushed back to September. Beyond that, I've been working on my Octoprint Pi, and I decided to give it the external antenna treatment like I did on my RPi 4B+, but the 3B+ actually has the footprint for the connector on the board, so super easy, right? Umm, no. I got it on there easy enough, and plugged in the antenna to make sure it fit well, and as soon as I tried to take it off again, it pulled the connector right off of the board and half tore up the signal trace. The ground plane offered no resistance at all and just came right off the board where covered with solder. I'm going to have to try re-mounting it and perhaps run a patch wire instead of the half lifted trace. OR I just stick with the onboard antenna, but it doesn't seem very effective. I'll think about that a bit more. It seems the wifi connection is unreliable and causes all sorts of operational trouble since the UI is web based. If I moved it closer to the router, I would expect those issues to go away, but I can't move it closer to the router, so I'll have to solve it somehow else or give up on it. I've put a bit of effort into this already, so I want it to work, but it's not like I print something everyday, so it's basically just a luxury.
I'm joining an art event again this year. It will be my third time participating. Perhaps I'll post that and my previous projects on here sometime in the near future. So, for now I'm just kicking the can down the road. Work, baby, sleep, repeat. I hope I can find a little more time and motivation to get something interesting done. I'm trying to convince myself to start writing fiction again, but I'm not quite there yet. That should be soon too.
The news these days is basically unreadable. It's all useless horror porn. Very little is helpful or informative. It's just depressing and destroys any remaining hope I have for humanity. Most of it is about corruption, murder, arrests, or some other horrible event that does not affect my life or help me in any way. Instead it fills me with sadness and disgust for humanity. This isn't good for anyone. These days my only real connection to people and the world at large is the internet. News sites are competing for views, so they only report on the most bombastic and eye catching events: horror porn. I just can't read that shit any more. My significant other asks me why I don't know what's going on in the world sometimes when she starts talking about some event I hadn't heard of. It's because it all makes me want to jump out of a window. I already have a low enough opinion of general society that I don't need to make it worse on a daily basis. I'm losing that sense of "most people are good and a few are bad." It's become replaced with, "no one is worth a damn." I've even seen how it is beginning to affect my relationships with others. I don't trust people as much as I used to. I don't give them the benefit of the doubt. Everyone is a disappointment to me whether they deserve it or not. I need to get out of that funk. I need to get out into nature with good people and reset. This covid-19 is slowly killing us even if it doesn't infect us. I'm beginning to think infection may be safer than lockdown. I'm approaching my wits' end, and Japan hasn't even begun vaccinations for the public yet. I need a break.
I spent my weekend printing and building upgrades for my printer and doing a little cleaning and gardening while I waited. Well, the first thing I printed was actually a case for my m328 transistor tester. It's been naked since I got it, and while it hasn't ever suffered any damage, I've always been a little wary of keeping it put away while sporting the bare PCB look. Finally that handy little device looks and feels much sturdier.
After that finished, I printed out a case for my Raspberry Pi 3B+ that will sit next to the printer and run OctoPi. It's one that is designed to sit outside the main case and attach via the slots in the extruded aluminum. Just a few minutes ago, I found one that is designed to fit inside the case, but I'm not sure I like that idea even though it was the style of case I had originally envisioned before searching. The main problem is accessing the Pi and it's various IO. If I want to plug in or unplug the USB camera I added, I'd have to take the printer apart. If I tried to make everything accessible, I'd run into the problem of needing to extend everything like I did on my cyberdeck. Admittedly I could probably do so with off the shelf extension cables since I would have plenty of room to work with, but I'd rather not put that much effort into it right now. I have several projects on the bench I'm trying to get finished up. Besides, my print is already done. The Pi fits perfectly. It looks good. Now I just have to print a little case and mounting stand for my recycled laptop webcam and I'll have OctoPi ready to go.
BTW: In case you're curious, my printer is printing quite well again since I removed the 3D Touch. After leveling the bed several times to make sure it was all quite level, I've not had any trouble with prints. It does still need an occasional leveling, but the nozzle doesn't run into the bed anymore, and it certainly doesn't require finicky processes with multiple menu selections to accomplish. Still I like the idea of the 3D/BL Touch, I only wish it were working properly. However, with all the projects of my own that I'm trying to finish, I don't have the time to try to learn everything I'd need to go fix 3D Touch support. Maybe one day I'll get there or I'll figure out a better way of doing it. Personally, I think something that could adjust the bed screws would be better than trying to constantly move the Z-axis while printing. I understand there are pros and cons to each, but the mechanical approach seems like it would solve the problem without creating new ones. Plus the solution is portable, meaning it wouldn't rely on software knowing what is trying to happen and taking that into consideration. Nor would it be forgotten by any type of memory wipe. It would just still be level. Maybe we'll get to that once I find myself projectless.
Review: Voxelab Aquila v2 3D printer
Why did I buy this printer? First of all, I needed to replace my Ultimaker. I'm tired of the maintainence and constant effort involved in making bad prints. Second, I wanted a cheap printer. I will be moving at some point in the future. It's what I do, it seems. So I didn't want to spend a bunch of money on a printer if there's even a slight chance that it would end up getting left behind. So I figured a clone of something open source would be best. Cheap and double cheap. I looked around a lot, and came across the Aquila by Voxelab. Turns out Voxelab is the cheap printer arm of Flashforge, so that sounded good. They probably know what they're doing. The reviews I found online looked good, and so did the prints. The decision was easy because the price was so cheap. Less than $200. Sold.
Packaging and Assembly
It was well packed with lots of layered foam. It's a partially assembled printer, as is common these days, and it only took about an hour to put together. The instruction manual doesn't mention every single little thing you should do, like plug in the well labled wires that only reach the object that takes the wires anyway, but I didn't find that to be a problem. Make sure you look at the pictures, and even the less than perfect English makes quite a lot of sense. There was one part that had a typo that had me scratching my head for a moment, but when you only have 1 size of screw left, that's the right one.
Setup and Printing
Getting setup was easy since I'm not new to 3D printing. The bed was easy to level and everything was quite straightforward. The user menu is simple and well laid out with not too many levels. I also bought a Creality filament runout sensor and a BL Touch clone (I wasn't aware clones existed until after I bought it) called the 3D Touch. The BL Touch and its clones all take a bit of setup, mostly in the firmware department. If you can follow a wire and read PCB labels, it's very easy to connect to the correct places on the printer. I'll get into the 3D Touch more soon. The filament runout sensor I ended up printing a new case for, so it would attach to my Aquila easily, and that was also not a problem. Before I spoil too much, the printer prints really well. I printed one of the example hooks first just to see if it worked ok, and because it was already on the SD card that came with the printer. I might find a use for a hook. The other things on the card I would never find a use for, like the benchy type tests. You print them then you throw them away eventually. No thanks.
The thing that surprised me the most about this printer is the noise. The steppers and drivers make almost no noise at all, but the fans are much louder than I expected. I understand why so many people replace the fans or the shrouds on their printers. Why have quiet drivers if the fan is just going to make up for it with something louder? Overall, very good prints and seemingly new user friendly (for a 3D printer).
The 3D Touch is a clone of the BL Touch. If you're not familiar, it's an auto-leveling sensor that is supposed to help the 3D printer determine the height of the print bed in multiple locations so that the actual physical shape and distance to the print bed is considered when moving the Z-axis. The goal is to reduce or eliminate bed leveling. Since that's the single most often performed maintainence/setup step, it's something worth reducing time and effort spent doing. Before installing the 3D Touch, my printer was capable of excellent prints. Good bed adhesion, good homing, good extrusion. Nice prints. After installing the 3D Touch, which was very simple to do, I tracked down and loaded a firmware that enables its support. There's a couple out there. One is by Voxelab, but it seems like it may only work with non-clones. I can't say for sure, but I had some trouble with it. There's another on github that I found through Reddit (ugh). I won't link to it here because I ended up not using it. There were some things I liked about that firmware and some things I didn't like. I liked that it provided more options than the stock firmware, I didn't like that it put Creality branding on my Voxelab printer even though it was made for the Voxelab Aquila. Does the author work for Creality or are they just fans? Either way, I don't need that wierd cross-branding on my stuff for no reason. I hate ads and brands. I also don't like that it also tries to improve on the printer in ways that I didn't need. I just wanted 3D Touch support, not random "improvements" which are really just new failure points.
Outcome? I removed the 3D Touch. It's purpose is to minimize the amount of leveling needed. In my experience, it increased the amount of leveling needed from once after being built to two or three times before every print, successful or failed. It doesn't seem capable of actually using the sensed data to improve the level of the bed. I followed all instructions exactly, and I had my nozzle run into the bed several times. The initial layers were too compressed or not compressed enough. The live z offset was sometimes live, sometimes delayed by seconds. This resulted in multiple attacks on my heated bed's glass plate. It could not do the only thing it is supposed to do. For that, it was removed. I do not know if the sensor was bad or if the firmware was bad, but considering how easy it was to level the bed and get great prints after first assembly, I determined I would not need the 3D Touch. However, now I am encountering trouble that I did not seem to have before installing the 3D Touch. Now I can get an OK initial layer, but I get lifting on corners that didn't happen before. Maybe I changed more settings than I reverted after installing. I'm going to try a few more things to get the prints back to the quality they were before the 3D Touch, then never look back. It's so quick and easy to level a bed manually, I don't think I'd want even a functioning 3D (or BL) Touch. Even assuming success, it takes longer to do it automatically than it does manually. Before installing the 3D Touch, 5/5 of my prints were successful with no quality trouble at all. After the 3D Touch, I had at least that many failed prints with shoddy quality on the successes. What other choice could I make? I'll hang on to it for now. It might get fixed. I may try to use it again in the future, but as it is now, avoid it.
The Voxelab Aquila is a great printer and at the price, it's an amazingly great printer. A filament runout sensor might be a good idea, but avoid 3D Touches (maybe BL Touches as well, I can't say for sure). The printer is very capable of good prints if you just avoid ruining them with unnecessary changes. Will I change nothing else on the printer? Nothing hardware related I'd say, but I do plan on setting it up on Octoprint. I might not print too much from around the house, but the ability to check on a print without having to go into the same room as the printer is wonderful. I highly recommend the Voxelab Aquila and cannot recommend the 3D Touch.
Addendum: Octoprint and Linux webcams
I had an extra Raspberry Pi 3B+ laying around, and I recently pulled a webcam out of an all-in-one desktop PC. What better way to use both than Octoprint? I started off using the cheap 8GB microSD that came with my 3D printer, because who needs an SD card in the printer when you have Octoprint? Whoops, bad idea. Well, not too bad, but it caused issues. Primarily, the webcam wouldn't work well because it caches the stream to "disk" before sending it through the Octoprint interface. Slow read and write speeds means bad framerate and things happening with a delay on the stream. Make sure you use a decent (not necessarily top notch) SD card in your Pi. The webcam was a bit of a pain to set up because I first found decent instructions on getting mystery recycled webcams running in Linux from an article that explained how to get 2 webcams working at once on a pi. I've gotten webcams to run on Octoprint in the past, but never a salvaged one before. Turns out it's not so bad. Even though the webcam runs on 3.3v and USB is 5v, the Raspberry Pi has 3.3v readily available. So I just had to snip the power wire near the USB plug and splice in a new wire with 3.3v from the Pi's GPIO header. Easy. The main problem I was having was a result of not realizing that one particular step involving the access stream and port was unnecessary unless you were going to be running 2 cams. As a result, I couldn't access the stream because Octoprint was looking for it in the wrong place. Comment out that line in octopi.txt and problem solved.
I'm getting better at Linux, and as I do, I like it more. The command line isn't such a bad place to hang out. It's been so long since I used DOS, I had forgotten. I still find myself typing old DOS commands hoping they'll work in Linux, then trying desperately to find the right command via educated guesses and help menus before finally searching the net. I think the main thing I dislike about Linux is just how complicated the file system is. Nothing is in a place that makes any sense to me. Why are things organized the way they are? The Windows file system seems much more logical to me. Put the OS in it's own folder and let it stretch its legs as subfolders. At least that's basically how it was until they started putting things in crazy places like Local Roaming or whatever that dumbass system is. The user folder has gotten better, but there could be some improvement. In Linux once something is installed, I have no hope of ever finding it or removing it manually. Linux would be the ideal system to write viruses for, because it would take a serious pro to remove anything. Linus, get your filesystem in order. Alright, I've rambled enough.
Lots to say, Don't want to say anything
I have a 3d printer review I want to write, and some thoughts on how the human mind works, but I don't really feel like writing about either today. Reason: I got into another debate online. I know, I know. This time I blocked the website. I won't be going back to that downer of a site. I'm finding myself in the position of being a person without a side. I seemingly have few to no moral allies. I've described myself as a leftist for a long time because I believe in absolute equality on a level that would make most people shake their heads in disbelief, but I find that the people who I thought were similar in the past are not very similar after all. Most people don't really want equality. They say they do, but they then describe ideal situations that are inherently unequal. For example, lots of groups talk about a lack of representation among CEOs. They want more of their group to have top paid CEOs around the corporate world. I, on the otherhand, want to get rid of all CEOs. What is equal about someone making thousands of times what other employees make? I get frustrated by half measures and cherry picking. People who support true equality are grouped together with racists because their ideas don't line up with the marching orders of the faux-left. I have to say the right things or "it's not a good look." I reject conservatives for much the same reasons. They don't want to move forward. They like things as they are. Well things are fucked. We can't do that. The faux-left (as I guess I'll start calling them) want "equality," but that just means they want to take over the role that has been the exclusive domain of the rich white class. I'm proposing that both the old way of doing things is wrong and that faux-equality is not the solution.
If you want to clean your house, you don't sweep out all the dirt and replace it with mud. It's the same thing with a different look. That's what the faux-left wants: They want to be the new masters of the muddy universe. Conservatives want to stick with their dirt. They're used to it, and change is bad for them. *I* want to tear down the house and build an apartment building that's rent free and open to anyone.
People should not be killing themselves to earn money that they then go and give to corporations for garbage they don't need and that will break as soon as it's used. You shouldn't have to work some job that makes you miserable just so you can afford not to die of hunger, exposure to the elements, or disease. We have a shared inheritence as members of humanity. We as a species have produced the means to eliminate hunger, homelessness, AND inequality, but we allow selfish people to gather and control more resources than they could ever use. The ones who wake up to this theft by robber-barons often feel that emotion that comes along with such realizations: revenge. They want to become the new bosses and punish the old ones. I understand why people might feel like that. It's human nature, I suppose. We like to feel that there's justice in the world. There isn't. The best we can hope for is to move forward together equally towards a brighter future. Unfortunately, these types of ideas are never taken seriously. No one likes complete change. It's too unexplored and unpredictable. Instead we drag our feet and make excuses. Besides, I'm white. Either I'm a race traitor to the white racists because I don't think white people are superior to anyone, or a racist to the faux-left because I don't want more CEOs of any group. Cherry pick the part that matches your predefined narrative.
So, yeah. I don't like too many of the people out in this world. The everyman's goal is too small for me, and my goal is too big for the everyman. I need more than I'll ever find in this world. What I really need is a space ship.
At loooooong last, a new printer
I just ordered a new 3D printer. My Ultimaker Original has been out of comission for a couple of years now, and our next move is looking delayed, so I decided to buy a cheap printer that will do what I need until we move. Even then, if it's as good as it looks like it will be, I'll take it with me. Supposedly this printer is an Ender 3 Pro clone. Why bother with a clone when the product being cloned is already insanely cheap? Because it looks like it might be better than the original, and still costs less. Since I'm coming from an original wooden frame Ultimaker, anything at this point is an upgrade, doubly so since it doesn't work anymore. I poured a lot of time and money into that Ultimaker, and I made a lot of useful stuff with it, but it has defintely been one of the most expensive tools I've ever used. If it weren't from back when home 3D printing was a new and revolutionary thing, it would have been too expensive for the use I got out of it. On the other hand, I've learned so much about 3D printing, CNCs, and electronics thanks to that purchase all these years ago, it's probably one of the best purchases I've ever made.
So what about this new printer? It's the Voxelab Aquila V2 (https://www.voxelab3dp.com/product/aquila-diy-fdm-3d-printer). It costs less than $200. My Original Ultimaker was a fully unassembled kit for $1300 (plus a lot more for upgrades). I added the heated bed and the 2nd extruder just as they were discontinued and everything was on clearance (still not really cheap). I never used the second extruder once. The technology was poorly designed and very inaccurate. (Sorry guys who worked on it, you know it's true, too.) The second print head is just off to the side a little and it has to be ever so slightly higher than the 1st head, which means it doesn't print well. Many new designs have improved upon the idea in every way. These days it might have some uses, but on my old machine, it was just a luxury to experiment with, and I never found anything that needed the second head enough to put it to work. Another huge upgrade I'm looking forward to is the all metal frame. Wooden frames are cheap and easy to produce for new companies in experimental tech. However, they don't work well at keeping things aligned when weather and humidity change on nearly a daily basis. I'm not sure how hackable this new printer will be, but since it's an Ender clone, it should be super easy to drop a smoothieboard or a homebrew 32bit controller in and connect up the steppers. I'm guessing I won't have much trouble upgrading or tweaking any parts of the design that I feel need work. This printer is designed with newbies in mind, but since I don't want to have to tweak every little thing every time I want to print something different (like I did before), I'm looking forward to just turning it on and pressing print. At this point in my 3D printing life, I want a working tool more than a hobby that teaches me how to fix printers that constantly break. I'm happy I bought my Ultimaker, but it's WAAAAY past time for something new. I might have liked to get a Prusa i3 MK3S instead, but we'll save that purchase for after things have settled down a bit more in life.
Oh, and I feel like it needs to be said that Ultimaker the company has had a lot of ups and downs in my dealings with them. I put a lot of money and time into the Ultimaker community, and I felt like I was thrown to the wayside once they had spent all the money I was going to give them. Their support for things like defective and replacement parts was very lacking and overpriced. I got a lot of run around once they sold their distribution rights in Japan. I bought and dealt with the original Dutch company, but suddenly they sold repairs, maintainence, and support to an overpriced Japanese company that had nothing to do with me or the printer I bought. That new deal was post sale. It felt a lot like bait and switch. They didn't even support my printer. Finally the original company stepped up and sent me replacement parts, but what a hassle. I wouldn't spend that much on a printer with such wishy washy support again. I think a sub $200 printer that I don't expect support for is a better deal in both the long and short run. It's so cheap, I don't expect anything to last forever, but I know there is a huge market of replacement and upgrade parts now. What was I paying so much money for back then? The new thing I guess. It certainly wasn't for quality support. I haven't dealt with them in a while, and since they sold off their international rights (piecemeal it seems), some places might be better than others, but I don't really recommend any of their printers anymore. In my opinion, they're consumer level printers with professional level pricetags. I firmly believe in speaking frankly about dealings with corporations. Once they show they don't care about us, we owe them nothing.
Yay, new printer for cheap! I'll post a printer review and some pictures sometime soon. The printer should arrive tomorrow and I'll get it all put together and working by the weekend for sure.
Ubuntu/Gnome bug on my cyberdeck and a power upgrade
So there's this bug in Gnome, which means Ubuntu is affected, which means a lot of users are affected. It seems to have been around since 2015, but no Gnome developer has fixed it, and it's starting to look like a very sore spot for the dev team. I think they have no idea where the bug is or how they'll ever fix it. Gnome seems to have outgrown the dev team. The worst part is that when people are understandably frustrated by this bug that basically makes it impossible to use your computer in any useful way, the dev team throws a fit and refuses to do anything. The main problem with this bug is that if you have a touch screen, Gnome will basically display an on screen keyboard (OSK) whether you want it or not. Even if you have a physical keyboard attached and you manually deactive the OSK, it will still reactivate itself and pop up. This takes up half of your screen, covers things, and makes windows jump around. In short, I'm leaning towards dumping Ubuntu on my cyberdeck because if I have the audacity to touch my touch screen, I can't see anything anymore. No one seems to be able to fix the bug, workarounds all get erased as soon as a small update to the system is released, and the one plugin which deactivated the OSK completely no longer works on newer versions of Gnome. Check out this bug report and problem solving brainstorming discussion and I challenge you to paint the dev team in a good light. One dev seems to want to help but is unable, another dev is basically hostile towards those reporting and discussing the bug. https://gitlab.gnome.org/GNOME/gnome-shell/-/issues/872 My advice to those with touch screens: avoid Gnome and anything that runs it.
So, I may be dumping Ubuntu in favor of PiOS again. I wanted the full feature environment of a mature OS, but that's still tempered by the architecture and having software compiled to run on it. As it stands, PiOS is lighter, so faster running and has fewer bugs that make you want to throw the computer out a window. The special build of chrome to play Netflix and other DRMed internet media streams works better than the full feature version of Firefox that runs in Ubuntu for the Pi. I built this computer to perform only a few tasks: be able to write with Libre Office (check on both OSes, but maybe lighter on PiOS), be able to watch internet streams (better on PiOS after tweaking), and be able use some light hacking tools like Arduino IDE, RTL-SDR, etc. (check on both OSes)
UPGRADE: I also finally got around to upgrading my power supply for my cyberdeck. The Raspberry Pi 4B is a pretty good little computer, but it has some power trouble. It uses a lot of amps at 5v. In fact, it doesn't run reliably at 5v at all. You really need at least 5.1v, and 3 amps or just a little more. What I ended up doing was what I expected the Pi to do on its own. Use a USB-C PD trigger to deliver more volts with slightly fewer amps, and step that down to 5.1v with more amps. For some reason, the Pi4B has USB-C, but not PD. They expect you to run the Pi and all of your USB peripherals on the same 5v 3amp bus, but that leaves almost nothing for USB after the 2.5+ amps you need for the Pi alone, so if you run a USB SSD, you basically have non-stop brownout notifications unless the computer is essentially sitting there idle. I went and got a 9v USB-C PD trigger and put that in front of a step down module before feeding power through the GPIO. I could have gone for more volts on the trigger, but I wanted to minimize waste heat produced by the step down module. My step down module is rated for 3A, but I'm thinking it might be overworking itself because it gets hotter than I would like (maybe that's normal though). I may have to install a second module in parallel to ensure it doesn't burn out. That would probably take too much space in my case, so I might just add some heatsinks to help keep it cool, or somehow mount it to the aluminum case and let the case passively cool the module. The good news is that I no longer have that under-voltage warning with it's associated throttling of my CPU. It just runs at full speed (potentially) all the time now. Yay! The sad part is that I had to buy a new mobile powerpack that has USB-PD 9V. My older powerpack said it could provide 15W from 5v at 3A, and when I measured the voltage supplied, it was actually closer to 5.25v, so it must have been providing fewer than 3 amps because that thing was constantly under powering the Pi. The new powerbrick with 9v PD capability works perfectly.
For now I have solved my power problems, but that solution has brought a new problem along with it. Overheating. I have heatsinks on the chips and a fan moving air through the case, but now that the computer isn't being throttled due to insufficient power, it's running faster and therefore hotter. I may have to get more creative with heat control measures. My first step is to put heatsinks on the step down as I mentioned. I don't think it is making enough of a difference to the Pi's temperature to make the heat throttling kick in. I'm pretty sure that's just the processor doing its thing, but I do want to prevent the step down's self-immolation. I may need to build a duct to direct the air a bit better over the installed heatsinks. Maybe I need a second fan blowing air into the case. Maybe I should use some type of conduit for moving heat to the case since it's a big sheet of aluminum. I'll inspect the problem a bit closer and come up with some ideas and pass along the winner once it's decided. For now, I'm happy the power problem is gone.
One more thing: SDR
So I decided to hook up my RTL-SDR the other day just to see what I could hear at work. I don't remember ever using my RTL-SDR dongle on this laptop, so I was a little surprised when I could hear an echo of people talking in my office. I immediately realized that something was leaking RF as FM modulation, but the first thing I tried tapping on (to find the source) was the leaking device: my laptop. It freaked me out a little at first and I decided I would need to investigate a bit more before I started hacking up my laptop or turning it inside out looking for malware. (Here's a reddit post I found with someone who had a worse version of this problem: https://www.reddit.com/r/RTLSDR/comments/1le3if/so_i_discovered_that_my_hp_laptop_leakstransmits/) When I plugged the RTL-SDR dongle into my cyberdeck, I could no longer hear my microphone on the same frequencies or any other frequencies that I could find. Whew. Crisis averted. It seems the dongle is getting local feedback through the USB port. As long as the dongle isn't plugged in, it isn't leaking, and indeed, it may not ever have actually leaked. I pick it up on the dongle because it's plugged into the same computer. Plugging the dongle into a different computer without a microphone and trying to find my leaking laptop breaks the leak. Now, that doesn't make me feel 100% better, because the problem exists that the laptop can leak audio if connected to the wrong device even when the microphones are turned off in software. This is a hardware shielding problem. I'll probably take apart the screen assembly on my laptop and stick a switch in the power wire that must go up to the little board that must host the webcam and microphones. It's probably a USB device or i2c or something like that. A little snip, a small hole for the switch, and suddenly I have a foolproof privacy mode for my webcam and microphones. No more post-it notes over the camera when it's not being used. BTW, if you're not covering your camera when it's not in use, you really should. https://blog.malwarebytes.com/hacking-2/2019/09/15000-webcams-vulnerable-how-to-protect-webcam-hacking/
Lost Treasure Trove
In the past I've made and documented a lot of projects, but some of them never got shared. Others I've shared here and there. Some have gone into long forgotten folders and got backed up to long forgotten locations. Today I came across such a folder and all of the little treasures that were waiting inside. I'll start going through some things and see if there are any mostly documented projects I can quickly upload here. One thing I'll definitely post is my Rick and Morty portal gun. I have all the STLs I made and the arduino sketch that runs the lights, sound, rotary encoder, and screen. The inside is a bit messy, but the outside looks great. Check out the projects menu option at the top of this site.
I've got a couple of projects in the works, and I'm finishing off some tweaks to my cyberdeck. The first project that I've been working on, and which is almost done, is a mini keyboard for booting up my main computer. This computer has Windows 7 and Ubuntu Linux installed on it, and I use a bluetooth keyboard. If I need to switch back and forth between the OSes, I have to plug in a non-bluetooth keyboard to be able to choose the correct operating system. Until now, I've just been waiting the 10 seconds that Grub waits before autobooting into Linux, and I've plugged in a keyboard on the off chance of needing to use Windows. That's REALLY annoying whenever it happens. So I finally got around to making a little keyboard that will plug in and attach to the case, which is also the TV stand that I built out of 2x4s and reclaimed pallet wood. It has 5 keyboard keys working as the buttons. I have UP, DOWN, ENTER, and F8 (for pulling up boot options on Windows). This takes care of all of my Grub needs. I've considered adding in a second keyboard map which will allow me to make changes in the BIOS menu, but I do that SO rarely, I think using a keyboard might be better than adding the new map and a screen or indicator LED to show which keyboard is currently selected on my 4 key keybard. "But wait, you said you had 5 keyboard keys working as buttons!" That's right. The 5th key bypasses the microcontroller that acts as the PS/2 keyboard (thus saving me a USB port) and plugs directly into the motherboard's case power switch jumper. I've been meaning to add a better power button than the huge push button that has been dangling near the floor ever since I built the tv stand/computer case. It's much nicer now, but I still have one thing to do: build an enclosure. I'm considering doing so with the leftover aluminum I have from my cyberdeck case. If not, I may just 3D print one. It doesn't need to be fancy, but it needs to keep the baby away from the arduino in case she decides to start jamming forks or other pokey objects into it. I have some pictures of it without the case, and I'll throw that up on a project page. It's quite simple and uses the ps2dev arduino library for emulating the keyboard.
The next project I'm about to start is a conversion for an old record player I found in the trash. I have the Pioneer PL-J2500 record player, which sells for about $60 new or as low as $10 used, but was free for me thanks to the garbage gods. It doesn't do much. It just plays records. Soon, however, it will also record records and replay recorded records. I bought a VS-1053b shield to do the heavy lifting of recording and replaying WAVs/MP3s/OGGs/etc, while a couple of OLED screens and perhaps a rotary encoder will be in charge of providing a UI. I'll probably use an esp32 instead of an arduino just to make connectivity and clock speed a little better. There was no real need for this project, it's just something I decided to do for fun, and because I had a record player laying around not being used. What's better than a record player? A record player that can rip and play ripped records without a computer!
I have a couple of other projects that need some updates/repairs. My auto plant watering system needs a better cable for power. It is currently snaking through the doorjam leading to the balcony where I keep the plants, and the door opening and closing on it has caused multiple shorts. It's a simple wire job, but finding a better way to do it is going to be a little annoying. Additionally, I still have some small power problems with my cyberdeck. Having multiple connector joints in the power cabling seems to cause a power drop. The board loads up, but I'm still facing low power signals. Using the original 5.1v 3A power supply prevents those problems, so it could be my battery's inability to provide 3A at 5v. However I have a similar problem with my 3rd party PD wall adapter. I guess that 0.1v is doing more work than I think. I think the best solution to this problem may end up being installing a PD trigger to get a higher voltage, then DC-DC convert to 5.1v with potentially more than 3A available. I'm still taking some stabs in the dark with this. I need to sit down and measure the power before, at, and after each connector to see exactly what the problem is, but that's not so much fun.
As Seen on Netflix: Spycraft
As you may know if you read this blog, I watch tv shows and movies while commuting on the train. This time around I watched all of the Spycraft docu-series on Netflix, and here just a few of on my thoughts on it:
First of all, this show is a little boring and very ethno-centric. It's all written and edited from a US perspective, and there's nothing new in it. "We" = "good guys" and "they" = "bad guys." There are lots of examples of things from spy agencies around the globe, but usually it's the bad guys who kill and poison, and it's the good-guys who save innocents and protect the internet. The dark net is bad. TOR is something that criminals use and only sometimes good guys, but they left out that it is funded by the US government.
Next up, why is the whole show rated "Adult"? Only one episode has anything that might be considered adult, and it could have been left out because it was completely unnecessary footage of a woman who was in the process of undressing. This footage as well as all of the interview footage is heavily edited and is repeated multiple times within the same episode as well as across multiple episodes. An ex-spy makes a sligtly witty quip and it gets used 4 times in the course of the series.
I've read some reviews by other people who've watched the show, and a common perspective, which I share, is that the show is basically propaganda. The show makes constant efforts to justify the existence of spies and the money being spent on them without ever being successful. So, why do spies exist? They exist because secrets need stealing and protecting. What secrets and why are they so important that lives are being wasted on them? We don't know for sure, but they mention lists of spies' names, secret spy tools, and not much else as being the things that spies try to steal and protect. So basically the message you walk away with is this: "Spies are very important because we have to protect the names of our spies and the technology used in their tools so that other spies can't use that to spy on them. Those spies are bad, and our spies are good. If we didn't have spies, there would be no freedom. Russia is bad. China is bad. The US is good."
That's basically it. I didn't come away feeling as if I had a better understanding of why I should care about spies. I still felt like they're wasting their lives on these secrets that no one would really care about. In my mind, there are no secrets worth saving in the world. We're all human and we all do the same rotten or kind things to one another. If you want to learn how to build better (insert secret technology here), just send your scientists to a good university. It's faster and easier than sending a spy to steal an incomplete set of documents about it.
The Raspberry Pi Foundation: Pico Edition
Recently the Raspberry Pi Foundation released the Pico, a arduino nano-esque microcontroller with some serious chops for only $4. Or so the story goes. Living in Japan, I find myself in the position of being treated like a second class citizen by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Let's get into a little background information so you'll understand where I'm coming from.
You might have heard about the Raspberry Pi. It's a nice little SBC (single board computer) that costs not so much. It was developed in the UK and has had multiple revisions that have increased power and form factors. At one point they released a very small version called the Raspberry Pi Zero. When the Zero came out, it was selling for $5. All over the world, this little computer was getting snatched up and resold for far more than the retail price. Attempting to get one in Japan meant you had to be willing to wait YEARS or pay 5+ times what it sold for at retail. Elsewhere in the world, they were being given away on the front of magazines for free.
Enter the Pico. This little "computer"(it's a microcontroller) sells for $4 and was manufactured in Japan. Except it doesn't sell for $4 in Japan. It costs $5+ IF you can find it! Somehow shipping those bastards overseas makes them cheaper. Not only that, half of the distributors on the Raspberry Pi site don't have any or their website is so horrible that it's impossible to add them to the shopping cart. The other half sell for higher than retail.
My main question is this: How the fuck do they justify charging local customers more than international customers? My follow up question is this: Why the fuck are they so hard to find?
Japan is very quickly falling behind the rest of the world technologically. 90% of my high school students have no computer skills beyond making basic powerpoints and tapping icons on their smartphones. STEM students are going to university without ever having learned how to type. While Japan was great in the 1980s and 1990s when it came to electronic appliances, they've NEVER been able to sell computers for a normal price. Every computer I've bought or built in Japan has come from overseas. Maybe it's just me, but I don't see the point in paying twice as much for the "privilege" of having to use a shitty Japanese keyboard and OS.
I'm oh so close to giving the finger to the Raspberry Pi foundation and just buying from their competitors instead. I'm not asking for any special considerations. I just want to pay the same price as everyone else in the world, and I want things that are made in this country to be available for purchase. Is that really so much to ask?