The Mandalorian

The best Star Wars since 1983

The most impressive thing about this show is that they somehow managed to keep the baby Yoda a secret. I don’t mean preventing script leaks or phone pics from someone working on the show. I mean, how did they prevent top Disney executives from demanding tons of baby Yoda merchandise before the show even aired. This is Disney we are talking about, the merchandising juggernaut. It is crazy to think millions of dollars were left on the table because there wasn’t baby Yoda stuff in time for Christmas. Either top Disney suits are showing incredible restraint and faith in this show as one of the premiere Disney+ shows or the people behind the show were careful not to tip their hand.

Getting away from the Star Wars movie characters and settings was a wise decision. There’s something about cowboy/western elements in a science fiction/fantasy setting that works well. I certainly won’t claim the Mandalorian is a cinematic masterpiece. The shorted episode time leaves the tropes it heavily leans on even more threadbare than usual. Oh look, already an episode about the main character helping plucky downtrodden villagers defend their home. Oh look, the inevitable heist episode complete with crosses and double crosses. And yet, more care, effort, and craft went into these 8 episodes than went into the Disney era Star Wars trilogy.


The Rise of Skywalker Soundtrack

A 'Best of John Williams' compilation

I haven’t seen Rise of the Skywalker and frankly have very little interest in doing so. The important thing for me is that this is another movie soundtrack done by John Williams - possibly the last one.

The Force Awakens was a clear “soft reboot” meant to retread the 1977 Star Wars movie and reintroduce Star Wars to a new audience. The soundtrack reflected that. The music retread the original 3 movies and brought little to nothing new. The closest would be Rey’s theme, a slow theme that lacks the energy of classic Star Wars music.

The Last Jedi’s soundtrack was by far the most mediocre of the Disney era soundtracks. No stand out piece. Nothing built up in the movie or to build upon from The Force Awakens. It raises a point that the Disney movies are almost constantly on the go, rarely allowing any time for a scene to breathe. In 1977 a Death Star blew up a planet and the movie pauses and allows the significance of the event to sink in. Characters are able to react. In a recent movie a planet sized weapon blows up a bunch of planets, but there’s no time to react. The movie insists on moving forward, no time to pause. No time for a character reaction. If characters in the movie aren’t going to care then why should the audience? It isn’t just bad movie making but bad for movie music. With a relentless pace there’s no time to create or develop musical themes. There’s simply less for a musician to work with.

As for The Rise of the Skywalker soundtrack, it comes across as a “Greatest Hits” album. Of course when it is John Williams the hits are pretty damn great. Just reuse and rework the classic 70’s & 80’s Star Wars music, but this time make sure to go extra heavy on reusing The Return of the Jedi. Palpatine is back for the latest movie for some reason so reuse the “Palpatine / throne room” music throughout the movie. No need to create a new theme for Palpatine when the old one already exists. And don’t ever think about how inserting Palpatine in the movie after Return of the Jedi showed him dying cheapens Darth Vader’s sacrifice at the end of that movie.

As bad as the Star Wars prequels were at story & dialogue they still allowed John Williams to create. The George Lucas movies spent time world building. The Disney movies don’t have time for that, everything has to be kept moving forward almost all the time. That world building allowed for creating and reinforcing musical themes. In fact it allowed John Williams to actively contribute to the world building. Three movies into the Disney era and there still isn’t a new equivalent to Duel of the Fates.


Flirc

A shiny case for my Raspberry Pi 4

Flirc case

Santa brought me a Flirc case for my newest Raspberry Pi. This is the first metal case I’ve used, all my previous Pis have had plastic cases. I had been running my Pi 4 with no case and no heat sinks. For some, this setup would just be asking for throttling issues but as a webserver it never runs into prolonged 100% CPU situations.

Each major Pi version has brought about higher temperatures to match faster performance. When the Pi 4 released there was a lot of talk about this version needing active (fan cooling) when running very CPU demanding programs. The improved firmware released later did help address the temperature issue a bit, but I knew I still needed to think about temperatures more than in the past. I knew I did not want to deal with fans. I really appreciate the quiet running quality of my Raspberry Pis.

The stand out feature of the Flirc case is that the case itself becomes a heat sink. There is a provided thermal pad (be sure to remove the plastic on BOTH sides of the pad) that you put on the CPU. The case then makes contact with the thermal pad, transfering heat from the CPU and into the metal case. The case itself perfectly fit my Pi 4. All the ports/slots were completely accessible. It is a sturdy case and finally my latest Pi is well protected.

So how well does the case perform for my use case? By making use of the command

vcgencmd measure_temp

the temperature of the Pi can be found. I didn’t have a good CPU demanding task to test heavy CPU utilization senarios, but idle situations was easy to determine. With no case/no heat sinks my Pi 4 idled between 47°C to 48°C. With the Flirc case it idles between 42°C to 44°C. Not the most dramatic of temperature drops, but I’ll take it.

Verdict: Flirc cases are a quality option for anyone looking to protect their Pi 4 and reduce the temperature without using a fan.


Video Capture with Dazzle DVC100 using Linux

Over the years I have occasionally had to search the internet for a solution to a problem that almost no one else seemed to be encountering. Eventually I would stumble upon someone’s blog where they encountered the same issue, but they also had the solution to the problem. In that grand tradition of helping others I present this post: “Capturing video with Dazzle DVC100 Rev. 1.1 using Linux in late 2019.”

My Dad has been video recording family events since 1988. This means he has a huge collection of old VHS-C tapes - thankfully well labeled. Aware of the issue with tapes fading/degrading over time, I gathered up every vhs-c tape I could find and digitized them all. Now years later, I recently discovered an additional 37 tapes.


Raspberry Pi 4

A newer Pi for a better Nextcloud experience

I finally broke down and got a Raspberry Pi 4 (2 Gig) a few weeks ago to replace my Raspberry Pi 3 running my Nextcloud instance. All the marketing, info, and reviews really seem to stress the Pi 4 as a possible desktop replacement. If you do care about a desktop replacement make sure to pick up the 4 gig version. I can’t say how usuable the Pi 4 is for desktop activities, I never bothered to test it out.

So what does the Pi 4 bring over the Pi 3 for those interested in self hosting their software? There’s the obvious advantage that the Pi 4 comes in 1/2/4 Gig ram versions. There’s improvements to the cpu. I see very noticable performance improvements running php scripts on my Nextcloud website. The pages load faster and the file synchronizing webdav features run better. Using Nextcloud there was always the sense that with the Pi 3 the performance was almost, but not quite there. I’m glad to see that the performance is finally there with the Pi 4.

The two best improvements to the newest Pi for my usage is that the Pi 4 is the first Pi that features USB3 and also seperates USB and networking. Previous Pis were limited it USB2 and to make matters worse, networking was done through USB2 forcing it to share precious bandwidth. This is why Pis have historically been lackluster when used as a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device. Making use of the USB3 ports with a USB3 flashdrive (tested read speeds of around 290 meg per second) has also made a noticable difference in loading files, particularly Nextcloud folders with lots of small files or folders with many pictures.

I’ve been scanning 20 year old family photos and sharing them with family members using Nextcloud. One thing I learned quickly when I was using a Pi 3 was that it didn’t take much for it to be overwelmed when uploading photos. Often just uploading more than one photo at a time to Nextcloud was enough to make the Pi 3 freeze and need to be turned off/on to work again. Admittedly these are high quality scans (typically 1.4 Meg) but carefully uploading just one file at a time was slow. Fortunately none of this is an issue with my new Pi 4. I’m not sure if this is due to the better cpu or double the ram, but I’ve been able to upload multiple photos at a time without issue.

If you were watching the launch of the Raspberry Pi 4 one thing people that had them wanted to talk about was how much hotter they were running compared to previous versions. An improved firmware came out before I obtained my Pi so I can’t compare them. I will say that with the new firmware my Pi 4 doesn’t seem to be running noticably hotter than my Pi 3, but a webserver won’t be pushing the cpu to 100% for a prolonged period of time.


Early Christmas Shopping

No stress here

It is a wonderful and unfamiliar experience to be able to say, “I have all my Christmas shopping done” before December even starts. No caring about Black Friday and Cyber Monday or dreading going to crowded stores. I say this as someone who remembers well the seasonal joys of being in a Walmart at Christmas Eve. I have my gift giving guru sister to thank for this level of preparedness.

From what I’ve heard this Black Friday/Cyber Monday business started as stores trying to clear inventory for Christmas shopping. Apparently now that these days are big business better deals are found a month before Black Friday/Cyber Monday. There is a limit to just how far the Christmas shopping season can be extended….right? Maybe next year I’ll remember to make good use of price tracker websites like camelcamelcamel.

One thing that stands out to me is how dated the term “Cyber” sounds. Cyber Monday. Cyber Stalking. Cyber Security. Cyber Space. I can’t think of any new “Cyber somethings” that have been created in the last decade. Cyber seems to be a marker for things/concepts that arose to widespread awareness in the late 90’s or early 2000’s.


Chernobyl

Bleak and compelling

I have no idea how closely the HBO show Chernobyl depicts the actual events of the 1986 disaster, but the show manages to depict a bleak yet compelling version of the events. There’s an almost supernatural horror element to it. Incredibly powerful and yet invisible radiation pouring out of the exposed nuclear reactor. I think the most horrifying part was when the Soviets try to use robots built for use on the moon to clear the roof of the facility, but the radiation immediately destroys the robot. And in what has to be the most Soviet action ever, orders thousands of people to clear the roof that was too radioactive for a space robot.

There’s also a podcast with the creator of Chernobyl. I haven’t finished them all yet but it is very clear this was a passion project.


Easy QR Code Generation

Fun with Inkscape

QR Code

Recently I’ve been reinvestigating Scalable Vector Graphics. Svgs are a type of image that can increase or decrease in size without losing quality. Svgs are never the right answer for photographs, but for a wide variety of images like icons, charts, or simple pictures they are the perfect solution for a world with so many different screen sizes.


Close encounter of the possum kind

The 1:45 AM surprise

possum

During the night there was a rustling of leaves and some frantic scratching on glass. I found this possum trapped in the basement escape window. Ordinarily it’s covered, but the one time it is left open for house painting, it ends up with an adventurous youngster. I ended up putting two long boards (one seen in picture) into the escape window to make a ramp for it to climb out.

The best flashlight in the house + phone camera flash really lit up the area. The picture doesn’t even look like it was taken in the middle of the night.


Ducktales Remastered soon to be unavailable for purchase

Just over 24 hours until it's unavailable...

So here’s a bit of info I just found out. Three days after I posted my experience trying out Ducktales Remastered on Linux through Steam’s Proton/Wine compatibility layer, Capcom announced that the game would soon no longer be available for purchase. As I type this, the game’s Steam page is showing 37 hours remaining.

As I said in my other post, due to a game breaking bug at the very end that I and others experienced (and was never fixed!), I cannot recommend this game. That being said, I will point out that the game is currently available for a going away price of 75% off. Maybe you’ll have more luck than I did. It was a very enjoyable game until the final part.


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