Tuesday, February 18, 2020

When Things Fall Into Place

The The: This Was The Day


The above may not look like much but it the result of hours of technical fiddling.   What you see is a laptop running Elemental OS  (a Linux that looks a little like macOS) successfully talking to the Interweb via either a Wired Interface or via 2.4 Ghz WiFi

Nothing special you might think, but this is only a 60 GBP Laptop.

Remember all that endeavour about the One Laptop Per Child  OLPC, the quest was to produce something basic for about 100 USD.    Well here I'm typing on a laptop costing that much, which is instead: lightweight, running Linux, and looking almost as stylish as a 1000 USD macBook Air (well at least from a distance!!)

Complacency and Intolerance
I had a self critical Eureka moment this evening when I thought to chastise myself  about my anger that my latest project, that above, was taking time and effort to get right

This is a 60 GBP laptop I had to remind myself

I can remember that a few decades ago getting something like this working right would be a challenge, not a reason for anger and despondency.

Where did that invincible, can make it work spirit evaporate to?

Now so much older, do I have the right to expect that things will just work, out of the box

Not at this price point I can tell you!

The Secret Sauce

So here are some of the confidential factors that will help you achieve the impossible or certainly the improbable

- Keep Going  
Well it means that you keep going until you drop.    Taking a break at the first sign of stress, no don't do that.

Work till you can't think straight, then stop and pick it up tomorrow

- A Friend
Your technical friend will listen carefully and in the process of explaining it to them you may realise the flaw in your design/implementation/compilation/plan

Either that or your more intelligent friend will genuinely solve the problem(s) for you

- Single Tasking
It means what it says.  Concentrate on one problem not many.  focus

- Google
Who else had the same problem before.  And what did they do

- Alternatives
In my case,  I'm building the fastest system with limited resources.  But there are many Operating System Choices.  Don't get hung up on the one, just to prove you are right, if another will do the job more excellently, and work (better)

- Document
It means write down digitally or electronically your progress.  Because otherwise next day you will be sorry.  Nobody has perfect recall when you work until your (brain) stops.

- Coffee
Coffee helps sharpen the mind,  Alcohol has the reverse effect.  Take the former not the latter

- Wholesome Food
Eating processed junk food does not work (for me) past 48 hours.  Far better to eat something simple.  I would always say yes to Porridge or Lentils

And with that ...  

Smug Mode On

Monday, February 17, 2020

A Sex Education

60 seconds

I was already in like with Sex Education the UK TV series, but then when they started playing Devo, they had me hook line and sinker.

The Plot
The first series follows the story of Otis Milburn, a socially awkward teenager, who is ambivalent about sex, despite, or perhaps because of, his mother being a sex therapist who is frank about all aspects of sexuality. After inadvertently assisting the school bully with his sexual performance anxiety, Otis sets up a sex advice business with Maeve, a confident but troubled classmate, to educate their fellow students in how to deal with their own sexual problems.

Teenage angst is always a winning plot line to me

Oh, and the effect of Parents on their children.  Shaping their behaviours and characters inappropriately in many cases, something that can take a lifetime to unwind.

So yes, it's a teen comedy, with some famous names,  controlling parents,  sex,  adolescent problems.

And all set in an uncharacteristically dry part of England, shot like it was in some sunny part of America, with bright skies, and large houses, and trailer parks   (yep, surely not shot in the UK!!)

I laughed, and left the series a wiser man indeed.  Relationships are never easy, at any age.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Remotely Turn Me On

The Tubes: Turn Me On

As I moaned just yesterday,  my excellent and capable Dell T5400 workstation is still not sold.  So today I thought I'd finally investigate remote startup and formally use it as my remote test system.

Why Remote Startup (and Shutdown)

Simply put you might have a computer at home that you'd like access to away from the home.

Rather than leave it on all the time, wouldn't it be great if you could turn it on remotely.

For Marcus and Agata in our (very) small home in England we located many electronic items in our DMG  (Demilitarised Garage), freeing up needed space in the house.  So for us remote startup might simply be power on that computer which is a few hundred metres away.

Then there is the power consumption tack.  This computers peak power usage is about 200 Watts.  Lets keep our electrical bills lower by only having it on when required.

The Teckin Power Switch Method

We predominantly use Teckin WiFi controller power switches in our UK home and external buildings.

At the time of writing a single plug is available from Amazon UK for less than 10 GBP

As supplied you buy these plugs and control them using the SmartLife application, however if you are serious about Home Automation I would recommend looking at my article about Tasmota instead.  (NB: This is a massive undertaking and for us involved setting up a local and alternate Home Automation product called Domoticz, so the easy way to get started is SmartLife )

Once the Power Switch is setup you can power on your computer remotely and then I use Microsoft Remote Desktop to gain remote access to the screen and keyboard of the remote computer

Other good and free remote access products are available of course and I'd mention VNC whose protocol is used by many vendors, RealVNC is just one example

BIOS Settings

 This is the key setting.  In other words if the power switch turns on the power to the plugged in computer then the computer will start

But Also

Instead of powering up at will a poor version of this would be to set the computer to automatically startup at a particular time each day.

Given the first solution, i.e. configure the computer to power on when power is applied to the plug, this is in every way an inferior solution.  I'm including it here for completeness only, and in the case you decide / refuse to spend the money on the Teckin plug!

Magic Packet LAN Powerup
(Method 2)

The second mechanism to turn on the computer remotely is to use a program to send the LAN card a special message.  It is known as  Wake on LAN  (WOL)

This amazingly dates back to 1996 and you can read more about the protocol here 

NirSoft Wake on Lan

Nirsoft makes an established bit of software enabling you to send this special WOL message to your remote computer.   The remote computer is essential powered off, but you have configured the BIOS as above so in fact the LAN card is waiting for this special message.  When received it will send a signal to the Computer's motherboard to fully power on.   Marvellous

You run the NirSoft program whilst your remote computer is up.  It makes a record of all computers that it sees.  Now shut your remote computer down.

Start Nirsoft again and then you can click on the computer, Dell for us and F8 to send the WOL packet

As if by magic the system turns on.

If you just want to power on the computer on your home network that is distant from you then either method works well.

Of course if you want to power on the computer whilst away from the home, example, thousands of km away whilst on holiday you would

a) use the Teckin method
b) Configure a firewall so that the Remote Desktop Port is available from the Internet.

(b) is beyond the scope of this article, but aside from configuring the firewall to allow this port thru there are some extra security considerations so that you are not bombarded by people trying to illegally hack/ break into your system.

I've shown 2 mechanisms for you to remotely turn on your computer.  Until it is sold my Dell T5400 computer is now on standby in the Cave, and I can remote power it on, then logon to use it as my test system.  Fantastic!

Saturday, February 15, 2020

What Price Second Hand

This is not exactly an advert, I'd say more of a case study. 

For over 6 months now I've been selling of 40 items on a variety of online selling platforms.  I will name Facebook Marketplace and Shpock as two.

Many items have sold, but some of the larger non trivial ones have not!

This then is my grumpy analysis of Why the Hell Not?

Case Study

I am still attempting to sell a powerful Dell Computer

T5400 Workstation
2 Xeon CPUs
64GB Boot SSD
1 TB Data Disk
Extremely strong, heavy, bullet proof case
DVD Drive, Lots of USB Ports
Fanless Dual DVI-D Graphics

The facts are then

- Advertised in multiple places
- Clear and clean advert
- Multiple pictures
- Drum Roll: Price is less than 250 GBP

I am basically totally at a loss why it cannot be sold.  Your can't buy a new desktop with a fraction of this power and specification for the price.

The case alone, something that would probably survive a Nuclear blast, plus the strong power supply are worth over 100 GBP.

Honestly speechless.

So it brings me to mind my Conclusions

- Today we are surely at peak manufacturing.  Stuff is available at low low prices, forcing the price of second hand goods down to ridiculously low prices

- Buyers just want to buy new!

- I suppose buyers may think 'I don't have time to fart about looking for second hand'.  Instead I will just blindly go to Amazon.

Actually there are real savings to be made for only a small time outlay, but I think buyers have really been sold on Amazon and the like.   They may not even consider second hand platforms

- Buyers get seduced with free postage.  But Amazon do free postage I hear buyers telling me.   Unfortunately I asked Royal Mail, they keep wanting to charge me

- Buyers are right to be sceptical of the online, somewhat scumbag marketplace.   Not Marcus of course, but tainted by the brush, and this low level seems to correspondingly attract the worst types of low life buyer too

- There is no good secure payments system for Buyers.  Actually there is pretty much only PayPal and Marcus the buyer who myself may have recently been scammed is about to find out exactly how good PayPal is at giving me back money.   I am not optimistic :-(

So there you have it.   Advertised for 6 months plus.   No buyers, not even timewasters.   People just want new, etcetera.

Friday, February 14, 2020

My Darling Valentine 2020

Dear  Partner, Wife, and today Valentine.    

Simply the best thing that ever happened to me.

Windows Server 2019 Bluetooth Keyboard Support

As of this Tuesday I had only one working Drevo Bluetooth keyboard working on my Windows Server 2019.  And now I have 3!

Further analysis has solved the mysteries.   Let us continue:

Bus Limitations

For the last few months I've experienced keyboard slowdowns on my Windows 2019 server system.  I have noticed that these slowdowns don't affect Bluetooth devices and therefore resolved to switch Keyboard and Mouse to Bluetooth operation.

But as I documented here, getting a keyboard to work seemed almost impossible

First I have got to the bottom of the slowdowns.  Since November 2019 I upgraded my server adding possibly the last NVMe disks.  This means a potential thruput over over 5000 MB/second and possibly as fast as 10,000 MB/second during disk copy operations.

I've now found that during the daily backup cycles, managed by SyncBack, the sheer speed of data copies causes keyboard devices on the USB busses to stall.

Clearly I'm reaching the architectural limits of this server and take note of this that any future expansion designed to improve speed of operation might compromise general usability

BlueTooth Support

And now I've also got to the bottom of Bluetooth Keyboard support under Windows Server 2019

Bluetooth 3.0 keyboards are not supported

Specialist non generic Bluetoon 4.0 / BTLE keyboards may fail also

I now tested 6, Bluetooth 3.0 keyboards and none of them can connect to the Windows Server 2019.   I also tried using 4 different Bluetooth Hardware enablers.  A lot of testing and nothing worked!

Also the Microsoft Modern keyboard, although it uses BTLE connection has some special smarts on the keyboard, like a fingerprint reader, and since that driver can't be downloaded separately (for Windows 2019 server) it can't make a working connection

What is Working then?

- Drevo Calibur

- Rapoo 9300M

- Logitech MX Keys

Logitech MX Keys

Here is what you need to know

- The cost is about 100 GBP from Amazon

- For this price I expected fancy packaging and was not disappointed

- This is a rechargeable keyboard with a USB C charge plug

- There is a keyboard backlight with a sensor.  really fancy

- Keys are silent.   No noise! cf any mechanical keyboard 

- Keys have nice dimples

- Keys are clearly marked,  I can read them!!

- Dedicated cursor and page up/down/home/end keys.  For me a deal breaker.  I don't care how beautiful and well connected a keyboard is, must have these dedicated keys

- Logitech Options application  (install fine under Windows Server, allows mapping of many keys to start an application, or a dedicated Windows function.  Brilliant

- The only negative for me is that the relative small size of the left shift key has me accidentally pressing the caps lock, but I see from the Options program that I could disable it.

In Summary
My Supermicro based hardware running Windows 2019 Server now somewhat stalls USB devices under extreme Disk load.

The answer was to switch keyboard to Bluetooth, now supported under Server 2019

However your keyboard needs to connect using Bluetooth 4.0, 3.0 does not work

From the working keyboards I selected  I'm most pleased with the Logitech MX Keys keyboard.  It's pretty expensive at 100 GBP, but it's solid with many useful features.  A real quality product.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

From Samsung: The S20 ... Get Your Wallet Ready

A phone update for February 2020.

So MWC Mobile World Congress 2020  the event at/ around which everybody  (except Apple) launches major phones for the year is cancelled.  (Coronavirus)

Companies including Samsung have alternative announcement strategies: Samsung just announced class leading S20 phones

(Presumably they have aligned the year number to the model, so maybe S21 in 2021 etc?)

The Big Deal
Samsung's announcements are astonishing.  Pushing technology limits in all areas.   Notably the 108MP primary lens Camera on the S20 Ultra, as well as 5G capability (meh!!), but also 120Hz Screen refresh, and 6.9" pocket bursting size, oh and a 5000mAH battery.

UK Pricing

S20 899GBP
S20+   128GB  999GBP
S20 Ultra 128GB  1199GBP
S20 Ultra 512GB  1399GBP

S20 Ultra 128GB Swiss 1349 CHF

Take My Money
If I had to give a company my money I'd prefer to give it to any company (meaning including Samsung) that is trying to give me the latest in technology,  rather then Apple, a company that intentionally holds back, because you know, the features you want today, are going to be available in next years iPhone.

Of course if you have locked yourself into the Apple ecosystem then you have made your own decision and no Android phone including Samsung is right for you.

Any Gotchas?
Both the Google Pixel 4 and the iPhone 11 have sophisticated facial recognition systems that are more secure than unlocking via the insecure front facing camera.  As such they can unlock the phone and authenticate you much more quickly than any S20 phone.

This may not sound significant, but pressing the fingerprint sensor multiple times in a transaction, first to unlock, then to secondary authenticate and further, or just generally when you have gloves or, or can't get to the fingerprint sensor.   It is a real advantage.


Samsung has traditionally been hopeless (and I choose that word carefully) with Software updates, both implementation of the monthly Android security patch, or the yearly OS version change.   What are they like in 2020+ I wonder?


These  phones have flatter surfaces  (your screen protector might actually stay on and be without bubbles), and the stupid Bixby button disappeared  (hooray).   Sensible

Show me Videos

I carefully selected just three

MKBHD 07:49 GALAXY S20 Ultra

MKBHD 09:44 Galaxy S20 S20Plus

The Second Sleep

The Second Sleep cover art

Subtitle:  Apocalypse 2025

As a scientist Marcus is all too familiar with the doomsday clock.  The setting for 2020 is 100 seconds to midnight.  If you want to understand why 13 Nobel Laureates make this pessimistic assessment of the  World's vulnerability to catastrophe you could perhaps start here

I mention this as a backdrop to the absolutely jaw dropping and page turned novel by Robert Harris that I am in the process of re-listening to

The abridged version is available for free from the BBC here

But the BBC 140 minute version I would rank as confusing. The detail that has necessarily been excluded and so it is my task here to rather point you to the 9 hour version available at Audible here

The Second Sleep is a novel about life in England, 800 years after a catastrophic Worldwide collapse of our Technological and Science based society.   The plot centers around Christopher Fairfax, a priest who visits a small English village where a fellow clergyman has fallen to his death, or perhaps he was pushed?

The dead priest seems to have been a part of a Society of Antiquaries, people that study the past, and in particular the times before the great collapse.  Such study is not encouraged, and in fact is promoted as Heresy by the Church, the force that now dominates and controls many aspects of life in the country.

As Fairfax begins to examine the truth, his own beliefs, his faith, and his assumed history of the world, before and since the great catastrophe, all is thrown into question.

Will he remain loyal to the church, or follow his heart, against perhaps impossible odds?

Whilst I'd recommend the Audible version, a paper copy can be obtained here

With my strong lifelong interest in Religion and Science, and my sincere fears for the planets well-being, I regard this book as an essential read to the mindful.  It is food for thought indeed.

What will happen to our society indeed.   Will we make it past 2025 ourselves?  Check back with me in just a few short years.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Windows Server 2019 Hello and Fingerprint Support

I don't often start with an apology but in this case I do!  I don't have all the details, because it's one of those /I changed a hundred things before it worked/ sort of stories.  All I can say is

My Windows 2019 Server now has Windows Hello Capability including PIN and fingerprint recognition.

In other words I can use my [microsoft] password to logon but I can use the other two mechanisms instead if I want to.

I used the 26GBP Benss fingerprint reader from Amazon

You need to insert the key under Windows server 2019 and it will not find the driver.   So download it from here and in Device Manager

And browse and install.  It will then show up at Elan Smart-id

Biometric service needs to he started and Automatic

That is then the easy bit!

Some Settings ... managed by your organisation

You are now on a quest to twiddle settings on your system until the Control Panel Settings ->  Accounts -> Sign in options screen shows Fingerprint and PIN buttons as enabled i.e. not grayed out

The key to unlocking this is via the Group Policy Editor

Run gpedit.msc

At least change this ...

If after rebooting a few times and checking if Hello has turned up or not, then you may to do some googling.  Sorry!

I fixed some other errors like this COM error.  But surely that was unrelated?

Waiting for Sugru

The picture at the top shows the fingerprint reader connected via an extension to the back of the Workstation Server.  It's held up with duct tape to the cabinet.   Once I decide on the most appropriate location then Sugru will be used to firmly stick the cable in place.

Eventually then

So it is now all working.  Wahoo!

ELO: Hello Telephone Line