Pi Time!

Having missed last week’s blog time I have the excitement of a new computing device at home to talk about. Yes, I’ve finally become the owner of a Raspberry Pi. I think I’ve been putting it off until I had time to really explore it, but that was never going to be the case, so I’m now the proud owner of a Pi 400. I thought about getting the bare bones Pi4 but the convenience of another keyboard and the fanless form factor won me over.

So what have I been doing with it? Well first I powered it up and was curious to see whether it would drive my 4k screen. No problems there. Wireless connectivity, no problem either. Got the VNC server up as well (RealVNC is shipped installed with the default Raspbian OS image), and connected easily with a RealVNC client on both Windows and Linux. No need for the screen to be plugged in any more! The first challenge was making sure the wireless card didn’t power off. By default it’s set to allow power management, so a bit of iwconfig and and config file editing (thanks, to the pi hut for this) later I have an always-on wifi connection.

Next I wanted to see whether it would be happy with my old-ish Kyocera laser printer. Again installed fine, using a slightly older driver but worked OK. This is important since one of the tasks I want this Pi to fulfill is a print server. I’ve been using an old TP-Link PS310U to connect the USB-only printer and to allow it to be shared, but it’s been having some problems with my ongoing Linux experiments. Following the recipe I found here: https://pimylifeup.com/raspberry-pi-print-server/ I was up and running in now time with the CUPS-managed printer working fine from Windows and Linux anywhere. Just a few challenges getting the admin panels working from any machine, but all working fine.

Finally for now, I wanted to try out pi-hole for some advert blocking goodness at the network level. I followed their instructions and it installed and worked fine. At the moment I’ve only trying it on one of my systems – I’ve manually updated the DNS for that machine – but I expect to add the function to all of my network via the router once I’m comfortable that it works without surprises. Speaking of which, the first surprise was when I plugged in an ethernet cable and everything got a bit confused. At first eth0 didn’t appear at all then a bit of config file wrangling made it appear but then pi-hole got a bit confused, so for now I’m staying wireless. It’s probably more convenient anyway. It’s blocking away:

Hoppy New Year


It’s that time of year when the hops have reached their aromatic peak, and a couple of dry days have meant it’s a good time to harvest our bines. We only have a couple of roots of First Gold, “dwarf” hops, but they’ve proliferated and this years crop seems to be the best since they were planted 4 or 5 years ago.

We tried to grow another hop variety in the garden, but it was exclusively male and produced no flowers at all. Just buy rootstock next time!

Because home grown hops can have variable bittering and aroma properties, it can be a bit hit and miss in specific beer recipes. I’ve been using them in my generic “light bitter” recipe with some success, where the exact quantities aren’t so vital. In fact I quite like the variability of using non-manufactured ingredients anyway.

Tomorrow will be drying, vacuum packing and freezing the cones – they remain viable for years.

Bootstrapping across the universe

I’ve been using the Bootstrap CSS framework for my active websites for some time, since about V3 I believe. It’s proved robust and works well with a variety of devices seamlessly (yes, it’s responsive). Like a lot of modern software tools under active development it does, however, change fairly frequently.

I decided early on not to host the CSS myself but use the unmodified source distributed via their CDN. This means that I’m mostly confined to the standard colour schemes, fonts and so on unless I do manual tweaks. It should also mean that keeping up with the package updates ought to be straightforward.

It hasn’t turned out quite that way since the version releases often involve breaking something. The authors seem not to be too worried about upwards compatibility. So in the current move to V5, I’ve had to do quite a bit of html wrangling. Which has made me think about whether it’s time to look for a content management system (CMS) to help out.

Now I don’t need an all-singing, all-dancing CMS, like Joomla for example. In fact I’m positively averse to a dynamic system that resides on the hosting platform. I really only have 2 sites to maintain, both of which are almost completely static content. I also don’t want to be writing more code either to customise it. I’d prefer an open source solution too; many of the proprietary solutions end up tying you into a hosting solution too, and I’m happy with mine, thank you.

So the search starts here…

And 10 points if you recognise the old song referenced above😁

The “Just Look At It” school of computer fixing

You probably know about this already, but it’s a common occurrence in our house, and one I’ve experienced most of my working life. It particularly infuriates people who ask for help when something isn’t working properly on their computer, only to find it works immediately when someone else is watching.

Of course it isn’t really a magical non-tactile uber power for machine fixing, though it is tempting to think so. I think that most of the time it is the presence of an onlooker which causes the person concerned to go just a little more slowly, or concentrate just a tiny amount more. This prevents the mistake they’ve been making, and hey presto it works!

But if you want to think it’s my magic influence, go right ahead.

It’s a brewing month

When I restarted brewing a few years ago, I simply started using kits based on the “standard” home brewing batch size of somewhere between 19 and 23 litres. The exact size depends on factors such as how strong you want the beer to be, accuracy of measurement (!), size of containers you have etc. I bought a Brewie machine which had a maximum wort output of 21 litres, but at that volume I’d usually get a boil over unless I hovered over the machine spraying cold water on the foam. I also found that 40 bottles of the same beer could become, well, a bit boring.

I talked about this before, but even with 10 litre batches my fridge filled fast. We haven’t stopped sampling beer from commercial breweries, and shipping offers tend to mean we order “decent” quantities at a time. So it’s been a while since I last brewed, and I’m two brews into my next sequence:

  • “A Lighter Shade of Blonde” – a variation on my favourite light beer fermented with saison-style yeast.
  • “Smoke on the Porter” – now fermenting, a dark roasty beer calculated to use up some left over rauchmalt
  • “Dark Side of the Mild” – probably self-explanatory
  • A clone of Leffe Blonde – but I haven’t come up with a punny name yet

I’m not planning a special Christmas beer, I still have a surprising number of bottles of barley wine from 2018 (still great) and honey imperial stout (April last year, now a bit lively). Even one of smaller batches generates over 30 bottles of the smaller size I use for stronger beers.


As you kan tell, I’m getting “down” with the terminology of KDE and in danger of starting every word that starts with a hard “C” with a “K” instead. I’m in the fortunate position of having two machines “on my desk1” so whenever I do something on my Windows machine I can switch over to my old machine and see what Linux equivalent function I can try. Of course some of the activities can either be dropped completely (saving the Windows Reliability data, for example), or else the transfer is simple – typically an application that is maintained for multiple platforms already (the LibreOffice suite comes to mind).

This week’s examples of new alternatives needed included support of a DVB (digital TV) USB card. This one turned out to be MUCH simpler than I expected, and indeed easier than Windows. It turns out that the current kernel supports most of these devices natively – and mine is some years old, so no trouble there – and there are a number of FOSS apps already built to handle the “maintenance” bits – including channel scanning. There are command line tools, and you can use VLC, but a dedicated app makes life a bit simpler. I lighted on Kaffeine and this worked a treat. Just plugged the USB receiver in, fired up the app, navigated to the scan settings and away we go. The 100+ plus channels on UK Freeview available immediately. Yes of course I can get most if not all of them via streaming, but there’s something in me that still likes to retrieve stuff “over the airwaves”. If my internet connection dies, for example, I’ll still be able to get live radio and TV feeds.

I’ve also started using Krusader as a replacement for FreeCommander, so far so good; digiKam to substitute for Picasa. (Yes, I know Picasa is old, deprecated etc, but it works well for me. As it turned out digiKam did pick up most of the facial recognition I had already done in Picasa which is simply excellent.) I’m still struggling a bit with printing, mainly due to my idiosyncratic printer setup. Printing to our normal Kyocera FS-2020D works absolutely fine when directly attached, and I could do this and share it with the rest of the house, but there’s no guarantee my machine would be turned on. When attached to my aged TP-Link usb <-> ethernet print server it all goes wrong. I’m contemplating a Raspberry Pi print server as a potential replacement since I wanted to install a Pi-Hole device anyway. Some tinkering required.

Making some music

It’s been great to get back to some face to face playing recently. A small concert with my regular orchestra, the Bushey Symphony Orchestra in July followed by a couple of chamber sessions playing quintets. I’ve been prompted by the latter into making some more music with the Musescore, and I have to say that recent updates have been overwhelmingly positive.

When I spoke about it last year, I’d had quite a bit of trouble with Musescore crashing as well quite a few formatting foibles. The crashing has disappeared (I’m running 3.6.2 currently), and while I’ve still to fully get the hang of the text boxes, it is not stopping me producing readable scores. It also bodes well as I migrate to Linux, since the application runs there natively.

Happy days!


There’s a Monty Python sketch about a man who says the letter “B” instead of the letter “C” (‘the letter C?’ ‘yes the letter B!’. The solution is for him to say the letter “K” (‘what a silly bunt’). All the time I’m toying with Kubuntu this sketch comes to mind. I may of course be straying back into my annoyance of the naming of everything Linux. (kedit, konqueror, etc)

As I write this I’ve installed the latest version of Kubuntu on my main machine which has an AMD graphics card and two 4k screens. It’s a little bit of a faff to get scaling right. I’m not a great fan of using a global scaling factor since it just seems to use up screen real estate as if I’m using a 1440 or 1080 screen, but some judicious font changing (which was quite easy) means my aged eyes can read what’s on the screen. A nice trick to get a bottom panel on both screens (a quick Google) ends up with a better result than Windows (IMHO).

I’ve also been sidetracked by a hosting change, so I think I’m going to aim for the next LTS base as a full cutover (i.e. Mid April next year). What “full cutover” means is I guess changing the default boot of my PC to Kubuntu. I’m lucky enough to have both the time and resources not to rush this – for example a standalone SSD for the Kubuntu install – and so far sharing a data drive between Linux and Windows hasn’t caused either to barf. It’ll also give me a chance to try a version upgrade experience before committing.

Another host

Don’t worry, this is not science fiction and I haven’t transferred my consciousness into another body. It’s just that the time has come to start moving my small number of websites to another hosting provider, which means the usual pain of making sure everything transfers along with the sites themselves.

My own recent history with tsoHost has been (happily) uneventful, despite the other problems reported elsewhere – outages, poor support experience and so on. Not unusually I didn’t sign up with tsoHost directly, but with a predecessor which was acquired – 5quidhost. They did honour the pricing deal, which was good, but there has been very little apparent innovation in the interim. In particular I wanted to move to SSL support for the sites that I run to avoid them being blacklist, but tsoHost has steadfastly refused to implement it for their cpanel-based customers without a significant increase in charges. So it seemed like it was time to think about a change.

It turns out that some of the original 5quidhost founders have fetched up at Stablepoint, so I thought I give them a look. They do have included SSL, but more to the point it was a good opportunity for me to split out the sites I author (it’s only really 2 currently, with one for my partner) into separate environments rather than having them sub’d off the base domain. So far I’ve only moved my personal domain – bassoongb.net – but this seems to have gone pretty well. I’ve taken the monthly subscription for now just to make sure it all works before committing for the other sites for a longer period.

The move has been pretty straightforward. SSL worked out of the box. Even the mail move proved uneventful, mainly because I have used POP3 so really had no mail to move server-to-server. While I do like the benefits of IMAP, I’ve been quite disciplined in my POP usage, and tend to only send a lot of mail from one place. I guess it’s also because when I started this internet lark POP was all that was available – I’m a dinosaur really.

Naturally it’s also turned into an opportunity to “freshen up” the website…

The Hunt for Red October

No, not really the old Sean Connery/Alec Baldwin subsea adventure, but the search for a Linux distribution that could possibly replace Windoze as my day to day workstation platform. I’m not planning on the exhaustive evaluation of, say, the “top 20” Linux distros, but I have been weeding the criteria down.

(1) I don’t really want to be delving into the weeds of the operating system. For example I don’t ideally want to be compiling my own binaries. I do have a technical background, and I want to be able to see more than Windoze shows me, but I do have a life. I expect this will discount Arch-based distros and others that need a lot of customisation.

(2) Speaking of customisation, I’d like the desktop to be reasonably familiar but I’m not averse to doing SOME work to get to what I want. After all, I’ve tinkered with the desktop in Windows for years already. However, I’m not in the mood to install tons of extensions. As you might guess this is tending me away from Gnome-centric distros. I started with plain Ubuntu (20.04 LTS) for example, then moved on to Ubuntu Mate, which I preferred, but would still require quite a lot of messing. I’ve never used a Mac in anger, so simple things like windows close buttons on the left have me reeling. I also have large screens, so having what amounts to a split task bar (yes, I know they’re called “panels”) isn’t working for me.

(3) It probably goes without saying, but there are some applications that I’ve come to depend on, some of which don’t have direct Linux equivalents. I also have some that DO have direct counterpoints, and it would be nice to find those already in the distro. So I liked the look of KDE Neon, but it is relatively light on pre-installed apps. The slightly less bleeding edge Kubuntu does come with more pre-installed, and Firefox, Thunderbird and Libreoffice are on my list. It’s become my favourite so far. I’m sure there will be more discussion of this later.

(4) I’d love to find some new features and functions, or simply some improved methods. For example my current backup and synchronisation tools leave something to be desired. I’m also very optimistic about KDE Connect for combining my mobile phone with the desktop – very easy to set up in the first place (compared with the Microsoft “equivalent”).

I’m more or less resigned to using Wine for a few apps, but if anyone can find a straightforward way of importing 25 years of financial transactions into an alternative tool to Quicken2000 I’ll be all ears. I’ve tried many of the Opensource alternatives, and I think I’m just too old to attempt Gnucash 🙂