Tech

So I have formatted the external drive to ext4 and have it ready for NextCloud. Issue now is how to provide enough power for the RPi, 7” touch screen and an external HDD from a single USB-C charge brick. Ideas?

Spent the morning deploying my local NextCloud instance on a Raspberry Pi. Will be adding an external HDD storage tomorrow - or maybe wait for an external SSD instead. #deGoogle

Who is running Vaultwarden here? Does it need the annual license from Bitwarden to use multi-user and Yubikeys? #FOSS

The union of the Ethernet port and the 5G mobile wi-fi access point gives this gadget a whole lot more functionality. #mbmay

Union

posted on Flickr

Agnes Larsson talking about Minecraft on #TED2022 - saying that Zucka’s metaverse is NOT THE ONLY metaverse, which is true!

Going 64 and saying good-bye to “pi”

RaspberryPi OS just got refreshed — this time, it ditched the default user account, “pi”, in favor of user-created account name on first run. In addition to this, you can now pair a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse during the configuration process, making it easier to setup a RaspberryPi without messing with USB cables. These are just some of the new features added in the 04-04-2022 release.

This morning, I figured that I might give the 64-bit version another try and see if I can finally replace the 32-bit Bullseye install currently running on the RPi. So, off I went to download the installer.

I unwrapped a new 32GB SD card and flashed it with the new 64-bit RaspiOS. Using the spare Raspberry Pi 4, I booted the new OS to test the new features. As advertised, it asked me to provide the username. The RPi is connected to a touchscreen display, so there is no need for a mouse, but a keyboard is required since the installer did not come with on-screen keyboard support enabled at the get go. Tapping the Bluetooth icon quickly detected an old wireless Logitech keyboard (bought this a couple of months ago and have not used it yet).

Doing the usual — removed Geany, Thonny and Chromium, since they’re useless to me, but added Midori (but was replaced by Firefox-ESR since Midori was acting a bit weird) as browser. Installing Pi-Hole hit a snag since it didn’t detect the usual operating system, but a quick addition of a parameter to ignore the OS check did the trick. Log2ram, VNC, Unbound, Rclone, Plexmedia, and YT-dlp were added and configured. With the basic software up and running, the new 64-bit RaspiOS now powers the home media server and the Pi-Hole that protects the home network.

Lastly, the Siri shortcuts that I have on my iPhone, iPad and Mac need to be modified to reflect the new user subdirectory as /home/pi is no longer valid. Also need to change the SSH keys.

Everything is up and running now – hoping that the next OS upgrade can be done without re-installing the entire thing again. Now time to clone the SD card.

Spinning up my own cloud desktop

Sometimes I find myself wishing that I have a Linux desktop that I can access remotely. Whilst having a cloud-based desktop is not new, it is, however, a bit expensive when used sparingly. If, however, you prefer working on the cloud-based desktop most of the time, then it becomes affordable (Shells.com offer one at $4.95/mo for 10 hours of use, Microsoft and Amazon have similar products, though not sure of their pricing).

Ponying up $4.95/mo for 10 hours of use for a single purpose subscription is not really an option for me. I do have Linux servers running 24x7 for the same price — currently have one running the kids’ Minecraft server and works as WireGuard VPN server at the same time. Heck, I have another server on Oracle that is on the free-tier, but this one is exclusively running WireGuard VPN.

I decided to give VNC on the Minecraft server a try and see if it’ll work. So I went off armed with the guide, “How to Install and Configure VNC on Ubuntu 20.04”, written by Mark Drake. It does not take you long to do the install and configuration.

With the Minecraft server now running VNC, the next step is to test it. On the iPad Pro, I use Screens as my Remote Desktop app. I use it to access my Raspberry Pi desktop when I need to run SD Copier to clone the main system. I also use it when rclone.org requires a browser to generate the access tokens.

The guide protects the VNC by limiting access to localhost, i.e., you cannot connect directly to the server from the internet (besides, the ports are also blocked). First, I tried connecting to the server via the WireGuard VPN and then get Screens to connect, but that failed. Yeah, I know this was not part of Mark’s guide — tried it, even with the firewall deactivated. No dice.

With the firewall up and ports blocked again, I configured Screens to establish an SSH tunnel (as written on Mark’s guide) and then connect VNC. Copying the SSH keys from the MacBook Pro and setting Screens to connect to localhost got it working. The desktop appeared on my iPad Pro! Not bad.

A quick install of a lightweight browser, Midori, completed the exercise. A couple of reboots made sure that everything is automatically launched on boot. Now my cloud desktop is up and running.

Anyway, I prefer working locally, i.e., not on the cloud (yeah, I don’t like using online productivity suites like Google Docs or Office365), and on the device (not a fan of Chromebooks, too). When your internet connection is expensive and unreliable, then you’d understand.

screenshot of Screens Remote Desktop iPadOS app

The Digital Tickler

Back in college, I remember being forced (by law) to join the ROTC. I still remember being required to bring in a tickler - a small, pocketable notebook for taking whatever notes the lieutenants thought were important. That did not last long for me, though, since after that first meeting, I got transferred to some other unit that didn’t require it. That handy-dandy notebook (proof that I watched Blue’s Clues with my kids) sure had a place in your everyday carry (EDC).

The iPad Mini was just that - a small, pocketable iPad, a digital tickler, and with the latest iPad Mini supporting the Apple Pencil, it was just a perfect note-taking device. I’m amazed by how Scribble understands my ridiculously ugly handwriting! The Quick Note feature is just gravy on my note-taking workflow.

Armed with a highly-capable A15 Bionic chip, which is one of the fastest and energy efficient mobile processors in the market today, and coupled with a gorgeous display (although not ProMotion) and WiFi-6 and 5G connectivity, this small iPad can now replace my iPad Pro in my EDC (though I rarely leave home these days – only when extremely necessary).

The iPad Mini now comes with a USB-C port, which means that I have to carry two types of cables, the USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to Lightning. Unfortunately, whilst not the iPad Mini’s fault, the Sandisk iXPand Luxe drive (USB-C and Lightning) does not work (it won’t work on the M1 iPad Pro either), but the Sandisk Extreme Pro portable SSD drive works! The USB-C YubiKey dongle works, though, which is great!

The iPad Mini does not come with FaceID, but Apple added TouchID without the Home button. I wish that it was under the display (I guess until Apple perfects it - make it secure, accurate and fast - we won’t see it on any device), but the fingerprint scanner is on the button at the top. When you first enroll your finger, it will ask you to do it whilst the iPad is on portrait orientation and then immediately ask you to do it when it is on landscape orientation. If you don’t have a FaceID-enabled device, then it is fine, otherwise, you need to re-train yourself to reach that button to authenticate. Yeah, FaceID spoiled me. Why can’t Apple add TouchID, along with FaceID, on the iPhone – surely would be safer when wearing face masks?! :)

Whatever you can do on your big iPad or iPad Air or iPad Pro, you can mostly do with the iPad Mini, and I am pretty happy with the portability of this tiny, handy-dandy, digital tickler! Now I am looking for a case or pouch that can store an Apple Pencil, USB-C charger, and two USB-C cables – any suggestions?

Why don't you try the decentralized web that is not web3?

We hear about Web3 supporters talking about decentralization as if it is a new thing - it isn’t really. Jack Dorsey posted this recently.

and he was referring to the days before greed powers most of the internet services.

Regaining control from those who have centralized the internet means not patronizing them, and yes, it is possible, albeit not easily convenient, but possible.

In his tweet, Dorsey mention e-mail, which is decentalized - anybody can spin up their own mailserver (not that it is recommended because maintaining and securing it is a full-time job) and still exchange e-mail with others. With this, you can easily change e-mail providers (and e-mail addresses) without being cut-off from the service. Yes, you can actually ditch Gmail for a more privacy-respecting alternative (they key is to set your gmail address to forward it to your new e-mail address for a few weeks so any correspondence won’t get lost until your contacts start using your new e-mail).

He also mentioned Internet Relay Chat (IRC), a decentralized group chat service. Today, a better (IMHO) alternative is Matrix-based group chat (see matrix.org) because it is decentralized, free and open source and fully end-to-end encrypted. Frankly, the matrix protocol is probably the future of messaging – something which I hope Apple will bake-in iMessage. I urge you to try it out at matrix.org and start joining channels based on your interests. Let me know if you have a favorite one, but if you are reading this on the Manila Bulletin TechNews section, how about you try to join matrix.to

Usenet was also mentioned - another decentralized service for communities. I remember interacting with people on soc.culture.filipino (SCF) during the early days of the internet in the Philippines (in fact, was doing so even before that!). You think Facebook Groups, this one was far better – no algorithmic manipulation, and moderation was done by the community members! Mastodon is the closest decentralized equivalent to this, and the Mastodon communities are thriving. You can find me on Mastodon as @rpf@mastodon.social (see you there?).

It is time that you start exploring the decentralized web, and reduce your dependence on centralized services that are optimized for surveillance and profit. See you in the fediverse.

Reviving an original iPhone SE

Reviving an original iPhone SE and now upgrading it to iOS 15.4 (yes, the latest iOS version - talk about long term support!). I don’t have a SIM for this right now (I had one but found out that it has been disabled by the telco already) – will the new DITO telco work even if iPhones are not listed as compatible?

Are you a super spreader?

With barely two (2) months away, the May 2022 campaign disinformation network is firing on all cylinders. Yes, you got that right - disinformation! Information that is deliberately false with the objective of misleading others. What is even more concerning is that disinformation is from all sides - those aligned with the current administration and those opposed to it.

It is not easy not to fall victim to the propaganda, specially they are spread by people you love, people you trust, and today, even news media that you think are better. There are news media outlet that are obviously biased, you know that - don’t fall for the illusion that they are fair. Gone are those days when they are expected to be fair, but now, it is all about ratings and clicks, or even worse, whoever the investors support. And these news media extend their reach through social media.

Ask yourself, what kind of news riles up people? Now check the headlines from your favorite news media. The news often pisses you off, right? Yeah, those sell at lot, too! Same tactic used by the likes of Facebook – more hate, more anger mean more engagements, more views, more clicks, which translate to big bucks! The March 17, 2022 episode (episode 7: Media) of the Apple TV+ TV show, “The Problem with Jon Stewart”, might help you understand it better.

A few days ago, I genuinely asked my small network on Twitter for reliable and reputable sources for information that is seemingly considered as fact by friends and acquiantances. Surprisingly, not a single one has provided me with one - either they don’t know or they don’t care – and yet they contribute to spreading this unverified information. I mentioned earlier, we all fall victim to disinformation. One way to help stop it is to stop using social media, specially Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and even YouTube, where these are spread rapidly.

OK, ditching social media might be too extreme and unrealistic, so the next big thing is to STOP SHARING unverified information (deepfakes, manipulated photos and twisted facts). Yeah, I know it is too much hassle – imagine, reading a post, which you may find to be too important not to share, but you need to do some extra to validate it first, whilst your friends are sharing irresponsibly. Unfortunately, this is the only way to go.

Remember, the temptation to share is strong, but think twice before you do please. Are you a disinformation super spreader?

Going back to basics

As Apple continues to provide users with more ways to extend the functionality of the underlying device operating system, I thought that maybe it is time to explore what it can do without resorting to writing your own third-party application or purchasing/subscribing to another.

I know that it might be crazy, but if it means saving money from purchasing or subscribing to another software because it has more features beyond the basic functionality that is needed and offered by the stock operating system (and bundled software), then it is worth the exercise.

Let’s start with calendar. I have been a Fantastical user for quite some time. It has features that the built-in calendar application, let’s call it Calendar.app (on both iOS and MacOS), does not have. When Fantastical became a subscription-model (there is nothing wrong with this as it is a viable way to continue supporting the development of the software and services), I figured that I’d stick to Calendar.app since I am not a Fantastical power-user anyway. There is a limited, free Fantastical tier, which I was using before, but one less application to depend on it still a good deal. Frankly, the consistent Microsoft Office 365 nagging was the final nail on the coffin (I know it isn’t Fantastical’s fault, but for some reason without Fantastical, I get pestered less).

One feature that Fantastical has now is the way it handles video conferencing schedules. I know that I can add Zoom to my work Office 365 account, but being a stickler for privacy, I’d rather keep things separate (yeah, there is a one-way link because of the email containing Zoom meeting details, but that is as far as it goes). That being said, I wrote a shortcut that parses the Zoom meeting information and creates the event on Calendar.app. So, now I have the Fantastical functionality! :)

Another is 1Password. I have written about experimenting on using only the iCloud Keychain Password, and with the latest OS upgrades, it now has support for notes. I am still using 1Password as I still use Firefox as a secondary browser, and I couldn’t get the built-in password maanger to interface with it. I am still waiting for Apple to support Family Sharing of specific passwords. I am still on the fence on shifting to BitWarden from 1Password, but that is for another day.

Currently, I am using two e-mail applications, the built-in e-mail client, Mail.app, and FMail, a Fastmail third-party e-mail interface. This is how I separate personal and work email, but I could merge them together, but Fastmail has so much more functionality that Mail.app does not have.

I am still midway through the process of going back to using all stock applications instead of using third-parties. I am hoping that Apple continues to improve the stock applications and make them at feature-parity with popular applications.

Are you running an Electron app on Apple Silicon? Does it need Rosetta? Asking for a friend.

Spending the start of the day updating devices – iOS 15.4, iPadOS 15.4, watchOS 8.5, macOS 12.3, tvOS 15.3, and HomePod 15.4 are now out.

With Facebook and Twitter out, Russians must pivot to disseminate news on the ground, and access reliable news directly

With Facebook and Twitter blocked in Russia, Russians can post on their own blogs (self-hosted or otherwise, and not be controlled (and profitted from) by Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, you name it), and also access reliable news sources directly (e.g., BBC is now on the TOR network, so it is more complex to blocked by authorities) – which they should have done a long time ago.

Battling disinformation during #Halalan2022

Disinformation campaigns have revved up as the May 2022 national elections nears. There is no single political candidate who can dare say that they and their supporters are not churning out disinformation. The holier-than-thou marketing of some candidates easily gets negated when they and their followers spew out disinformation on social media. Can they dare condemn these followers of theirs for doing this? Highly doubt so.

Different organizations in the Philippines are trying to combat the spread of disinformation. Unfortunately, not a single group or organization has addressed the elephant in the room - technology companies that profit from the spread of disinformation. From Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Tiktok to Twitter, they are all spreading disinformation, because it is more profitable than spreading facts and the truth. Why not condemn them from promoting disinformation and misinformation for profit? Are they scared of these companies? I’d understand the PH telcos, they have been in bed with the likes of Facebook for a long time already, even when there are hints of anti-competitive behaviour there, but religious and academic groups not addressing the source of the spread of disinformation is the question.

The Washington Post has a guide to avoiding misinformation, “How to avoid falling for and spreading misinformation about Ukraine”. Whilst this was written particularly to avoid inaccurate news about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, this guide works for all others, specially #Halalan2022.

The TL;DR is simple - do not believe everything that is shared with you on social media (not even from your family and friends or even verified accounts or some obviously biased media outfits), so do not share/like/retweet them. Be skeptical of these shared content. Remember, text and photo manipulation are very easy to do, and deep fake is not that complex anymore, so any text, photo, video and/or sound clip shared should not be taken as true or fact.

Whilst I believe that print media has a far better batting average in publishing facts and truths than broadcast or online media, select those that you think are fair and unbiased. As Washington Post recommended, start a collection of trusted sources. I’d recommend that you use an RSS reader (try NetNewsWire) to get the news straight from the source, without any influence by tech companies' recommendation engines (which are optimized to spread misinformation and disinformation, and hate).

Protect yourself from being bombarded by disinformation and misinformation, stay away from Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Tiktok and Twitter. You won’t be inundated with these types of posts, and even better, you won’t share/like/re-tweet it. :)