I had a camera.

When the Micro Four Thirds mirrorless digital cameras first came out, I decided I was going to take the plunge and get myself a “good” camera. The one I ended up buying was an Olympus E-PL1. I guess camera geeks recognize that model as not being great, but at the time, it took what I thought were pretty amazing photos.

Over the years though, I didn’t really spend as much time as I thought I would taking pictures, and once cell phones started to have decent cameras, the E-PL1 got relegated to a shelf, except when Deb was using it to do product shots for Sheep’s Ahoy.

Today when I was cleaning up my stash of old USB cables — a bigger task than it might seem; I ended throwing out close to 50(!) — I actually found the camera’s custom USB cable, which had been missing for years. This sparked my interest in the old beast enough to recharge it’s battery and take some shots, to see how it compares to my iPhone’s camera.

I won’t keep you in suspense: The iPhone 8P’s photos were better. I thought that the larger sensor in the E-PL1 might let it take better low light photos, but the images were just as noisy as the iPhone’s, if not worse.

As a quick comparison, here’s one representative photo from each:

By just about any measure, the iPhone picture is better: warmer, less noise, sharper. Oh well. And Deb’s XR takes even better pictures than the 8P! I can’t even say that the E-PL1 had better manual shooting features, since at least for my amateur needs Halide does just as much, and I could even get additional lenses if I wanted to.

Don’t get me wrong. I realize there are still digital cameras out there that take much better photos than any cell phone. They’re just not priced to make sense for anyone who isn’t going to make a serious commitment to photography (like my friend John). I’m happy with the pictures I take on my phone, and I’m sure when I upgrade to the iPhone 12 Pro (or whatever it ends up being called) they’ll be even better. 😉

Who says the iPad isn’t a laptop replacement?

Imagine you’re sitting in a coffee shop, and you suddenly feel the need to do some coding. Your iPad has some decent code editors, but you’d like to execute what you wrote. How about connecting a Raspberry Pi and running it there?

The above is my new fave home-away setup:

  • 11″ iPad Pro
  • Brydge keyboard
  • Magic Mouse
  • Raspberry Pi 4 / 4Gig

What makes this work is that the Pi is both powered and gets a network connection over the USB-C port. To enable that, all you have to do on recent versions of Raspian is:

  • Add dtoverlay=dwc2 to /boot/config.txt
  • Add modules-load=dwc2,g_ether to /boot/cmdline.txt
  • Reboot

Assuming you’ve got SSH on your RPi, at this point you should be able to connect it directly to the iPad with a USB-C to USB-C cable, then use your favourite iOS SSH client to do the equivalent of ssh pi@hostname-of-pi.local, with “hostname-of-pi” being whatever you chose (“raspberrypi” by default). Usually, I use Remoter VNC for SSH but that’s mostly because I’ve owned the full version of it forever.

If you’re astute, you’ll have noticed that it’s not ssh running on the screen above. 🙂 There are many ways to get an actual GUI desktop attached to the RPi, but the one I’ve found works the best for me is (believe it or not) using Windows Remote Desktop. To enable this, on the RPi, you can sudo apt-get install xrdp, and on the iPad install Microsoft Remote Desktop or whatever RDP client you like best. When you create the connection, use hostname-of-pi.local just like you would have for SSH.

There are a couple of downsides to this setup.

  1. The microsoft remote desktop client, at least, is tuned for using a finger on the screen, rather than a mouse. In fact, support for mice on iPad OS is still in its infancy, though I expect it will improve over time.
  2. The RPi is being powered from the iPad, so you can expect the battery life to be reduced — it’s not impossibly bad, but it’s visible. (Btw, if anyone knows of a good USB-C hub that will power multiple devices with a data passthrough, let me know.)

Anyway, if you’re looking to try this, there are lots of good tutorials out there on YouTube and elsewhere, by people who have invested more effort than me. Regardless, I’m happy to try and help if you get stuck, so leave a comment.

Overclocking

In my post about the new home of GCW, I had a picture of the Raspberry Pi based version of the server. What probably stood out the most in that picture was the cool (sic!) ICE Tower active cooling system. That Pi has been rock solid since I turned it on, so given the insane cooler, I thought I’d try playing around with a bit o’ the old overclocking.

The stock CPU and graphics clock speeds on a RPi 4 are 1.5 GHz and 400 MHz respectively. In order to get the CPU clock past 1.75 GHz, you need to install firmware that is in advance of what comes with the standard Raspbian distro, so I figured I’d start with 1.75 GHz. For the graphics clock, I tried 600 MHz, which I’ve seen in a couple of how-to videos.

With those speeds, the Pi booted just fine, but after some heavy use (i.e. 3 simultaneous video playbacks) the graphics became unstable. I backed the graphics clock off to 550 MHz and the performance stablized.

With the ICE Tower running, the core temp never went above 40 degrees Celcius even under the heaviest load — compare that to the Pi thermal throttling at 80 degrees showing a single video with no cooling.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with the result. The combined boosts in clock speeds have made an immediately noticeable improvement in performance. It’s entirely possible that this has reduced the lifespan of the board, but honestly at the price I paid for it, I can live with that.

GCW gets a new home

After many years of running Great Castle Wilson on some flavour of Mac, I’ve finally decided to give it dedicated hardware of its own. In part, this is because I enjoy proving to myself that I can still set up and configure a webserver and all the other required accoutrements — yes, I’m weird like that — but mostly it’s because I’m fairly confident that macOS Catalina is going to break my current configuration anyway, so it seemed like a good time to make a change.

For those who aren’t aware, Catalina is the first version of macOS that only supports 64-bit applications. There are some fairly significant changes under the covers, and the odds are low that my personal mix of random open source software and existing Mac tech is going to continue to work.

So without further ado, here is the brand new GCW:

Yep, it’s a Pi 🙂

Specifically:

So far the setup process has been relatively painless, but I did learn that WordPress does *not* like it when its API URL points at a different instance of WordPress than the one that’s making the request — that took a couple of hours to debug. 🙂

Anyway, if you can read this, then we’re live. The site seems quite responsive and the only posts that aren’t displaying properly are ones where some of the original content they linked to no longer exists

Welcome!

Some history…

I don’t post to NfGCW very often any more, but I love the fact that there’s years of history from our family here. I’ve blogged about many topics over the years, including the site itself. Here are some previous posts about the hardware GCW ran on.

OMG! Chromebooks are useful!

As of this weekend, I’m the proud owner of a new ASUS Chromebook Flip C213

ASUS Chromebook Flip C213
ASUS Chromebook Flip C213

For around 450 $CAN, you get a laptop with

  • The “flip” form factor (i.e. keyboard folds under screen so you can use it like a tablet)
  • A touchscreen (as well as a trackpad)
  • 12 hour battery life
  • 2 USB-C ports as well as two as two regular USB3 ports

Obviously, there are limitations, like unexciting screen resolution and limited storage, but I can honestly say that this machine is as responsive as my MBP, for all of the basic tasks I do day to day, and now that ChromeOS can run Android apps as well, I’ve been able to find all the missing features I need (like 1Password support) too.

Let me be clear: This machine is *fun* to use. And that’s even before you factor in the linux app support that is incoming — I’ve already heard of at least one person who has gotten Scrivener for Windows running on WINE. 😉

Never use iTunes to hold your own music.

(This is an old post from July 25, 2016, recovered via the Wayback Machine…)

For pity’s sake:

Mangled iTunes Match example

This is ridiculous. I’ve been trying to use iTunes to make my music (that is, the music I created) available on all my devices for *years*. No matter how many times I’ve tried it, and how many times I think it might, just *might* have worked this time, I always end up with the bullshit you see above: multiple copies, some local, some in the cloud, some that claim they’re in the cloud but you can’t download them, you name it.

It’s impossible to tell what is causing the failures or how you could fix them. You can’t even just go look at what is in the cloud, except through the lens of how it has been sync’ed to one of your iTunes libraries and that seems to *never* be correct.

Somebody, please tell me about alternatives that work.

Yes, the 9.7″ iPad Pro is the iPad you want.

(This is an old post from June 9, 2016, recovered via the Wayback Machine…)

If you’re looking for a tablet because you draw stuff for a living, then there’s no doubt the 12ʺ iPad Pro is the tool you want. It’s fast, the Pencil is as responsive a tool as you could ask for, and it has all the benefits of being part of the iOS ecosystem. And I can say this as someone who also owns a MS Surface Pro.

The thing is though, if you’re actually in it because you want an iPad, you’re better off going with the 9.7ʺ. It’s almost exactly as fast as the 12ʺ, but its weight and form factor make it a tool that you will carry around with you all the time. By contrast, as Deb said, the 12ʺ is something you’d “always be worrying about bending”. It’s just too unwieldy to be anything but something you put in a laptop bag when you’re not using it.

The other side of the question is whether an iPad Air would be just as good as your main iPad. All I can say to that is, if you want that to be true, do not try the iPad Pro. The Air is a great device, but the Pro really is materially faster. Really, with the lighter weight iOS running on it, the iPad Pro feels like it’s faster than my MBP for many tasks. It’s definitely the best way to read Notes email now.

And speaking of which, I did indeed put the IBM security package on it, so I can now read my Notes mail and calendar, and get access to VPN, etc. To give you some idea of how much faster this is than my old iPad. My first gen iPad Mini took about 2 hours to install all the software. The Pro took just under 10 minutes. Very nice.

Anyway, the iPad Pro is too expensive to be an impulse buy. I was lucky enough to have my wonderful wife Deb give me permission to get one as an early Father’s Day gift. Thanks, love. It’s awesome.

A new machine, a new era.

Just a quick note to say that I have upgraded to a new machine. I had been using a Mac Mini to host GCW for many years, but the hard drive in the old beast is starting to sound like the gerbils are getting tired, and I thought it was time.

I know no one would guess I had given up on the Mac universe, so without further ado, here is the new beast…

iMac

It’s a 27″ iMac, with the 3.5 GHz i7 and the upgraded graphics chip (780M w. 4Gig of RAM). I must say, it is amazing. It’s actually fast enough to play PC games under Parallels with completely acceptable framerates even at high detail levels.

And so, it’s the end of an era: I am getting rid of my gaming PC. I’m also getting rid of the Mac Mini I was using for the server, and the MBP I was using for music. Believe it or not, at the end of this process, I will have just the one iMac in my home office, plus a station to hold my work laptop when I bring it home. I’m not sure how long I can stand it, but that’s the plan.

In any case, I have once again transplanted Great Castle Wilson to new hardware. This move was more difficult than previous ones, since (for some unknown reason) I was unable to load the mysql database directly by importing the records from the old site. Instead I had to use the export/import capabilities built into WordPress, which at least appear to have been successful. This is the first time I’ve tried this though, so if you see anything wrong/missing, please let me know.

One note: So far of all the old blogs on GCW I have only gotten this one going. I don’t think the others get many visitors, but I will get around to moving them eventually.

I know, I know. I haven’t been posting.

This is yet another of those posts that starts out by apologizing for not keeping up with the blog. Believe me, I’m more frustrated than you are that it’s been so long since I last posted.

The thing is, my life has been busy, to the point where I haven’t even been finding the time to keep up with 140 character tweets, let alone full blog posts.

Anyway, here are some highlights…

New role at work

In addition to being the Eclipse Project PMC lead, I have now taken on a significant architectural role working on the “IBM DevOps Services powered by JazzHub”. This is a new property that provides project hosting, including online development (based on Orion), tracking and planning support, etc., which is intended to be the premiere environment for building applications that are part of the “IBM BlueMix” platform-as-a-service. What’s even cooler about this is that it can be used for free. Definitely check it out.

Just finished a Divertimento concert

*sigh*. Yes, it would have made more sense to talk about it ahead of time. Oh well. This was the orchestra’s 30th anniversary concert, and it was an awesome program:

  • J. Strauss — Die Fledermaus Overture
  • Mozart — Violin Concerto No. 5, K.218
  • Brahms — Symphony No. 4 Op. 98

The concert was sponsored by the Austrian Embassy including bringing in the soloist for the Mozart, one Daniel Auner, who is a truly excellent up-and-coming violinist. Even though we only had a single rehearsal with him, I felt like he helped us achieve a recognizably stronger understanding of the music.

I bought a car

A Fiat Abarth. I haven’t actually received it yet — It’s still being built — but I expect it will show up some time in the next couple of weeks. For now, here’s a shot of basically what it will look like:

red

It’s very small, but I verified that it will hold my cello case with the back seats folded down, so we’re good. Zero to 100 KPH in 6.9 seconds. I’m excited :-).