Sunday, February 07, 2016

Refreshing Yoga with Ubuntu 15.10

Note - The following is a bit long because I think it's useful to see how I got to where I am from where I started. You have been warned... :-)

So this started a couple weeks ago when I was trying to figure out if for my yearly technology refresh I wanted a monster laptop (i7, 980m, SSD) with minimal battery life, or if I wanted to try and use a Chromebook that would have great battery life and use either Teamviewer or Chrome Remote Desktop to access one of my desktop machines and do video editing and other work that way. I recently upgraded my Verizon to 12 gis/month so it was less likely I would blow through my data plan, and the idea of a less expensive and lighter weight machine seemed right up my aisle since I am always trying to optimize and simplify.

The problem was, I don't have a Chromebook and if it turned out that there were going to be some issues doing what I needed to do with it, then I would still have to buy the monster as well and would now have $300-$500 less to do it with.

Asked a few questions over on the Reddit ChromeOS subreddit, but didn't get any answers that left me feeling like anyone was trying to do what I had in mind. However that did point me to Neverware and their CloudReady distribution that suggested I could run the next best thing to ChromeOS on my Lenovo Yoga (original generation). Since the Yoga relies primarily on the Intel Integrated graphics, and has an older core i5 and 8 gigs of RAM it seemed like a good match.

Downloaded their file, added the Chrome Restore Utility to my Windows chrome setup, inserted a freshly formatted 8 Gig Flash drive, pointed the Chrome Restore Utility to the Cloudready file, and 30 minutes later was ready to reboot the Yoga off the flash drive and do my install. Of course to get the Yoga to boot from the USB I had to first turn off Secure Boot in the BIOS.

A couple boots later, and I was running CloudReady off the USB for the install, and noticed it said that there was no network available. I chose "Enable WiFi", but that didn't do anything. Figuring I could fix it after the install, I went ahead and told it to proceed, and to setup as a dual boot rather than take the whole disk. Idea being that in the worst case I could reboot into Windows, and move on.

Did the install, rebooted, and still no network. Tried a few things, including plugging in an external USB WiFi adapter, and no luck. So figured I'd boot into Windows 10 and do some more research. However, when I told Grub during the reboot to bring up Windows, there was a moment of loading, followed by a Critical Error and a reboot.

Several more reboots later, and it was clear that Windows was not going to come up again, and that Windows couldn't find the recovery partition any more. My suspicion is that the CloudReady setup presumes there is only one Windows partition on the primary drive, and so carves out space from what is left and labels accordingly. However the Yoga has a recovery partition that is also on the primary drive, and so GRUB and Windows were expecting the Windows partition to be somewhere other than where it was. At this point a little investigation showed I had more than 20 partitions now (logically, not sure if they were all real), which is actually in a note about the CloudReady support for dual boot as something that they are working to fix.

Time to fall back on my old favorite for such situations - Ubuntu. Put the Flash drive back on my desktop and... hmm... it only has 1 gig available after formatting? Sure enough, the Chrome utility creates a protected partition. A little research shows that it also has the ability to blow that away, so I did that, then brought the flash drive up in Windows Disk Management tool and created a single partition, and it was back to creating my Ubuntu USB boot drive. Got that done, booted into Ubuntu, told it to go ahead and blow away the whole disk on the Yoga, and half an hour later I had Ubuntu 15.10 up and running.

Was working to get that setup right when I noticed that the wifi kept dropping the internet connection while showing that the WiFi connection was still connected. Some research turned up that the latest Linux Kernels will automatically load a Realtek module that is close to, but not really the right one, needed for the internal wifi on the Yoga. Recommended solution was to blacklist the Kernel driver (using modprobe -d  >> blacklist.conf), install github (which I would have to do eventually anyway), and use an open source driver that was the right one. Then setup DKMS support to ensure that future Kernel upgrades would force the open source driver to rebuild and load rather than go back to the default state. Once all that was done, my wifi has been rock solid since.

Of course the Ubuntu issue suggests that the CloudReady distribution may have done the blacklist by default, and might not have the replacement driver. My other USB WiFi adapter might be new enough it didn't have a driver either, and so that could be the source of my ongoing issue. I am tempted to setup the Yoga with a Powerline network adapter and try it all over again, but at the moment I'm not sure I want to know badly enough to possibly have to retrace my steps in Ubuntu again.

The again, setting up Chrome in Ubuntu and adding apps to Chrome through the Web Store gets me 90% of what a Chromebook would give me anyway, so I may yet do a couple experiments with that setup once I get my CC account setup with Adobe later this week.

In fact, if you haven't looked through Chrome's web store for a while, you may want to give it a browse. The best part of it is that since apps work like web pages, you can use Ad Block Plus to block the ads in apps. Figuring out I could do that made a couple of so-so apps for Weather and Time into my now favorite apps. I do wish that more authors would consider having a "Premium" offering so I can pay a couple bucks to have a supported version without ads, but this comes close enough for now.

Long story short, if you've got an old laptop or desktop lying around, trying CloudReady or Ubuntu with Chrome might be worth some of your time!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Why the Maven should be your next "car"

Hopefully everyone has seen GM's announcement about their new "Maven" service which has just started in Ann Arbor, Michigan this past week, and is supposed to roll out to the rest of the country over the next year or so.

For $12 an hour, with no membership fee, you use their app to find the car, unlock it, use it, and then park it at the same or another Maven location.

Am hoping GM will be setting up a Maven Calculator soon. Am also hoping they are planning to work with Schools, Shopping Areas and Large Employers to set up sites. Schools because they could use the funding and often have space in their parking lots they could afford to put aside. Large Employers and of course Shopping Areas, would be natural targets.

For myself I would ideally be able to walk the one block to the local school, rent the car for an hour to get to work (which is more than enough time), and then in the evening repeat the process. If so, that would be around $300/month all in since they are handling all the other costs of car ownership. For my newer car the all in (maintenance, payment, etc) is closer to $600/month. You can imagine how something like this, done right, could quickly disrupt auto ownership. I presume this is GM's attempt to be their own disruptor and own the experience given the likelihood of this kind of model to eventually replace individual ownership all together. Throw in the ability to drive from my home to the Maven spot using an autonomous feature, and perhaps getting GM to offer an "all you can ride" monthly fee, and you can see how close we really are to having "car as a service".

Not a moment too soon if you ask me :-)

The Problem with the Cloud is it's still Physical

Trying to do an rclone sync today and keep getting:

2016/01/23 16:23:18 Amazon cloud drive root '': Couldn't list files: Get dial tcp connectex: A connection attempt failed because the connected party did not properly respond after a period of time, or established connection failed because connected host has failed to respond.

Started around 10 am (Central), and each attempt since then has been similar. I presume the location may be affected by the current blizzard, but would have hoped that AWS would maintain more than one copy of my data and could route accordingly. Guess this makes the argument that I should stay local and physical at home and at work a little more tellingly.

On the plus side, looking around for the reason did let me notice I needed to get an updated copy of rclone.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Using Amazon Cloud Drive with 4+ TB

February is coming, and I am in the planning period for my yearly tech upgrade. Every year since 2009 this has included buying two external disk arrays to allow me to hold my increasingly large collection of photos and videos with some semblance of a chance to restore everything if an array crashes.

However, the problem comes that I am distributing risk by having backups (effectively) in two places in the house, but still both of them are in one location. This is problematic since a fire or flood or disaster-scenario-of-your-choosing would likely require me to try and grab an array as I make my way out the door. Not to mention that it does get a little pricey to buy faster enclosures and several disks on a yearly basis.

I have looked at online backup solutions before, but generally they have been as expensive as buying drives and/or offered by someone I'm not sure I would trust to keep that large a collection available and maintained.

So when Amazon had their Cyber Week special of $5 for a year of unlimited storage, I had to check it out. The first step was to see what the future years would cost. After all, Google and Microsoft have both made one year offers that seemed decent until you saw what the bill would be for following years. Fortunately, Amazon only costs $60 a year going forward - and (at least at the current time) that rate is the same even if I decide not to re-up for the Prime membership.

Next, was to see what "unlimited" really means. Some services (not to name names, but CB as one example) have a TOS that explains that unlimited is some amount that they think is reasonable, but is less than you are going to need. Any resemblance to "Unlimited" data plans for Cell service are purely coincidental (not). While I am sure that there is SOME limit to Amazon's service, I saw nothing that suggested that 10TB would exceed it.

So far so good, but then there's the little matter of getting the data up there for the initial load, and keeping it synced going forward. I first tried using Amazon's own uploader, and it was rather slow and did not do well with a typical Windows upgrade cycle. By which I mean any interruption would cause the transfer to stop and it was not just a single step to restart.

Fortunately, there is another option - Rclone. While it does require some command line knowledge, it has documentation on how to setup specifically for Amazon Cloud Drive (as well as Google Drive and other services you may use), and it has modes for both your initial upload, and to sync (either one way or two way). Now, it did take me two weeks (!) to complete the initial upload of all my files. Granted that was partly due to reboots thanks to Microsoft and nVidia. But it was essentially run and forget, which made it not that horrible to do. It also was decent about not swamping my UL channel to such a point I couldn't do everything else on the machine. Once uploaded, a full sync takes about 15 minutes if there are no changes, and 30 minutes to an hour depending on how much new stuff I have to add or delete on the cloud drive.

So this year I will be moving to a proper NAS with 4 disks for my local use, and syncing to Amazon Cloud Drive daily. Cost will be a little less this first year, and I will also have the remote backup that should give me a little more security as well as easier access when I need something remotely without opening up my home LAN to all sorts of things just to make it possible to share files.

Worth checking out if you have a substantial collection of files you can't just re-download from somewhere else.

Amazon Cloud Drive link.
Rclone link.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Buying or Selling a Connected Home - Some Issues to Consider

Just finished setting up a Nest home with Nest Protect and the like. First issue that came up was how to let the SO be able to set the thermostat, check the cameras, etc. While the dropcam app used to allow you to SHARE an account, there is no such capability in the Nest app. Your only choice at this point is to give the other person your account credentials. Gee, can't see anything wrong with that, can you?

OK, so not the best start. But then I got to thinking about what happens in a couple years when I sell the house. Would take the cams with, but the thermostat and the fire alarms, not so much. After all, not the greatest likelihood that a buyer is going to bring their own - though obviously as these get to be more common that may not be such a big deal.

Look up the FAQs, and it appears you have to setup a second house in the app, move at least one of your devices to that house, and then delete the first house which should (!) free up any devices attached to that house as well. Of course if you are making a temporary move between selling and buying you are going to have to go through this all again when you get the next address.

And let's consider the buyer's POV. If I don't specify in the contract that some of the devices will stay behind, I could conceivably take all of them with me. Ever lived in a house with AC and Heating but no thermostat? Suddenly you could end up with several hundred dollars of move in expenses. Summer in Texas might make that even more expensive when you need overnight delivery.

Oh, and do I now have to pay the home inspector to make sure there aren't extra cameras left behind by the previous owner? Perhaps less of a concern in many areas, but imagine if you knew the next person buying your house was the sister of some starlet...

Don't get me wrong. I am obviously interested in appifying my house and appliances. It's just that most of these IOT items and systems are barely thinking about how to talk to one another, and so haven't really built an answer to the use case of moving after installation. That doesn't mean that YOU can't think and plan for it though.