Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Spider Catcher

Our move from Switzerland to the English countryside has for the most part been very positive.

But one thing we have had to adjust to is  Spiders

On the positive note England has a maximum spider size that does not lend the average person to run screaming out a room containing such a creature.   I do feel sorry for Australians and America in this regard.

Still in our new home Spiders have it seems been most attracted to our new dwelling and how to get them out 'alive' is a question that has been vexing us.

Our neighbour put us onto the above  superb device which can extract quickly capture a spider or other bug, not damage it, and enable you to then turf it outside, hopefully at a safe distance from your home so the little bugger can not come straight back!

 In action!

The Amnesty Ends
Whilst Agata and Marcus are known to be generous to a fault we do hope that Spiders reading this notice will understand that our patience is wearing thin.

Please choose some other dwelling to inhabit nearby, you have a choice of many!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Russia Probe

Peter Gabriel: I don't remember

Should there actually be a Green room at the Committee, then this is what might just be playing to those about to speak forth :-)

Peter Gabriel: Shock the Monkey

Peter Gabriel: Digging in the Dirt

I do not recall

Monday, November 20, 2017

Attention to Detail

Marcus reported on the build of the new Asrock powered Apache Webserver in January 2017.   But I overlooked a small detail in moving to the British countryside


I might say that this is by exception, meaning that many UK rural locations never have any power supply issues.  However here in Wariwickshire England, near Alcester we have had 3 powercuts in as many months.

And the last one whilst we were away; forced some emergency restart button pushing from a neighbour  (thank you Claire!).

This morning I got around to correcting the problem

- On restore of AC Power, computer autostarts
- Webserver Powers back on
- Linux Mint Starts
- Linux Recovery Scripts executed
- Apache 2 Webserver Starts

NB:Of course a Backup
To those who might say, but how dare you leave your clients out in the cold for the duration of your webserver down.  I'd like to remind you there are 2 content identical webservers, strategically placed in different continents.   I do a rsync update on a timed Cron schedule. So the other Webserver was still available during my outage.  But I digress.

Another Missing Detail
 As I wandered into the BIOS of the wonderful Asrock AM1B motherboard to make this autostart change, I reflected on how modern motherboard have gone almost over the top in their beautiful display, presentation of features and functionality.

There is a full GUI with mouse support.  I know!   In my day we had to struggle with a Blue character based screen, sans Helptext. 

Of Course, in today's marketplace a slick GUI Based BIOS/UEFI or Startup configuration is expected.  I mean, is there a set of users, let's say millions of users, who would tolerate a backward, character based, obscure configuration interface? [Hint/cough/Apple]

So let's have a further look at the Asrock in more detail (click on any graphic to enlarge)

Yes, overall, it is almost too much!   This firmware can even open up a TCPIP connection to an Asrock server and update itself.  All without loading an OS.

Thank goodness the year is now 2017 and things have become so easy to understand and mod.  I don't wish to go back to those inflexible dark ages.  I vote for the Modern world, every time

The Jam: Modern World

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday Sermon:When you take a Gun to Church

Subtitle:  Things can go wrong too

The full text of the article from Knox news is here

If all that we can say is that "we cannot say" what God's motivation would likely to have been to cause this suffering, then I ask you:   How does one distinguish between our God acting seemingly randomly, sometimes in our best interests,  at other times  causing us great suffering,  or alternatively  a God who is just a fiction?

These cases to tend towards a point

To Quote Julia Sweeney

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The New DNS Kid in Town

Eagles: New Kid in Town

Marcus has spend much of his life with my own  9.x.x.x IP address.  To those in the know you can immediately recognise my employer.  And today whilst IBM may be in all sorts of trouble (beyond the scope of this posting) they as owners of the 9 domain may have a winning new service.

It's the public DNS server

I'm currently testing it, with an almost tear in my eye (because I am always favourably nostalgic towards IBM)

Apart from testing it yourself I point you to the following articles which go into considerable detail

Friday, November 17, 2017

Amazon Dot or Google Home

Subtitle: Which one do you use daily?

I feel we are at a tipping point with home based Personal Digital Assistants.  This is a short set of words from those that have to convince those that have not.

Practically speaking at home, and not using your Smartphone there are 2 digital assistants that you can choose

Both devices come in different shapes, speaker sizes but fundamentally

- They include a microphone and speaker
- Some electronics that wakes up when you say a keyword like Alexa or OK Google
- They connect to Amazon or Googles rather large Cloud based datacentre
- Where programs bzillions of lines long analyse the statements you make and responds intelligently  to them.
- They need a USB connection for Power
- And a wireless connection to your Internet Router
- They are pretty easy on resource usage, so even if you have a Stone Age slow Internet connection, the device will function.

What has Changed
- The entry level devices recently fell below 50 GBP.  In other words less than the cost of a mid priced meal for two with drinks.   
- They are actually able to understand what you are saying  (Voice recognition now actually works)
- They connect to a backend via the Internet that is actually able to come up with some good time saving answers, i.e. the processing is done remotely on huge powerful computers, not on your own tiny modest hardware.
- In other words it's no longer a curiosity,  a techy only product, it is now usable enough for people who know practically nothing  [about computers and / or the Internet]

Why be Interested?
(And why now)

Since price is no longer a practical barrier, and the devices do work; there are few barriers from giving it a try.

These devices can answer real questions and so for households with young enquiring minds they begin to approach an oracle, which unlike your parents, is always polite, never gets tired or loses their temper and talks back facts not fictions, or opinions.

I've seen real examples of households where one or more parents lay down the Internet Law like

- Internet is a privilege not a right
- We will control it, not you
- We don't trust the Internet & we won't give our Children Smartphones or Amazon / Google devices

These kind of attitudes make me sad, it will disable your offspring in the modern world that they will enter as adults in just a decade or less.  And it certainly does not help your integration into the world of 2017 either.

Advanced Features
Home automation and control via Amazon or Google products is still basically a nightmare.  I'd settle for the moment for your home assistant to be able to at a minimum:

- Answer basic questions  
- Play the news
- Play music  (I use Spotify)
- Play BBC Radio 4 
- Simple organisation like Calendar and todo/Shopping Lists, reminders
- Make free voice calls to other Amazon users

My choice

Marcus' choice be the Amazon and not the Google product, particularly if you also sign up for Amazon Prime  (available in most civilised countries, notably except Switzerland). 

NB: Of course if you are a techy you will already have both products and today this would still mean spending less than 70 GBP.  I know, crackers right!

Echo Dot has a basic speaker and microphone so it does not need an additional bluetooth speaker, but of course can use one

In the UK  Echo Dot will literally cost you 35 GBP.  From here  

There are other ways to get Alexa services if you are more technically literate, but then you'd already know that.  I'm addressing the population who have no idea about Digital Home Assistants.

Come on.  For 35 GBP, get a grip. Buy one now.  

And in the UK if you mail order this item then under UK law the seller must accept a return within 14 days of purchase.  For other sales in a shop e.g Argos their returns policy is here

In other words, if you absolutely hate it then you can return it.  So again, what is stopping you?

Dave Lee: Google Home vs Echo Dot 

The Official Echo Channel

Thursday, November 16, 2017


The Script: Changes

British people of a certain age, and that includes Marcus are scrutinising the events of Rhodesia, or should I call it Zimbabwe as it seems we might finally seen the last of the dictator 

Robert Mugabe    OUT !

The above link details a long Wikipedia article, but my summary would be, that Mugabe took over Rhodesia in 1980 and whilst he was initially thought to be a principled and democratic leader, events have shown otherwise.

Most commentators would agree that the disappearance of his enemies, his rigged elections, his intolerance of homosexuals, his policies on forcible land sequestration mean that any supporter who once thought his principled teacher, educated in England (and elsewhere) that would lead his country to greatness have faltered.

Does this justify his forcible removal from power, which as I write seem to have been completed?


BBC Summary

With direct relations in Zimbabwe Marcus can say that my view (shared by many is):   Sooner or later Mugabe will die and then perhaps the country can begin the climb back towards its former greatness, second only to South Africa in terms of Economic importance in the region.

Except that, most pundits have been thinking this for over a decade now, and at 93 he is still alive, and President. Hmm.

It seems that Mugabe's thinly veiled plan to install his wife Grace as his successor having fired the Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa has finally pushed others into decisive action.

After Robert?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wonderful Asus RT-AC750 Wireless Router Review

Subtitle:  What can I buy for 30 GBP !!

Showing My Age
It's a sad and sombre aside but Marcus is the last of a generation who grew up with barely functioning and expensive Computer systems.

I make the point that the first floppy diskette  (not hard disk) I bought, a Wangco Model 82 Drive stored 80KB   (not MB or GB) of data and cost me about 400GBP, in real money at the time of purchase.

And so when I bought a fully functioning computer operating as a Wireless Router, operating at least one hundred times faster than the computer I literally soldered together (with my Wangco drive) in the 1970's my first thought was

That only cost me 30 GBP!

Use with a 4G USB Modem

The purchase of this router and the Huawei E3372 modem reviewed here  was to combine the two to make a working 4G router which via a Gigabit Ethernet Switch port on this ASUS router can feed a dedicated Firewall or Enterprise functioned Networking device.

And YES, this combination does work for a very economical 60GBP  (30GBP for this router and another 30 GBP for the Huawei E3372 and inclusive 4G SIM and 30GB of data allowance).  I know, completely and utterly bonkers.

Here are the documented settings that make it possible.   
- First of course test the Huawei E3372 dongle in your local PC 
- The Dongle will show up at a fixed address of
- Setup the Asus RT-AC750 as a wireless router i.e. with 2.4 and 5GHz networking and connect to it
- Now plug the Huawei dongle into your Asus RT-AC750 USB port

The normal setup is to have the 4G connection take over when your wired Internet connection delivered over the WAN Ethernet fails.

But in our testing 4G will be the only connection, so Dual WAN is off and in fact the WAN is switched off  (left unconnected)

These are the settings necessary for it to work in the Polish PLAY network.

But there is More

I will outline the further functionality you are getting for just 30 GB Pounds!

Two operation modes and you set this first as it affects all the other menus on the Router.

Advertising from the back of the box

Toplevel screen showing the USB 4G connection and graphical loading of the device, with the menu possibilities on the left

Setup a Guest network for visitors or neighbours

This can act as a VPN server

USB port may be used for multiple things. Obviously given the small CPU of the device don't expect performance miracles from any media server.

Access to information from the outside world.

Wan Port Trigger and Virtual Server.  These may not work from a 4G connection because your Internet facing address is [typically] behind a NAT at your telecoms company.  You are warned.  (This prevents you from hosting a Webserver using a 4G connection, and recall that I'm purely testing a 4G USB connection here.  You would not have these issues if you connect to a wired DSL connection )

Lots of logging, only one panel shown here

Ways to access your router from the Internet

IP6 Support

NAT passthrough

This is just a short summary of some of the features.  There are many more!  Please consult the User Manual for more information.

SummaryI used this ASUS Router and the Huawei Dongle
in an extended series of tests.  The pair performed flawlessly.  The Asus Router provides great 2.4 and 5GHz wireless including upto 433 Mbps bandwidth, and crucially is able to support the Huawei E3372 Dongle for 4G networking.

I highly recommend this combination for a home wireless connection on a budget.

ASUS official

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

HP NX8220 Laptop Recycling


Subtitle: We cannot rebuild him [easily]

After a longterm loan of some several years, Marcus' HP NX 8220 laptop has been returned to me!  I had left it with a Microsoft Vista 32bit installation.

I can do better than that I thought! .....

And so it was off to install my most favourite Linux Distribution: Linux Mint  [18.2 32bit version]

I always try to use the Lili USB Creator when install Linux as this avoids burning a DVD or CD media.

A lot of time was wasted trying to get USB keys to install.  Turns out the secret sauce is to Enable USB legacy support.   You are welcome.

Nice Hardware
Underneath are slots with simple screws so that you can change the Hard Disk drive or Memory.  Also notice the slot at the top for the docking station.

In the Multibay you can put a DVD writer or a Hard Disk in a Caddy or even a blank.  The latter is useful to keep the laptop weight to a minimum since using a DVD or CD these days , is well never.

Mint Installed But
Mint 18.2 Installation for 32bits is flawless and popular applications like VLC media player install without error

 But Skype is for 64 bits only and I am 32 bits

And Logitech it seems has never even heard of Linux!

What Does work Then
The installation of Linux 18.2 32bit mode results in a laptop that is a glorified Web Browser using Firefox  

+ Media player and audio via VLC working
+ Ethernet and Wireless working
+ Full resolution screen support working
+ VGA 2nd screen output NOT working
- lack of many 32bit Linux apps :-(
+ Wine works, so individual Windows Apps can be run, and were tested OK
- Suspend resume NOT working and crashes laptop
+ Hotplus of multibay does work
+ Dropbox installed  OK  (surprising!)
+ Chromium browser installed

In Summary

If you have 200 GBP to spare then don't try and renovate an old laptop for occasional use.  Buy a Chuwi or other low cost new product.  This will be considerably less hassle.

If however you still want to recycle then for a 32 bit computer today in 2017 a version of Microsoft Windows is likely to be more compatible than any version of Linux.

By compatible I mean the 32bit driver support of typical peripherals will be better, and programs like Skype are available on the Windows platform in 32 bit mode (more so than for 64 bit Linux)

Linux has the advantage of being free to download and Install but in 2017 on a few 32 bit distributions remain and application and driver and forum support is lesser.  Linux has embraced 64bit technology ahead of Windows and OSX and it shows.

Ironically to me, in 2017, on a 32bit Computer, Windows [not Linux] wins.

HP 8220 drivers