Fun with electronics

Internet of things devices are amazing. They are just really smart really tiny computers used in innovative ways.

  • smart electric socket
  • smart light bulbs
  • doorbell camera
  • video picture frames
  • autonomous vacuum cleaner
  • Amazon echo
  • Sonos speakers
  • Internet radios

It is really not that difficult to create your own IOT device but it is possible to get a head start by using either the Arduino or Raspberry Pi as a starting point. Both of these platforms bring a lot to the table but in different ways.

It might seem intimidating to create your own but this book can help clarify everything you need to know.

Topics
Theory and components
Tools
Simple circuits
Integrated circuits
Software tools
Arduino
Raspberry Pi
C programming
Makefiles
Kicad design software
Linux commands

Projects
Streaming audio
Network storage
Arduino LED cube
LED cube with custom PCB

This book describes everything you need to create your own custom device. This could be built on top of a pre-existing platform or even by designing your own custom circuit. This makes it fun to create your very own device from scratch. Most importantly everything is described with the assumption you are a beginner.

Getting started with Arduino and Raspberry pi

978-1952930027

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The fall from grace

It is actually quite easy to label a group as the “enemy” if you have never spent any time with them. Governments in foreign lands are the perfect faceless enemy that provides the focal point for criticism or even hate. Different societies place different emphasis on different values from free speech, societal harmony, or even a patriarchal form of government. It is hard to judge a different culture from afar but it is easy to to make a list of differences.

Corruption in government

How can you truly measure the corruption? Only connected people tend to make it to government office and once they do their overall wealth, after a few short years, easily outstrips the average wealth of their constituents.

Minority rule

Through what seems to be some form of legal trickery the government is controlled not by the what the majority of the citizen. This also takes place in conjunction with legal maneuvers to disenfranchise various groups of voters.

Controlling their citizens

I guess dress code is all a matter of opinion. As a much younger person seeing the girls in their skimpy swim suits or ultra short skirts seemed ok but as the dad this much less appreciated. Just like I can control what my children wear some governments seem to have a lot of control of what their women and children wear outside of the house. Women are actualy limited in things that they can do with a male family member or even alone. One of the clearest indication of this women’s ability to get an abortion.

Legalized stealing by the government

Nobody expected to get held up by the police at a traffic stop. It is a sign of corruption if you do not know if the money in your pocket will be taken by the police with out knowing if you will ever get it back.

Living in primitive conditions

Everyone would recognize that living in a cave with nothing more than a rock for a pillow would be living in the stone age but it is rarely that clear cut. What if you live in an apartment building with no heating or air conditioning. A sign of true poverty is if we cannot expect reliability in some of the most basic human needs – water and electricity. Another sign of living in primitive conditions might be if your buildings and bridges collapse without being bombed by a foreign power.

Disbelief of science

Science can be very inconvenient when someone throws in your face to prove their point. It can be especially upsetting if someone uses science to increase your cost of doing business – especially if this something you don’t really believe in. This is difficult if your own government doesn’t support or in fact threatens your livelihood if you don’t toe the party line. This is even worse if science becomes politicized to the point facts no longer matter.

Civil strife

When 50% or more of the country can’t tolerate their fellow citizens.

This entire laundry list of issue could easily be pointed at a lot of different “third world” countries. They might sound like one or two specific countries but unfortunately they are all about one country in particular – the United States of America.

It is ok for the various political parties to disagree with what they see as the priorities for the country as a whole but at the moment it seems that both parties, perhaps one more than the other, is focusing on its own groups best interests not the best interests of the entire country.

Are these current troubles going to be a relatively short blip like the McCarthy years or will it last decades like the cold war. At the end of the day, it is important for everyone to behave as if they all belong to a single country and work for the betterment of that country.

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Think of the children

I actually was a child once and have children of my own so I can understand wanting to protect some of society’s most vulnerable people. A topic such as child porn is probably the worst possible thing that could occur.

Thus supporting the fight to prevent bad things from occurring is a truly noble and Apple has stepped up to fight this problem. Unlike arguments of creating more or bigger safety nets for society there are two possible outcomes and both can be correct depending on your position. This is not true for child porn and sexual predators there is no positive argument thus this issue tends to be used to implement new rules, regulations or restrictions.

Yet, in order to support this very admirable goal Apple has decided its users have to give up an element of our privacy. The plan is photos from our iPhones will be scanned for known child pornography prior to be uploaded to the Apple cloud. In addition to this the iMessage service will be also be scanning for text and photos that are not suitable for minors.

I do not want anyone to use modern technology and social media to inappropriately reach my children but lets look at Apple’s change from another view.

Apple will have a world wide infrastructure to monitoring photos and text that should not be shared. The authorities will be informed if this occurs “too many times”.

If we look at this change on its face value this is a great way to scoop up a few of the technological naive people who think technology is a magic cloak. The problem is that this international companies are responsible to answering to many different governments some of which have differing ideas on privacy or what is acceptable. This means that dictators or authoritarian regimes can replace “child pornography” with memes and track anyone who sends anti-government texts. Too many times could be equal to 1.

The same reason why adding a government only back door to an encryption method will never be secure over the long run. Someone will discover it, break it or leak the secret password. The same is true about implementing this infrastructure, it will take the Apple corporation from one that tries to support privacy to “the authoritarians” favorite foreign cell phone maker.

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A trojan horse

Gaming and office productivity tasks which pretty much describes all of the things you can do on a computer. If you want or need to do either of these then Windows 10 is a great operating system to have. There are virtually no A level games that are not available on Windows.

If this is indeed true why would anyone want to move away from Windows 10. Sure there might be some small reasons but if you need to purchase software you would not be excited you might need to purchase all new software.

We could all move away from Windows 10 because the newest and bestest Windows 11 is about to be released. Sure, we might have to purchase new software in some cases but we are going to get some really good functionality right? Well, lets look at all the Windows 10 goodness we received when it was the new kid on the block.

  • Start Menu Ads in Windows 10
  • Windows 10 targeted ads
  • Windows 10 Location Tracking and Location History
  • News app notifications
  • Windows store
  • Cortana searches only with Bing not Google
  • Forced updates

These are definitely not positive features in a lot of peoples opinions although they are quite interesting for Microsoft. What does Windows 11 bring to the table?

  • TPM 2.0
  • UEFI, Secure Boot capable

Windows does have a few new requirements which can actually be used to help keep your computer secure. Yet, the history of UEFI and Windows has not only been one of security against installing unsigned software. Microsoft is a large company and can afford infrastructure for dealing with UEFI signed keys and motherboard manufacturers but this one situation can cause difficulties. The Linux world did come up with a solution but if you wanted to start completely from scratch you wouldn’t be able to install new keys onto your own hardware.

Another issue is the requirement of TPM 2.0 support on your computer. Although TPM 2.0 has been around since 2014 is has been implemented by a lot of manufacturers as a hardware addon. According to some of the rumors you also need a CPU that is two years old or older. This change might all be for the best but it sounds like the new hardware requirements might mean new hardware is necessary.

Well, I am sure that Microsoft has no plans on getting everyone to switch to Windows 11 and then either lock them into their own ecosystem and force everyone to purchase from their own software store. They would have no plans to consolidating every Windows pc into locked down platform.

Oh, if you have Windows 10 you can get Windows 11 for free! Wow, hundreds of engineers working on a successor to Windows 10 for years and Microsoft wants to give it to all of us for free?!?

Lets all hope this isn’t some sort of Trojan Horse.

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Mature minor doctrine – think of the children

Mature Minor Doctrine – think of the children

I was young once and despite my bluster here, I was not all that rebellious against my parents. Either that or the could see me coming a mile away and defused the situation. In terms of serious issues I could have done any of the following.

Color my hair
get a mohawk haircut
get some piercings
get a small tattoo
get a large obvious tattoo
run away and join the circus

Now, a few years later, I can only imagine that these are still options but there are a few very polarizing issues in the United States at the moment. What political party do you support and do you believe in getting a Covid 19 vaccination.

I cannot imagine all that many 14 or 15 year olds who start dressing up like either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders or having a demonstration in the living-room but what about the vaccine? If your parents are against it you can really rile them up by getting it.

Normally, it is your parents that bring you to the doctor and get those kinds of things done. Yet, kids these days are pretty tech savvy, and there is a lot of information available on the internet. Actually some of this information is describing this “Mature Minor Doctrine” which has been online since 2008. This Tennessee law was passed in 1987 when kids were less rebellious and it allowed minors to get vaccinated above the age of 14 without their parents consent.

All of this might interesting but not especially relevant for those who do not live in Tennessee. Well, except that the Tennessee health department has backed down from their efforts to get minors vaccinated. These efforts were in the form of Facebook and Twitter posts. They have gone as far as to delete these posts and to fire the medical director, Mischelle Fiscus, for vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization programs.

I guess it may have had something to do with the Tennessee state senator Janice Bowling who urged the head of the health department, Lisa Piercey, to “take action” and to “remove the fear, the concerns and the anger that has gone across the state as a result of (Fiscus) letter”.

“It is very disconcerting to see the letter, or memo, from Dr. Fiscus stating that Tennessee law allows the Department of Health to give vaccinations to children 14 years of age,” “Tennessee law does not allow that” Janice Bowling

I guess the senator who is not as familiar with the Tennessee state statutes is concerned about the flood of rebellious youths who have or are planning to get the vaccine. Thjs is obvious by the massive number of teens, which as of June 2021 could be measured to 8000 eight individuals which included the three children of Lisa Piercey.

I guess now that we have managed to protect the hords of rebellious youths wanting to get a vaccination in the middle of a Pandemic the Tennessee department of health can focus on other pressing issues such as enforcing the prohibition of teaching anything that is related to “non-abstinent-behavior” and collection those 500 dollar fines.

Fines for teaching anything non-abstinent as protection
https://siecus.org/state_profile/tennessee-state-profile/

More on this topic is available from “The Tennessean”
https://eu.tennessean.com/story/news/health/2021/07/12/tennessee-fires-top-vaccine-official-covid-19-shows-new-spread/7928699002/

https://eu.tennessean.com/story/news/health/2021/07/15/tennessee-top-vaccine-official-got-glowing-reviews-before-being-fired/7980386002/

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Clear as glass

I don’t always have the most current electronics. It can be a bit of a bummer to see kids on the bus whose cell phone is about 20x nicer than mine. However, my old phone was in a bad way so I thought I would get a new one.

Not wanting my screen to look like a shattered mirror, I also bought some protection. Wow, you would think that my last phone was from the last century the differences are so large. But, working with computers I expect things to get a lot better every 2-3 years. What did surprise me was the new phone “protective screen”.

The old technology was essentially a very wide piece of clear tape. The likelihood of getting air bubbles under the tape is not 100% but that was my experience. I used up a few packages to protective films only to see one or two little air bubbles in the middle of the screen. Fast forward about 6 or so years and we are protecting our glass screens with glass covers. It seems a bit counter intuitive but that is supposed to protect my phone if I drop it.

I am not going to test that theory, well, not intentionally. But the installation of the security glass is amazing. If you did a good enough job cleaning the screen you essentially drop the glass on and it sticks like magic with no bubbles. With a bit of help from a friend, we essentially drop the glass and you could see the air slide out to the edges. The preparation took all the time and the glass was installed in about 30 seconds.

It is so cool that I almost can’t wait for my next phone.

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Italygate an impossible proposition

Almost 50 years ago there was the infamous break in at the Watergate hotel. It was a tremendous scandal then and has not lost any seriousness despite having occurred so long ago. Yet this scandal has touched any and all issues since then which is intended to magnify the importance of the scandal at hand. Due to the frequency of its use as well as some of the unimportant scandals it has been associated with seems to actually diminish both the reported scandal as well as the Watergate scandal itself.

One of the most recent and quite laughable scandal is Italygate. In a nutshell, this conspiracy theory, is that votes in the US 2020 presidential election was stolen from President Trump. This general talking point is not so unusual considering all the similar talk since president Trump lost in 2020 but what is interesting is how this was supposedly achieved.

The claim goes that people working for the Italian defense contractor are working with senior CIA officials and using military satellites to switch votes from Trump to Joe Biden to bring about a swing away from President Trump for Presidential candidate Biden.

This does sound a bit far fetched especially considering that not all voting is done with computerized voting machines but more importantly because they are not connected to the internet specifically to prevent these types of security problems.

Now if you are a true believer then somehow this might sound a bit plausible but there are a few observable reasons why this is not true. I don’t ever remember hearing about space programs, as it relates to satellites, being described in connection with Italy. A quick look into Wikipedia, which despite being a volunteer effort is right quite often, actually shows that the Italians do not have a space footprint at all. The closest you can get is the European Space Agency and their space program.

If the fact that the Italians do not send up satellites is not enough, what about the fact that connecting computers together is difficult. Apple is getting much better but that is connecting its own hardware together. The task of different machines, which again are not actually reachable by internet or satellite, made in different years and perhaps running different operating systems would be huge.

If you don’t believe me, ask my wife. She still has problems with Windows 10 connecting to a HP printer – and the printer was purchased in the same year as the laptop. Networking is hard, connecting computers without generating noticeable errors (in certain situations) is hard and having a good international conspiracy is also hard.

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Prognostication – partisan deaths increase Dec 2021

I actually would like to be wrong. I might be – just ask my wife about my track record. Yet this time it is different. In the United States at the moment there is a pretty large political divide, shoot, if the news is to be believed they are set for another civil war.

One of the few things that has been a constant is over the last year quite a few American citizens have been taking it on faith that Covid is not all that deadly, and when it is the casualty numbers are about 1%. I don’t think that is true, perhaps I am a weak minded person who believes just anything that the medical community is willing to say. Quite a few of the southern states are full of Republicans and quite a few Republicans – approximate 50% – will not be getting vaccinated.

The most common reasons why people are refusing a Covid 19 vaccination

  • They don’t believe they are safe
  • They don’t believe they are necessary.

Not only that quite a few of these deniers can do math, well, know what a number is. One percent is smallish number. I don’t have any data that suggests Democrats are also not deniers but based on quite a few news stories they tend to be more likely to get vaccinated.

The nature of viruses is to spread and they can more easily spread where conditions are right and there is a an available host. If there are lots of unvaccinated people there will be more who will catch Covid and in the worse case die. If the set of unvaccinated people is mainly from one political group there will be a larger concentration of deaths in that group.

Lets hope I am wrong and the Covid variants that are spreading in 6 months are more benign.

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Fixing GRUB

Just a few days ago I had installed the new version of Mint on a second partition. The installation succeeded, so everything’s good, right? Well, no. Because unfortunately, this installation somehow screwed up the GRUB configuration, leading to GRUB both not being able to boot into the new installation, as well as removing all other entries. This lead to quite a bit of headache and work trying to fix it. So if this has happened to you, how do you fix it?

Booting into a system

The first step in recovering your system, is booting into your operating system. For this you have two options. Option one, is to just take a live-bootable CD or USB-Drive, and boot into that instead. Alternatively, you can try to boot into your already existing OS and go from there. I chose that route and can therefore vouch for it and will demonstrate how to use it. However, I’m guessing that the other way will work too, especially if you’re uncomfortable with the command-line interface of GRUB.

So to start with, you will need to know on which partition your operating system is, which I will assume you already know. If you do not, I recommend using a live-bootable CD for this step, or if you really need your system, use it to just figure out which partition it is on. However, GRUB does not use the Linux style /dev/sda1 naming scheme. It uses a scheme, that looks like this: (hd0,msdos1). This may seem weird and opaque, but converting to it is really rather simple. For the drive identifier, instead of sd you have hd, instead of letters you have the numbers starting from 0. So /dev/sde would be hd4. Now to the slightly odd part: the partition number. You can just reuse the number part, but you also need to specify the partitioning system, meaning gpt or msdos or something else. If you’re uncertain about which one your drive is using, helpfully, typing ls will list all of the partitions in the way that GRUB expects them to be named.

Now that we know the drive and partition number, it’s time to get started on the actual booting. We’ll just set the root in GRUB to be the partition that we’re trying to boot into, to make everything easier on us, with the command set root=(hd0,msdos1), obviously using your partition identifier. Note: this doesn’t set root for Linux, that will be done next. Now we select the Linux kernel which is chosen. This is usually found under /boot/vmlinuz, sometimes followed with a dash and the version number. We select the correct Kernel and root file system as follows: linux /boot/vmlinuz root=/dev/sda1. Following that, we select the correct initrd, with the same version number – or lack thereof – with initrd /boot/initrd.img. Now that everything is selected correctly, we just use boot to boot into our system, and are done.

set root=(hd0,msdos1)
linux /boot/vmlinuz root=/dev/sda1
initrd /boot/initrd.img
boot

For this part, I found this article: https://www.linux.com/training-tutorials/how-rescue-non-booting-grub-2-linux/ to be very helpful. If you run into issues or are in GRUB rescue, refer to this.

Fixing the issue – permanently

To actually solve the problem, we need to fix the GRUB configuration file. This process is unclear to me, so I will just tell you what worked on my UEFI machine, and if that doesn’t work for you or your machine isn’t UEFI, I recommend this guide: https://access.redhat.com/documentation/en-us/red_hat_enterprise_linux/7/html/system_administrators_guide/ch-Working_with_the_GRUB_2_Boot_Loader from redhat. The first step is to run the update-grub tool, which according to most guides should already do the trick. So reboot your system and see if it worked. If it didn’t, get back into your system and do the following. Make sure the system EFI partition is mounted, probably on /boot/efi/. If it isn’t, mount it there. Now you should find to directories in /boot/efi/EFI/, one BOOT and one other one, for example ubuntu. Go into the second one, and here you will find the GRUB configuration file, grub.cfg. Run the output from update-grub into that file, by running update-grub -o grub.cfg. Now reboot, and it should work.

update-grub -o /boot/efi/EFI/ubuntu/grub.cfg
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Roccat Vulcan 121 AIMO review

The Roccat Vulcan 121 AIMO is a full 105 mechanical key keyboard created by a German computer accessories company based in Hamburg. Roccat sells keyboards, mice and headsets but in my opinion it is the keyboards that are the star of the show.

Roccat Vulcan 121 AIMO

The keyboard that I evaluated had linear mechanical switches although Roccat also sells this same keyboard with a relatively quiet tactile option as well. This keyboard actually stands out from most others due to its flat keycaps which allows the per key RGB colors to really shine. It is a combination of the keycap being about half its normal height and the switches are not hidden by the case. The entire profile of the keyboard is quite flat. If your working environment is ergonomic you might not need the wristrest that is shipped with the keyboard.

The keyboard is really fun to look at but it is also a quality build. The USB cord is 1.8 meter long braided cord. The base plate of the keyboard is brushed aluminum. This gives the keyboard a super premium look but also a lot of structural rigidity so it the keyboard doesn’t hardly flex if you grab the ends and twist.

This full keyboard can be used in any setting but probably lends itself more toward the home or gaming segment. There is nothing preventing you from using this keyboard in the office but with its colors it is quite a bit flashier than would be accepted in a work environment. This keyboard could theoretically be used for mobile computing but because it is a full sized USB cabled keyboard it is perhaps not as desirable as something smaller and more compact.

Mechanical keyboards are often advertised with a longevity of tens of millions of keystrokes. I have no doubt that this keyboard will live up to its promises. It was only after working with the keyboard for a while that I realized there were a few downsides. The standard ANSI US keyboard has virtually an unlimited amount of flexibility for changing the key caps. Most, but not all, mechanical keyboards have either Cherry MX key switches or have a Cherry MX compatible stem. When you are in that situation it is possible to purchase new keys with a small investment of 30 or 40 dollars you can give the keyboard a complete new look.

Yet, because the key switches are custom you might not be able to use any of these common keycaps. I tried a few but there was problems with clearance. The form of the key switch is actually slightly different than that of a normal Cherry MX key switch. The switch form is more square. This customization of the keyboard could quite easily make it difficult if one of the keycaps were to break.

Roccat key switch

Kailh switch – Cherry compatible

pros

  • Per key RGB lighting
  • Braided USB cable

cons

  • Oddly shaped key switches
  • Somewhat expensive

Conclusion

It is a beautiful keyboard with an excellent build quality. The only negatives, other than the relatively high cost, is what would be the near impossibility to replace any key-caps if desired or required.

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