Grant McWilliams

Valentine's day weekend

For Valentine's day weekend I take my significant other to Canada. Well, that's not the plan usually but in the Seattle area we don't have a lot of other choices besides Canada and HippyVille (Portland) if we want to get out of town. Last year we took the Victoria Clipper to Victoria BC. This year we took the Amtrak Cascades to Vancouver BC.  Due to site maintenance the photos have just now gone up - vancouver-bc-2015

By far my favorite way of getting to Vancouver is by train. There's two trips per day, it only takes about 3 hrs from Everett, the view of the Puget Sound is wonderful and it's comfortable. Usually tickets run about $20 each way. I know you can drive it in about the same amount of time but it's just not the same. Culturally Vancouver isn't THAT much different than Seattle although it seems to be a bit more cosmopolitan. The three things that give Vancouver somewhat of a "foreign air" is the Canadian Currency, the Metric System and the number of people with French accents. However, when we drive to Vancouver it doesn't feel that much different than going to Portland or Spokane because you're isolated from the people around you. When you take the train you rub elbows with the locals, use the Skytrain, Seabus, Aquabus and regular buses to get around. It FEELS like you went somewhere.  I highly recommend it.

When I stay in Vancouver I like the little quaint hotels and my favorite is the Victorian Hotel on Homer. It's sort of a bed-and-breakfast flavored hotel but you have to book ahead as it's not big and they fill fast. Check booking.com for the best deals (often cheaper than the Victorians own website). They also have ONE family room with three beds which we works well when the whole family is with us. They give you a nice breakfast and the service is good. Something happened when I booked though and I made the reservation for March instead of February and the Victorian was full when we arrived leaving us without a room. The nice lady at the Victorian set us up with a room at the Kingsman Bed and Breakfast. The one rule I've learned when a hotel is full and they reserve you a room somewhere else is that other room won't be as good as the one you wanted. Why? Because they will NEVER book you in a hotel that's a better deal then their own or you wouldn't come back! The other room will either be more expensive or won't be as nice. In the case of the Kingsman it was both more expensive and not as nice. It's called Bed and Breakfast and I suppose if you think a man handing you a bagel in the morning is breakfast than the title is fitting. The beds are in very dark depressing hallways and the there's ONE (count it) bathroom/shower on every floor so get up early if you want to be clean. The ONLY nice thing I can say about the Kingsman is it's across the street from Medina Cafe which has long lines in the morning. From the windows of the Kingsman you can keep an eye on the line so you can get quicker. 

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Site maintenance is done

It's been a long month or so.  The Man, the Myth, the Legend has been on the Internet for about 10 years now with 6 million page views (counter says 5 million as I restored from a backup). The current rendition of the site started with Joomla 1.1 in 2005. We then migrated to 1.5 which broke a bunch of things (Gallery2 being the big one). Then we upgraded to 1.6 and 1.7. Another migration took us to Joomla! 2.5 which is where we stayed for years. Joomla 2.5 was end-of-lifed on January 1st so there would be no more security updates forcing us to do the big move to Joomla! 3.4.

Recently we were using various pieces of software that had to be updated:

  • Joomla 2.5
  • Sobi
  • Gallery2/Gallery2 bridge
  • K2 with Disqus comments
  • Docman

The first component I wanted to get rid of was Gallery2 as I was embedding it into Joomla with a bridge. It had a weird single sign-on that sort of worked and felt old and slow. My Gallery2 installation actually pre-dates my Joomla! installation although I don't remember how many years earlier.  During one of the upgrades the bridge stopped working so I had to move to JFusion as my bridge. Then Gallery2 stopped being developed which left me dead in the water for updates. About a year ago Ignite Gallery became good enough to migrate to - all 10,000 photos! That process took about a month. 

The next component I wanted to get rid of was K2. K2 handled my blogging features, custom fields (which I wasn't using), Disqus comments, tags and more.  Originally Joomla! didn't have a lot of blogging features so I tried out a bunch of the commercial offerings such as MyBlog and EasyBlog. One or the other refused to update his component because he didn't like the license change with Joomla! 1.6 so I moved to the other. I eventually moved to K2 as it had real ACLs, tags and hierarchical categories which were missing in early Joomla versions. Joomla 2.5 got us the all of those things so I stopped needing K2 but since I had over 500 articles written in it  I was stuck. I recently found a migration plugin that would copy all of my K2 articles to Joomla Articles. It mostly worked.

Docman got replaced with PhocaDownloads which I'm reasonably happy with.

Sobi which I liked got replaced with Sobi2 because they stopped developing the original. Sobi2 has issues from what I can see.

 

I'm now running on:

  • Joomla! 3.4.x
  • Native Joomla Articles
  • PhocaDownloads
  • Sobi2 (for reviews/recipes)
  • Disqus plugin

 

While I was cleaning things up I went through the database and got rid of any tables no longer needed. My database went from 252 tables to 125! Even more amazing the database size went from 160 MB to 20 MB. I've also cleaned up templates, graphics, CSS files, and found replacements for modules and plugins associated with the software above. K2 had it's fingers in everything so it took a while to get rid of it. 

I have not spent this amount of time in one spot on this website in 10 years! So far I'm happy with it and you can expect more articles in short succession as I feel OK contributing again. I've just spent the last week optimizing and I'll write another article about that in the future.

Site maintenance causing intermittent availability

We've been doing massive restructuring of the hardware that underlies The Man, The Myth, The Legend.  I'll outline the changes in a later post when I'm done but you'll probably notice that the site has been down multiple times and there's probably a few more reboots to go before I'm done. I have several articles waiting to go up but have been holding off until the move was finished. Later in the month I'm moving more hardware out from under the site but due to the changes I've made this week that will entail one outage and no more (in theory). 

Oh, and there's a lot of stuff that just isn't working right. Feeds are messed up, the "Green Guy" logo is missing, blocks not configured right etc.. I'm putting it all back together as I get time.

Stay tuned!

Fedora automated install on Xenserver updated.

I have a tendency to keep using the same tutorials of mine and only when I need them updated do I go through the process of writing, testing and publishing the changes. However, when people attempt to use my Xenserver tutorials to install newer versions of Linux I tend to go update them but if nobody asks then they get ignored. You can tell which tutorials I use by which ones are up-to-date. For instance the Ubuntu Automated Install is still stuck at Ubuntu 12.04. That probably needs to be rectified but since I rarely use Ubuntu it's on the back burner (Kali/Wheezy will get update first probably). 

Today's announcement concerns Fedora 20 on Xenserver. I started using Fedora (again) when the wonderful version 17 came out. Then 18 was released with new bugs followed by 19 which had the same bugs and a ridiculous installer. Fedora 20 still has the same odd installer bits with the same usability issues (OK button is either on the top left or bottom right depending on what you're doing) but Fedora 17 just isn't being supported anymore so I've updated to Korora 20 which is based on Fedora 20. Due to popular demand this also means that my Fedora 17 on Xenserver tutorial just got updated as well.

As usual I only use the x86_64 tutorials so I blindly updated the i386 version as well but have not tested it.

Enjoy!

Fedora 20 x86_64 Automated Install

Fedora 20 i386 Automated Install

 

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Goodbye Gallery2, hello Ignite - it was a nice 10 years.

Before I started using Joomla! I had a website with a photo gallery for my travel/food/other photos. Due to not wanting to create a PHP photo gallery from scratch I used Gallery1 which did a fine job. Later when Gallery2 became available I migrated to that. At some point I realized that creating my own HTML website was a lot harder than just using a Content Management System so I rolled out Xoops and a couple of other CMSes and each time I realized they were buggy and/or limited. When the Mambo development team forked Joomla! I installed it and thought that it had enough promise to stick around for a while. I went from Joomla! 1.0 to 2.5 over the years (and my other sites - Recessionchef.com, xenapiadmin.com and xenmagic.com are running newer versions still).

It's been a struggle to keep Gallery2 embedded inside of Joomla!. During the Joomla 1.x series I had a connector made specially for Gallery2 but the developer decided not to update the component when Joomla broke the old code with 1.5/1.6 so I had to find a new connector which I did in JFusion. JFusion connects a lot of outside software to Joomla and it was successful in embedding Gallery2 in Joomla!. It wasn't perfect though and Gallery2 was starting to look very old and slow. Web2.0 happened and Gallery2 didn't notice so I started looking for replacements knowing that moving 10,000 photos wasn't going to be easy so I took the job very serious. Each year I'd look for a native Joomla Photo gallery that supported hierarchies and every year I patched Gallery2 up a bit more to keep it running. This year things became critical because the developers of Gallery2 abandoned it. They realized that a complete rewrite would have to happen and there was no reason to do it. This also meant that vulnerabilities wouldn't be fixed. The search intensified. 

This year I ran into Ignite Gallery which is native to Joomla, supports galleries in galleries and looked fairly nice. The download cost was $40 for one year of support and the code is GPL which I'm willing to pay for. After installing it and testing a few galleries I decided to go all the way and migrate Gallery2 to Ignite. In hindsight I should have written migration software to do it for me but it seemed so easy - create galleries, select my gallery2 photos in the Ignite file selector and upload - voila!  Come to find out I had 550 galleries and 11,000 photos. About halfway though I'd invested too much time to quit and I pushed through. Two months later I'm done with the migration. 

As of now all photos have been uploaded into Ignite. There are some issues with the software that I have to work through as well as theming but for the most part I'm happy. The gallery runs fast on the front-end (slow as heck on the backend though) and it's easy to browse. 

So without further ado may I present my photo galleries. 

Travel Gallery

Photography Portfolio

 

Going back to Canon

I haven't done a proper review of my Sony RX-100 yet as I haven't really felt like writing about it. I've used Canon Point and shoot cameras for years (s230, sd500, sd870, G7, s90) but Sony just plain outgunned them in every aspect short of one - usability. The RX-100 is a phenomenal piece of equipment with a sensor 3 times larger than the Canon S120 and a much faster lens too. This thing just plain creams the competition in the hardware department and it's small enough to put in my pocket too. 

However, there's that usability issue.

 

I saw DPReview's complaints about it but I thought I'd just customize the buttons and move on. However, it's more complex than that. I'll pull it out of my pocket and it may or may not decide to take photo depending on how it feels. You see, it's a computer with a CPU, memory and operating system and sometimes it's just busy doing something else. Sometimes it will take my auto-exposure bracketed 3 photos, and sometimes it just takes one until it gets warmed up. Sometimes my thumb will hit the help button which brings up the help menu.... when I'm in the middle of shooting and I have to cancel it before I can go on.  Sometimes I want to adjust my white balance with a plain piece of white paper and I haven't yet been able to figure out how. Also why does it have a video mode AND a video button? When you put it in video mode and press the shutter you'd expect it to take a video but it doesn't because you didn't press the OTHER video button. You get all of this for only $700!

This camera drives me insane. I've never had a love hate relationship with a camera before. The RX-100 has truly amazing hardware and truly incompetent software. I've come to the point where I realize Sony just doesn't get it. 

When it comes to buying a new camera I'll be going back to Canon because after several years of sitting on the sidelines they've decided to compete with Sony. The new Canon G7X has the same 1" sensor as the Sony RX-100,  an amazingly fast lens (1.8-2.8) with more zoom than the RX-100.  It's shortcomings seem to be that the battery life is mediocre at best and it doesn't have a viewfinder. I can live with both. I'll carry extra batteries, a solar charger or even drag around a 1982 delorean with a backpack full of plutonium if necessary as long as I can have Canon's wonderful ergonomics.

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Airplane food delivered to your house.

For those folks who live in Cologne and Dusseldorf and love airplane food you can now get it delivered to your door!

I'm not entirely sure why anyone would want to eat airplane food when they could just go down the street to a real restaurant where the food is made of.... food and cooked fresh. If you attempt going down the street on an airplane you'll create a great deal of havoc when the passenger compartment decompresses and oxygen masks drop followed quickly by you plunging 40,000 ft to your grisly death. This I believe, is the main reason people eat the food their served on airplanes - they have very little choice.

However, if you long for those wonderful little plates of textured vegetable protein poorly pressed into familiar shapes resembling McDonalds' attempt at a chicken pattie then you're in luck because the catering arm of Lufthansa Airlines has announced that residents of the two aforementioned cities can order the very same food and have it delivered to their door. I have an idea, how about having Lufthansa carry out the reverse and have land food delivered to your airplane while in flight. Now you'd have something news worthy.

https://www.allyouneed.com/magazin/airfoodone_menukalender

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Jolla smartphone case


I've had my Jolla Other Half for a couple of months but I've held off on using it as my main phone due to my Nokia N9 still working fine and the Jolla is super slippery. Yes, the phoneback might as well be made of ice. I'm fairly sure that if I carried it that way it would last all of a week so I set out to do something about it.

Introducing what the guys at work call my "hipster phone" - a faux leather covered Jolla Other Half! It turned out pretty good and I hope to put up my pattern if anyone else wants to do this but it will have to wait until I have time to finish it.

I've never had a phone that got so much attention as the Jolla and that was BEFORE I skinned it. To me it looks like a big flat rectangle, not that exciting but for some reason people are drawn to it and people ask me several times a week what kind of phone it is. It goes something like this

Me: It's a Jolla

Them: A what?

Me: A Jolla, it's a Finnish company

Them: I've never heard of it.

Me: It's new, they just started making them last November and they became available in Europe in January.

Them: I've never seen one before.

Me: They're not sold here yet.

Them: Is it Android?

Me: No, it's SailfishOS but it can run Android apps

Them: <confused look followed by silence>

That's pretty much how it goes. A couple of times I've gotten so far as explaining that a bunch of folks from Nokia started a new company called Jolla. Twice I got that it was Linux based out and once I got to show them how the back comes off and that it's modular who which they exclaimed "That's flippin' cool!". Yes, yes it is but currently it's more of a gimmick than anything as there's not much to plug into it.

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Screen protectors for your Jolla

I got my Jolla TOH (The Other Half) a couple of weeks ago and I'm still not using it as my main phone for a couple of reasons - 1. It's so very slippery 2. It has no screen protector. Yes, it has Gorilla Glass 2 and people in the Jolla forums keep saying you don't need a screen protector but that's what they said about my Nokia n9 too and I managed to scratch that screen. To put my mind at ease I wanted to put a screen protector on my Jolla but currently nobody makes one. I imagine since the phone still isn't available in the States it will be quite some time before there's accessories for it. With that in mind I went looking for an alternative.

Most screen protectors for other phones have cutouts for front facing cameras, buttons and microphones all in the wrong places or their screen is a completely different size. The Jolla has a 4.5 inch screen but the glass area is closer to 4.9 inches. One one end the front facing camera and microphone take up a bit of space so ideally I need a protector 4.7 inches long with no cutouts. The HTC One ended up being my best chance so I ordered a three pack of plastic screen protectors for the HTC One and boy do they fit the Jolla. I'd say there's NO room side to side as it's a perfect fit. Lengthwise there's about a 1/4 of an inch or less of uncovered space where the camera and mic are. I couldn't imagine a better fit from a screen protector that isn't designed for the Jolla.

With that I installed it and am very happy with the fit. However, what I really want is a tempered glass screen protector which Amazon has for $25. Now that I know the HTC One protectors are perfect I'll probably order one. Stay tuned.

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Install xe on CentOS6

Sometimes you want to control your XCP/Xenserver pool from another host. In my case it's my firewall/iSCSI SAN box which is CentOS 6.5 X86_64. I could just remote execute xe using SSH but this doesn't allow me to set $XE_EXTRA_ARGS. Setting $XE_EXTRA_ARGS allows me to run xe commands remotely without having to specify the server, username, password or port number every time I run xe.

 

export XE_EXTRA_ARGS="server=${POOL},port=${PORT},username=${USER},password=${PASSWORD}"

 

A better choice is to install xe on the CentOS 6.5 host. 

Install pre-reqs

Install stunnel

yum install stunnel

 

 Install xapi-xe rpm from Xenserver CD

Because the Control Domain in Xenserver is 32 bit the xe command included is also 32 bit. If you have 64 bit CentOS you will need to install 32 bit glibc. The best way is to just let yum worry about it as apposed to using rpm.

If you already have a XenServer CD available you can copy the xapi-xe rpm to your CentOS host directly. If not follow the directions below.

wget http://downloadns.citrix.com.edgesuite.net/akdlm/8159/XenServer-6.2.0-install-cd.iso
mkdir xsiso
mount -o loop XenServer-6.2.0-install-cd.iso xsio
yum install xsio/packages.main/xapi-xe-0.2-5669.i686.rpm

 

 Control remote poolmaster using xe

 Because the poolmaster is remote you'll need to include the server, port, username and password in your commandline. 

xe -s <poolmaster> -p 443 -u root -pw <root password> vm-list

You can set these items in the XE_EXTRA_ARGS variable to make using xe easier.

export XE_EXTRA_ARGS="server=${POOL},port=${PORT},username=${USER},password=${PASSWORD}"
xe vm-list
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