It’s been over two years since my last classic computer kit build and I was getting that itch to add more blinkenlights to my collection. Chris Davis’ Altair-Duino kit has been on my radar since last December when I saw it on episode #797 of Steve Gibson’s Security Now! podcast (which also introduced me Oscar Vermeulen’s excellent PiDP-8 and PiDP-11 kits) and I decided it was finally time to pull the trigger.
I went with the Standard kit over the Pro due to its smaller footprint (more flat instead of the boxier acrylic case) and, though the VT100 emulation calls back to my days as a VAX lab monitor in college, I probably wouldn’t really use it that much. The kit actually arrived the last week of July but I just recently had some time to sit down and build it in an afternoon.
We didn’t go to Disney World for our annual Labor Day Weekend trip last year (for obvious reasons) so it was nice to finally celebrate the end of summer and spend the long holiday weekend over in Orlando at the parks.
281 days ago, my Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup for the 2nd time in franchise history in the Edmonton bubble. Tonight, they won it again, beating the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 in Game 5.
The Lightning are the 17th team in the history of the NHL to win back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships. Also for the 17th time in league history, a goalie was awarded the Conn Smythe trophy. Andrei Vasilevskiy had an amazing season and even though he was denied the Vezina (again!), he was obviously the most valuable player in the playoffs, playing in every playoff game (including last season!) and recording 5 shutouts (every series-clinching game was a shutout, incredible!).
I’ve been a member of the Insider Program since 2015, so recently I started seeing the new Sun Valley UI changes showing up in the 21H2 preview builds flighted to my home PC. New, flatter, more colorful icons, mostly:
Sun Valley in Windows Explorer
An early build of Windows 11 was leaked last week, and while in the past I’ve installed early preview releases (like Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 10) on spare hardware, I didn’t have any lying around this time so I spun it up in a virtual machine instead.
install – select a version
OOBE – account setup
initial desktop and new Start menu
I haven’t had a lot of time to mess around with it, though. But at today’s event they also announced a formal release for Insiders should be coming out on June 30. Unfortunately, the PC Health Check app says my 5-year old Intel NUC can’t run Windows 11 … presumably due to the TPM 2.0 requirement.
sorry, this NUC can’t run Windows 11
That didn’t seem to stop it from running in the VM, but it looks like unless that changes before the final release later this year, I might be looking to build a new desktop. Until then, it looks like I might have just keep it virtualized.
It’s hard to believe I’ve had my Pioneer Elite VSX-24TX for over 21 years. That’s probably a personal record for me using a single piece of electronic equipment. It’s served me well over the years, but alas recently it’s been having problem (the outputs weren’t working reliably, it would take a few power cycles to get them to click in) so I figured it was time for a replacement (it’s so old it doesn’t even have any HDMI jacks, just component and S-Video!).
Since I skipped the Blu-Ray era (never bought a player) and last year cut the cord and left my TiVos for streaming, I really don’t have any video equipment connected to my primary TV. The old DVDs I still own I could play on a PC if I needed to (but honestly all of that stuff is available via streaming now anyway) and the old Wii is connected to a TV in the guest/exercise room (but that’s hardly used as well). The receiver is mainly for audio: surround in the family room for movie watching or playing some vinyl, and a second zone outside by the pool for playing music while swimming (or having a party, once that becomes a “normal” thing again).
My primary requirement was multi-zone, plus modern extras like voice assistant support, Bluetooth, networking, etc. After performing my normal online research and comparisons, I selected the Onkyo TX-NR696.
With the pandemic starting to get under control and things heading back towards “normal” we decided to try a mini (Minnie?) family vacation to kick off the summer and head over to Disney World for Memorial Day Weekend. The last time we did this was 2018. Normally our annual trip to Disney is Labor Day weekend, but with my daughter now in college there are fewer times we can actually go as a family and Labor Day isn’t one of them. We also still don’t have our annual passes so this was just a single day, single park trip.
Spring is here (although my parents up in OH just experienced a late-April snow storm!) which means it’s time to upgrade my Linux server to the new Ubuntu release, 21.04 (Hirsute Hippo). First, the obligatory check-in on my spring sports teams:
the Lightning will be heading back to the playoffs to defend their Stanley Cup title … they’re currently third in the Central division in a tight race for 1st with the Hurricanes and Panthers
the Rays are in 2nd place in the AL East, just behind the Red Sox
the Indians are right in the middle of the AL Central, falling behind the Royals and White Sox
the Cavaliers are near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and unsurprisingly won’t make the playoffs this year
Brady and Gronk will be back with the Bucs in the fall when they start to defend their Super Bowl title
Ok, Linux. Despite the issues I had back in October (mostly due to the deprecation of Python 2), the April updates are usually smoother. After a quick backup, I launched the do-release-upgrade and about 20 minutes and a few configuration file updates later, I was up and running on the latest release with the 5.11 kernel:
I haven’t had an issue free upgrade since Cosmic so I usually find myself Googling for various solutions. This time around, I had a few minor problems:
When logging in, the login banner showed “There were exceptions while processing one or more plugins. See /var/log/landscape/sysinfo.log for more information.” and the sysinfo.log file showed:
2021-04-22 21:03:25,207 ERROR Network plugin raised an exception. Traceback (most recent call last):
File "/usr/lib/python3/dist-packages/landscape/sysinfo/sysinfo.py", line 99, in run result = plugin.run()
File "/usr/lib/python3/dist-packages/landscape/sysinfo/network.py", line 36, in run device_info = self._get_device_info()
File "/usr/lib/python3/dist-packages/landscape/lib/network.py", line 163, in get_active_device_info speed, duplex = get_network_interface_speed(
File "/usr/lib/python3/dist-packages/landscape/lib/network.py", line 249, in get_network_interface_speed res = status_cmd.tostring()
It appears that the array.tostring function was deprecated in Python 3.2 and removed in Python 3.9 (which came with the upgrade) but landscape-sysinfo was still using the function call in the Network plugin. I applied a patch (changing tostring to tobytes) and that resolved the issue.
I couldn’t get vncserver to start:
Session startup via '/home/windracer/.vnc/xstartup' cleanly exited too early (< 3 seconds)!
xrdb: Bad file descriptor
xrdb: Can't open display ':1'
Unable to init server: Could not connect: Connection refused
xfce4-session: Cannot open display: .
In my startx file, I switched from startxfce & to exec startxfce which fixed the startup issue, but I still couldn’t connect to the server remotely. It turned out that tigervnc server was only listening on localhost (127.0.0.1). I found that during the upgrade, my /etc/vnc.conf file had been renamed (and the log said it was a deprecated file). I had to make a copy of /etc/tigervnc/vncserver-config-default to ~/.vnc/vnc.conf then set $localhost="no"; (which is what I had done in my original vnc.conf file) and then I was able to connect with the tightvnc client on my PC.
Nothing major. See you here again in October for 21.10 (Impish Indri)!
2021 Home Security/Home Automation Re-Design [ Part 3 of 3 ]
A lot of my old Pulse automations were based on my ADT alarm sensors: open the door into the garage, turn on the garage lights; alarm armed in Away mode, randomize the indoor lights to make the house look occupied; burglar alarm goes off, turn on all of the lights, inside and out. Now that I’d separated the home security and automation systems into Ring and HomeSeer, I needed a way to integrate them together in order to accomplish the same tasks.
Luckily, both products work with Amazon’s Alexa, so a slick combination of Alexa routines and HomeSeer virtual devices became the glue I needed to hold my new system together!
2021 Home Security/Home Automation Re-Design [ Part 2 of 3 ]
As I posted a few weeks ago, back in January I decided to cancel my ADT Pulse service and replace it with a Ring Alarm security system. It wasn’t a 100% feature-complete replacement though, I still needed something to handle the home automation side of things. While Ring does have some basic integrations with its lights and cameras, I decided that splitting the security and automation systems apart was the smarter and more flexible approach.
After researching (via online reviews and the community forums) solutions like SmartThings, Hubitat, HomeSeer, Alexa (which turned out to be Zigbee-only), and even briefly considering revisiting Home Assistant, I went ahead and pulled the trigger on a HomeSeer HomeTroller Pi hub. I waffled a lot between the Hubitat and HomeSeer, but decided to start with HomeSeer since it seemed to have more broad compatibility with my existing devices (specifically my garage door opener, door locks and light switches).
2021 Home Security/Home Automation Re-Design [ Part 1 of 3 ]
I’ve been an ADT customer for almost 20 years. When we moved to Florida in 2001, our house already had a hard-wired alarm system put in by the previous owners so subscribing to ADT’s monitoring service was one of the first “utilities” we set up (along with the normal electric, water/sewer, and TV/internet). Over the past two decades we’d added more sensors/zones, switched from the old copper landline to cellular connection, and of course the big upgrade to Pulse back in 2011 that started my interest in home automation.
Unfortunately, the past few years have seen constant rate increases for ADT’s already expensive monitoring service, with little updates or new services being added to Pulse to justify the expense (rumor has it they are also pushing customers away from Pulse to Control). Additionally, we’d been experiencing an increase in false alarms being triggered by window sensors (ADT support: maybe the wind shook your window? Me: I live in Florida and have hurricane rated impact windows, the wind is not shaking my windows), always seemingly in the middle of the night and even with fresh batteries in the sensors. Finally, earlier this year ADT experienced a two-week outage of their Alexa skill, during which I made several calls to support speaking with clueless representatives who wanted to send a technician to my house! This was the last straw. I decided I was done wasting my time (and money) with ADT and it was time to look at new options.
As you can tell by the title of this post, I chose the Ring Alarm security system.