Another quality product from Kennco, Ink …
Produced by Ken Ranous, 2020
Photos taken from our trip through Arches National Park. I used the Transform effect in kdenlive along with keyframes to create a Pan, Tilt and Zoom effect aka the Ken Burns Effect.
Camera: Olympus e500
Image Post Processing: Darktable
Video Editing: Kdenlive v20
Maps and Satellite Images: Google
Soundtrack: Scandinavianz – Wanderlust
If you like doing photo & video but lack music chops, the Scandinavianz have some really good no-copywrite music available on their YouTube channel.
Produced by Ken Ranous – 2020
Tseyi (pronounced sayYEE) is the Navajo term for an opening in the rock or a canyon. It’s also known as Canyon De Chelly (pronounced de-SHAY) National Monument. Located deep within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation in North East Arizona, USA, the monument covers almost 84,000 acres and encompasses three converging canyons. The area has much cultural significance dating back many hundreds of years. Centuries old ruins stand in defiance of time. Spectacular formations have been carved by streams originating in the Chuska Mountains to the East of the park.
This video documents our tour along the North Rim road. The visitors center was well worth the visit and highly recommended. From there we travelled North East along Indian Route 64. There’s four paved overlook points: Ledge Ruins, Antelope House, Mummy Cave and Massacre Cave. We made a day of it, having toured the South Rim the previous day. The photographic possibilities here are nearly infinite as the weather, time of day and time of year make drastic differences in lighting.
Photos were taking with an Olympus e500 DSLR using a circular polarizer and UV filter. The workflow was 100% Open Source/Linux with image processing done in Darktable and exported in maximum resolution. Kdenlive version 17.12.3 was used to assemble the video. Pan and Zoom (aka Ken Burns Effect) were done using the ‘transform’ effect with keyframes. Transitions 30 frame quick dissolves or wipes. Final render was 1080P 60 FPS for smoother video.
Satellite image maps are courtesy of Google Earth.
Soundtrack is ‘Vacation’ by Scandinavianz on the YouTubers Music Channel. If you like making videos but aren’t quite a musician, these are good resources for no copywrite music. Give them a like at:
– Ken Ranous
Keywords: Tseyi, Canyon De Chelly National Monument, Navajo Nation, Arizona, kdenlive, Ken Burns Effect,
Designed for Linux Mint Mate 19.3, here are a few top tips to streamline and maximize performance on older or low-spec computers. It’ll make your brand new machine run that much faster as well. Most of this will be relevant no matter what distribution or desktop you’re using, it’s how exactly you go about doing it that may vary slightly.
To get the most out of an old or low-spec PC, first consider a few OS and hardware choices:
Choose a lightweight desktop. There used to be a significant difference in memory consumption between ‘lightweight’ desktops (such as Xfce, Lxde & Mate) versus ‘full featured’ ones such as KDE or Cinnamon. More recently, the differences aren’t as great. (For example, a tuned Kubuntu install uses only about 450MB on a clean boot and loads quickly.) I’d still pick a desktop classified as ‘lightweight’ for an old or low-spec machine. The underlying distribution isn’t as important as the desktop environment when it comes to performance, and fortunately many distros make several desktops available.
Get an SSD. Whether your PC is new or old, grand or modest, consider adding an SSD (Solid State Disk) for your OS. The transfer rates and seek times of low-buck SSDs are so much faster than even the best conventional disk. SSD’s will really wake up an old PC (especially if it has limited RAM) and make a new one even faster. As of May 2020, a 240GB SSD can be had for ~$40 and will fit into anything with a SATA port and room to fit a 2.5″ drive. (adapters are available for PATA/IDE). Much less than a new machine, it’s the single best hardware mod you can make to any machine new or old!
That old notebook, netbook or all-in-one PC will really appreciate the low power consumption. SSD’s generate almost no heat and are physically much more durable as well. Conventional drives are still a good choice for a secondary data drive, and I recommend a dual-drive setup whenever space allows. I’ve had several good experiences with the Kingston A400 series SSD’s. At only ~1/2″ thick, they can be installed in very limited space. Adapters are available to fit a 2.5″ SSD into a 3.5″ bay. If you’re handy with tools, you can remove your drive caddy and drill holes for secure mounting. If need be, a well -placed strip of Velcro is perfectly acceptable provided it isn’t blocking air flow or coming into contact with anything too hot.
Max the RAM. Memory for older PC’s is generally cheap and available, so max it out if possible. Also note the speed of the memory. For example, if your PC currently has DDR2-400 (aka PC2-3200) and it will accept DDR2-800 (aka PC2-6400) simply swapping out for the faster RAM will double the memory speed and make a noticeable difference, even if the same amount. Be sure all modules are of the same speed and consult your mainboard manual for details. Note that older PC’s might only take a maximum of 2, 4 or 8GB so we want to make the most of it.
Add/Upgrade Video Card. Some PC’s use system memory as video memory. If your system’s monitor connection is on the mainboard (and not a separate card) then this may be the case. The allocation of such can be changed via the BIOS configuration and of course there’s a trade-off: More RAM for video means better video performance but at the expense of less system RAM. Video cards that use shared memory are often a bit lacking on performance, so if you have an available slot, consider getting a separate video card.
Update BIOS. Especially if it’s going to be a server, but even if not BIOS updates can fix issues and security vulnerabilities. While you’re at it, check for a ‘load optimized defaults’ option. If you have integrated video but have added an upgraded video card, it’s now safe to disable the onboard video and free up some system RAM.
Be realistic. Tasks we might take for granted require a certain amount of resources. For basic general desktop use (email, word processing, checking the news & weather, etc) or for use as a basic home file server a dual-core/4GB/SSD/dedicated GPU machine is a good baseline. Look at your distribution’s system requirements and let the ‘recommended for comfortable usage’ specs be your guide.
Alright, on to the tuning! Presented in the order of most bang-for-the buck:
Reduce swappiness. This is probably the single best thing you can do, especially with 4GB or less. When Linux runs low on memory it temporarily swaps data to the hard disk. Some distros use a dedicated swap partition while some use a swap file but the net result is the same. Conventional hard disks (aka spinny drives) are slow due to mechanical limitations, so the process of swapping can really bog a system down.
Set at 60 by default, the system will start to use the swap partition much sooner that it needs to. For systems with an SSD swapping won’t hinder performance too much but frequent writes can wear down an SSD prematurely. In either case, it makes sense to not swap until physical RAM is just about full.
To observe this, open your System Monitor and look under the Resources tab. On a fresh boot, Memory usage should be well under 1GB and Swap should be at 0%. Load some applications one at a time and note how the Swap becomes active long before physical memory is used up. Also note how much longer apps take to load when the system starts hitting the swap.
There’s an easy fix for this:
To check the current swappiness setting, open a terminal and type:
and it will likely report 60.
To adjust, open the /etc/sysctl.conf file as root or admin with a text editor. At the very bottom, add this line:
vm.swappiness = 10
Restart the machine and confirm swappiness is indeed 10. Now the system will use ~90% of it’s RAM before swapping. You can confirm it’s working by repeating the above System Monitor experiment.
Some will suggest this doesn’t need to be fussed with if you have 8GB or more, and while that’s pretty much true I still say use physical memory first and only swap when actually needed. It’s better for performance and easier on your SSD. For systems with 2GB or less you may want to set the swappiness to 1 to delay swapping as long as possible.
Disable services you (probably) don’t need*. Look Under Control Panel > Startup Applications. You can likely disable the following:
Blueberry & Bluetooth (If you don’t have bluetooth)
Nvidia Prime support (if you don’t have an NVidia graphics card)
Flatpak (unless you use apps installed via flatpak)
Mintwelcome (those startup tips)
Onboard (provides a virtual on-screen keyboard)
Orca Screen Reader (for the visually impaired)
Print Queue Applet (only if you don’t plan to print)
System Reports (if you’re OK with checking that manually)
Pulse Audio Sound System (only if sound is not needed ie a server)
Update Manager (only if you plan to check for updates manually)
Look under Startup Applications > Options and un-tick ‘Automatically remember running applications’
Remove compiz. It’s visually interesting but also a resource hog. Run Synaptic Package Manager and completely remove the package ‘compiz-core’.
Disable window compositing. Open Control Panel > Desktop Settings > Windows > Window Manager and select Marco. If windows aren’t displayed correctly (ie you cannot grab an edge to move/resize) then change this to ‘Marco + Compositing’ instead.
Disable Desktop Effects. If you’re running KDE Plasma, look under System Settings > Workspace Behavior > Desktop Effects. Un-tick as many of those as you can live without.
Install Proprietary Drives. Check under Control Center > Driver Manager and see if any drivers are available for your system.
Limit web browser extensions. For Firefox, Chromium and Chrome browsers, U-block Origin, HTTPS Everywhere and VideoDownloadHelper (if you download videos) will keep you reasonably safe & commercial free while going easy on system resources. Some can be real hogs and too many will vacuum up all of your free RAM’s.
Disable Pop-up Notifications. Open Control Panel > Pop-up Notifications and untick Use Active Monitor.
Eliminate the background desktop wallpaper. The RAM a background image uses is equal to it’s file size and takes time to load. If you’re running 2GB of RAM or less, consider a solid color or a simple background graphic. Right-click the desktop > Change Desktop Background.
Eliminate the login screen background graphic. Found in Control Panel > Login Window, it’s one more small thing you can do to get that old PC booted up just a little faster.
Check for hogs: After you’ve done the above, reboot the PC and run System Monitor > Resources and observe total Memory usage. A streamlined system should only be using 500-600MB. Also look under the ‘Process’ tab and click ‘% CPU’ to order the list by what’s running and using CPU resources. On a clean boot, the only thing that should be busy is the system monitor. Scrutinize anything else.
* Keep note of what settings you change in case something no longer works. Generally speaking, there’s nothing you can disable that will leave you unable to login to the PC and change it back.
A revision of the guide tested in Linux Mint 19.3 Tricia with Mate or Cinnamon desktops.
Older version of the guide remain available for reference.
Notes for Kubuntu 20.04:
I was unable to compile the osmocom RTL-SDR drivers in Kubuntu 20.04 but found them in the Discover Software Center. You’ll still need to manually blacklist the default driver:
1. Open your /etc/modprobe.d folder as (right-click) an administrator.
2. Create a new file ‘blacklist-rtl.conf’ and add this one line: blacklist dvb_usb_rtl28xxu
3. Save the file, close the editor and restart the machine.
4. Test that the dongle is working by opening a terminal and typing: rtl_test -s 2400000
GQRX can also be installed via the Discover Software Center but the version offered there (as of May 2020) doesn’t play nice on all machines. On some it does, so try it, and if not then revert to the instructions found on https://gqrx.dk
Creating a Linux file server/NAS for SOHO use made easy. Here I’m using Linux Mint Mate 19.3 so this guide should work verbatim for most Ubuntu and Debian based distros with slight variations for others.
1. Select your server hardware. Any PC capable of running Linux Mint comfortably as a desktop will suffice for use as a file server. Transferring files to & from a single user isn’t very processor intensive. A dual-core 4GB machine will do given enough hard disk space. In this experiment I used an i3/4GB/2TB with gigabit Ethernet.
2. Install, update and customize Linux as you normally would. Select a computer name as you’d like it to appear on the network, ie fileserv or MyNAS.
3. Create a folder to be shared. Ideally on it’s own partition so the server’s system partition doesn’t get accidentally filled up.
4. Install system-config-samba available in repositories. This will also trigger the installation of all needed support files. Then open a terminal and type: sudo touch /etc/libuser.conf
5. To configure samba open a terminal and type: sudo system-config-samba or for quick access create a script. Make a file named ‘samba-serv’ on the server desktop. Open it with a text editor and add the lines:
Save and exit, right-click > Properties > Permissions > Allow executing file as a program. To run it, dbl-clk > Run in Terminal and enter password.
6. Click Preferences > Samba Users > Add User. Find your Unix Username and use it for Windows Username. The password can be the same as your Linux password for simplicity. Click OK.
7. Hit the + sign to create a new share. Use Browse to find the folder created in step 3. You can make the share name same as folder name, tick Writeable and Visible. Click the Access tab to select users. Click OK. Note if you tick ‘Allow access to everyone’, guest clients can login as anonymous with read-only access but you can also login with credentials for full access. Handy for sharing files with guests on your LAN.
8. If you have the Linux firewall enabled (and you should) you’ll need to create a rule to allow Samba access. In the Control Panel launch Firewall and click the Rules tab. Hit the + sign and under Application find Samba. Click Add then Close.
9. From a client PC launch a file manager of your choice and browse the local Network. The name of the newly created server should appear. Double-click it and log in using the Samba credentials created earlier. You should now have unfettered access to the network share. Hint: on login select ‘Remember password’ for easy access.
10. To eliminate the need for a dedicated keyboard, mouse & monitor, install remote desktop software on both client and server. I’m using No Machine for this and it works brilliantly! It’s not in the repositories but is available for download. Installation and use is mostly self-explanatory so just a few tips:
A. Select the .DEB version from the website to install
B. On the server, Run the No Machine Service from the menu.
– Under ‘Services’ make sure Status indicates Running.
– Under ‘Security’ un-tick require permission to let remote users connect and interact with desktop.
– Note that service will start automatically when server starts prior to login.
C. Installation on the client side is very self explanatory. Run No Machine from the menu and follow along. (Don’t run No Machine Service on the client. You’ll know if it’s running by checking the status indicator on the desktop panel. If you do by mistake, just make sure Status = Stopped so we’re not making the client desktop available to others on the LAN).
11. To turn the machine on remotely, you’ll need to activate the PC’s WOL (Wake On LAN) feature. If equipped, this feature will be found in the BIOS setup. Next, install the wakeonlan package found in repositories. To invoke it, open a terminal and type:
wakeonlan 00:00:00:00:00:00 (substituting 00:’s for your server’s MAC address).
You can also create a simple script file and launch it easily from your desktop anytime you want to fire up the server. Create a file named ‘wakeserv’ on your desktop. Open it with a text editor and add these two lines (and use your server’s MAC addy):
Save the file then right-click > Properties > Permissions and tick ‘Allow executing file as a program’. Then just dbl-clk it and choose ‘Run’. Now the server can be powered up remotely without needing to remember it’s MAC addy. Note that not all PC’s will respond to WOL despite enabling it in their BIOS.
12. To create private shares requiring unique login and authentication:
A. First we must create a new Linux user on the server. Go to Control Center > Users and Groups > Add and enter name and password as prompted.
B. Create new folder to be shared. Right-click > Properties > Permissions and allow others read/write access. Click ‘Apply Permissions to Enclosed Files’ then close.
C. Open a terminal and type: sudo system-config-samba (or run launch script if created in step 5.)
D. Under Preferences > Samba Users > Add User select the new username. Enter the same username and password as step a.
E. Hit + to create a new share. Select a folder, tick Writeable and Visible. Select new user under access tab and hit OK.
So that’s how I did it. There’s other tools, some more advanced, to configure Samba but system-config-samba is pretty simple to use for a home network. I work on many computers of different platforms and having a NAS sure beats swapping USB sticks.
Keywords: Linux File Server, Samba File Sharing, No Machine Remote Desktop, SOHO file server, Samba Server Configuration Tool GUI.
It was a hotter and drier summer than usual in the Sonoran desert. Life’s priorities didn’t allow us our usual retreat into the mountains or out to the lakes as we usually do. I did, however, discover some wonderful vlogs detailing life aboard a narrow-boat cruising the many miles of canals in the UK. Produced by some middle-aged gents fed up with the rat-race of corporate life, I can personally relate to their stories.
Constructed mostly during the 1700’s and 1800’s, canals and rivers were the Interstate Highways of Briton and fueled their industrial revolution. Some are large enough to accommodate smaller ocean going freighters but many in the mid-lands are only ~7′ wide. Built without the aid of modern machinery they’re no wider or deeper than absolutely needed. What our predecessors made using manual labour is indeed incredible by any standard.
Over the years some of the canal infrastructure was abandoned, built over or filled in as it gave way to faster modes of transportation such as rail and roads. Yet much of it was left intact and there’s been a great push to restore it for historical and recreational purposes. It’s inspiring to see so much interest and effort in maintaining the old network.
There’s many types of boats navigating the inland waterways. Wide beams, Dutch barges, cruisers and narrow-boats just to name a few. I like them all but it’s the narrow-boats that can access the entire system. From a distance it might just look like a houseboat, and while they do serve the same general purpose there’s a several important distinctions. For the details of that I’ll leave it to the experts, so on to the vlogs!
Cruising The Cut by David Johns, a very well produced ongoing vlog by a former TV news reporter that opt’d for a slower pace. He goes into great detail about living aboard a narrow-boat full-time. If you’ve never been to the UK, it’s a nice glimpse into the towns and villages that you might not see on regular TV. We could also file this under most interesting alternative lifestyles. Here’s one of my favorite episodes:
Travels by Narrowboat by Kevin aka Country House Gent has videos on YouTube and Vimeo. Earlier in the summer of 2019 I discovered his video series on Amazon, and he’s the one responsible for getting me hooked on this sort of thing. I especially like the adventures onto the rivers, like this one:
Foxes Afloat A very entertaining duo that sold their home and built a custom canal narrowboat to specs that I’d probably choose myself.
In the past, auto manufacturers typically specified transmission service at around 25-30k miles. More recently they’re specifying 50k-100k or more. Some even say the fluid is good for the lifetime of the car. Which makes me wonder how long they expect their cars to last, but I digress. Some don’t specify a mileage and instead rely on a maintenance minder system.
Having recently had an early transmission failure on vehicle with 71k miles (serviced at 55k as per the M.M.) I decided to investigate. After much research and speaking with well established transmission shop owners, I can safely conclude that the newer longer trans service intervals are bullshit. Probably some marketing crap to impress us with how far their cars can go between service.
Although modern transmissions are much more sophisticated than those of yesteryear, some basic principles remain the same. There are still gears and often a torque converter and these parts need lubrication, cooling and clean fluid of the right viscosity to operate. Just as always.
Transmission fluid may be better than it was, but the machine still gets hot and fluid still breaks down. When is does, it loses viscosity so you’ll have similar issues as leaving oil in an engine too long. Trans fluid is also hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs water further degrading the fluid and possibly leading to corrosion.
Transmission service intervals of 25k to 30k are still a good idea no matter what the manufacturer states. This is especially true if you drive in a climate that is very hot and/or humid. Do it more often if you tow or race. Most cars have a trans fluid drain plug making fluid changes as easy as changing your engine’s oil. At <$20/gallon for fluid vs $2k-$7k for a transmission it’s an easy choice.
For most cars there’s several types of transmission services to consider:
Standard Drain and Fill – If you can change your own oil you can probably do your own trans fluid too. (check your manuals!) Unlike an oil change, a D&F only changes out some of the fluid as much of it is still in the torque converter. If you’re doing it every 25k-30k this is enough to replenish. If you’ve gone a bit far since the last service you can do a few D&F’s over the course of a few miles.
Most shops don’t charge much for this service, but some take a short-cut and just pump the old fluid out the dipstick tube. It’s better than nothing but any debris that might be in the pan or on the drain plug magnet is not getting removed. In time, the drain plug will self-weld to the pan, making future service impossible! So be sure to ask how they do it.
Machine Flush – Typically this is done with a machine that is connected in-line with a trans cooler line. With the vehicle running, the transmissions pump empties the old fluid into the machine while fresh fluid is automatically added. This will cost more, but if the trans has been somewhat neglected this is a sure way to get it all. For cars without a drain plug this is a less messy than dropping the pan and much more thorough than just pumping the old stuff out. But not all cars have external coolers, so this may not be an option or you might have to go to a shop with model specific equipment.
Chemical Flush – I’m not sure I believe in these. If you’ve been doing D&F’s all along you won’t need this service. If you’re a bit past due then do several D&F’s or a machine flush. But if the trans is old and very neglected a chemical flush may actually aggravate old seals and make it fail sooner.
Filter change – Some transmissions have internal filters that should be changed. It usually involves removing the bottom pan and gets a bit messy without the right equipment. Many cars do not need this service and don’t even have a drain pan. Debris is collected by a magnet inside the drain plug where it’s removed during a basic D&F.
The appearance of the fluid on the dipstick isn’t a reliable indicator of it’s condition. The only foolproof way to check is with a D&F and inspect the fluid for color, viscosity and debris. It’s red when new and turns dark red as it’s used. If it’s brownish but still detectable as red, you are due for a change. If it’s black you’re overdue. A small amount of very fine particles on the magnet or in the pan is normal wear. Chunks or slivers that resemble bits of cat litter or larger are not what you want to see, especially in larger quantities.
Milky streaks in the fluid indicate water and that fluid could be changed more often. You might see this on vehicles not frequently driven and especially ones doing short runs in cool damp climates. They never get hot enough to evaporate the moisture and the fluid absorbs it anyway. So regardless of mileage, 3 years max in a dry desert climate. Less in humid climates.
The fluid in this vehicle appeared red and smelled normal on the dipstick. But once drained it was very dark and had a lot of fine particles stuck to the magnet. Some particles are normal, but this vehicle had it’s transmission serviced only 16k miles ago. It was diagnosed as a complete failure by the dealer at only 71k. The excess particles and fouled fluid was possibly due to a materials defect in the transmission. I’ll have more on this saga later.
If you want to do a mid-change fluid condition check, use a Mighty-Vac or similar tool to extract a small amount if fluid from the dipstick tube. You can better gauge the fluids condition but it might not show if debris is present. If you want to take it a step further, there are labs that do fluid analysis and can tell you how much dissolved metals are present, amongst other things.
Also consider investing in a code scanner and periodically check for pending codes (and not just ones related to transmission solenoids!). I’ve used (and like) the Innova brand. The Nexpeak NX501 looks promising, maybe more on those later. The following cat scan was performed free of charge by the resident rodent control unit.
Many older stereos, radios and electronic devices were equipped with small incandescent bulbs to illuminate scales, dials and pointers. In time, these tend to burn out. Some use commonly available bulbs and are easy to replace. Others use unusual bulbs or are soldered in and difficult to access. In some cases the bulbs tend to run hot. One solution is to up the voltage of the replacement bulbs. A 12 volt bulb available at a local auto parts store will still provide enough illumination in an 8 volt circuit, running cooler and lasting longer.
We can also solve all the above issues and customize the appearance by replacing the bulbs with LED’s of a desired color. For dials that are lit from the side, this works very well as LED’s a light directional. For dials that are rear-illuminated a method of diffusing the light may be needed. The lens of an LED may be lightly sanded to help diffuse the light or you may need to use several LED’s or other creative means.
This HK has one blue LED on the left side of the scale and a red one on the pointer. Like most stereos, the dial lamps are run off a separate tap from the power supply transformer and are often not rectified. So it’s usually 6 to 12 volts AC. Be sure to confirm this with your voltmeter. That’s too high for one LED’s so we’ll want a resistor in series to limited the voltage and current.
The formula for calculating the value of the resistor is R = (V – Vf) / If
R = resistor
V = supply voltage
Vf = voltage drop across LED
If = current through LED
So if we have a 12 volt supply and a red LED needing 2 volts and 15 milliamps of current running through it then the resistor would be 680 ohms 1/2 watt. Using some jumper wires, be sure to test the circuit that voltage across the LED is within spec. Better yet, just use one of the online LED calculators listed below.
Different colors of LED have specifications for voltage and current. Hopefully that information is on the packaging when you bought the LED’s, and if not LED’s of the same color tend to have the same characteristics. Generally Red and Green ones like 2 volts while Blue and White ones like 3-3.5 volts.
LED’s can be run from AC provided the voltage and current is correct. It can be done with a single LED, when possible run a pair of LED’s in anti-parallel with one another. This will eliminate any chance of flickering and the LED’s will protect each other when the current reverses.
Now that you have the electronics part figured out you’ll need to mount the LED’s. As the leads are exposed you’ll want to take precaution that they won’t short together or to ground. Individually heat shrink tube each lead. A hot glue gun is one way to physically mount the LED’s yet will still break away if you want to change them later. Here are four excellent sources of information regarding LED’s:
— Kenn Ranous
Circa 1970, made in Japan. I purchased this unit from the original owner. It needed the usual treatment, dust out the insides, replace dial lamps, clean the potentiometers jacks and switches. I also cleaned the wood cabinet with a fine scotch pad and brushed in some linseed oil. It sounds good too.
I’m still on the fence if I want to sell this one.
— Kenn Ranous