VLC crashes when trying to play stuff over the network from Kodi.

Dec 02 2018

This took me a while to figure out, so here's a fix for an annoying problem:

Let's say that you have a media box running Kodi on your local area network.  You have uPNP turned on so you can stream videos from your media box across your LAN.  You want to use VLC to watch stuff across your LAN.

Problem: When you select your Kodi box in VLC and double-click on the server to open the directory of media to watch, VLC crashes with no error message (even in debug mode).

Explanation: VLC is configured to exit when the current playlist is over.  This includes downloading a playlist across the network, and is really irritating.

Solution: In VLC, go to Tools -> Preferences -> Show Settings: All.  Scroll down to Playlist.  Un-check Play and Exit.  Save.

Enjoy!

Ansible: Reboot the server and pick up where it left off.

Nov 26 2018

Here's the situation: You're using Ansible to configure a machine on your network, like a new Raspberry Pi.  Ansible has done a bunch of things to the machine and needs to reboot it - for example, when you grow a Raspbian disk image so that it takes up the entire device, it has to be rebooted to notice the change.  The question is, how do you reboot the machine, have Ansible pick up where it left off, and do it in one playbook only (instead of two or more)?

I spent the last couple of days searching for specifics and found a number of techniques that just don't work. After some experimentation, however, I pieced together a small snippet of Ansible playbook that does what I need.  Because it was such a pain to figure out I wanted to save other folks the same trouble.  Here's the code, suitable for copying and pasting into your playbook:

...the first part of your playbook goes here.
    - name: Reboot the system.
      shell: sleep 2 && shutdown -r now
      async: 1
      poll: 0
      ignore_errors: true
    - name: Reconnect and resume.
      local_action: wait_for
      args:
        host: bob-newhart
        port: 22
        state: started
        delay: 10
        timeout: 30
...the rest of your playbook goes here.

Specifics of proof of concept for later reference:

  • Ansible v2.7.0
  • Raspberry Pi 3
  • Raspbian 2018-06-27

Build your own time server with a GPS receiver.

Nov 24 2018

If you've had your ear to the ground lately, you might have heard that the NIST timekeeping radio station used by devices all over the world as a time reference for Coordinated Universal Time as well as some experiments in signal propagation and geophysical event notices might be on the chopping block in 2019, leaving the HF bands quieter and, let's face it, we can't have nice things.  Clocks that rely on this time source signal won't have any way to stay in sync and the inevitable drift due to the imperfections in everything will cause fractions of second to be lost and a fresh outbreak of kinetic pattern baldness.  The ultimate effects of this latest bit of clueless petulance on the part of Donald Trump remain to be seen, but it seems likely that this isn't a sexy enough problem to catch brainshare like Y2k did.  If you work extensively with computers chances are you're not that worried because your machines use NTP - the Network Time Protocol - to synch their internal clocks with a known time reference server on the Net someplace.  Something to consider, however, is whether or not your upstream tier-one and tier-two time sources are actually using the NIST WWV time singnals as their reference signals.  There is, however, a nifty way around this: Build your own NTP server that uses a reference time source that can't be shut off as a source, the Global Positioning System.

First, I'll show you how to build your own GPS time server, and then I'll explain why it works.

Life and times.

Oct 14 2018

Long time readers are probably wondering where I've been lately.  The answer is kind of long and is worth a post all on its own.  The short version of the story is, work's been eating me alive lately.  This is our busiest time of year and it's been all hands on deck for a couple of weeks now.  In point of fact, last week was our quarterly all-hands meeting, where everybody on my team was flown into town for a solid week of meetings.  All day, every day.  Most of my visible activity lately took the form of parts of my exocortex running on automatic with some hit-and-run posting while waiting for the coffee maker at work to top me up in between meetings.

This also means that I haven't had a whole lot of patience for interacting with people.  Not in the sense that people can feel frustrated with other people or their actions, but in the sense that interacting with people in a meaningful way - having a real conversation - takes more compute cycles than I have available right now.  After fourteen hours in a conference room with 40 other people, not only am I out of social, but I'm mentally exhausted.

Interfacing Huginn with Mastodon.

Aug 18 2018

It seems that there is another influx of refugees from a certain social network that's turned into a never ending flood of bile, vitriol, and cortisol into what we call the Fediverse, a network of a couple of thousand websites running a number of different applications that communicate with each other over a protocol called ActivityPub.  Ultimately, the Fediverse is different from Twitter and Facebook in that it's not run as a for-profit entity. There are no analytics, no suggestions of "thought leaders" you might want to follow, no automated curation of the posts you can see versus the ones you really want to see.  Socially speaking, you don't find people carefully polishing their brands or trying to game hashtag trends but instead everything from somebody kicking back after work with a cup of coffee to people carefully archiving the firmware of classic computer hardware to in-jokes about pineapples.  Rather than fame, you get people.

But that's not what I want to talk about.  I've been asked by a couple of people to post a brief tutorial of how I interfaced my Huginn instance with mastodon.social, the Mastodon instance that I spend most of my time hanging out on.

The Doctor's boot care regimen.

Jul 14 2018

Boots: 14 hole Doc Martens, black, real leather.

Unlace.

Wipe down with damp paper towels.

Wipe down with dry paper towels.

Coat with Dr. Martens Wonder Balsam using included sponge.  Be sure to work balsam into stitches and exposed edges.  I ordinarily don't like to shill for particular products, but I started using this stuff to help break in my boots (it makes the leather softer, so it adapts to your feet more readily) and I was wearing them clubbing within a month of getting them (instead of six months to a year).  It's amazing stuff.

Wait half an hour.  Get some coffee, go for a run, something like that.

Buff balsam off with a clean, dry cloth.  I use a regular washcloth set aside for doing my boots.

Prep your boot polish.  I like Kiwi Shoe Polish Paste, just make sure it's the right color for your boots.  Pop the lid and set the polish on fire with a lighter or matches.  No, seriously, I mean set it on fire.  The polish will melt faster than it burns.  When at least half the polish is burning, drop the lid back on and make sure it closes completely.

Wait.  The flame will burn itself out because the oxygen inside the container (there isn't much) will be used up.  Wait for the pressure to build up inside the tin and pop the lid off with a festive "Poing!"

(If this doesn't happen inside of five minutes, just open the tin.  No big deal.)

The shoe polish is now a thick goop instead of a waxy mass.  Apply polish to your boots with a sponge.

Wait another half hour.

Buff dried polish off with a clean, dry cloth.  I usually flip the washcloth over and use that, but do whatever works.  Rub until the finish doesn't look smoky anymore.  Mine tend to look clean but a little on the dull side.  That goes away as I wear them for a while.

Re-lace and wear for an hour or two to take advantage of the new dose of balsam soaked into the leather making it a bit softer than usual.

Repeat every one or two months, or after cleaning them if they get dirty.