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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.

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.

Tue, 30 Apr 2019

How to get H.264 video working in Chromium on Fedora

I'm more comfortable using the Chromium web browser supplied by the Fedora team instead of Chrome as packaged by Google.

The only problem is that video doesn't generally work because the codecs that you might have installed so video works in Firefox don't work for Chromium.

The solution is to install the chromium-libs-media-freeworld package from the RPM Fusion Free repository.

If you haven't already added the RPM Fusion repos to your Fedora installation, I recommend you do it as soon as possible. (If you are a hard-charging software-freedom zealot, you already know why you do what you do or don't do.)

Once you have RPM Fusion hooked up, run this command to add the codec:

sudo dnf install chromium-libs-media-freeworld

Then restart Chromium, and you should be able to watch video from YouTube and others.

Sun, 21 Apr 2019

Google Cloud Platform uses storage 'buckets' to bring files into the system

I am attempting to create a Google Could Platform storage bucket instead of setting up FTP on this VM.

Later: I was able to create the bucket, and I can move files from that bucket to this website, but I can't seem to copy them the other way.

Sun, 07 Apr 2019

Running a small VM on Google Cloud is pretty much like running a small server anywhere

Google's "little" VMs, one of which I'm seemingly getting for free, at least for a year, can be run pretty much like any Debian Linux system. That's great if you're a Debian expert, not so great if you're not.

Luckily I know how to get around in Debian, and like pretty much everybody I can search (or "Google" if you will) for everything else.

One thing I can say is that the Google Cloud Platform virtual terminal, which opens in a web window, is very usable.

Much cloud pricing is complicated (barring those like Digital Ocean, which spell out what's going to cost you per month), but it appears that Google is giving us one "micro"-VM for free with no time limit as part of the "Google Platform Free Tier":

  • 1 f1-micro instance per month (US regions us-central1, us-east1 and us-west1 only)
  • 30 GB-months HDD
  • 5 GB-months snapshot in select regions
  • 1 GB network egress from North America to all region destinations per month (excluding China and Australia)

Somehow I either had to sign up for a credit. You can get a free shell without signing up, but to get the actual VM, you need to fork over a credit card number and "accept" the credit over one year. I'm not sure if/when/how I'll be charged, but I will definitely be keeping my eye on that.

My sites definitely consume more than 1 GB per month: In March 2019, http://stevenrosenberg.net used 4.69 GB, and http://updates.stevenrosenberg.net used 216 MB.

This is a compelling use case for Digital Ocean because that service offers VMs with 1 TB of bandwidth, which is 1000+ times what Google is offering for "free." The predictable, consistent yet low pricing is very attractive.

Still, there's something to be said for /home/public//cgi-bin/ode.cgi, and if I keep an eye on the bandwidth and charges, I'll see what kind of value proposition the Google Cloud Platform offers for smaller users.

How do you choose a cloud-computing platform?

There are so many cloud-computing platforms to choose from. I'm not so close to the industry that I can rattle off the names of even the top 10, but you have providers larger (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Oracle) and smaller (Digital Ocean, Linode, Heroku) with offerings that seem wildly different.

I have no idea if Red Hat's cloud belongs in the "large" or "small" group, but I did use it in the pre-Kubernetes days, so it's definitely on my mind.

Trying to figure out the pricing of running your services/websites/etc on these clouds can be anything from easy to impossible. That's part of the game. Can you get along with a Digital Ocean "droplet," do you need 10 of them, or should you go for a mix of the many dozen products offered by Amazon's AWS?

Some cloud providers might be more "tailored" to your workloads, but how exactly do you find that out. Others tout a lack of "lock-in." And then there are things like price, security, reliability, usability and support.

So there's a lot to consider. For small users (and at least for this small user), you want it to work, you want to be able to figure things out, and you don't want billing surprises.

If you do anticipate growth, a provider that can work with you on that "journey" might be one to consider. Or you can just move your stuff from one service to another and hope for minimal downtime during those transitions. If you know what you're doing, maybe a sudden move (or even a gradual one, workload by workload) is realistic.

Given the explosion in cloud computing, there must be an exploding industry of consultants and admins working in this crowded and confusing space that's constantly shifting and growing right under our feet.

Wed, 20 Mar 2019

Another way to solve the problem with Windows 10, the Conexant audio driver, Firefox and Flow

When a device driver kills your computer's performance, but only when run in conjunction with a certain web browser, and that certain web browser is not Google Chrome, good luck with getting your problem fixed.

That's what's happening to my HP Envy 15 as133cl laptop. Running Google Chrome poses no problems.

But when I run Mozilla Firefox, the laptop's Conexant audio driver has a program called Flow that does something related to figuring out what kind of audio your PC might want to play. And when Firefox is running, Flow can't seem to figure out what is going on and runs all the time, taking a large percentage of available CPU along with it.

I solved this problem with an Internet search. It was easy and painless.

After I installed the new driver, the problem returned. I'm lazy enough that all I did was bring up the Windows Task Manager (ctrl-alt-delete, then select it) and kill Flow from there. I haven't rebooted since, Flow hasn't returned, and I'm having zero issues with audio on the computer.

Update: It's annoying that killing those two processes doesn't stop Flow from killing laptop performance. There is a third Conexant process that I should kill to see if it takes care of the Flow problem. Why it's STILL a problem, I don't know. If it affected Chrome, it would cause a major uproar and be fixed in a week or less.

Fri, 15 Mar 2019

How to watch video with the Chromium browser in Fedora 29

When my Fedora 28 upgrade blew up, I didn't turn to Google's repository for Chrome when I reinstalled F28, sticking with Firefox only for as long as I could.

Eventually I needed a Chrome-equivalent browser, and I turned to the Fedora-packaged Chromium. It runs great, and I like that it's packaged by Fedora developers.

But it ships without the codecs required to watch video from places like YouTube.

It didn't bother me for awhile, but situations do come up where I need to see a video, and it's a little interruptive to start Firefox if I'm not using that browser already.

So I did a little web search and learned that there is a package from RPM Fusion that will take care of this issue.

If you already have the RPM Fusion repositories set up on your Fedora computer (and I recommend that you do it if you haven't already), just open a terminal and run this:

$ sudo dnf install h264enc

That will get you video in the Fedora-packaged Chromium browser. That's it. Easy, right?

Sat, 09 Feb 2019

Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 played by Anna Fedorova and the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie