Category Archives: Hardware

Making Mint 18 Work For My Situation: Downgrading The Kernel

I truly love Mint 18 Beta, but as I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been having random freezes, 2 or 3 a day when doing general computer work, and 100% of the time if I try to Normalize audio in Audacity. These freezing problems were also occurring in Mint 17.3 after I let a kernel update proceed.

After much experimenting while running Mint 17.3, I found  the 3.16 kernel to be totally stable on my current platform.. Wanting to run Mint 18 Beta for its obvious software upgrades, I decided to attempt to downgrade the kernel.

Because the Update Manager does not offer a way to downgrade kernels using the GUI, I did it manually.

First was to find the kernel I wished to install. The kernel I wanted is in the Ubuntu Trusty kernel repository.

It is extremely important that you download the kernel image for your hardware architecture!

The kernel designed for my machine is the: linux-image-3.16.7-992-generic_3.16.7-992.201604152257_amd64.deb package

Once downloaded, you can simply double click on the package to open the package installer automatically, and once the installer reports that all dependencies are met, go ahead and install it.

Next, reboot your machine, and using the grub menu, select the kernel you wish to boot into. If you don’t see a grub menu at system startup, you can follow these instructions:

To show the grub menu at boot, you need to edit the GRUB config file, as I was booting quietly, not displaying the boot menu. To do that, simply drop to a terminal and edit it with your favorite text editor. I use medit

$ sudo medit /etc/default/grub

will open your text editor in super user mode.

Edit grub

Edit grub

Editing Grub

Editing Grub

You’ll see in the above example, I’ve commented out, using the # symbol, to have the boot process ignore the two commands at lines 7 and 8. Doing this, will now let me see the grub boot menu at startup. Save and close the file, and then, it’s very important that you tell grub that you’ve changed it. Do this by issuing the command:

$ sudo update-grub

Now it’s time to reboot. When you do, at the grub boot window, arrow down to Select previous Linux version, and select that.

 

Since downgrading my kernel, I have had zero, none, nada freezes on this machine. All the applications that are designed for Mint 18 work without issue, and I am one happy goat farmer!

Showing Mint 18 with older kernel

Showing Mint 18 with older kernel

When you’re done, go ahead and uninstall the kernels that were causing you problems.

As new versions of kernel version 4.2+ are released, I will of course give them a try as time allows.

Upgrading My Old Raspberry Pi Kodi To A Pi Model 2

My  Kodi has been working quite well since I got it up and running on a 3 year old Pi a couple of months ago. Little things were bugging me though, when using the web interface,

With a movie running, pressing Stop in the web interface, took a couple of seconds to stop the stream, and then I would lose my connection between my desktop and the Kodi box. Also, only two people could stream at the same time, say one on the main TV and another watching on a phone. The third person trying to watch, would pretty much kill it.

No problem though, as Pi’s are so cheap, I replaced my B+ with a newer Model 2 with 1 gig or RAM an 4 processors.

Upgrading is easy as 1-2-3:

  1. Backup current Kodi using the OpenELEC settings menu
  2. Install the OpenELEC built for the Raspberry Pi 2 on a new microSD
  3. Boot up the new machine, and do a restore!

It was not a surprise that the backup took about 15 minutes on the old Kodi, but once I had the new one set up just right; backing up the Pi 2 only took about ~60 seconds!!

Any issues I’d had with my first generation Pi, are gone with the new one. With the Pi 3 just being released, I may even upgrade yet again in a couple of months.

The old model B+ Pi will not go to waste however, as my next project is some automation for my goat web cam!

 

New Project: Building A Kodi Media Server

January has been busy with many projects on the farm. Our Linux related project was the building of a Kodi *(Formally XBMC) media server.

Kodi Logo

Kodi Logo

We have hundreds of goat and other home movies, as well as an extensive library of our favorite films. The vast majority of our media have been stored for years on DVD, often stuck into one of our stack of Sony 400 DVD disk changers for easy viewing. Well the disk changers are getting old, 2 of them have stopped working all together, so why not play our media from hard disk instead!

There is always an old computer or two laying around the farm, doing nothing, but we decided it would be fun to build our Kodi box out of a Raspberry Pi computer instead!

We got our Pi from Amazon, in a kit that included the case, power supply, WiFi adapter, and a heat sink for the processor. For media storage, we purchased an external 5tb hard drive, which at the compression level we’re using, should hold over 1000 full length movies, plus my extensive collection of old time radio shows I’ve been collecting for over 50 years.

A trip to the Kodi.tv download page let us select the disk image required for our Raspberry Pi.

Once our disk image was downloaded, we used the Disks utility in the Linux Mint Control Center to select and then burn the disk image to a 16gb Class 10 micro SD card. Entire process took about 10 minutes.

Writing the disk image

Writing the disk image

Once burned, insert the micro SD card into your Raspberry Pi, and boot it up. Our bedroom TV will be getting the file server, so the Pi is plugged into our 32 inch LED TV with an HDMI cable.

Once booted, you can go into the various setup screens to make your new file server look and behave just how you’d like it to.

Movie demo screen from Kodi.tv

Movie demo screen from Kodi.tv

I’d recommend plugging a USB keyboard and mouse into your Raspberry Pi to make things easier when doing setup, like connecting to your home WiFi network.

What kind of media is entirely up to you. If your local laws allow fair use of your commercial DVD’s and music, then put them on your Kodi, and enjoy them easier than ever before!  Spending so much time in bed as I do, because of my Multiple Sclerosis, it’s sure nice to find a favorite film without digging through stacks of disks!

Kore Android Applicaiton

Kore Android Applicaiton

The next thing you want to do is install the free Kore, Kodi application for your phone or tablet. Kore gives you complete control of your Kodi server, and allows you to browse the content of your server in real time, as well as do maintenance duties like updating your media lists and descriptions.

Additionally, there are tons of open source additions to your Kodi that you can download directly from your Kodi server. Setting our home screen up with time and weather was the first thing we did. Adding Youtube and other favorite video sources to your Kodi just takes a few clicks.

Add ons are so easy to build, that I’ve already got one put together for our GoatsLive web site. Looking forward to submitting it for inclusion in the official repository!

After 3 weeks of use, my only complaint about this system, is why I didn’t do it much sooner!

Important Facts About Kodi

The Kodi team are open source developers. Kodi does NOT sell hardware,  they just make their wonderful software available to anyone who wants to use it.

The Kodi name and logo are trademarked by the Kodi team, and may not be used by sellers of hardware. Please do not be suckered in to purchasing a  “Free Internet TV” type of box that are sold online via ebay and youtube. These sources, with very few exceptions, are promoting and selling devices that are designed for piracy, using the good name of Kodi to do it. Most of these devices are selling in the $300 price range, but you can build a proper, legal Kodi box for as little as $35!

If you see someone selling Kodi branded hardware, please let the fine folks at Kodi know by using THIS LINK

What A Ride That Was – Surviving The Cancer Cure

It’s been a difficult summer here on the farm…

As if having severe Multiple Sclerosis wasn’t enough for me to deal with, a routine screening test suggested I might have had colon cancer, and indeed I did. One tiny spot, caught very early and self-contained. I called a surgeon I’ve known for 15 years and we scheduled a time to get it snipped out.

abdomenSurgery went well, I was declared cancer free, and I was home in 5 days.

I’d been home 3 days, when I sneezed one afternoon and blew apart where the two ends of colon had been rejoined. The medico’s call this an anastomosis.

This of course filled my abdomen with fecal matter, causing a huge mess to clean out, and now a massive infection to treat! After the sneeze, we went right back to the hospital, it was only an hour before I was back under the knife.

The second operation got me flushed out and also made me the proud owner of a colostomy, which will  be permanent.

To this old engineer turned goat herder, it wasn’t a problem. It’s just plumbing and I’m still alive so all is well.

It didn’t end there though.. 2 days before my second discharge, the hospital physical therapist wanted me out of bed and into a chair. OK, I managed that with some help. An hour later he came back to help me back to bed.

hazmatI stood up from the chair, and in standing, ruptured my insides yet again. All over the hospital room floor. I’ve never seen so many Hazmat suits in my life!

Staff tossed me back on my bed and wheeled me straight back to the operating theatre.

Third time was the charm for getting everything back together and in working order. My plumbing was working but this time I ended up in a coma. I was partially awake, but could not identify my wife, dad, pastor, my own name etcetera. My wife and staff said the only words I managed to utter for 3 days was, “I’m sorry”

While the cause of the coma is still being debated, I came out of it completely after I was given an injection of my M.S. drug that I’d been off of for 3 weeks. I was unaware I wasn’t getting it with all the other jabs during my stay. My insurance company didn’t want to send doses to the hospital for some reason (the drug is over $1400 a dose) and nobody told me.

It’s a powerful drug, one that you just can’t stop taking!

It was my dad, who had flown down to help support my wife and son, who went to my house, picked up a dose of my M.S drug  and took it to the hospital and insisted that they give it to me. Thanks dad!

So after a month in the hospital then a couple of months sleeping in my own bed, with a great nurse in and out  all the time giving me IV drips and changing dressings. (I’m gutted like a fish, sternum to pubic bone) I’m feeling almost back to my old self. In my final appointment with my surgeon, he said flat out it was faith in God that kept me alive, he said I was really too sick to survive otherwise. Thank you Jesus!

What got me through all of the above? I’m a person of faith, so lots of prayers from family and friends of course. My bride of 34 years, Debbie, and my cheap Dell laptop running Mint 17 at my bedside so that I could see my goats and read my favorite Linux blogs!

Not a single person entering my room missed the goats, and a few even asked, “What Windows version is that? I’ve never seen it!”

The worst part of my recovery happened in late August, when my prized goat Molly, woke me up at 4am in pain. Turned out she had cancer too. Sadly, she did not survive her surgery however, and losing her really hit me hard. Getting new goats became a priority for my own sanity. You can read Molly’s entire story HERE

My only real problem with having an ostomy, is where do I carry all my crap? Wallet, 3 remote controls, phone, multi-tool, business cards, .45 sidearm, etcetera used to sit nicely in a fanny pack around my waist. Fanny pack, or indeed any other belt is no longer possible with the colostomy…

 

 

 

 

Hardware: Design Your Next Project With Fritzing

As an electrical engineer, I have used many freeware, shareware, and very expensive paid software packages for circuit design.

The best I have ever found, for any price, is Fritzing

You’ll find it in your Package Manager, just do a search for it, and then do the install. It will install the main program, plus the data files.

Package Manager installing Fritzing

Package Manager installing Fritzing

The beauty of this software, is that it’s not just software, there is also an entire community on their web site *(above link) where you can learn not only how to use the software, but also how to get started designing electronics projects yourself.

Using the software, you can drag and drop components directly on to a breadboard, hook them up with wires, and then click over to the schematic tab or the circuit board tab so you can even etch your own circuit board for your project.

Fritzing breadboard, with some random parts stuck to it.

Fritzing breadboard, with some random parts stuck to it.

What I really like is that not only do they include basic components like resistors, capacitors, inductors etc., it also includes entire modules for systems like the Raspberry Pi,  Arduino, and many of the great kit boards from Sparkfun

You can spend hours and hours on their web site, and if you’re new to electronics, I’d recommend you start Right Here

Fritzing Web Site

Fritzing Web Site

So turn on the Maker inside of you, and start learning, designing, and playing with your new creations!