Back in the day, I was a big fan of Google Reader. There were lots of blogs and feeds I followed and Google Reader kind of set the standard of what an RSS reader was supposed to work, and what it was supposed to look like

I’m one of those people who will never fully trust Google again – but only because they shut down Reader.

When they did that, I looked at what was available and wound up on Feedly. The other main option was The Old Reader. And for whatever reason, I liked Feedly better.

And I’ve used Feedly pretty much every since. I’ve gotten used to it, but there was a lot I never really liked about it.

One thing that really bugged me about Feedly was it’s in-your-face upgrade call to actions. There’s a bright orange upgrade button front and center. There’s stuff all over the place about using “Leo” which is apparently the AI assistant that helps you … manage your feeds? Discover new content? At any rate, you have to upgrade in order to use it, and every time I’ve looked at it, it held no interest for me.

Also, in spite of years of using it, I can’t say I really ever understood the UI. There’s a “Today” section and an “All” section, as well as layouts and sorting and sharing and read later and boards. And sometimes things open up in this kind of tab container, but there’s only one tab ever… I really only ever wanted to just show my unread and sometimes my read feeds and just ignored all the other stuff. And a lot of the advanced features which are stuck out begging you to click them wind up telling you you need to upgrade anyway. I often did think about upgrading and paying something for the app, but there was nothing in the paid features that I really needed or wanted.

Tiny Tiny RSS

So a couple of months ago, I started looking at alternatives. I wound up self-hosting tt-rss. It’s fully open source and free. There’s a mobile app (like Feedly) and there are no calls to upgrade, which I liked.

The UI however, was not a whole lot better than Feedly in a lot of ways. There are various layouts and sorting and sharing options. But there’s also the concept of “Fresh” articles and “Adaptive” filtering, which I never really figured out. It reminds me of Twitter’s timeline algorithm where they try to figure out what you want to read. That annoys the hell out of me and The fresh and adaptive stuff was starting to do the same.

I was reworking my server last week and rather than setting up tt-rss again, I decided to have another look at what’s out there.


I tried going back to Feedly for about 10 minutes, but quickly remembered all the ways it annoyed me. I checked out a few others. The Old Reader is still out there. I still didn’t like it. Then I ran across Inoreader, which I had never used before.

I imported my OPML and started using it and was totally hooked. I really love this app. The UI is exactly as simple as it should be, but there is enough under the hood to make it look and work just like you want it to.

The free tier really had all I wanted, but I loved it so much that I upgraded to the supporter plan for a dollar-something a month. This gives you more available feeds (I wasn’t even close to the limit on the free tier), custom CSS capabilities, and the ability to add a newsletter subscription. For $5-something a month, there are a bunch of other filtering, searching, collaboration, etc. features that I don’t really need. The mobile app is also really good and just as usable.

I know it’s just an RSS reader, but I just feel like they nailed the UX so well, that it really is a joy to use each time I open it up. Nothing there confuses me. It’s exactly what I want it to be and works exactly like I expect it to. Any up-sell is subtle and I haven’t run across any sneaky elements that are just features you don’t have, hoping you’ll click on them so they can try to get you to upgrade.

AweGif 2021


For the month of August 2021, I’m going to try to post an original animated gif on twitter every day of the month. I’ll be tagging them #awegif2021. I invite anyone to join along.

I’ve done this twice before. And the cool thing is that all the entries are easily searchable in twitter.

In May of 2018 we did #MayContainGifs

And in July of 2018 we did #GulyIsForJifs

Here are the rules:

  1. Post an animated gif to twitter (or wherever else, really) and tag it with #awegif2021
  2. Do it every day, or whenever you want. If you only do one all month, that’s fine.
  3. Use whatever you want to make the gifs. Custom code, some software package, we don’t care, as long as it’s something you actually created yourself.
  4. If you want to create a bunch over the weekend and post them throughout the week, that’s fine. Post something you created last year, we don’t care.

Follow along with the entries here:

That’s all. Looking forward to what people create!

Technology Update


This is just a post about some changes I made to my personal computers. Probably not interesting for most people, but I like to document this stuff so I can go back and say, “when did I switch to ____? And how did that go?” And who knows? A few people might find it vaguely interesting after all.

Back to Mac.

I’m not switching back to Mac by any means, but I did buy a new Mac for personal use.

My summary of Apple computers up to now:

  1. They have OK hardware. Mac fans will say how amazing the hardware is, but when you drill down, they’re usually talking about the machined aluminum body. I’ve seen and experienced more hardware issues on Macs than I have on PCs. Motherboards, keyboards, screens. I will agree that Macs look good and feel good. Historically, they’ve had the best trackpads. The screens are bright and crisp and have nice color, but also develop dead spots and weird color patches that I’ve never seen on any other laptops.
  2. MacOS is OK. It’s frustratingly un-customizable and locked down. I’ve never felt that I really fully owned a Mac that I bought. It felt more like I was being given the special privilege of being able to use this device as long as I used it only in the way that Apple decided I should use it. It’s probably more useful if you own a Mac and an iPhone and an iPad and an Apple Watch and an Apple TV and all the other Apple/i-devices. And buy your music and apps and games and movies and tv and books and subscriptions from Apple. And use Apple services/apps for your email and backups and online file storage and sharing and chat and web browsing and documents. But I do exactly none of that stuff.
  3. I hate Apple as a company. I get infuriated watching their keynotes. They are all so smug and in love with themselves about how amazing this or that new feature is and how it’s going to change your life and transform the world. They constantly claim to invent things that have existed for years. Or rename existing technology to make it sound like something new they created. They are actively developer hostile. They PR themselves like they are saving the world, but don’t ask about their sweatshops. All this is my opinion. You are free to disagree with me, but I’m not going to argue about it. If you don’t see it like I see it, that’s cool.

So if you’ve even read this far, you’re probably baffled at why I actually bought a Mac. I’ll be honest, it pained me to give the company any of my money. But I was doing a lot of work with Minicomps and bljs and I was finding a lot of issues with Safari that I needed to fix, as well as stuff that worked or looked differently in Chrome and Firefox on the Mac. I was using a Mac VM, which was not great, and my work Mac, which I don’t like to use for personal stuff.

I had some money come in for a project I did and decided after long deliberation to pick up a new Macbook Air with the M1 chip. I got the cheapest version. $1049 on Amazon. I’ll be honest, it helped a little bit giving Amazon the money rather than Apple directly.

And I’ll be damned if the stupid thing didn’t start winning me over. As I said, Macs are good looking machines. This thing looks nice. It’s thin, it’s light, it’s quiet, it does not get hot. It is goddamned fast. Faster than it has a right to be. The trackpad is still really nice. Other manufacturers have caught up with Apple over the years on the trackpads, but it’s still probably the best. The screen is bright and colorful and crisp and no splotchiness yet, but we’ll see how it looks in a year or two. I have to say though, the screen is the worst fingerprint magnet I’ve every seen. I don’t recall ever actually touching it, but it constantly looks like I ate a couple of tacos and wiped my hands off on the screen. The keyboard is meh. I don’t really like it, but it’s not the worst I’ve ever used. To be fair, my main computer is a Thinkpad, and I love Thinkpad keyboards.

The sound. This gets its own paragraph. I am shocked how good this thing sounds. As much as Apple’s overuse of the word “magical” has become a meme, the sound on this device really is magical. It’s deep and rich and loud and sounds like it’s coming from a foot or two behind the machine. I have no idea how they accomplished that kind of quality in this thin little laptop. I’ve never had a laptop that sounded a tenth as good as this sounds, including other Macs.

MacOS is… still MacOS. I still don’t like it but I’ve used it for many years at work and I’ve learned to live with it. As I said, I’m not into the Apple ecosystem or have any other Apple devices, so all I really need MacOS for is to launch the apps I use. For me, this mostly means a terminal (Alacritty) and a browser (Firefox and Chrome mostly).

I still hate the dock. I’ve tried a few alternatives – cdock (not supported on M1) and ubar. Both are pretty good, but in the long run they wind up being a bit frustrating to use – inconsistencies and things not working just right. I suspect that this comes down to Apple not sanctioning these kinds of UI customizing apps and not supporting the things that they do, if not outright making it harder for them to do those things. So I’ve gone back to the dock and I’m trying to make peace with it.

Summary: I hate to admit how much I like this machine. In spite of it’s 13-inch screen, it’s great for watching videos, listening to music, browsing the web etc. It’s OK for coding, but great for coding on the train or in the car while waiting for my wife to finish shopping or whatever. Although I used it a LOT in the first few weeks, I’m over the honeymoon period and mainly back to my Thinkpad as my main machine. But fairly often I’ll have both machines open in front of me.


The other big change in my technical life was switching Linux desktops environments from XFCE to KDE.

If you’re not into Linux desktops, most of this will go over your head. But unlike MacOS which is severely locked down from a UI viewpoint, Linux almost has too much choice. Beyond all the differences between various distros under the hood, your graphical user environment, display manager, window manager, theming, default applications and a bunch of other stuff are all packaged into what is known as a desktop environment, or DE.

Probably the two most popular DEs are Gnome, which is the default DE on Ubuntu and several other distros, and KDE. Others include XFCE, Mate, Budgie (Solus), Pantheon (Elementary OS), and Cinnamon (Linux Mint). Not a comprehensive list at all, but that goes to my point about too much choice.

All these environments have a different look and feel, different levels of customization, and different opinions on how things should work. For a few years now I’ve been very happy with XFCE. It’s one of the older DEs and has a reputation for being ugly and boring and unchanging. The last point I agree with. The “exciting new features in the latest XFCE” is a bit of a meme – you’d be hard put to tell the last several versions apart. But it’s actually very customizable and can look really nice if themed correctly. The Manjaro distro has a very beautiful and functional implementation of XFCE.

But I’ve been feeling the need to switch things up after so long on one environment.

I don’t like Gnome at all these days. I used to, but it’s been going down a really strange path in terms of limiting customization. It relies almost entirely on 3rd party extensions for adding and customizing it, but does not curate or take any responsibility for those extensions.

I’d tried KDE a few times years ago and always found it over the top in terms of drop shadow, glows, sound effects and gratuitous animations. It felt like a UI that was made in Flash. But I gave it a test a year or so ago and found it a lot better. Toned down all the goofy stuff. Now it looks really slick and professional. KDE also has the reputation of being uber-configurable. Almost every single UI element on the screen can be configured. You can go down a serious rat hole, but if you want configurability, KDE is where it’s at. I came away from that test run knowing that if I ever wanted to move off of XFCE, I would most likely move to KDE.

And so I decided to go with Manjaro KDE this time. I’m really, really liking it so far. More than I thought I would. I’ve gone down a few rat holes configuring things to death, but managed to get out alive. In addition to its built-in options, KDE has a rich ecosystem of 3rd party plugins, similar to Gnome’s extensions, but it seems like they take an active role in curating them, so from what I’ve seen, the quality is much higher than what you see in Gnome.

All that flashy over the top stuff is still available, but it’s not the default anymore. I’ll admit that I turned on the cube rotation effect for switching between virtual desktops – something I recall fondly from early OS X days. Other than that, I’m keeping it pretty understated, and to be honest I find myself recreating my earlier XFCE look and feel.

So I think I’m pretty sold on KDE for now. I’ve committed to using it for several months. But already, I don’t see any compelling reason why I’d go back to XFCE. There’s nothing in XFCE that you can’t do as well or better in KDE. The biggest selling point of XFCE is its minimalism.

So that’s that. If you actually read all of that, hoping for more, I apologize.

Raspberry Pi Pico – What I’ve Learned


So the new Raspberry Pi Pico board came out a few weeks back and there’s all kinds of news about it. For the uninformed, it’s a shift from other RPi boards. Most Pis are single board computers. They run an operating system – usually some Linux-based variant. The Pico is a microprocessor. Basically an Arduino alternative. But a pretty damn powerful one. Two cores, fast, good memory, 26 gpio pins, analogue to digital converter, real time clock, temperature sensor, etc. All for $4. So I grabbed a couple. By the way, if you’re ordering on line, make sure that you buy the header pins. They are not always included by default.

There are a ton of tutorials on line already, most of which are nearly exact clones of each other: solder pins on, plug in it while holding down the bootsel button, drag the micropython uf2 file onto the mounted drive, it will reboot, install Thonny, write a script to make an LED blink. So I’m not going to go through all that. Or you could say I just went through all that in one sentence.

One thing I highly recommend is the “Get Started with MicroPython on Raspberry Pi Pico” book put out by the Pi people themselves. It’s a bit cartoony and starts off really basic. In fact, going all the way through chapter 4 will get you through what most of the tutorials on line cover. But with a lot more depth. There’s several pages on how to solder the pins on. But further chapters get into some pretty good stuff, including various sensors and controls and I2C and SPI control of an LCD panel. Good starter stuff.

Stuff I’ve learned

Ran into lots of snags going through the process of learning this board and figuring out what I even want to do with it. A lot of this has to do with the fact that it’s really in its infancy. I’m sure that things will get better as time goes on, but there are a lot of rough edges right now. And beyond the book, there’s very little searchable info out there. Unfortunately, there are other boards/technologies out there named “pico” so that clouds your results. Throw in “Rapsberry Pi” into the search and you’re mostly going to get other RPi stuff. But even when you craft a good search, mostly what you’re going to find is the multiple cloned tutorials mentioned above. There is also a scattering of C/C++ tutorials and resources for the Pico. They look dauntingly complex so I have not dived into those yet.

Another problem is that the version of MicroPython that was made for the Pico is a fork of the official version. And it’s very definitely a subset. The official MicroPython documentation is fantastic, but huge swaths of it are just inapplicable to the version that works with the Pico.

For example, MicroPython has a machine module. In the official version, machine contains the following classes:

class Pin – control I/O pins
class Signal – control and sense external I/O devices
class ADC – analog to digital conversion
class UART – duplex serial communication bus
class SPI – a Serial Peripheral Interface bus protocol (master side)
class I2C – a two-wire serial protocol
class RTC – real time clock
class Timer – control hardware timers
class WDT – watchdog timer
class SD – secure digital memory card (cc3200 port only)
class SDCard – secure digital memory card

The ones struck through are not available on the Pico right now. Since the Pico does not have an SD card, the biggest miss there is the RTC class – the Pico has a real time clock, but no way to access it directly. That doesn’t seem too bad, but it extends from there. The Pin class is missing almost half of the methods on the Pico version of MicroPython. Other classes are missing methods as well, and there are several standard Python modules that are part of MicroPython that are missing from the Pico’s version.

All that said though, there is enough there to get you started on most common projects, and as I said, I’m sure this will grow and become more expansive in the coming months.

Tips and Tricks

A few random tricks and tips for using Micropython on the Pico:

When you install the MicroPython editor, Thonny, it will ask you if you want to run in regular mode or in Raspberry Pi mode. Naturally, I chose Pi mode. And naturally I was wrong. Although it seems to work fine, you wind up missing a lot from the UI.

Here’s the Pi mode:

Thonny in RaspberryPi mode, aka “simple”

And here it is in regular mode:

Thonny in regular mode

I was running in Pi mode for a while and thought it was pretty damn lame. Then I discovered you could go into the options and change it to regular mode. (Also that Pi mode is really called “simple” mode, and there is also an “expert” mode.)

Regular mode gives you full menus, which opens up a massive wealth of features I did not realize even existed. For example, I could find no way to copy files onto the Pico other than opening them up in Thonny and then saving them to the device. But the View menu lets you open a files panel (and a lot more) where you can access files both on your device and your local file system, and “upload” and “download” between the two. Brilliant.

Another gotcha from the book. The book states that by default, gpio input pins are set to be pulldown by default. Pulldown inputs are attached to ground with a resistor and connecting them to positive voltage triggers them. Pullup inputs are connected to a positive voltage with a resistor and connecting them to ground triggers them. If you didn’t pull them one way or the other, stray charges could trigger the inputs. Anyway, the book says that input pins are pulldown and you can create a pin by typing:

pin = machine.Pin(15, machine.Pin.IN)

I did this while testing physical buttons to make an LED turn on. And I was getting all kinds of crazy behavior. If I touched a wire or even just tilted the whole breadboard in a certain direction, the LED was coming on as if I’d pressed the button. I honestly thought that I’d accidentally tapped into some internal accelerometer at one point – I was totally able to control the LED by tilting the board back and forth. After looking up the official MicroPython docs for creating a pin, I found there was a third parameter for controlling pullup/pulldown. So I changed it to:

pin = machine.Pin(15, machine.Pin.IN, machine.Pin.PULL_DOWN)

When I did that – explicitly setting the pin to be pulldown – it was rock solid and worked 100% as expected.

Another question I finally answered for myself is how to have a program run as soon as the Pico boots up. Simple enough – you just name the Python script

An Alternative Python

There is an alternative to MicroPython though, and that is CircuitPython. As I understand it, CircuitPython is another fork of MicroPython and it is supported on a multitude of microprocessor boards, including the Pico. Because it’s been around a lot longer the the Pico, it is way more expansive in what it supports and has a ton (like 280+) libraries that work with it. CircuitPython is supported by Adafruit, and they’ve also created some really useful libraries, many specifically designed to work with the hardware they sell. So all in all, this is a really great option.

You install CircuitPython the same way you flash the Pico with MicroPython – download a uf2 file, start the Pico while holding down the bootsel button and dragging the uf2 to the mounted drive. It will reboot and be a CircuitPython device now.

One thing to say about CircuitPython is that it is quite different than MicroPython. Although it may be a fork, they forked the hell out of it.

For example, a simple program to blink an LED in MicroPython:

import machine
import utime

led = machine.Pin(25, machine.Pin.OUT, machine.Pin.PULL_DOWN)

while True:

And the same program in CircuitPython:

import board
import digitalio
import time
led = digitalio.DigitalInOut(board.D13)
led.direction = digitalio.Direction.OUTPUT
while True:
    led.value = True
    led.value = False

Not a huge deal, but I think it might be a good idea to choose one and roll with it. You’re not going to be able to run your MicroPython projects on your Pico after you flash it to CircuitPython (and vice versa – though you can simply reflash between the two systems relatively easily).

Personally, I’m torn at the moment. CircuitPython has way more stuff in it and so many existing libraries. But it’s so far different from the standard language, and I’m hoping that the Pi folks will continue to make their implementation more expansive and people will come up with new libraries for it as well.

On the other hand, CircuitPython already has some libraries allowing the Pico to act as an HID device. In other words, you can use it to send keyboard and mouse events to the host computer it’s connected to via USB, good for making custom keyboards or other controllers. And with 26 gpio pins, this winds up being way more useful for complex projects like this than the Arduino Pro Micro clones that I’ve been using. I haven’t found anything in MicroPython to do the same thing, though there is some C++ code out there that seems to support this. I may just end up using both MicroPython and CircuitPython for a while.

More about CircuitPython – the recommended editor is not Thonny, but the Mu Editor. For the most part it seems pretty basic, more like the simple mode of Thonny. No menus or extra panels or anything like the regular mode of Thonny – at least not that I could find. But as an editor, it does have some nice autocompletion and other features that I didn’t see in Thonny.

Something that confused me about Mu: I created a new file and saved it to the Pico and hit the run button, but the other default hello-world type file ran instead. Nothing I could do would make my new file run. It turns out that’s by design. As mentioned, MicroPython devices will auto-run on boot. And CircuitPython will auto-run either or on boot. But Thonny will run whatever active script you have open when you hit run, whereas Mu will always run (or presumably when you hit run. This can be good or bad. It mimics what will happen when the device boots, but makes it harder to test some other script. The solution recommended is to have or be a simple launcher script that in turn executes some other script. Anyway, good to know.

Another big plus about CircuitPython is that when the device is connected to your computer it also mounts as an external drive. So if you want to add additional libraries to it, you can just drag and drop them to that drive. A bit easier than Thonny’s upload feature.


So that’s some of what I’ve managed to learn so far. As there is very little data out there at the moment, I hope some of this helps people just getting into this new, fun little board.


In the first version of this posts I used the word “robust” several times, indicating that the version of MicroPython for the Pico was not as robust as it hopefully would be in the future and that CircuitPython was more robust. That was the wrong choice of word. Robust in the context of code means that it is able to handle and recover from various unexpected conditions. To say that something is not robust implies that it is unstable. That’s not what I meant to imply.

I changed the word to “expansive”. My intention was to say that the current version of MicroPython on the Pico does not support as many features as it hopefully will and to say that CircuitPython supports more features. Examples are, as I described earlier, the missing RTC class for the real time clock that is in standard MicroPython but not on the Pico. Also, stuff like HID support in the usb_hid library of CircuitPython, but nowhere to be seen in MicroPython (that I can find), as well as all kinds of libraries for working with specific sensors and peripherals that are available for CircuitPython. MicroPython has some of that, but nowhere near what I see in CircuitPython.

Learning CNC and Making a MediaBox


Earlier this year I talked about my “Bit-Box” – a custom keyboard, program launcher, Stream Deck clone, device.

The box was handmade, but I had purchased a 3d printed plate to hold the switches. A little later I had the idea of making my own plate with wood. Initial tests, chiseling out a square hole for a single switch worked pretty well, but as soon as I tried to cut out several adjacent holes, the wood between the holes kept chipping out.

I started thinking about using a CNC to do this, and eventually picked up a Sainsmart 3018 Prover.

It took a couple of hours to assemble. Pretty easy actually. And it only came with some relatively useless v-shaped engraving bits, so I ordered a set of flat endmills in different sizes. Since then I’ve picked up a bunch of different bits.

In terms of software, I’ve tried a few different options.

One is Inventables Easel. This is a web app made for the Inventables X-Carve cnc machine. But it can export gcode that can be used with the 3018. Easel has some decent features for free, but you have to pay for full functionality.

The other one I’ve used is Carbide Create. This is made for Carbide3D’s Shapeoko machines. It’s desktop software and is totally free. It also exports gcode. I like Carbide Create a lot better.

The basic flow is to create a set of simple 2d vector shapes – rectangles, circles, paths – then apply tool paths to each shape. For example, you’d specify that you want to use this rectangle as an outline shape that is cut 1/4″ deep. Or you want to use this circle as a pocket, 1/8″ deep. A pocket cut cuts the entire inner area of a shape to a certain depth. You can also do boolean operations to combine or subtract different shapes. It’s super basic, but really does most of what you’d need.

If you want to really go crazy, you can get into 3d modeling with something like FreeCAD or Fusion360, and then create tool paths from those models. A much bigger learning curve and probably overkill until you get into some really complex stuff.

I use Candle to send the gcode to the machine itself.


My goal was to create a “MediaBox”. This is just what I call a custom mini keyboard with media keys – play/pause, next, previous tracks, volume up/down/mute. Six keys in all. Here’s an overview of all my attempts from one of the original hand-cut versions, some test cuts, a couple of failed attempts, through the final working build:

The initial holes for the keys worked perfectly. A 0.555 inch square hole is all you need. Spacing is something like 0.205 inches between keys.

The main design issue beyond that was where to fit the Arduino board and how to route the usb cable. I was initially using 1/2″ black walnut. On the top were the holes for the keys. I then flipped it over and created a recess on the bottom. But the half inch depth was really too shallow. And my original design was just too small once I attached the cable.

So I switched over to 3/4″ walnut and made the whole thing just a bit larger.

Wired it up much the same as I did for the BitBox. Did some finish sanding and applied some tung oil, glued on a leather bottom.

The software presented a bit of a problem. The Arduino keyboard library does not provide a way to send media key codes. Luckily there is another 3rd party library, HID-Project.

You can add this library to your project by going to sketch / manage libaries and searching for “hid project”.

Here’s the code I came up with:

#include <hid-settings.h>
#include <hid-project.h>

// Define Arduino pin numbers for buttons and LEDs
#define VOL_DOWN 2
#define VOL_MUTE 4
#define VOL_UP 3
#define PLAY_PREV 5
#define PLAY_PAUSE 6
#define PLAY_NEXT 7

const long debounceTime = 30;
unsigned long lastPressed = 0;
boolean A, a, B, b, C, c, D, d, E, e, F, f;

void setup() {

  a = b = c = d = e = f = false;

void loop() {
  if (millis() - lastPressed  <= debounceTime) {

  lastPressed = millis();

  A = digitalRead(VOL_DOWN) == LOW;
  B = digitalRead(VOL_MUTE) == LOW;
  C = digitalRead(VOL_UP) == LOW;
  D = digitalRead(PLAY_PREV) == LOW;
  E = digitalRead(PLAY_PAUSE) == LOW;
  F = digitalRead(PLAY_NEXT) == LOW;
  if (A && !a) {
  if (B && !b) {
  if (C && !c) {
  if (D && !d) {
    Consumer.write(MEDIA_PREV); // alternately MEDIA_REWIND
  if (E && !e) {
  if (F && !f) {
    Consumer.write(MEDIA_NEXT); // alternately MEDIA_FAST_FORWARD
  a = A;
  b = B;
  c = C;
  d = D;
  e = E;
  f = F;

This was adapted from a few other sample projects I found, as well as the code I had for the BitBox. It works great.

Want one?

I made this for myself, but I’d love to make some more. The materials aren’t cheap though. Well over $30 for the wood, leather, Arduino, keys and key caps. Then the time for cutting, finishing, soldering. I’ve got to work out pricing and different options, and the best way to sell them, but contact me if you’re interested.

I’d also be open to selling just the wooden box, either finished or straight off the mill and you can buy the other parts and put it together yourself. It’s a fun project.

Or… if you have a cnc already, I’m going to post the Carbide Create file I used, with instructions, for free. Check back soon for that.

I Think Bluetooth is Finally OK


Bluetooth was introduced on May 7, 1989. I think I first heard of it in the mid-2000’s. People would use it to try to send contact info or other files between feature phones. As I recall, it had about a 50% chance of actually working. All of my attempts fell squarely in the failing 50%. So I ignored it for a few more years.

Then there were smart phones with Bluetooth and laptops had Bluetooth. There were Bluetooth mice and eventually Bluetooth fitness devices and smart(ish) watches. And they all SUCKED.

Bluetooth and Me: A History


Every Bluetooth mouse I had was slammed down on the desk in frustration at least once. And only very narrowly avoided being hurled across the room. When you’re using something all day every day, 99% uptime is unacceptable. I’d be in the middle of something and the mouse would just stop responding and I’d have to spend a minute or so reconnecting it. Then it might be fine for several more hours. I tried several and finally quit. I’m firmly in the wireless USB dongle camp now as far as mice go. Logitech’s MX Master 3 is glorious. It actually supports Bluetooth AND wireless. I think I tried an earlier version of the MX Master on Bluetooth and quit the first time it disconnected. The wireless dongle has never once failed me, and I’ve used many.


Specifically, I’m talking about “earbuds” or what the kids call “IEMs” (in-ear monitors) these days. I’ve had multiple sets of these. Historically, they suffer from four issues:

  1. Poor audio quality.
  2. Discomfort due to weight.
  3. Poor battery life.
  4. Connectivity issues.
  5. Cost.

You could probably come up with something where you could say you get to choose three out of those 5 points. Maybe. The point is, they play off each other. Better battery life means more weight and cost. Anyway, I never had a pair that I was happy with. In the end, the hassle of a cord (and these days a USB-C adapter) has always been less than the hassle of battery, discomfort, poor sound, and connection problems.


I’ve also had multiple Bluetooth speakers. And I’ll even throw my car stereo system into this category. These have been so-so. Connectivity has often been an issue. Some good, some not so good. My car in particular is really bad. It always takes a minute or so and at least two tries to actually connect my phone.

The other thing that has killed me with Bluetooth speakers is that they’ve always had horrible performance on listening to voice audio sources. Music is ok, but just about every one I’ve had cuts out in the silence between words. It will pick up again when it hears the next set of words, but routinely a few words will be lost on almost every sentence. I listen to a lot of podcasts and audiobooks, and this was always impossible with every Bluetooth speaker I had.

Fitness Devices / Smartwatches

I’ve had multiple running watches that had Bluetooth, as well as several Fitbits and an Android Wear watch. Generally, the Bluetooth has worked great. Until it stopped working great. When they decided to stop connecting via Bluetooth, it seemed like there was nothing I could do to get them to reconnect. Even rebooting the device and whatever device it was trying to connect to. But then at some point it would just start working again for however many days.

All this is to say that I’m not just someone who hates something they’ve never tried. I’ve had dozens of Bluetooth devices and every single one of them has caused me some level of frustration. And yet, I keep buying them, holding out hope. (Except mice. I’ve eternally given up on Bluetooth mice.)

But wait!

In the last couple of months, I’ve purchased three Bluetooth devices that I’m actually quite happy with!

Galaxy Buds Plus

For some reason, I decided to take another leap of faith and got another set of Bluetooth ear buds. I checked out a ton of reviews on these things and these seemed like a solid buy. The cost was $139 on Amazon, which isn’t cheap, but not exorbitant. I’ve been amazed at how happy I am with these things. There’s nothing I can say about these that is negative.

Battery life is great. They have the charging case, which itself has wireless charging. I already have wireless charges scattered around the house, so it’s super easy to just toss it on one of them.

Connectivity has been flawless. They connect instantly, never lose the connection.

They are comfortable. I use them with foam tips, which I always get for any earbuds. Never get uncomfortable. I’ve used them while running and they stay put and feel fine.

Sound is quite good. Most of the time I’m listening to podcasts and audiobooks on my phone. They sound great for that. To be honest, for music, I stick with my Sony Walkman NW-A55 and wired Ikko OH-1 IEMs. That’s been a life changing combination. But if I’m running with my phone and want to listen to music, I’ll use the Buds for that, as the music is just background at that point.

I’ve had these for two and a half months now and I can’t say enough good about them. These are the items that have finally sold me on the idea that Bluetooth has made it.

JBL Flip 5

Speaking of sound, I recently picked up a Bluetooth speaker. To be completely transparent, I got this for free. A while back I switched to Verizon Fios and out of the blue they sent me this $100 coupon for the Verizon store as thanks for switching. Lots of phones and phone cases, chargers and headphones, none of which I really needed. I didn’t really need a Bluetooth speaker, but this had pretty good reviews and came to $95 with tax, so why not?

It sounds good, connectivity even on multiple devices has been great, and it works flawlessly with audiobooks and podcasts. Huge battery with lots of listening time. Also, you can turn off the power on/off and Bluetooth connect/disconnect sounds, which has been a big annoyance on every other speaker I’ve had.

Garmin Forerunner 235

In the last month I started running again. I pulled out my old Garmin running watch, which I hadn’t used in … sadly, years. After a full day of charging and trying to get it running, with no success, I ordered a new Garmin watch, the Forerunner 235.

It’s very nice. It’s a full on smartwatch (not Android), which you can add apps and watch faces to. I did set up a better watch face, but not really interested in other apps. It does all day heart rate and sleep tracking. Battery lasts a week if you’re not running. GPS while running will suck it down faster, but will still let you run for many hours without a problem.

It connects to the Garmin Express phone app via Bluetooth and that’s been nearly perfect. When I finish a run, if I have my phone on me, it nearly instantly syncs to the cloud via Bluetooth and phone. If I don’t have my phone on me, it often syncs as soon as I walk into my driveway, with my phone inside the house. Downright impressive.


Bluetooth may have won me over. I look forward to seeing other quality implementations, though I’m not holding my breath on the mouse situation.

My Wireguard Setup



Someone has been submitting my recent posts to online tech news aggregators, where they are criticized for not being cutting edge or paradigm shifting enough. If you’ve been led to believe that this post awe and amaze you, complain to the person who submitted it, not me. This is just my personal blog where I write about stuff that I’m doing, mostly technology based. It will not change your life. That said…


I’ve had a “home server” for close to ten years now. It’s a Linux-based desktop pc. It acts as a file server, media server, backup server and a place to try out different things. I guess it’s what is now popularly called a “home lab”. All that’s great when I’m at home on my home network. I can stream movies and music, get files, ssh into the server and do whatever I need to do.

But when I’m out and about, traveling, working (when we used to go out and do stuff like that), I’d also like to have that same access. That’s all simple enough. You go into your router settings, do some port forwarding to that box and then you can stream, ssh, ftp, vnc, whatever. I’ve certainly done just that often enough. But as I became more security conscious, this started to worry me more and more. Having all those ports open into my main machine made me nervous. Yeah, they are behind passwords, or hopefully keys. I locked down ssh pretty tightly, but still worried about it, and all those other services. When I was on Xfinity for home internet, their management app provided a security section which listed all the various attempts to access different ports on the network with their IPs and locations. It was shocking. It became something that was not just theoretical. People were (and are) actually trying to hack into my network. That’s when I shut everything down.

Enter Wireguard

I’d heard quite a bit about Wireguard and it sounded like what I needed. I came upon this tutorial which described exactly what I wanted to do and in pretty clear terms:

This all went together really well. It took a bit of learning and messing things up and fixing them, but I eventually got it all working really nicely and doing exactly what I need. Here’s my current setup:

  • Main wireguard server hosted on an inexpensive VPS in the cloud.
    • ufw set up to block all traffic other than specific ports from specific wireguard clients.
    • rinetd to forward any needed ports to my home server. Currently, that’s just the port that my airsonic server is running on.
  • Main wireguard server hosted on an inexpensive VPS in the cloud.
    • ufw set up to block all traffic other than specific ports from specific wireguard clients.
    • rinetd to forward any needed ports to my home server. Currently, that’s just the port that my airsonic server is running on.
  • wireguard client running on my home server.
    • airsonic music streaming server running there.
  • wireguard clients running on a couple of laptops, my Android phone and tablet. Each client has it’s own private key and the public key of the server. The server has its own private key and the public keys of each client.

With this setup I can ssh into the VPS from anywhere in the world, provided I’m doing it from one of the configured clients. Once I’m into the VPS, I can then ssh into any one of the other clients that has an ssh server running. I could use rinetd to forward ssh on specific ports to specific clients. But for now, that use case is not that common. When the world gets back to normal and I’m out of the house more, that will be useful.

I’ve got my airsonic server running on a specific port of my home server, let’s say it’s 1234. rinetd is set up to forward port 1234 on the VPS to port 1234 on the home server. So I can access my music in the browser from any wireguard client, or I can use any one of many subsonic-compatible Android apps and have my music streaming to my phone or tablet no matter where I am.

This setup is pretty flexible, and I will be able to add other services to it just by opening up a port in ufw and forwarding it as needed using rinetd. Important thing to remember is that when I say “opening up a port in ufw” I mean a wireguard client accessible port. Nothing is open on the VPS except via wireguard. Nothing is open on my home server except via the VPS or local LAN.

Monitoring and Recovery

One downside to this setup is that to access my music for example, I’m relying on a chain of multiple links: wireguard on VPS, ufw, rinetd, wireguard on home server, airsonic. If any one of those doesn’t function just right, I’m listening to silence. This has happened a couple of times, especially when I first set things up and had some things not quite right. Actually, if ufw goes down, I’ll still be able to listen to my music, but my VPS will be open. So I wanted to get some monitoring in place. When things were down early on, I’d be making assumptions on which piece was broke and spending time trying to fix it, only to find out it was one of the other links. With correct monitoring, I can now tell exactly what is up and down.

Monitoring with Healthchecks

I’ve been a big fan of You set up “checks” which provide you with a url to ping. If a check doesn’t get a ping within a specified time period, it notifies you via email, sms, or through more than twenty other integrated services. I’ve been using it to monitor my daily backups. If a backup doesn’t happen at a specified time, I know about it.

So I set up a cron job that runs a script every 10 minutes on my VPS, and a similar one on my home server. This script first checks the status of wireguard. If it’s up, it pings Healthchecks. It does the same for rinetd and ufw. My home server checks wireguard and airsonic. Each of these five services is set up as a separate check in Healthchecks so I can see the status of each of them separately. The cron job runs every 10 minutes, so I give it one extra minute leeway – if Healthchecks doesn’t get a new ping after 11 minutes, that service is marked as down.


Eventually I realized that if a particular service was down, once I became aware of it, I’d just go to whatever machine and restart it, so why not just do that automatically. So I built that into each of my checks.

If, say, wireguard is down on the VPS, it will NOT send the ping to Healthchecks. So a minute or so later it will be flagged as being down. But in this case, the script will also automatically try to restart wireguard. The next time it runs (10 minutes later), hopefully it sees that wireguard is up and sends the ping.

Healthchecks also has a “grace period” configuration. Once it notices something is down, it will not alert you until that grace period is done. I set this to 10 minutes. This results in the following sequence if something goes down:

  1. Service X is up and Healthchecks gets pinged at 10:00 pm.
  2. Service X goes down at 10:05 pm.
  3. At 10:10 pm, the script sees that Service X is down and fails to ping Healthchecks.
  4. The script also attempts to restart Service X.
  5. At 10:11 pm Healthchecks has not had a ping in 11 minutes and marks Service X as down.
  6. At 10:20 pm, the script runs again. Service X is up so it pings Healthchecks, which marks Service X as up again.
  7. Alternately, the restart didn’t work and at 10:20 pm no ping is sent.
  8. In this alternate case, at 10:21 pm, Healthchecks emails and texts me about the fact that Service X is down.

A potential improvement to this is that after step 4, when Service X is restarted, I could verify that it’s now working and ping Healthchecks. immediately. This way, if the restart works, nothing is marked as down. But I’m going to run it as is for a while and see how this works out. So far, so good.

I’ve gone through and tested each on of these checks, turning the service off and leaving it off. Within 11 minutes it was marked as down and restarted. And shortly thereafter marked as back up. All automatically.

If this were some kind of public service or mission critical workflow, I could easily set up the pings for every minute or so. But the 10 minutes seems perfectly adequate for my purposes.

More Details?

This post is pretty high level. Most of what went into the wireguard setup is covered in the above link. If you want to set up something similar, I’d be happy to go into more detail on any specific points. Just let me know.

version 1.3


Me again, talking about this silly version program still.

Actually, there are some pretty cool updates over the past few point releases. They came fast and on the heels of each other. The idea was posed to use the Linux package manager – apt or pacman or whatever – to get data on a program instead of relying on a hard-coded list.


After some back and forth I warmed up to the idea, but as a backup to the known program list, not as a replacement. My reasoning is that you might have multiple versions of foo installed. Maybe one was through the default package manager, one through some download-and-run-an-install-script method. They might get installed to different locations in your PATH. But when you call foo on the command line, you’ll only get one of them.

If you query the package manager, it’s going to tell you about the one that it knows, which may or may not be the default. But when you run foo -v on the command line, you will get the one that’s going to be actually run in most cases. So that should be the first place we look. If version doesn’t know about foo then it can turn to the package manager.


I decided to tackle two of the major Linux package managers first – apt (used on Ubuntu and most other Debian derivatives) and pacman (used on Manjaro and other Arch derivatives).

On apt, you can find info about a package, say neovim, you’d type:

apt list neovim --installed

This will give you something like:

neovim/focal,now 0.4.3-3 amd64 [installed]

That 0.4.3-3 is the version number that we’re looking for. It took a bit of regex trickery, but I was able to parse that bit out of it.

On pacman you’d type pacman -Qi neovim and the result would look something like:

Name : neovim
Version : 0.4.4-1
Description : Fork of Vim aiming to improve user experience, plugins, and GUIs
Architecture : x86_64
Licenses : custom:neovim
Groups : None
Provides : vim-plugin-runtime
Depends On : libtermkey libuv msgpack-c unibilium libvterm luajit libluv
Optional Deps : python-neovim: for Python 3 plugin support (see :help python)
xclip: for clipboard support on X11 (or xsel) (see :help clipboard) [installed]
xsel: for clipboard support on X11 (or xclip) (see :help clipboard) [installed]
wl-clipboard: for clipboard support on wayland (see :help clipboard)
Required By : None
Optional For : None
Conflicts With : None
Replaces : None
Installed Size : 20.45 MiB
Packager : Sven-Hendrik Haase
Build Date : Wed 05 Aug 2020 04:16:43 AM EDT
Install Date : Fri 21 Aug 2020 07:37:52 AM EDT
Install Reason : Explicitly installed
Install Script : No
Validated By : Signature

So we can use grep and/or sed to find the one line of that which starts with Version: and grab the 0.4.4-1 part of it.

I then did basically the same thing for dnf which is the package manager on Redhat, Fedora, and derivatives.

So the process is:

  1. Check to see if version already knows about the program. If so, just do what it already does.
  2. If now, check apt, pacman and dnf. First we can just check to see if each one of those exist and only run the one that does exist. It’s unlikely that many people will have more than one of those. If we find one of those, we do the parsing and spit out the version it tells us about.
  3. If those all fail, then we can just tell the user we couldn’t find any information on that command.

Can we do more?

There are all kinds of other package managers on both Linux and Mac. I started making a list of the different ways you can find and install software and came up with

  • snaps
  • flatpaks
  • pip
  • npm
  • homebrew / linuxbrew

There are others, but those all cover a huge amount of ground. And it turns out that most of them were able to be solved with the same general strategy:

  • Does this package manager exist?
  • Does it know about this program and what info does it have?
  • Parse out the version number from the info it returns.

So, now version supports all of those. It just looks at each one of them in turn until it finds one that give an answer.

This also has the added functionality of being able to return the version of more than just executable programs. Package managers know about various libraries and other assets that aren’t directly executable or don’t have any way of querying them directly for their version. But version can tell you about them. Want to know what version of libusb you have installed? Typing version libusb will tell you.

A personal perk of doing this project is that I was forced to really learn grep and sed. Two programs that ranged from confusing to very mysterious in my mind. Now I get them and really like them. I wrote something up about them too:

Catalina VM


I’m not a big fan of Apple. Their products themselves are fine, for the most part. Not to my preference in a lot of ways, but that’s fine. I know plenty of people who love their iPhones and Macbooks and watches. I’m not going to argue. I definitely don’t like the company though. I perceive them as being overly controlling, developer hostile, and incredibly narcissistic. All this is just a pretext for saying that I don’t want to spend any money on Apple hardware.

But now and then I do want to be able to test something on Macos. Some program or script or utility I’m working on, like version or my C or Go based graphics and animation libraries. It’s not my main target, but since command line tools developed on Linux are usually trivial to get working on Mac, I’m happy to test them out and make some minor tweaks so they work there.

I’ve been considering building a “Hackintosh” system. But with Apple’s plans of going to ARM possibly by the end of this year, I don’t want to invest a lot in hardware that’s going to be obsolete soon.

This led me to see if it was possible to get Macos running in a VM. And I found this project:

This is a git repo with a couple of scripts that create a qemu VM, download the official Macos installer image and runs that installer in that VM. It runs on Linux that I know of.

  1. Install the dependencies.
  2. Check out the repo.
  3. Run the script. This even allows you to choose which version you want. Defaults to Catalina.
  4. Create a virtual disk image and add that to the script.
  5. Run the script and choose install.

The UI that comes up is called “Clover”

The ui actually confused me at first. I was trying to click things, but you can navigate around with arrow keys and use enter to choose things. Choose the default option shown here to install.

This boots up a Macos system right off the install media. The first thing you’ll need to do is format that virtual disk you created. Then run the installer and tell it to install Macos to that disk you jut formatted.

The install takes a long time. Like close to an hour. At points it says it has one minute remaining and hangs there forever, before saying it’s calculating the remaining time, and hanging there forever. But be patient, it will finish after rebooting a couple times.

When it’s done, it will boot right into the OS, asking you to set up a username and password. And then you’re in a full Macos install. Use Control-Alt-F to toggle full screen and Control-Alt-G to toggle capture of the keyboard and mouse. You can shut down as you’d usually shut down a Mac or just close the VM window.

When you boot back in, you’ll get the Clover screen again. This time choose the last option in the top row to boot.

This is the one that messed me up the first time. I just hit enter and wound up in the install flow again.


By default, the script allocates 2 GB RAM and a minimal amount of CPU resources. It’s also hard-coded to 1280×720 resolution I think. Read through the documentation to find out how to beef up the VM. I gave mine 8GB and a lot more CPU. I also got it running at full resolution on my 2560×1440 (or something like that) monitor. With the extra resources, it’s surprisingly performant. I mean, I’m not going to be doing gaming or video editing or trying to run XCode on it, but for browsing the web, regular apps, anything console-based, it’s perfectly adequate.

Once you go full screen with it, it’s honestly hard to tell it’s not the real thing. It is a bit laggy on my Thinkpad with an i5 CPU, but pretty zippy on my Ryzen 5 3600 desktop. I’ve installed various tools, utilities and other programs, as well as home brew and a bunch of packages form there. I haven’t had any problems with it so far at all.

Although the install was slow as hell, it now boots up fully in under a minute for me. That’s good because it’s not something I want running all the time. Giving it all those resources means the underlying Linux OS does not have access to them. You can pause the VM though, which stops it from using any CPU power. I haven’t checked if that affects the memory use though. I’d guess not so much.

Here is Catalina at 1920×1080 on my Thinkpad


Who knows. Use at your own risk. Just to avoid any problems, I did not sign in with my Apple ID. I’ve never heard of anyone getting sued for running an OS in a VM.


I’m pretty excited about this. This is perfect for my use cases of testing things out here and there. I’m not expecting it to be a full replacement for actual Apple hardware running Macos. And I don’t need that.

I imagine once Apple switches over to ARM, this project will be obsolete. Hopefully someone figures out a way to continue it with their new architecture.

A Cooler Cooler from Cooler Master


Some weeks ago I shared my new PC build. It’s been wonderful. Working perfectly. One thing I did recently was put in another 500GB drive to hold my VM images. While I was in there, I moved the front mounted drives around to the back and did some better cable arranging.

One thing I had planned to do for a while was add a new CPU cooler. After reading some reviews and watching some Youtube videos, I settled on the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Black Edition.

I probably didn’t really need this. But I think it’s a good investment. I’d been using the stock cooler that came with my Ryzen 5 3600. It did the job adequately. I’m not into any kind of crazy overclocking or anything, and wasn’t having any real heat problems. In general use, with a browser and a few tabs open, terminal and some music playing, maybe Slack open, the CPU would be in the high 30s to mid 40s C. Unless it was completely idle it wouldn’t stay in the 30s much. More in the low 40s. With Slack and some more active tabs open, it’d get into the 50s, maybe some short peaks into the 60s. Completely idle with nothing running, it would be mid-to-high 30s.

With the new cooler, I can see an immediate difference. Idle with just a browser and several tabs, it will settle down to 31-32. I never saw it go that low with the stock cooler. So it’s promising. I’ve only put it in this morning, so I’ll give it a few days to see how it performs under daily loads, but seems like a good improvement so far.

Installation wasn’t too bad. Took off the old cooler and cleaned up the thermal paste. You have to use their custom back plate, so I removed the old one and set up the new one. This was probably the most complex part. The cooler is designed to fit on a number of different socket types. You have to install various posts or screws and clips and move them to various positions depending on which socket you have, as well as a couple different types of brackets that go on the cooler itself. There’s a decent manual with Ikea-like diagrams for each configuration. I managed to get it right the first time without too much difficulty.

I came very close to forgetting to put on fresh thermal paste, but caught myself before tightening any screws. Getting the four screws on the brackets started was a bit tricky. They’re all spring mounted and wobble around. You have apply a little pressure and get them at the right angle to get them going. But once they were started, easy to tighten up by alternate corners.

The cooler comes with a single 120mm Silencio fan. The instructions have you mount it in a configuration that pushes air across the cooler and towards the back fan, which makes sense. But you can also purchase and add a second fan to mount on the other side of the cooler, for a push-pull configuration. There’s also an RGB version, but I think I have enough RGB going on in there as it is.

The cooler itself is pretty tall and the reviews all said to make sure you have enough room in your case. My case is ludicrously cavernous, so there’s plenty of room to spare, but it’s good advice to check.