2018-04-01

How i keep my Raspberry Pi busy

Since July 2017, i have my first one running "motionEyeOS" as a CCTV camera on a regular basis. Two weeks ago, i even built a custom UPS for it, also known as "Uninterruptible Power Supply", to make it somewhat independent from a power source. The "off-the-shelf" parts for this project were a 5V relay module with "low level trigger", charging module with "battery protection", boost converter, and 3300uF 6.3V capacitor, which results in a much cheaper solution than a Adafruit Powerboost 1000C.
My second and last Raspberry Pi Zero W runs since January of this year permanently too, but with a much wider range of tasks. I already got it to break down several times, by giving it more load than it can handle, which is not that difficult, since it has only a single-core CPU at 1 GHz and 512 MB RAM. But finally, i got it under control by giving every job only a certain time span to do its thing, just like shift work. And the built-in hardware "watchdog" tries to keep it all going by checking the heartbeat of the software.
For example, it takes with "raspistill" and the camera module one photo every 60 seconds, and it pauses twice each hour for ten minutes, as instructed in my shell script. Because the task is not mission critical, since it's just looking out the window and collecting images of a castle nearby. The given silent period is the chance for "FreshRSS" to check feeds for updates every half an hour. My Perl script tries to get new content for my parents from the BBC server every 30 minutes too. Occasionally, i also use it to develop and test new things, which can tear it down completely, or even corrupt the microSD card, if i forget to put all the code i have running to sleep.
2018-03-22

Sailing through the clouds

In the two decades that i have been doing things on the internet, i have used many web hosts such as FortuneCity, Schlund+Partner, Strato, and 1und1. They were all good at the time i went to them to host my projects. They made my time easier by not having to worry about the technology behind the server. But eventually the performance was no longer adequate, and i had to move on. As you know, i downsized my webspace at the beginning of this year. But apparently the Friedersdorf based web hosting service "ALL-INKL" can’t handle my traffic and load at that price point, which is why i went to Amazon AWS and created a "Lightsail" instance for less money, but more performance.
Since i already had experience with running a Apache web server on Linux-based Debian and a headless Raspberry Pi, it was simple to set everything else up. After some hiccups with Ubuntu and an old LAMP stack, i got it all working. On the surface, it looks like nothing happened, but behind the scenes i changed many parts to make it appear like that. For example, i had to set up Cloudflare as DNS and Mailgun as MX record for some of my domain names, to make them keep pointing to the right direction. I also removed the logging of IP addresses to comply with GDPR.
Many years ago, i built and run a blog hosting service for a long time, among other things, like embeddable chat widgets. All written in Perl, from the very bottom, and without any framework. I learned a lot, during and after it. I became quite good in handling file-based databases, even with thousands of hits per hour, because of the techniques i developed to prevent too much load on the server. Later, i installed WordPress for publishing my own posts, instead of writing my own code in Perl. Because why reinventing the wheel, if no one cares anyway?
But i was never a PHP and MySQL person, because of the many external dependencies, which is why i now took the opportunity to write a "flat-file based blog" from scratch, just in case if i ever need to move somewhere else again, so i don't need to fumble around with things i don't enjoy, or don't have time for. FYI, the rooms in our rented apartment have on average three clocks, in almost every direction at least one, because my dad likes it. All pages here are now static HTML files, which were generated by a dynamic Perl CGI script i wrote.
2018-03-02

Time travelling in early 2018

Last year, i used a similar title for a post on the blog, but on this occasion, i travelled back in time by cleaning up the living room with my parents. In late 2017, our landlord motivated us to do this, because to him it looks dangerous, having mountains of seemingly random things in a place, where normal people watch TV or play board games with friends. But we don't have much time for that, since we have to pay for rent, food, healthcare, public broadcasting, and everything else. Welcome to the bottom of this pyramid scheme.
The origin of most stuff in the living room is "life". I moved twice with my parents, and each time we kept most of our belongings, because everything is precious to us, since we are not smart, or rich. Nevertheless, we are not keeping highly combustible objects around. Back then, in 1992, we run our Restaurant in Ratingen for many years, where my father cooked in the kitchen with heavy "woks" over real fire, without anything bad happening.
But since our neighbours in Bad Godesberg might not be as thoughtful as we are, i do understand the danger of having too many things around. For example, the way they handle garbage bags or how they close apartment doors is a nightmare. And thanks to their habit to let the house door wide open, i got my MiniDisc recorder and my mountain bike stolen. This is why we now have a basically normal living room, just in case they start a campfire indoors, or some accident happens. After all, no one is perfect, except maybe Julia Roberts. By sorting through all the old stuff, i occasionally get surprised, because things are getting new perspectives to look at. It's like being in a history museum and wandering around in the past.
For example, i found a lot of "Colleen Colored Pencils" my aunts and uncle sent me from Hong Kong to Germany, over 20 years ago. I was probably anxious to use them, since they are really special to me. This is why i have several packages full of new stationeries waiting to meet a piece of paper. I already doodled a couple of "Stargates", inspired by the TV series, and uploaded them to YouTube. My mom also found my over 15 years old "Hohner Echo" harmonica again, and i made it a part of some videos.
2018-02-26

Six years Prime student member

In April 2012, i signed up for Amazon Prime Student, because officially i was still a geography student at the University of Bonn. Back then, there was no video streaming available. But the fast and "free" shipping was already worth the discounted price. Later, in early 2014, they introduced Prime video in Germany including a limited selection of movies and shows, which made me keep being subscribed to it. But in the past months, i basically stopped shopping on Amazon, because of Aliexpress. Things are taking a lot longer to deliver, but the prices are hard to beat.
Now, in February 2018, Amazon sent a Email telling me they will upgrade me to "regular" Prime without discounts, which makes it all even less compelling, since i have already seen many of the contents in their video catalog. And in Mai 2016, i discovered BitTorrent "in the cloud", which opened a door to new options, next to Prime video. It's safer than a standard setup, where you run everything local, because the BitTorrent client here is not directly installed on the computer. In December 2015, i got to try Netflix too, which i had for one month as a free trial. FYI, my first order on Amazon was in October 2006, and i bought a Sony ICD-SX56 digital voice recorder for capturing audio at university.
2018-02-10

How Leo Laporte made me feel less alone

Over six years ago, i was one of the first users of "Google Plus", back then, when it got launched in mid 2011. While i was exploring this new upcoming social network, i discovered people like Lisa Bettany and the TWiT podcast network in my Google+ stream. I got sucked in because of the live video on twit.tv, which has let me be a part of something i didn’t know existed. Thanks to Leo Laporte and his friends i felt less alone at that time. From his studio in Petaluma, he talks about tech and things relating to it. And since this is part of modern life, it really means he covers a wide range of topics.
Leo Laporte showed me that there are others out here, who are into technology as much as i am, and that we are like each other in many ways. He is basically a "Swiss Army" knife, just like me, with a wide range of interests. We know a lot about different things, interdisciplinary, to drop a fancy word. Maybe not deep enough to be perfect at anything, but good enough to see the bigger picture and understand how all parts are connected. But he can do whatever he wants, unlike me, since i don't have that many resources. Because of this, Leo Laporte inspired me to keep doing what i enjoy, put myself out there, and see where it goes, despite existential threats.
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