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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair

Regular blog here, 'microblog' there

Many of my traditional blog post live on this site, but a great majority of my social-style posts can be found on my much-busier microbloging site at updates.passthejoe.net. It's busier because my BlogPoster "microblogging" script generates short, Twitter-style posts from the Linux or Windows (or anywhere you can run Ruby with too many Gems) command line, uploads them to the web server and send them out on my Twitter and Mastodon feeds.

I used to post to this blog via scripts and Unix/Linux utilities (curl and Unison) that helped me mirror the files locally and on the server. Since this site recently moved hosts, none of that is set up. I'm just using SFTP and SSH to write posts and manage the site.

Disqus comments are not live just yet because I'm not sure about what I'm going to do for the domain on this site. I'll probably restore the old domain at first just to have some continuity, but for now I like using the "free" domain from this site's new host, NearlyFreeSpeech.net.

Sun, 26 May 2019

A quick recap of the Fedora 30 upgrade

I just did the Fedora 29-to-30 upgrade on my old HP Pavilion g6 (AMD A6 APU, 8 GB RAM) laptop, and it went about as smoothly as expected.

I first did a regular sudo dnf upgrade, then I let GNOME Software do the rest.

After the upgrade, which took a long time, the system booted up as normal.

One thing I did forget: Every time I upgrade Fedora, I get a Dropbox popup about downloading the daemon. I said yes when I should have said no. Dropbox then proceeded to re-index 56K or so files, which took quite a while.

Also, there is no Dropbox repo for Fedora 30 from Dropbox the company, so I get an error when I dnf upgrade. I am not even sure I need that repo because I have RPM Fusion, but maybe I do. Dropbox tends to run behind, and it's not like they have to do anything beyond creating a /30 directory and flowing the files into it. They'll get to it eventually.

As far as GNOME 3 goes, I didn't notice it being faster or slower. This is OLD hardware (circa 2012), and it's not a wonderful experience anyway, and I usually use Xfce because it's way more responsive.

The new GNOME 3 icons don't look so great. They look like they were plucked from the early 2000s. The "old" icons from Fedora 29 are nicer.

The sensors/temperature GNOME Shell extension is working fine, but the Sensors Xfce panel add-on got the usual error about not being able to access /usr/bin/hddtemp and not giving me the hard-drive temperature in that desktop environment. I tried changing the permissions, like the popup suggests, and that didn't work. I added battery voltage so I would still have two things displaying in Sensors, so I can live with that.

I can't say for sure, but it seems like Xfce is starting up more quickly than in Fedora 29.

I already had Fedora Modular set up in F29, but this is my first "look" at the supposedly faster GNOME 3. I'll have to spend a little time running it to see what I think.

I have a feeling that the new GNOME icons and fonts are designed to look better on HD and UHD monitors. At least I hope that's the idea because on my 1366-by-768 screen, it all looks a little worse. I can probably go into the settings.

Speaking of settings, the GNOME Tweak Tool, now just called Tweak Tool, I think, has a really, really different icon; that one I like.

As I've written (or at least tweeted) in the recent past, the hard-core Fedora users and developers seem to be all about Silverblue, the immutable desktop with Flatpaks for most applications and containers for development. Right now I just need everything to work, so I'm not going to mess with that for a few more cycles at least.

Overall, I'm glad the upgrade went smoothly, and while I grumble about Fedora upgrades, they usually work, even though they take a long time. Even during the release cycle, Fedora is extremely dynamic, pushing new kernels all the time, so I don't know why it can't just be a rolling release, which I guess they already have with Rawhide. But I really don't see the difference, except that Rawhide is "newer" in some way. I'd rather get all this new stuff gradually (like we already do) and not have a fully up-to-date system that requires a 2-hour-plus update to replace pretty much the same packages that are already on the laptop in F29 versions with a mostly (and usually) identical bag of bits.

That is all. I still love Fedora and recommend it to developers, writers and both casual and serious users of all kinds. There are a few extra steps here and there to get things working (like multimedia in the Chromium browser), but it's all Googleable, and it's not like you won't run into issues with Ubuntu and Mint, because you do and you will.

As always, Fedora is one of the easiest ways to get new packages on a continuous basis, especially new kernels that will bring better hardware compatibility to your newish hardware much more quickly than Ubuntu, Debian and similar distros that don't bring you kernels one after the other.

Sat, 25 May 2019

Molly Miller Trio - 'Something Stupid'

I heard about Molly Miller on the Guitar Wank podcast (and that's proof enough that being on a podcast really helps get your name out there).

She talked about the Gibson ES-335 that she loves (I can't remember the year, but I'll fill it in if I listen again and remember it), and this video shows how good both she and this guitar sounds.

It's a nice, clean Gibson tone, and I really love her playing:

Wed, 22 May 2019

Pat Metheny Trio: 'Giant Steps'

I love Pat Metheny's take on John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." He plays the head of the tune in a more subdued way than you usually hear it, and he plays with the time, really slowing things down. But the improvisation turns up the heat and really shows the beauty of Coltrane's complicated and tricky composition:

Pat Metheny - Secret Story Live 1992

Whether in the context of jazz, or outside of it, Pat Metheny is an original. He's also one of the greatest improvising guitarists and jazz musicians of all time.

I get the feeling that his fan base isn't primarily guitarists, but he's so deeply expressive on his instrument that every guitarist should be listening to him.

This video includes a full concert. Pat is playing his Gibson ES-175, and the sound of the instrument and player are perfect:

'Giant Steps,' vocal by Camille Bertault with Nelson Faria on guitar

Camille Bertault sings the John Coltrane classic "Giant Steps," also scatting the original solo:

Wed, 15 May 2019

Julian Lage - 'I'll Be Seeing You' - I play this video at least once a week

Julian Lage is the rare child prodigy who has continued to grow as a musician to the point that he's a true leader both on his instrument and in the world of jazz overall.

I love his conception, the contrast between subtlety and bombast and the way he uses an old Fender Telecaster and a an equally old and super small Fender Champ amplifier to create this sound that goes from clean to dirty depending on how hard he hits the strings. It's a unique sound in jazz guitar, where clean tones from archtops are the standard.

I really do listen to this about once a week. Julian is so good, and the band of Scott Colley on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums is right there with him in this intimate live performance at the Blue Whale in LA's Little Tokyo neighborhood.

Thu, 09 May 2019

Miles Okazaki's six-volume 'Work' includes every Thelonious Monk composition played on solo guitar

I'm not sure what led me to Miles Okazaki and his stunning "Work" album, which includes every tune composed by Thelonious Monk played on Okazaki's Gibson ES-175CC guitar (with a Charlie Christian pickup) through a Fender Twin Reverb amp.

Okazaki's playing is virtuosic, he sounds great (how can you NOT love an ES-175, a Charlie Christian pickup and a Twin Reverb?), and his solo conception is very original.

You can listen to the whole thing on Bandcamp, but it's very reasonable to buy, and I'm doing that because I want the full-resolution FLAC files (hint to musicians: offer FLAC and I am way more likely to buy your album).

Also, listen to him play Bach on a classical guitar and the 175.


Mon, 06 May 2019

I can't host my sites on the 'free' tier of Google Cloud Platform unless I want to pay

I got pretty excited about the "free" tier of Google Cloud Platform and the idea of getting a free VM running Debian with which to do what I pleased.

I thought I might move all of my websites over there so I could enjoy the "free"-ness and learn more about running my own server and how to configure Apache and all of that.

But there's the fine print.

Google is giving these GCP services to anyone who wants them, but in the case of the free Debian VM, the big sticking point is the bandwidth limitation.

Google gives you 1 GB of "egress" per month. That means they don't charge you for "incoming" bandwidth, which is things like uploading to your VM, but you do have that 1 GB limit on "outgoing" data -- i.e. people, bots and others reading your web site.

I figured that maybe I could live with 1 GB/month. Not so much.

My personal sites (more this blog and much less my microblog) take up 5 to 20 GB per month, according to a check of my account with Hostgator, which could be charging me a little bit less but has otherwise been a rock-steady source of shared-hosting service.

And I'm hosting a client site that eats 20-30 GB per month.

So that's 25-50 GB per month total. That doesn't anywhere near fit in GCP's 1 GB bag.

For comparison's sake, Hostgator offers "unlimited" bandwidth, which I assume means that if you use a whole lot of bandwidth, they'll probably ask you for more money. That has never happened to me.

A "droplet" (aka VM) from Digital Ocean includes 1 TB of bandwidth per month. That's about 1,000 GB, in case you're not playing along at home.

A site from NearlyFreeSpeech.net, which meters you "as you go," and would probably cost me or less per month, gives a baseline of 10 GiB, which is slightly more than 10 GB (here is their expanation of GiB vs GB). And they say they really don't meter your site, so if you use more than 10 GiB (or 10 GB and change) per day, you are unlikely to get charged for it at all. For a month they'll give you 100 GiB a day (about 3 TB, which coincidentally you can get for the same price from Digital Ocean).

On Google Cloud Platform, it looks like if I used up to a terabyte a month, I'd pay 12 cents a gigabyte for delivery to areas other than China and Australia. So my 50 GB would cost about . If I used less, I'd pay less (and I'd pay more for more). If I used 100 GB a month, costs would double to . In the unlikely event that I used the full TB, I'd be in for . I could get that same bandwidth from Digital Ocean for . At my current "level," of traffic, GCP would be very competitive, but a spike could sting.

The cost to run 3 sites on NearlyFreeSpeech.net, according to their own estimates (2 sites using CGI or PHP and 100 MB of storage) is between .13 and .33 a month. I don't know why there is so much data in my current shared hosting account, but I'm using a lot of it, and my current hosting company seems a-ok about it. NFSN charges for storage, but if I factor in my increase in storage, I would still pay about a month. Not bad.

I'm paying more than this for HostGator, but not much more. HostGator is super stable. It uses CentOS 6, which is great in some ways and not so great in others. HostGator is STRONG in Ruby Gems, but not so strong in the Unix utilities like Unison (they don't have it, and it's hard to even find it in a "modern" build for CentOS 6).

NearlyFreeSpeech.net has way fewer Ruby Gems, but I really don't need them on my server, and for all I know I can install what I want. I love the idea of having built-in Hugo, Jekyll, Unison, etc. at NFSN. I could also install all of those things on a Digital Ocean (or any other) VM. It's possible but messy to do them in HostGator.

I have a sometimes complicated workflow in HostGator that works for me, but I could also replicate it elsewhere. Whatever happens, I do want to thank HostGator for years of great service.

Digital Ocean is a killer deal, but I'd be managing my own VM, and NearlyFreeSpeech.net is more limited, though there are a LOT of things you can do with all of the languages and utilities they offer out of the box.

The thing is, a VM is not automatically better or cheaper than shared hosting, as NFSN details in their FAQ. Having professionals handle all of the details involving security, server updates, system problems, etc., is really worth something.

One thing I do know is at the "level" I'm at, hosting with Google Cloud Platform could leave me with a nasty surprise when the bill comes due. I could say the same for AWS and Azure, though I'd have to do some more research to be sure. My "free" AWS account's year came and went some time ago. Azure gives 15 GB of outbound data on its free tier, which is 15 times better than 1 GB but still not enough to keep me from being charged.

Here are my takeaways

  • Digital Ocean is a great deal if you want a VM
  • NearlyFreeSpeech.net is a great deal if you want shared hosting and know what you're doing
  • HostGator (I'm a longtime customer) is a pretty good deal if you are happy with the service
  • The traditional cloud providers -- Google, Amazon, Microsoft -- are meant for huge users at real companies with massive needs and the money to fulfill them. If hit with a traffic spike, the small user will feel pain

Hobbyists, students of programming and small-business users are better served by shared hosting and Digital Ocean-style VM providers than they are by the big clouds.

What will I do?

  • My conclusion is that a combination of shared hosting and a VM is probably what I need

I'm still thinking about it. I like what Digital Ocean and NearlyFreeSpeech.net are doing. Yet in many ways, HostGator has treated me very well. But a shift to NearlyFreeSpeech.net will probably cut my bill by 50 percent.

Moving my sites and services from one host to another would be a lot of work. That's what companies are counting on. It's easier to stay where you are. But I'm probably ready to make a move.

The problem with Windows 10, Conexant, Firefox and Flow.exe continues, and this is how I'm fixing it right now

tl;dr: Take care of Flow.exe problems, especially with Firefox, by renaming Flow.exe so Conexant can't find it.

I've been dealing with problems caused by the Conexant audio driver in Windows 10 while running Firefox for the entire year, and turning off services in the Windows configuration no longer works.

What happens, for those not following along, is that the Conexant "SmartAudio" driver has a program called Flow.exe that somehow helps it figure out what kind of audio you "need" at any given moment. It somehow can't figure out what to do with the Firefox web browser, and when you run that browser in Windows 10, Flow.exe runs all the time and take a substantial portion of available CPU, causing the fan to run high and the computer to work sluggishly.

Originally I was able to turn off whatever service was triggering Flow.exe. Recently that hasn't worked, so I turned to another solution I found on the internet: Renaming Flow.exe so the Conexant software can't find it and can't run it. By the way, doing this breaks nothing. Audio works fine.

To do this on your system, just change the name of Flow.exe. I changed mine to _Flow.exe. You can find Flow.exe here: C:\Program Files\CONEXANT\Flow\Flow.exe.

Before I did this, my Task Manager (which you can see with ctrl-shift-esc) output looked like this:

After renaming Flow.exe, I'm getting a message in the HP Support Assistant to update my Conexant driver, which I'm NOT doing and won't do until they get yet another new version. I also get this popup whenever I reboot:

Despite these two "nags," from Windows, everything is working.

Update on May 29, 2019: After continual nagging about the Conexant audio service not working, I finally relented and installed the latest version of the driver. My problems with Firefox and Conexant's Flow.exe returned immediately (super-high CPU all the time).

I decided to try a different hack from the HP forum: "Tricking" Flow.exe into ignoring Firefox by changing the reference to firefox to fyrefox in C:\Program Files\CONEXANT\Flow\data.sqlite, which is just a text file (that's the kind of database that SQLite is). I started PowerShell as an administrator, navigated to the file, opened it in Vim, searched for firefox and deliberately misspelled it.

I rebooted the laptop. I restarted Firefox. It DIDN'T work. I tried it so you don't have to.

This is a mess. Bang & Olfusen is the licensee for the sound on this laptop, and this association with such poor technology doesn't make me think fondly of B&O. Other companies that have failed users include HP and Conexant.

Here is yet another thing to try, courtesy of another frustrated user in the HP forum: Use PowerShell to kill Flow.exe dead.