Blog-2018-11-15

I’ve always been a big fan of mechanical keyboards. For many years at work I held on to an IBM Model M, happily driving my neighbours nuts with the loud clickity-clack of its glorious keys. But, alas, it eventually broke down and I had to settle for a run-of-the-mill membrane keyboard.

Weirdly, though, the mechanical keyboard never really died, and thanks to the gaming community, has actually had quite the renaissance over the years. So, when, at work, I found myself needing a new keyboard, I got permission to purchase a eSports Poseidon. I fell in love with it immediately and, with its Cherry MX Brown switches, it has been a total dream (well, until recently… but that’s a whole other story), with just the right amount of tactile response and not entirely excessive noise…

Anyway, my own home setup has been evolving a fair bit lately, and I decided it was about time to ditch my Logitech membrane keyboard for a proper mechanical. But this time, instead of springing (har har) for a mass-produced gaming keyboard, I decided to order something special: a WASD V2 87 Key custom mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX Blue switches.

And it arrived today!

WASD V2 Keyboard

Awww yeah. It’s heavy. It’s seriously clickity-clacky (like… seriously). It looks amazing (some might say “ugly” or “garish” but I prefer “super-retro”). And now I’m writing this post as an excuse to bang away on the damn thing, because man oh man, is it ever fun!

It’s definitely gonna take some getting used to--the keys are definitely stiffer than the MX Brown switches on my work board, though I wonder if that’ll ease over time as I work it in--but compared to the mushy old keyboard I had before, it’s just way too awesome for words!

And it’ll probably drive Lenore crazy!

Posted on 2018-11-15

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Blog-2018-08-31

After adding a Windows VM to the mix, to support the few things I need to do with that OS, I’ve found I’m actually seriously considering completely wiping Windows from this laptop and doing a single boot Ubuntu environment!

This is a genuinely surprising development. I never expected Ubuntu to work so darn well on this machine, but it’s pretty close to flawless. Heck, I recently had this machine plugged into my work corporate network, and the thing auto-discovered and set up the network printers without any direct intervention from me.

Mind == blown.

Meanwhile, Windows 10 in Virtualbox, while not the most high-performance environment in the world, is a perfectly suitable environment for Skype, Webex, Outlook, and any other little Windows dependencies I might encounter.

Honestly, I feel like after many years in the wilderness, I’m coming home once again. Linux is just a far more familiar, comfortable environment for me. I didn’t realize how much I missed it!

Posted on 2018-08-31

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Blog-2018-08-18

So, first of all, Ubuntu on my Carbon continues to rock pretty hard. I’m genuinely impressed! To date, the only issues keeping me from going 100% Ubuntu all the time were work related:

  • We use Skype for Business
  • Webex on Linux basically sucks (at my company where we haven’t had the web app enabled yet)
  • Outlook Web App is fantastic… until you want to book a meeting, and then it basically sucks.
    • Oh, plus it does have some weird authoring glitches that are a bit of a PITA.

But for personal use, it’s been a total champ!

Fortunately, I’ve also found the obvious solution to the above issues (and one I’m sure many others employ): a Windows VM.

In particular, Windows 10 + VirtualBox is a perfectly capable solution for the aforementioned issues. Heck, even my Bluetooth headset and laptop camera work (in the case of the latter, it straight up works in vbox, and in the case of the former it looks like just another audio input/output device attached to the VM)!

And since the use cases are so modest, I can throw a measly 4GB of the total 16GB on this thing at Windows and everything runs pretty darn smoothly.

Not bad at all!

Oh, and also I decided to throw a little brutalism on this website for kicks. Enjoy!

Posted on 2018-08-18

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Blog-2018-07-22

I’ve long been an enormous fan of Lenovo equipment, and last year I decided to finally upgrade my aging T410 and get the truly fantastic 2017 revision of the X1 Carbon. A year on it is unquestionably one of the finest pieces of equipment I’ve ever owned.

The laptop naturally shipped with Windows 10, and as an operating system I have few issues with it. My work involves a lot of Microsoft-specific software, including Outlook and Skype for Business, so it’s a good fit for when I want to work from home and not transport my work equipment from the office. But as a development environment it’s only decent. WSL certainly makes the experience a fair bit more enjoyable, but it stills feels a little clunky.

Meanwhile, there’s definitely a few things that irritate, the most notable being the unplanned reboots, for which Windows 10 has become legendary.

Of course, Windows on Intel hardware does have its advantages. Chipsets and peripherals Just Work, and Windows has gotten much better with touchpad support and so forth. So, in the end, I don’t have a lot of complaints. Ultimately, completely leaving Windows behind on this machine just isn’t tenable given my use cases.

But, that doesn’t mean I can’t try Linux out, and so I did with Ubuntu 18.04!

This is just a quick write-up of the installation process and some of the issues I’ve encountered, in case this has any utility for anyone.

First off, honestly, the install process was dead simple. I was a little worried about the UEFI bootloader and so forth, but ultimately I just had to:

  1. Disable Fast Boot in Windows
  2. Disable Secure Boot in the BIOS

After that, I carved out some space on the disk from the existing NTFS partition and then installed from a USB key I wrote using Rufus based on the Ubuntu 18.04 ISO.

So far, pretty bog standard stuff, and certainly a far cry from the old days of installing Slackware from a dozen floppies!

The OS, itself, works so well as to trick one into thinking all was going to be perfectly fine and everything was simply going to work out of the box!

Not so.

In particular, using the 4.15 kernel that ships with Ubuntu, I ran into a rather bizarre error where the Thunderbolt USB controller would be “assumed dead” by the kernel (Linux’s words). This resulted in attempts to enumerate the PCI devices failing, and that then lead to various and mysterious application failures if they happened to use libpci. I can only assume the USB ports were also non-functional, but I never actually checked that.

This lead me down an extensive troubleshooting path that was only resolved when I decided to downgrade my kernel.

Yes, that’s right. Downgrade.

Moving to 4.14 resolved the issue, which means clearly a bug has been introduced in 4.15 (and before you ask, yes I tested 4.17, and no the issue isn’t fixed… alas).

Oh, but there’s more!

Sleep on lid closed worked wonderfully, except that upon waking, two finger scrolling broke.

Weird.

Fortunately, there’s a workaround: Add “psmouse.synaptics_intertouch=0” to your Linux kernel boot arguments.

With those two workarounds, this thing actually seems to be working pretty well (as evidenced by the fact that I’m writing this post on Ubuntu on my laptop). Wifi clearly works, as does Bluetooth, sound, and accelerated video. USB devices appear to work (though I’ve only just started testing). Plugging in an external HDMI TV works flawlessly. Suspend works perfectly (though I’ve still not gotten hibernate working).

In short, so far the essentials are functional.

Meanwhile, amazingly, battery life seems to be as good as Windows; something that I certainly couldn’t claim in the past. And that’s without any kind of tweaking.

Update: I installed TLP plus the associated Thinkpad kernel module and when just doing light browsing or typing, on a full charge, Ubuntu reports an astonishing fourteen hours of battery life. Windows has never come close!

In short, while this setup is clearly still not for amateurs (having to downgrade kernels and fiddle with boot arguments to get basic functionality working is not for the feint of heart), it does seem to work well once those issues are overcome.

The real question is one of long-term stability (and utility). Only time will tell!

Update:

Windows assumes the hardware clock is in local time. Ubuntu defaults to assuming the hardware clock is in UTC (which is almost certainly the right thing to do).

This means that switching between the two results in the clock getting set incorrectly!

The simplest solution is to make Ubuntu match Windows’ braindead setting as follows:

 timedatectl set-local-rtc 1 --adjust-system-clock

Confirm by just running timedatectl without any arguments, which should result in this warning:

 Warning: The system is configured to read the RTC time in the local time zone.
          This mode can not be fully supported. It will create various problems
          with time zone changes and daylight saving time adjustments. The RTC
          time is never updated, it relies on external facilities to maintain it.
          If at all possible, use RTC in UTC by calling
          'timedatectl set-local-rtc 0'.
Posted on 2018-07-22

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Blog-2018-07-03

I mentioned a while back that I’d moved to using my NUC as a backup storage device, and that continues to be a core use case after I repaved and moved the thing back over to Ubuntu.

Fortunately, as a file server, Linux is definitely more capable and compatible than macOS (which is why, back when it was a Hackintosh, I used a Linux VM as the SMB implementation on my LAN), and so I’ve already got backups re-enabled and working beautifully.

But the next step is enabling offsite copies.

Previously, I achieved this with Google Drive for macOS, backing up the backup directory to the cloud, a solution which worked pretty well overall! Unfortunately, Google provides no client for Linux, which left me in a bit of a jam.

Until I discovered the magic that is rclone.

rclone is, plain and simply, a command-line interface to cloud storage platforms. And it’s an incredibly capable one! It supports one-way folder synchronization (it doesn’t support two-way, but fortunately I don’t need that capability), which means that it’s the perfect solution for syncing up a local backup folder to an offsite cloud stored backup.

But wait, there’s more!

rclone also supports encryption. And that means that (assuming I don’t lose the keys… they’re safely stored in my keepass database (which, itself, is cloned in multiple locations using my other favourite tool, Syncthing)) I can protect those offsite backups from prying eyes, something which Google’s Drive sync tool does not offer.

I can also decide when I want the synchronization to occur! I don’t need offsites done daily. Weekly would be sufficient, and that’s a simple crontab entry away.

Now, to be clear, rclone would have worked just as well on the Hackintosh, so if you’re a Mac user who’d like to take advantage of rclone’s capabilities, you can absolutely do so! But for this Linux user, it was a pleasant surprise!

Posted on 2018-07-03

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