John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

UnRAID

I friend of mine, Lance, has been telling me all about UnRAID so I thought I’d have a look … So what is UnRAID? Well … Lime Tech has put a GUI interface in front of a number of major functions. These are 1) software based RAID 2) VMs 3) containers. In this blog post I’m going to focus on the containers section of UnRAID. At this point I’ve played with containers running on Linux (Ubuntu/Redhat) and Windows. I personally found Windows containers to be very limited in appeal (to me). The major barrier to getting up to speed quickly with containers is the difficulty of the command line interface for docker. Well this is one area, I played with UnRAID with and came away thoroughly impressed, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So UnRAID is a stand alone, Linux based, PAID operating system. It is not free. You can NOT virtualize UnRAID itself to get yourself up and running. UnRAID needs it’s own dedicated box. UnRAID runs ONLY from a USB key, and then you add drives into UnRAID and your off to the races. I found UnRAID to be a little picky as to what USB flash drives it would run off but found one to get going. The speed of the USB key seems to be irrelevant. The Web interface is really pretty easy to get going with. You first have to request a trial key. To do this, there is only one way … this dedicated box has to have internet access straight off.

UnRAID includes the ability to add a plugin called Community Applications. Why this isn’t installed by default is beyond me. This plug in is outstanding. It provides a nice, easy to manage way to find pre-canned containers you can run. Clicking on them downloads them and gets you started pretty quickly without having to learn text based docker commands. There are links to the containers support, github etc.

By default Community applications only searches UnRaid containers, but you can change this and have it also search the docker community hub. But be aware, some docker hub containers variables are not properly parsed leading to even errors on start let alone configuring them,

Although, you now run into challenges with how well the containers are documented (generally poorly from what I’ve encountered) and how well their error handling was written. I had to resort back to the command line docker interface to be able to debug container start up issues.

From within UnRAID you can easily see the lots of super useful stuff, all well organized. Things that without unraid require a LOT of time learning docker commands. Probably the best, easiest container interface I’ve seen so far.

From this interface you can easily see;
1)list of containers you’ve built
2)edit the parameters of those containers
3)see what ports each container is using
4)set autostart mode
5)start/stop containers
6) open a console to a container
This really is ground breaking work. Not a command line in sight. I’m really quite shocked, and amazed how well done this is. And it even shows you the docker commands it uses to achieve the tasks. This makes getting started with docker so much easier.

One of the areas I quickly discovered with the container solutions is that they do not do a good job of managing the storage used by containers. By default deleting a container does not delete the data/space it consumed. This can grow and become unwieldy. UnRaid (out of the box) does not handle cleaning up orphaned space. From a command line you can see the space consumed using:
docker volumes ls
You can manually clean up using
docker volume prune (but be careful)
And alas, there is a community application called Cleanup Appdata that makes this painless. Again why this isn’t there by default is beyond me …

Overall I like Unraid, not enough to dedicate a machine to it, and not enough to pay for it, but if your looking to get started quickly with containers, this is a great place to start. And with a 30 day free trial, you can dip your toe in and give it a whirl!

August 31, 2018 Posted by | Container stuff | Leave a comment

Pfsense bridge mode

Up until this point my Pfsense setup has used double NAT, which kept my router, an SmartRG 505N in the loop. This provided an easy fall back to allow people that were having issues with Pfsense to bypass it. At this point I’m ready to move on and commit to having Pfsense permanently in the loop. So to review, my router was up front, it connect to the DSL cable and then passes to the 192.168.1.x range. That in turn feeds pfsense which then feeds back end clients to the 192.168.2.x range, thus the double NAT comment. So in bridge mode the 192.168.1.x network is removed (well more accurately hidden). To do this we will take a number of steps.

1) Backup and save the current modem configuration, and backup and save the current Pfsense configuration. In the event this goes badly I can fall back … Also review the PPOE settings that currently existing on your modem. Look at things like the PPOE username, as well as things like your MTU. Print them or screen shot them. Once deleted your SOL.
2) Put the modem into bridge mode. I found a great article for how to do this.
3) Now on Pfsense the work begins … Change the WAN interface to PPOE and will enter your isp logon information you found in step 1. Also use the MTU your ISP had setup also noted in step 1. You can see if Pfsense is able to logon to your ISP DSL in the system logs. At this point your modem seems invisible. It’s not. Adding another network cable and assigning it a 192.168.1.x and you regain access to the modem if needed. Next step will show you a way to fix that permanently. On Pfsense you may need to repoint the incoming NATs as well as things like VPN servers to the new WAN net, I had to. Also check your DNS settings and make sure none of them are pointing at the old router (for me that was 192.168.1.1).
4) Last but not least you want to be able to get at your router when needed. The router is still configured to the original IP address 192.168.1.1. So to connect to it simply add an additional interface, put it on static ip, assign it a 192.168.1.x IP address. You should now be able to ping it from your Pfsense box. Now to add the ability to see it from the network you need only add an outbound NAT to the 192.168.1.x subnet. This was reasonably well documented in this article.

In all this took me under an hour. Now what are the benefits? A number, your router is no longer out their vulnerable on the net. Instead Pfsense, along with Snort are. This gives you intrusion prevention at the true peripheral of your network. The main negative is there’s no easy fall back 🙂 In for a pound …

August 16, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Canon T6i DSLR camera review

I’ve owned a Canon Rebel XS for a very long time now, (10 years) but it is really starting to show it’s age. Honestly though, it really has performed and continues to perform exceptionally well. Recently I figured out how to get my DSLR into my kayak to allow me to take some amazing pictures of nature. Surrounded by such incredible beauty, so close to home, I have been inspired to get even better shots. So I started going on a quest. The main things I want to improve are native WIFI (more on this later), higher resolution, hopefully faster auto focus, and ability to use it every now and then for movies. Movies for me is more of an after thought, but nice to have.

In the digital camera world your either a Canon person, or a Nikon person. The Nikon menus are just not intuitive for me coming from a Canon. And I suspect vice versa would be also true. So narrowing to Canon I zoomed in (pun intended) on the T6/T6i. The T6i won the battle. The T6 does not have a mic port (for movies), is 18mp Vs 24, 100-6400 ISO Vs 100-12800, and 9 point of focus Vs 19. So given all this, the T6i it is. The T7i was ruled out simply because of price. We all have budgets to live within, and honestly I’m breaking the budget buying any of these, as this is TRULY a discretionary expense. I don’t need it … I WANT it 🙂

If you do decide to buy the T6i, be sure to focus on (yes again, pun intended) the lens they include. In the Canon world, the lens does the Image stabilization (look for IS in the name) and be sure and get the newer STM lens. The S in STM stands for silent and is important when shooting movies so the sound of the lens focusing doesn’t ruin your video. The one I bought came with the EF-S 18-55 IS STM and it is the lens you should get. Personally I found the body only models, more expensive? Shrug.

So let’s look at the overall comparison of specs to see what 10 years of patience have bought me 🙂
T6i on the left, Rebel XS on the right:
Sensor Type/Size: 22.3 x 14.9mm CMOS Vs 22.2×14.8 for all purposes a wash
24mp Vs 10 2.4x better resolution, comes in handy when you need to crop due to insufficient zoom
ISO: 100-12800 Vs 100-1600 way better
Continuous Shooting: Up to 5 fps Vs 3 not a big deal for me
Start-Up Time: 0.18 sec. Vs 0.3 slightly faster but I don’t really turn it off once started
Autofocus Points: 19 Vs 6
440 shots battery life Vs 500 (pretty much the only place the t6i is worse)

Additional features on the T6i not on the XS:
Connectivity: USB, HDMI Video Out, 3.5mm Stereo Mini-Jack WiFi
Video File Size: 1920 x 1080 30 fps; 1280 x 720; 640 x 480 More on movies later.
Faster autofocus Phase detection vs Contrast detection (not sure what this exactly means, and we will see if it’s noticeable.
The T6i has a touchscreen that can be used to control the camera, as well as used as a viewfinder for the camera. I really like the way the screen can be folded in for protection when not in use, and it can be swiveled down for taking overhead shots in crowds.

I got under 400 pics and the battery was stone cold dead. One of the things I learned was the ONLY place the battery status is displayed is on the screen (not the view finder), no warning lights nada. So if you have the screen closed for protection, as I did you will be oblivious until the very moment you discover a dead battery in the middle of your day. This is noticeably worse battery life than the Rebel XS.

The screen on the camera is articulating (as I mentioned above) allowing you to put it at whatever angle you want. I found this more helpful than I had thought. I used it for selfie shots to get it framed just so. The screen however, looks like a scratch magnet, so I bought a tempered glass screen protector just like I have for my phone as paranoia. The screen is reasonably viewable in direct sunlight.

One of the reasons why WIFI became important, EYE-FI unceremoniously bricked their card which I’ve been using in the Rebel XS for years. And spending 50 or $60 on a replacement card seemed silly when I was looking for rationalization for buying a new camera anyway 🙂

The t6i definitely focuses quicker, and the body is noticeably quieter than the Rebel xs. I went back to the Rebel XS and quickly noticed the difference. The images on the T6i are also noticeably crisper.

The Canon connect app includes the ability to sync the date and time on the camera with your phone. A nice touch. The ability to add location to images for some reason does not appear to be supported on the t6i, which is quite a disappointment given this camera does not have a GPS. So images can’t be location tagged. To date I haven’t found a way to even manually add the location to the images. Connecting to the camera over wifi is quite a clumsy affair, and always has been with Canon. You go the menu on the camera and turn on WIFI, then wait for the phone to connect to it, then start the Connect app and then your on your way. With the Eye-FI card anytime the camera was on the WIFI was on which much more convenient. I wish Canon would allow this as an option. And there’s no dedicated WIFI button on the camera … Adding a password to the WIFI at least let the iPhone auto connect to it, unless of course the iPhone was already connected to a different WIFI. All of which leads to the wifi being clumsy … But, at least this restores a functionality I love on the go.

I decided to keep my existing zoom lens from the Rebel XS, a Canon 55-250 IS. It isn’t a silent lens, but I don’t think I will be doing movies with the zoom lens, so it should be fine.

When deciding what to buy I looked into the mirrorless cameras, as well as the mega zoom camera’s like the Canon SX60HS or the Nikon P1000. The biggest limitation to the mega zoom cameras is the trade off for the mega zoom, which is a super small sensor. 16-megapixel 1/2.3-inch sensor, compared to a DLR, so 22.3 x 14.9mm vs 6.17 x 4.55mm. I found this generally article informative article on the trade offs … And the higher zoom is going to be very hard to manage while bobbing in a boat and not getting motion blur. The mirrorless cameras have their benefits, smaller size, lighter weight, better battery life, but I moved past them just because I don’t have enough experience with them, or have friends with them that would have swayed me that way.

I will leave the nauseating detailed analysis of the camera and it’s images to site that are far better equipped to do that … Just not my specialty.

So all in all I like the T6i. And in rationalizing it, I gave my old Rebel XS to my daughter to pass along the love of photography. It just creates memories that last a lifetime!

And for a bit of fun … the term rationalize means “attempt to explain or justify (one’s own or another’s behavior or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate” 🙂

August 14, 2018 Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews | Leave a comment

Journo App (mini review)

We had planned a long (cross country) trip and I wanted an app that would allow me to scrap book our trip, and zeroed in on this one. It does a lot of things right, and some not so much … The app allows you to put an entry in anytime you like, with text, web links, pictures and movies. You can add the location of the post which will in turn create a neat map of your trek.

This scrap book can be shared with anyone so they can follow you on your journey vicariously. You can also invited others to the scrap book allowing them to also add their entries making it collaborative. All in all I like the app.
There are a few misses:
– after the initial free period the price is VERY high. As of time of writing $8.99/month, or $199 lifetime … WOW
– you can only add or edit entries from the app, you can not add or edit them on a web browser
– the app is ONLY available for iOS, no Android, and since the above limitation this may rule out some of your fellow travellers
– You can create offline entries but they can not be location tagged. It does not use the GPS location, it uses your rough location and then it provides you a list of places it thinks you might be at (which can only be done when your online)
– I don’t see a way to have someone who is following your trek to be notified of a new entry
– I don’t see a way to create a post on both Journo and facebook at the same time which meant we had to double post
– you can use this app for trip planning (easily)
– it would be useful to have a cost log, say gas, hotels etc
– there is no way to export it, but a file save allows you to take the content and host it elsewhere for free/backup purposes

August 7, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment