John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Garmin Glo bluetooth GPS

Those of you that follow me know I am a Garmin fan boy. I love their products. They are often some of my most cherished gadgets. I often write Glowing (pun intended) reviews of their products … ehhhh this won’t be one of those :(. Ok so what is this … It’s a bluetooth GPS designed to be used on Apple and Android devices. Garmin went so far as to get MFI (Made for iDevice) certification for this device. So why would you need this you might ask? Well two reasons, one your bought an iPad that didn’t come with a GPS (only the cell models have GPS), or you want to use your iPad in a plane. And in fact, that is where this product if most firmly aimed at.

Like any bluetooth device you power it on, and go into settings and pair it. It can be paired with two devices (not sure if more) at a time but I found the second device needed a prod to connect. It can however, remember multiple devices it has been paired with (no idea the limit). On iOS you then are informed of the apps you can/should install
As you can see use in a plane is what it’s really targeted for. The device powers up, locks up quickly and has a few lights to show you the status. The unit has a battery which Garmin say can last for 12 hours, or you can plug it in using a mini (no micro) USB connector. I’m a little disappointed that it is not mini, micro is so passe and means you will need to remember to bring along the cable for this device since nothing else uses mini today. The unit CAN be used without the battery so you can plug it in and forget it. If your lighter plug goes on and off with the engine then this would be the perfect solution. If not then you should know there is no intelligence whatsoever built into this device. So don’t expect it to auto power off when not in use. On the positive side I measured a VERY low .07A at 5V or 350mW of power drawn. This is low enough you could probably leave it on anyway. Quite impressive.

Don’t go looking for the battery status on the battery widget on iOS. Don’t go looking for an app that would tell you the status of the device, nada. This gadget seems like it was designed in Garmin’s skunk works 🙂 The software that could have been there isn’t. Instead Garmin spent time working on apps like Garmin Pilot and others.

Once linked just about every app I tried from Waze, to Google maps to whatever just worked. Really quite well done. The work with the MFI program paid off, and this does what is supposed to. I tried it on both my iPhone 8 as well as my iPad 9.7 2018.
On my older Android I had less luck. It paired fine, but always ended up using the built in GPS instead and so refused to connect or stay connected.

The device came with a mini USB cable, but it’s so short as to be useless. It also came with a lighter plug with a longer cable.

Now this niche product does NOT come cheap. $129 at Sail.

December 11, 2018 Posted by | GPS Stuff, iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

Workoutdoors app for the Apple watch review

I love doing stuff outdoors. Hiking, biking, kayaking and my closest digital companion has always been my Garmin Fenix 3. But things are starting to change and this app running on my Apple watch is getting more and more use … I last reviewed this app back in May and I have been working with the author as a beta tester. The progress he has been making on this app is astonishing. He’s super responsive to his users, surveys them to prioritize his work, and works closely with beta testers to iron out the kinks before he releases his latest version. If your getting the idea I’m impressed … I am. And those that know me, know I don’t wax lyrical a lot. FYI, while I am a beta tester of this code, I am not affiliated and get no $$s from this review. So this is my unbiased, unpaid opinion of this app … Just thought I’d make that clear. I first learned about WorkoutDoors on one of my favorite sports gadget pages DCRainmaker. This is not a free app, but trust me, what you pay for it, is more than worth it!

If you haven’t given this app a try and do stuff outdoors you owe it to yourself. This is one of the only apps in this space that allows you to see a map of your workout, during the workout, on the watch. You can see a nice bread crumb trail of where you’ve been and scroll around and zoom the map.

Screens are all programmable, and easily selectable from a series of screens you can swipe through, and you can program each specific workout’s screens separately. And this is all configurable not from the watch, but from the phone. The flexibility and convenience of this could give Garmin a run for their money. There’s lots of options and lots of data there for you.

The app utilizes the onboard heart rate monitor, and if you pair a bluetooth heart rate monitor it will use that for accurate data. Within the app on the phone you can customize your zones (as well as min/max) which can be displayed if you so choose.

You can even set min/max heart rate alarms within the sport profile on the watch (select Alerts and scroll down to min/max). This is a feature I love and use to help me know when it’s time to push myself (low heart rate alarm) or take a breather (high heart rate alarm).

The feature set of this app is really quite thorough. What has been achieved within the closed Apple eco system is impressive. Apple won’t allow the app to do always on so don’t look for that. Even with all this functionality, even on my series 1 Apple watch, battery life is still quite acceptable.

When your done your workout it is stored on the phone, but one of the new killer features is the ability to directly export your workout to Strava. Cause in the fitness world, if it isn’t on Strava, it didn’t happen 🙂 You can also export a GPX which can in turn be imported to other platforms.

This has gotten so good, I’ve started to use my Apple watch more, and sadly my Garmin less. This is especially true in that my Garmin doesn’t have a heart rate monitor.

As of right now the app does not do waypoint saving, or navigation. These are on Ian todo list, which when he adds will make this app truly ground breaking. As of now, if I need navigation, such as mountain biking, I still use the Garmin.

There are lots of new features Ian is still working on, and he is VERY actively releasing these new features. As of now he has a 4.8 star rating out of 182 reviews on iTunes. Give it a whirl, it’s VERY worth the money!

December 10, 2018 Posted by | Activity Trackers, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Canon T6I lenses

I recently bought a Canon T6i DSLR camera and love it. Of late I’ve been using to take shots of birds, and nature and the like. It’s crisp, focuses well, and does ok when the days are dreary. I even sorted out a way to get the camera in a kayak in a way I can live with! One of the things about nature photography is zoom is very important. The closer you get to your subject, the more likely they are to flit away and you miss your shot.

In the Canon world the lenses are what do the image stabilization (look for IS in the name). This larger the zoom, the more important the image stabilization is, and the less likely you will need a tripod. There are lenses out there that are NOT image stabilized and I would personally NOT buy them. The camera kit I bought came with a EF-S 18-55 IS STM. The S in STM stands for silent and is important when you want to use the mic on the camera for movies.

The sensor in the t6i is an APS-C, and measures 22.3 x 14.9mm. A full frame DSLR would have a sensor size the same as a 35mm film camera or 36 mm × 24 mm. Full frame camera are a LOT more expensive than APS-C cameras and so more of a professional or prosumer model.

In the Canon world there are two types of lenses you can buy for the T6I. EF and EF-S. The EF-S are for APS-C cameras like the T6i, while the EF are for the full frame. The T6i can take either EF or EF-S lenses. The EF-S being cheaper, and lighter. The major downside of the EF-S is that if you ever move to a full frame camera you toss out your lenses and start again.

From my older Canon I still had a older EF-S 55-250mm 1:4-5.6 IS II lens. It works great on the T6i and is super in most situations. But, in nature, more zoom is almost always better. Searching around I was able to find a EF 70-300 IS lens on ebay in good condition at a price I was willing to pay. I read an article talking about exactly this subject, using an EF lens on an EF-S camera like the T6i. Because this is an EF lens there is a magnifying factor that comes into play. The 70-300 actually becomes a 112-480 (a 1.6 factor). So I’ve effectively gone from a 250 max zoom to a 480. The lens focuses quickly and does fine on darker days. The lens is NOTICEABLY heavier at 930g Vs 386g for the 55-250. I also noticed a decrease in battery life from ~400 to 250 shots. It was one of the first times I’d encountered the camera running out of juice in a day. Of course you can pretty easily purchase a spare battery for the camera, a LP-E17 cheap on Amazon.

So in all my current lenses I use with the T6i
EF-S 18-55 IS STM
EF-S 55-250 IS
EF 70-300 IS

I looked into one other option, a teleconverter. It acts as a magnifier sitting between the camera and the lens. There are two official ones, a 1.4x and a 2.0x. Sadly none of my lenses are compatible with the offical Canon ones. Before you buy one do your research. I also have seen no end of criticism of them for how they distort the image, be then again there are perfectionists out there!

December 4, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Apple iPad 9.7 2017 review

I last owned an iPad mini 2 with LTE. Honestly I loved it, but it just didn’t fit into my digital life and spent time sitting there, alone, irking me that the money spent was not doing anything. But then along came this iPad with Apple Pencil support and I was tempted. I kept hoping Apple would come out with a mini with pencil support, but, sadly, it was not to be. So I gave in an bought this tablet. One of the things I learned last time around is that a lot of storage on an iPad is useless. Music is on my iPhone and no iPad will replace my iPhone. And putting movies onto an iPad is at best a painful experience with a trip through iTunes and a possible need to convert to H264 … So this time around I bought the smallest iPad, 32G. Staples had the iPad regularly $429, for $339 and then gave me another $10 for joining their email blast bring the price down to a palatable $329 plus $129 for the pencil.

One of the major features for the iPad for me is the integration of the iPhone and iPad, I wish everyone was able to do this. Text messages, phone calls, timers, reminders, lists all stay in sync and work over both. It allows you to put your iPhone wherever and use just the iPad in the home.

With this being a newer iPad Siri works even when not plugged in. So the iPad becomes a digital assistant and works quite well even when your not close. This is a wonderful new use for the iPad! And with it’s outstanding battery life, even not plugged in your good for days. I wish I could find a decent docking station for iPads, oddly they don’t seem to exist?

The dimensions of the iPad are:
240 × 168.5 × 7.5 mm 469g Vs the Vivotab note 8 I am replacing which is:
132 x 221 x 10 mm 360g so quite a bit larger and heavier than what I am replacing
Display wise it an impressive:
2048 × 1536 px vs 1280×800 iPads have always been quite good in this spec area.

Battery size is 32.4Wh Vs 15.5 but the real star here is how much better iOS is at battery life than Windows will ever be.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve had with this iPad is a case. Sounds like it ought to be simple … It isn’t. I need a case that I can hold the iPad while open. So few have straps that help this. Then there’s the pencil holder. Finding a case with a built in pencil holder is challenging and then they make mistakes like putting the pencil loop on the wrong side of the case leaving the pencil flapping in the breeze and slapping against the iPad as you open and close the case … grrr. After three cases I finally found a winner on Amazon, a Ztotop. This case finally has everything I’m looking for (well almost). The case is easy to hold, has the auto on/off magnet, a pencil loop that is useable, a hand strap for holding it while open, the only miss is the inside of the case is light grey which will show stains. Oh well.

I’m not sure when this was added to iOS, or if it was always there, but when you press control or alt tab which allows you to select from running apps, there is now one for the home screen. This allows you to use a keyboard that does not have a button for home on it! Nice …

Speed wise the 9.7 runs the A10 Vs the A11 I have in my iPhone 8, so close. The mini 2 I got rid of was so much older than my phone the speed difference was HUGELY noticeable and discourage it from being used.

I often start to wonder, and even get into discussions with people of whether an iPad can replace a laptop. You can spend money that will add a keyboard to the iPad and even hold it in positions it looks a lot like a notebook, but for me the number one reason an iPad can not replace a laptop is the lack of mouse support (iOS still today does not support a mouse). Editing photos, trying to do RDP and many other tasks just need a mouse. The pencil can help a little. And the number two reason is that the browser support even on chrome is designed for mobile browsing. Some sites, and it’s a lot, just don’t display right or flat out don’t work on iOS. So before you go out and spend $120 or more on a keyboard give this some serious thought. The best keyboard I had found for it, in case you want to leap in anyway, is a Brydge . It gets good reviews for tactile feel, key placement, functionality, and ease to put the iPad in and out. And at 9.7″ the screen is big, but not big enough.

This iPad like all current ones use the typical lightening connector, and the ubiquitous 10W, 5V 2A charger came with it. I tried a 12W Apple iPad charger and it worked fine, but still only drew the 10W of power, so no benefit. I plugged it into my Aukey 5 port charger and it worked fine, and even drew almost 12W, but made little to no difference in charge speeds. As with other Apple product, I plugged it into the Qualcom quick charge 3.0 port on my Aukey and it halfed the power (5W) it drew meaning it would take forever to charge, so stay away from those.

The iPad like all Apple devices is included in the find my phone.

When an App is written the author decides whether to offer an iPhone, or iPad version, or in the best case, both. But some just don’t. When the app is written only for an iPhone it looks bad on a large screen like this. I mean really bad. I find is shocking that companies even like my bank don’t spend the time and money to create an iPad app for it. I really find this quite irksome, and yet another reason an iPad can’t replace a laptop.

There is a video converter that would allow the iPad to work with a display, but again with no mouse support it’s use is limited.

As always installing Kodi on an iPad is best left for extreme tekkies with access to a Mac. I did find a somewhat dodgy but easier way to install Kodi on TvAddons. The method requires you to install an app from a web site and permit an untrusted cert, and lastly tolerate the occasional adds. To remove the app is simple and then you delete the cert.

After a weeks light use the battery on the iPad was finally dead. The standby power management coupled with a HUGE battery means that battery life is outstanding. In the same time the pencil with little to no use was down to 27%. As important as battery life is charge time is also important. Apple in the past have no embraced fast charging with this finally appearing on the iPhone 8. As mentioned above the iPad came with a 10W charger, and did not benefit at all from the 12W. Here’s what the charge curve looks like. What you can see is a straight line across the charge curve. The current starts to reduce as you can see in the data after about 80%. The iPad took about 4 hours to charge from 5%.

And as always, the devil is in the details. And this was one I knew from last time, and forgot. Only iPads with the cell radio in it have GPS. Which means you can not use this iPad for Waze or other in car navigation. I stupidly bought the WIFI only. The difference in price is $429 Vs $599 or $170 extra (for the 32G). There are a few options. Generically Apple do not support bluetooth GPS, however there are a few in the market that have worked with Apple and work. There’s also one that plugs into the lightning connector. The ones I have found (not necessarily extensive):
Dual Electronics XGPS150A Bluetooth
Bad Elf GPS iPad Receiver Apple Lightning Connector
Garmin GLO Bluetooth
GNS 2000 Bluetooth
The cheapest option I was able to find was $140 so if this is something your interested in, your better off to just bite the bullet and buy the cell version. I ended up buying the Garmin Glo and while it works it is a clumsy option.

The iPad works fine as a media player, able to stream what can come over WIFI. I used it with Plex, HomeRunHD and Kodi all worked fine.

That’s about it for now, I like the iPad, the addition of the pen means I will use it for taking digital notes and I guess time will tell what else I use it for. This GPS revelation is irritating at best and has me now considering to return it.

Update: I returned it and got a one with the cell and GPS from Fido for pretty much the same price. Dilemma solved.

Accessories can protect your device and add additional convenience and usefulness … First and foremost is a case. This as mentioned above presented more challenges than I expected. If you don’t have a pen the SR Premium Leather Business Multi-Functional Folio Stand is made of very nice material, has a strap for holding it while you write, and has the auto on/off function. This comes with a pen loop but they botched it and put it on the wrong side of the case making it unuseable. The inside of the case is a lovely felt but it is a stain and moisture magnet, and being black shows everything.

If you need a pen then the Ztotop Premium Leather Business Slim Folding Stand Folio Cover is the best. It has a hand strap for holding it while you write, it has a pen loop that is useful, has the auto on/off function, has a couple of angles you can prop it up at and the inside material is easy to wash. If there is any downside it’s that the materials are just cheap looking. But at least they got the physicals right!

Don’t bother with a mouse because the iPad doesn’t support it but a bluetooth keyboard can come in handy. Be sure and buy one that is for Apple so that the keys all just work right. Look for the command key on it. I’m using a very old Targus and it works well. I’m not sure for my usecase that a keyboard case is worth the money, I just leave the keyboard on the table and use it when I’m there.

I wouldn’t own a phone these days without a tempered glass screen protector so I nervously bought a Spigen one. Putting a screen protector on a screen this big and not getting imperfections under it are a huge challenge. A friend of mine Lance taught me a trick, use packing tape to make sure every last spec of dust and lint is off the screen. It works so much better than the small pieces they give you. Just keep going over and over the screen in different directions until your satisfied. The piece of mine knowing the screen is protected is well worth the angst … And if you use the pencil then if the pencil was to get damaged it can’t scratch the screen as a added bonus.

Obviously the Apple pencil is a great choice if you take notes digitally as I do, or like to doodle.

I bought a lightning SD card reader, meh don’t bother. I should have listened to the little voice. It’s not all that useful. You can import photos, and if you have to get a movie that is exactly as Apple intended you MIGHT be able to import it. Movies are generally converted to Apples narrowly supported specs by iTunes. And mp3s were completely ignored.

I’ve bought a car holder but don’t have it yet … I’ll update the blog when it arrives.

December 4, 2018 Posted by | iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

Apple Pencil review

I’ve been using a Asus Vivotab Note 8 Windows based tablet for a quite a while now and love it. It is hands down the best experience for the pen. The problem is the device has been massively unstable and keeping it working has been a pain. Everything from physical issues with the ribbon cable that connects both the touch screen and digitizer to ongoing issues with Windows drivers. Windows 10 has finally has improved (or I finally discovered) palm rejection with the addition of one setting.

Believe it or not there are NO replacement in the market for this niche product. The Windows environment is still the richest environment for OneNote. Android and IOS being limited in function.

For this review I will talk about the Apple pencil, then the iPad in a separate article.

Physically in the box there’s the pencil itself, a spare tip as well as a converter.

The pencil goes for $129, so not cheap. On the end of the pencil is a cap that hides the lightning connector. This connector allows the pencil to be plugged into the iPad for charging and initial setup. They then give you a converter that allows you to plug the pencil into a normal charge cable. The design of this is STUPID. It’s designed for the exception, charging from the iPad and initial setup. IMHO it should have been designed the other way around to allow a standard charger to plug in and a converter for those rare occasions you need to plug into the iPad. The reality is your going to have to find a way to not loose the converter.

When first plugged into the iPad it bluetooth pairs the pencil. Before being paired it is completely ignored. You could easily think the pencil is dead (I know I did). Ya ya I know RTFM.

The pencil itself is long, but well balanced. There are no LEDs, no buttons, nothing. To see the charge level on the pencil you need to add the batteries widget.

There isn’t even an app to interface with the pencil. The pencil can be used like a pointer on the the iPad but the real purpose of this pencil is drawing and writing. I take digital hand written notes using Microsoft OneNote. Within OneNote you have to select the draw tab before the pencil starts being a draw tool, otherwise it is a scroll tool. The pen appears with absolutely no delay making writing seem natural. The pen tip is a little hard so it doesn’t feel like your writing on paper and you get some tapping sounds, but this is really nit picking. The end of the pencil does not act as an eraser as it does with some pens. Having no buttons means there is no way to select anything with the pencil. As usual there are a number of functions missing from OneNote from anything but Windows and that includes optical character recognition, convert hand writing to text, page templates etc.

There is no cap for the end of the pencil, nor is there a shirt clip for it. The best way to store it would be to buy a case with a bay for the pen, of which there are lots. The one I bought, a Finitie off Amazon is a pretty good case that fits the iPad well and holds the pencil. There are a few minor nits with the case. The inside of the cover is light grey and absorbs anything wet which gets marked/stained easily, black would have been better. The outside of the case is somewhat slippery. The design of the pen slot would have been perfect if they had made a little pocket for the lightning converter for the pen. The design of the outside cover works well as a stand but is not easy to hold in use. They could have added a strap on the inside as some do, or they could have made the first fold small enough to be able to hold in the hand when open.

I finally found a winner on Amazon, a Ztotop. This case finally has everything I’m looking for (well almost). The case is easy to hold, has the auto on/off magnet, a pencil loop that is useable, a hand strap for holding it while open, the only miss is the inside of the case is light grey which will show stains. Oh well.

The pen can be used in a number of apps to simply and easily add annotations, highlights whatever!

Apple Pencil promises 12 hours of battery life and 30 minutes of usage after a 15 second quick charge from the iPad. If you choose to charge it by the lightning connector charge time is quite long. For the first almost 10 mins the charge didn’t seem to budge. If your patient it seems to get started. Ignoring the first 15mins of this graph we can get some useful data. Time to full charge is just under an hour (which is in line with what I’ve read). I get about 1.7%/min on the charger. If you do a calculation I would guess the battery inside the pen is around 0.28Whr which is in the ballpark of the Wikipedia article on the pencil.

Anytime the iPad is on (and the pencil detects some kind of movement, I think) whether your using the pencil or not, it’s connected and draining. I see no way to power off the pencil shy of powering off bluetooth on the iPad and even that might not stop the constant power drain on the pencil. This seems like another significant oversight. In a week of light iPad and light pencil use, the pencil was down to 26%. So a little over a week seems about all your going to get before you have to recharge the pencil, whether you’ve used it or not. If the pencil was sat somewhere there was absolutely no movement then it would go to sleep, but then the pencil wouldn’t be with you when you need it. All in all this is a HUGE mistake on Apples part IMHO. I left the pencil off the ipad sitting still on a ledge, and even with this the pencil discharged in 5 days down to 79%. So an improvement but still not zero. This missing power switch seems idiotic.

Apple seem to have completely ignored any learning from previous stylus and reinvented the wheel. As you can see above with some fairly obvious rookie mistakes. Now don’t get me wrong, I like the pencil, I just expected better from Apple (not less).

By the way I bought one of these Cover sets off Amazon. Provides some nice protection for the pencil tip and cheap enough your not going to cry when you loose them.

I also bought a sticker to put on the back of a case to hold the pencil, if you do be careful with the length of the sticker, the one I bought is too short and the pencil bobs around. I should have noticed the picture didn’t show the Apple pencil in it, but a regular pen, in spite of saying it was for the Apple pencil …

November 29, 2018 Posted by | iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

HDHomeRun connect

With a decent antenna in place the next step was to make a more elegant solution. With any cable box you a richer environment including and electronic program guide (EPG). With that you can see whats playing now and in the future. HDHomeRun offers this and more. The most basic is the HD connect. It is a two tuner device. There are two version of this the original connect and the connect duo. From everything I’ve read they are identical, just a cost reduced.

Connecting this device is super easy, connect the coax to your antenna, connect it to your wired network and plug it in. That’s it.

You will likely need a splitter if you want to connect both the HomeRun as well as your existing TV. The unit does NOT have a pass through.
Once on the network your ready to get started. There’s a web interface to the device, but your on your own to find it on your router’s DHCP log. But frankly the web interface is so basic as to wonder why they even bothered.

So onto the PC you go … there are two version of the app to control the tuner, one is the tiled metro version and the other the older style desktop app. The desktop app includes a setup utility to get started, and configure the receiver. And now we start running into the software issues that plague this device. Attempts to install the desktop app run into an error in the prerequiste install.

I found an article explaining the issue and how to get around it. Basically you need to install Visual C++ libraries. Why Silicondust has not fixed this is beyond me. However, once installed you can run the setup and configure the tuner including scanning for channels. And now your ready to go …

From the Metro app your informed you need to install the Microsoft MPG-2 which can only be had from the Microsoft store.

From either the Windows desktop or Metro app you can start watching TV including seeing the EPG. The environment is VERY good and reminiscent of what you would see from a cable company. Quality is quite good with the occasional drop out especially during the first little bit. Data rate is quite reasonable at around 18mps so easily sustainable from WIFI.

I played the app from a Core i5 based WIFI connected laptop as well as a Atom quad core tablet and both played very well and were more than good enough.

The unit has two tuners and you can watch from any two devices at a time, but even if two devices are watching the same channel, it still takes up two tuners, so no advanced streaming is being done.

There’s an Android HDHomeRun app but it is ONLY available on the Playstore, so if you have an Android TV box without the playstore your SOL. Why Silicondust don’t make the APK available is yet again … beyond me.

From an Amazon Firetv there is a native HDHomeRun app found in the entertainment category that works well and plays smoothly. I have a FireTV Gen 1 and 2 and both work fine.

If your like me and use Kodi on your FireTV you can also add the video add on that is an officially supported app. Go to download, install from repository, kodi add-on repository, video add ons, HDHomeRun and your done. You can then launch it from Addons, or video add ons.

There’s also an iPhone app to round out the offerings.

I don’t see a way to use HDHomeRun with a smart TV.

The HDHomeRun does not appear to be compatible with VPNs. All the reading I did seem to imply use Plex/Emby for this. Both of which require subscriptions to use live TV.

Here’s what the interface looks like:

The power adapter is 5V 1A so 5W max, quite impressive for what it does!

The one missing feature is DVR for recording live TV, which is a premium feature which goes for $35 a year and runs on your NAS or PC to capture and store. Of course this means whatever this device is needs to be always on. Other PVR options would include Plex or Emby both of which support the HDHomeRun.

HDHomeRun also offer a series of premium channels which go for a whopping $34.95 in the US. WTF might as well pay for cable.

As always there is a catch, and honestly this one took a bit to sort out. There is another version they offer called the HDHomeRun extend. The extend adds chips to do in hardware H264 transcoding on the fly. Live TV really isn’t an issue but when you go to record (DVR) it transcoding becomes a must to dramatically decrease storage needed, as well as to have any hope in playing back the recorded TV over WIFI. To transcode on the fly without hardware assist requires a SIGNIFICANT processor. A dedicated Core i3 is barely able to keep up (Here’s a Plex article on the subject). So if the DVR functionality is something your considering, then I highly recommend you buy the extend instead.

I noticed that in the list of channels was a list of demo channels. Turns out these are the premium channels that aren’t even available in Canada at this time. I contacted Silicon Dust and they told me I had to go to the channel line up on the web interface for the HDHomeRun connect and click the star which allows me to delete each channel. Clumsy and not obvious.

November 26, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

OTA HD TV

Cable companies have often seemed like the only alternative to TV in the home but in major built up areas like the GTA there are other options … When I moved into my current home I setup an in home amplified RCA antenna. I got 5 channels free. This is what is often referred to as Over the Air or OTA. In the GTA we are close to major transmitting locations like Toronto, Buffalo and to a smaller extent Hamilton. A couple of colleagues, Neil and Johannes had major success with in attic antennas so it pushed me to do what I have been too lazy to do … get on with an external antenna. I got lucky and the previous owner had a satellite disk on the wall of the home with cables running into the house. I had another previous colleague give me an HD antenna. And with this motivation I climbed a ladder unmounted the satellite dish and the antenna was a simple mount. I got lucky and the cables in the home were already there. I was shocked and amazed at the results … channels even unamplified climbed to 33 channels. I originally had pointed the antenna firmly toward Buffalo. Moving it more neutrally towards Torono/Buffalo got me the major Toronto stations. I had a 7.5db amplifier and tried it but it made little to no difference. In fact the antenna placement made more difference than the amplifier. A colleague loaned me a 21 db amplifier and I placed it first in the house near the TV and went from 33 to 37 but frankly the added channels were insignificant. I moved the amplifier out to where it belonged which is closer to the antenna and it crept up to 38 channels. By having the amplifier closer to the antenna it insured you weren’t amplifying noise. But again the difference was largely insignificant the channels that it added weren’t anything I cared about. The TV I have only gave a signal strength of weak, good or normal, no db number so it was hard to tell quantitatively but there was an increase in signal strength with the 21 db boost. It was a Juice:

The way this works is it encodes a power signal into the same coax signal that you run out to the antenna so there’s no need to run another cable. The power adapter plugs in nice and comfy in the house at the end of the coax. Super convenient and is the perfect placement. And with that I have a decent free OTA setup …

For figuring out what direction to point your antenna, I found this website that lists tower locations relative to your home handy.

November 22, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Kubernetes a docker container orchestrator

I know, another container article. Well … there’s lots to learn. So we recently covered off Docker swarm so high on my list was to look at a competing orchestrator which Kubernetes is. Kubernetes was a Google project and is open source. Like swarm it is a cluster of sorts for running docker containers. It, like swarm, is managed by command line interface, making automating tasks super easy. The idea is to be able to spin up additional hosts, as demand grows (which swarm is also intended for).

So what’s different with Kubernetes compared to swarm? At a high level containers run in what Kubernetes call pods. Pods can be a single container or in advanced deployments (as they refer to it), can contain multiple containers. Within a pod the containers can share storage and networking. In Kubernetes you start with a master. In Kubernetes the master does not participate in hosting containers (from what I’ve seen). You then add nodes, as many as you like. Workload is then distributed out to the nodes when new pods (containers) are deployed. Pods can be scaled for as many instances you need. Like on swarm the IP address of the master is what is published out and the master shuffles the workload out to the containers. If there are more than one of them, say web servers, then the work is load balanced out.

In Kubernetes terms, creating a new container, is creating a new pod, and is called a deployment. The deployment is the over lord that watches over pods.

As a warning, don’t get confused by Minikube, which is a single host that mimics a kubernetes cluster for development purposes. Given the heavy nature of Kubernetes, which I will get to, other than to develop I see no use for Minikube in my environment.

I read a number of guides for how to get Kubernetes going and finally landed on this one which actually worked. A few of the others did not.

So for my environment I built up 3 Ubuntu VMs to get started with this play space, one master and two nodes. The above article covers off a number of different scenarios so I have replicated some of the article that is specific to mine. Less than two nodes and I again see no point in Kubernetes for my use case. I’ll walk you through the exact sequence of events to get your Kubernetes cluster up and running and ready to play, or maybe even do work? I found the master needed a min of 1.5G, and the nodes around 1G. And that’s even before you start doing anything with them.

Ok let’s get started. The following needs to be done on the master and all nodes:
1) Install docker:

apt-get update
apt-get install -y docker.io

2) Install Kubernetes

apt-get update && apt-get install -y apt-transport-https
curl -s https://packages.cloud.google.com/apt/doc/apt-key.gpg | apt-key add -
cat </etc/apt/sources.list.d/kubernetes.list
deb http://apt.kubernetes.io/ kubernetes-xenial main
EOF
apt-get update
apt-get install -y kubelet kubeadm kubectl
export MASTER_IP=192.168.2.101

systemctl enable docker.service
service docker start
swapoff -a

I put all this into one shell script. The last step disabled swap which you need to make permanent by deleting the swap file line (or commenting it out) from the /etc/fstab file.

3) Initialize your cluster
Ok the prep work is done and your now ready to create your master. (You don’t run this on the nodes)
kubeadm init --apiserver-advertise-address $MASTER_IP
The command, like swarm gives you back a token and pointer to encryption files needed to join nodes. This token is time bombed. If later you need to add another node, you need to regenerate the token on the master using the command:
kubeadm create token
You will get back a command for the nodes that looks like this:
kubeadm join 192.168.2.101:6443 --token xxxx --discovery-token-ca-cert-hash xxx

4) Join your nodes to the master
You run this command (kubeadm join) on all nodes you want to join the cluster. In my case two nodes.

5) Configure kubernetes (only on the master)

cp /etc/kubernetes/admin.conf $HOME/
chown $(id -u):$(id -g) $HOME/admin.conf
export KUBECONFIG=$HOME/admin.conf

6) create pod network (only on the master)

sysctl net.bridge.bridge-nf-call-iptables=1
export kubever=$(kubectl version | base64 | tr -d '\n')
kubectl apply -f "https://cloud.weave.works/k8s/net?k8s-version=$kubever"
kubectl get nodes

Now I have to admit I don’t know what the script that was pulled from cloud.weave above does and it makes me nervous. It is however a necessary step. The last command will now show you the status of your cluster and the nodes in your cluster. It may take a few minutes for everything to be ready, be patient. Go have a coffee if need be.

7) Your ready to create your first container/pod. This is called a deployment. We will use NGINX for simplicity.
kubectl run nginx --image=nginx

You can see the status of your deployment
kubectl get deployment nginx

Once the deployment is done your ready to publish your port externally using this command:
kubectl expose deployment nginx --external-ip=$MASTER_IP --port=80 --target-port=80
One of the neat things on both swarm and Kubernetes is that you hit the IP of the master server irrelevant of what node the pod is running on. The master proxies out the port to the node(s) running the pod. You can have replicas called scaling to give you additional bandwidth and some redundancy. So for example 2 web servers.
kubectl scale deployment nginx --replicas=2
You can see the ports that have been published using:
kubectl get service
You can see the various running pods using:
kubectl get pods

Debugging a particular container is done using your standard docker techniques by going to the node running the pod and using the same commands you would in a stand alone docker environment.

After a reboot I found it repeatedly necessary to issue
export KUBECONFIG=$HOME/admin.conf
At this point your kubernetes environment is up. But to make it more usable I decided to get the kubernetes dashboard up and running. I used a combination of two links to figure this out. First link and second site.

Kubernetes dashboard

1) Deploy the dashboard
kubectl apply -f https://raw.githubusercontent.com/kubernetes/dashboard/master/src/deploy/alternative/kubernetes-dashboard.yaml
2) Modify the dashboard
kubectl apply -f https://raw.githubusercontent.com/shdowofdeath/dashboard/master/rolebindingdashboard.yaml
3) Publish externally (note I found this needed to be done after any reboot of the master)
nohup kubectl proxy --address="192.168.2.101" -p 443 --accept-hosts='^*$' &

You can see what port it’s published on
kubectl -n kube-system get service kubernetes-dashboard

And with that your dasboard is up and can be used for admin tasks. Oddly they don’t seem to tell you what theLink to your dashboard is. Feel free to substitute your IP address.

November 13, 2018 Posted by | Container stuff | Leave a comment

Redhat Enterprise Linux docker containers quick review

I last did a quick start guide for Windows 10/Server 2016 docker containers and decided to have a look at Redhat Enterprise Linux. As a developer you have access to licensing to allow you to learn/play/test for free. I did discover that you have to re-sign up every year to keep yourself current. This for me just meant logging back into the developer web site and re-accepting the terms/licensing info.

I recently came across an official quickstart guide. It was very helpful and thorough. To get started I installed a Redhat enterprise Linux full into a VM on hyperv. Then installed docker (following the guide). I was then off to the races running docker under Redhat, but don’t do that. Docker that is part of Redhat is old. See below to install the current version of docker.

I recently attended a mini information session put on by our Redhat evangelist and discovered Redhat Atomic. Atomic is light distribution of Redhat Enterprise Linux 7 that is designed and built for container hosts. It has limited writeable storage, and a much lower attack surface making your host more manageable and lower risk. Redhat has provided Atomic in a number of formats including ISO for installing to bare metal or for a number of virtualizations. Red hat Atomic link. This allows you to get started with Atomic quickly. Because Atomic is pretty stripped down your going to want to develop your environment on a full Redhat 7 environment where you have the tools you need to debug inevitable issues. Once it’s nailed down and running you are then ready to move your container onto Atomic. Atomic appears to not need any form of licensing making it a great choice for playing in lab and home environments. You can spin them up and down at will!

I started with the Hyper-V downloaded from the above link. Redhat for some bizarre reason did not assign a default password and you have to go through a process that while explained in the instal/config guide is so off I glanced over it. Basically you have to make two text files, create an ISO on another Redhat box, then boot the Hyper-V vm with the ISO mounted. It is unnecessarily complicated. If you have to do it this way give us a damn ISO with a default userid and password. I can only imagine Redhat are concerned about people leaving it as the default password but geez … Well I got past this and am up and running.

As common as docker is across platforms there are also differences. One of the major areas of differences are in networking. For example out of the box Windows networking looks like
NETWORK ID NAME DRIVER SCOPE
NAT
6edbbe0987fe none null local

While on Redhat it looks like:
docker network ls
NETWORK ID NAME DRIVER SCOPE
0d678d05d64e bridge bridge local
cc563543ebc4 host host local
f0f03379b31c none null local

NAT in windows and bridge in Redhat are the same in that they hand the container a separate non routable IP to allow the container to talk outbound. But since what I am playing with is inbound this isn’t useful. Host on the other hand shares the network IP and stack of the host. So the container does not get it’s own IP. And the ports served by the container appear to be served by the container host. Of course don’t forget to open the firewall rules on the container host to allow it to talk out. Now obviously this mode would not allow you to have two containers serving the same port. I found a list of official containers that are ready for you to download. They are well documented and can get you up and running shockingly fast. I had little to no issues getting a mariadb container up and serving in no time. Very cool! And of course you can also pull your containers from Docker Hub.

I found that the more restrictive SELINUX caused issues so I had to:
Edit /etc/selinux/config change to permissive

As I mentioned above I did discover that Redhat ships an older version of Docker. To get around this you need to add the docker repository to yum and install docker from the official docker source rather than Redhat.
sudo yum install -y yum-utils (to add utils for yum)
sudo yum-config-manager \
–add-repo \
https://download.docker.com/linux/centos/docker-ce.repo

sudo yum install docker-ce
systemctl enable docker.service
service docker start

Once installed I’ve had good success with containers running on Redhat. As good or better than running on Ubuntu. Unlike Windows containers where there just isn’t much out there, there are tons of free Linux containers out there ready to go. Figuring out the inevitably poor documentation of the container is the biggest challenge.

November 8, 2018 Posted by | Container stuff | Leave a comment

Lenovo T450s review

I last purchased an Asus T300 Chi two and a half years ago. This is pretty amazing longevity for me. I have to say, I have become completely disenfranchised with the idea of a Windows tablet. I had such high hopes. The on screen keyboard on Windows is still light years behind Andoid or iOS. The T300 is a combination tablet/laptop. Using the Core M processor it is light, silent, cool, good battery life and has some amazing properties. But since buying it I have used it as a tablet no more than a handful of times. The pen on it isn’t great, and palm rejection on Windows 10 is still to date, inferior to Windows 8. The major irritations (and admittedly these are minor) with the T300 comes down to the keyboard. Feel is ok but not great. Key location is good but not perfect. The touch pad is annoying and I can not tell you how many times I have tried to press the right mouse key and somehow, no idea how, it thinks I pressed the left mouse button. But the biggest irritation with the keyboard is the fact it’s bluetooth, which means it needs to be charged, doesn’t wake up the tablet and there is a delay between when you want it and when it’s ready. The dongle needed to do normal size USB ports is also a mild irritation.

So let’s start with what was I looking for. 8G RAM, preferably a Core i5 (for heat/battery reasons), SSD (once you’ve been on one you can’t go back, it’s that transformative to the experience), a decent keyboard, preferably with a touchstick (not a touchpad), a touchscreen (once you’ve been on a touchscreen you keep pecking on the screen when it’s not a touchscreen and wondering why it’s not doing anything, again no road back) and resolution that is reasonable. Having a 14″ screen that has x768 is silly. That said the UBER high resolution of the T300 presented some challenges in apps like RDP.

So in searching around I landed on Lenovo for the touchstick. I looked at a couple models, a Carbon, an X260 before landing on this one. I actually was going to buy the X260 and saw this one instead. For a little more money the screen went from 12.5″ to 14. Given my current eye sight (ya I know go get glasses) I decided to go with the T450s. The other benefit of the larger screen is the keyboard itself is larger with more normal key layount, an added plus. The t450 can also take an optional docking station. So let’s have look at the unit …

First off comes the processor. The Core i5 5300U is better than the Core M in all but one place, power consumption. The Core i5 draws a whopping 15W Vs 4.5. Here’s a good Processor comparison and another one. We will see if the added power consumption translates into a machine too hot for the lap, something I’ve had in the past. The Core i5 is NOT passively cooled so this means there is a fan , this isn’t a silent laptop, something that has annoyed me in the past, I guess we will see. Like all the Core processors this supports proper suspend, none of that problematic active standby like the Atoms have that always results in a dead battery … Drawing ~ .5%/hr in suspend the system can sit in suspend for almost a week. You can also set the system to go into hibernate to insure your never with a dead battery. Resume from suspend is super fast, ~2 seconds and reasonably fast on hibernate ~20 seconds.

Memory wise the Core i5 takes DDR3 Vs DDR4, which doesn’t sound like a big deal but worth noting. The memory on this unit comes from a single SODIMM. The specs from lenovo seem to say it maxes out at 12G, but oddly their own web site offers a 16G modules for it, albeit pricey. I found a good Youtube video showing how easily the SODIMM can be replaced. CPU-Z shows a 4G SODIMM which would then imply there’s 4G soldered onto the planar to make up the 8G.

Display wise this unit is 1920×1080, so full HD. The T300 was 2560×1440 but I knew this and chose to accept it. Honestly I don’t think the super high resolution has been all that beneficial. If there is one place that is a low light on this laptop, it is the display, which IMHO is acceptable but average. The unit comes with both a VGA out as well as a mini display port. The mini display port with an optional, inexpensive dongle can get converted to HDMI. Handy, and flexible! The video chip is an Intel 5500. With a bit of digging I found max resolution with the 5300U is 3840 x 2160 @ 60 Hz on display port. The graphics chipset supports some basic, lower end gaming and a GPU shows up on the task manager.

Networking wise Lenovo went with an Intel G wired NIC as well as a dual band (2.5/5G), Intel 7265 A/C wireless card. One of the benefits of the normal laptop (Vs tablet size) is that it can have a built in wired NIC. While not something I use often, it’s a nice to have. And you can also add a cell card for LTE connectivity. It would be a SIERRA EM7345 (Lenovo PN 4XC0F46957), and is available pretty reasonably (~$100 CDN) on ebay. The WIFI on the T450s is comparable in terms of speed and reception to the T300, no issues. I actually wondered if it might be better, but if it is, it’s not noticeable. A while back I did a post on Wireless N and actually went back to my own post to re-tune my wifi location and settings. I was able to get 300mb/s link rate and transfer rates maxing out aroung 180mb/s (measured using iPerf).

The T450s I got has a 250G SSD, an Intel SSD Pro 2500. It clocks in at 191/291 MB/s (compared to the T300 which got 177/175). So pretty fast!

Being a normal size laptop it comes with 3 USB3 (full size) ports, and as expected they are SUPER fast. This comes in handy for transferring large files to/from a USB thumb drive. This is another place having a super fast SSD comes in handy. Initial setup is less painful.

Battery wise Lenovo has included two batteries. One that is internal to the laptop and then the main battery. Using this arrangement the main battery can be swapped live to a second battery. The T450s includes some fast charging technologies that are really noticeable in how quickly this unit charges back up.

The weight on this unit is 3.5 lbs, compared to 720g for the T300. But honestly I don’t travel all that much right now so not an issue. The weight difference is of course, quite noticeable.

If there is one place this laptop shines it’s hand down the keyboard. I spend a fair bit of time on my three blogs, emails, etc so I really value the keyboard. The travel/feel on the keys is excellent. The placement is perfect. I use a lot of keyboard short cuts, so when things like home, end, insert etc get moved or are fn key based I find I am less efficient. Having worked for IBM for a long time I got totally use to the touchpoint or as we called it the G spot (haha). Glidepoints more often annoy me, but this glide point is not bad. I have yet to accidentally touch it and have the mouse move inadvertently. And I actually use the middle button to drag/scroll down. I do it without thinking. The proper left and right mouse buttons are super welcome and offer lots of positive feedback. This keyboard is done, like only Lenovo can do!

On the bottom of the unit is a docking station port. Not something I envision using but could be a convenience in a home office. Of course given this unit has USB 3 you can also use the more standard USB docking stations.

There are some companies that could learn from Lenovo. Loading up a new Thinkpad from scratch is one of the easiest experiences (in the PC world). You load Lenovo system update and it in turn grabs all the drivers needed. It works, works smoothly and works well. And updates to drivers etc all flow the same way.

You can not boot from the SD card, but can boot from a USB flash drive. I bought one of the small ones a SanDisk Ultra Fit USB 3.0 Flash Drive (SDCZ43-064G-GAM46). So spoiler alert, don’t buy one of these it’s super slow with write speeds of barely 14MB/s but read speeds of 103MB/s. I loaded ubuntu on this and it works fine. I ran into a show stopper for me, Kodi does not playback well on this laptop under ubuntu. No issues on Windows.

Overall this is an excellent laptop and I am very happy with it. A nice move forward from the Asus and I am thrilled to have a good keyboard and touch point!

November 8, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment