Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Getting Bluetooth 4.0 Working on an Old MacBook

Okay, so, I have this working - not 100% seamlessly and not quite as it should, but it does work. I had do download Bluetooth Explorer for Mac OS 10.7 (linked from the Hideez documentation), and go into Utilities → HCI Controller Selection and manually specify the Cambridge Radio device:

Once that was done, I could go into the Bluetooth Setup Assistant and pair the Air 75 with the MacBook as normal (hold down Fn-1, Fn-2, or Fn-3 to select a Bluetooth profile; the left side light will blink blue when the keyboard is ready to connect, and the blinking will be faster when it’s ready to pair).

A stumbling block: I’ve punched in the below terminal command multiple times and the switch to the USB Bluetooth adapter never “sticks” across reboots. Option-clicking the Bluetooth menu item shows the address 00-1B-63-47-6A-4D, which comes up as an Apple device when I search. After I switch using Bluetooth Explorer, it lists 00-1A-7D-DA-71-03, which shows up as “cyber-blue(HK)Ltd.”

$ sudo nvram bluetoothHostControllerSwitchBehavior=always

So, I have that bit of troubleshooting left to finish. But at least I got it this far.

The ultimate lap desk setup.

I’ve been trying to find a good “kick back on the sofa with the dogs and still get work done” solution that doesn’t kill my back, neck, etc. I think I may have found it:

  •  Any Mac laptop (or any laptop, really) with a compatible keyboard (basically, anything with the chiclet keyboard made between 2006 and, as I understand it, 2019). In this instance I’m using a 2007 MacBook Core 2 Duo.
  • NuPhy Air 75 keyboard. I’m using one with “brown” switches, via Bluetooth. It’s designed specifically to sit on top of the laptop keyboard and not interfere, and is a much nicer typing experience than the built-in keyboard, especially the ancient 2007 MacBook keyboard, which wasn’t amazing to begin with and has gotten mushy over time.
  • LapGear MyDesk. ($20) It’s a trifle on the small size, but any larger and I think it would be too unwieldy. This thing is very light weight, comfortable, and provides just enough space to the side of a 13" laptop to use a wireless external mouse.
  • Logitech M317 ($19) wireless mouse (2.4 GHz). I’d like to swap this with a Bluetooth device and free up one of the two USB ports (the other one’s occupied with the Bluetooth 4.0 adapter), but it’s not a driving concern.

With this setup I keep an old laptop out of the landfill and can use it to develop PHP and Java code, run git, do legal research, put together early drafts of memoranda etc. in LibreOffice or on Google Docs, &c.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

A tale of three portable keyboards

The NT68 holding an iPad Pro 9.7

First, the one I was the most excited about, the Epomaker NT68. This one isn’t low profile, and uses standard MX style switches (which can be hot swapped). The one I ordered came with Epomaker’s Chocolate Rose switches, which have a nice feel to them - nicely tactile, with the bump at the very top. But they’re loud - thoccy - and not the best choice for a portable board I’ll want to use anywhere. So I’m going to swap it to Boba U4 switches. Anyway. My two gripes: It took me a minute to figure out how to fold the case to support an iPad (and even then, the 9.7 Pro can best be used only in landscape mode; portrait mode is usable but not very stable), and, the backlighting, in addition to being a battery drain, is aesthetic only; the keycaps (which use the relatively rare DSA profile) are not shine-through, so the back lighting doesn’t really help with low light usability. But those are minor gripes (and maybe Epomaker or someone else will come out with DSA shine-through keycaps). Overall, I like this thing.

Edit: I swapped the switches to Boba U4 silent tactile (62g), and now it’s pretty close to being the GOAT.

How to fold the case to support a tablet
Properly folded, the NT68 case supports an iPad

The NT68 with a shine-through keycap
With shine-through keycaps, the NT68 RGB would be useful

Meanwhile, the NuPhy Air 75 (low profile Gateron hot-swappable brown switches, but your options are basically red (linear), blue (clicky), and these brown (tactile) switches) arrived today. I haven’t had a chance to play with it much, but so far I like it. It slots in over the keyboard of the 2012 MacBook Air perfectly, doesn’t interfere with the onboard keyboard (which it completely covers) or track pad, etc., and adds a nice, almost-integrated tactile mechanical keyboard to the MacBook. Verdict: Love it, so far. I got the NuFolio v2 to go with it, so I can lug just one keyboard along for both laptop and iPad purposes, and also to protect it en route.

Air75 in use with a MacBook Mid-2007 via the 2.4 GHz adapter

Edit: I tried using it with my ancient Mid-2007 MacBook. While it’s confusing as to whether the Air75 uses Bluetooth 3.0 or 5.0, it seems the MacBook (Bluetooth 2.0+EDR) isn’t compatible with the keyboard. It sees it but cannot connect to it. However, the Air75 also works with a 2.4 GHz dongle (included in the box), so I tried that (have to switch the keyboard to that mode with Fn+4, which isn’t marked on the keyboard itself; 1-3 are to select different Bluetooth connections, also not marked on the keycaps). Works perfectly - I’m using that setup to type this addition. I might see about adding a more modern Bluetooth version via USB; I hate relying on proprietary dongles (lose it and you’re screwed; not a huge deal for the $17 Logitech M317 I’m using with this laptop ($13 refurbished), but for a $100+ keyboard ... Yeah. No. Not something I want to carry around. Especially since this dongle has zero markings on it. This $17 adapter purports to provide Bluetooth 4.0 support to laptops built without it, and to work with Mac OS versions down to Lion (and Bluetooth 5.0 should be backwards compatible to Bluetooth 4.0 - and actually, now that I think about it, above you see it working with the version 4.0 Bluetooth built into the 2012 MacBook Air). (Another option I considered was getting a short right-angle USB-C cable (like this 4" SKU, or this 9" unit) and just hard wiring it, but that’s ... Inelegant. Anyway.) As I expected, the “2nd-generation AirFeet” work just fine with the keyboard on the 2010 and 2012 MacBook Air computers and even the ancient MacBook. Huzzah.

Note: The side lights are really annoying, but easy to disable. Hold down Fn and the '?' key and then use the arrow keys to change the lighting effect, color, brightness, etc. (I turned them off.)

Finally, I picked up a used NuPhy F1 keyboard (brown switches) on eBay, because the price was right, shipping of the Air 75 and NT68 from China was looking like it was going to take forever (the F1 arrived yesterday), and I was curious if I’d like it. Verdict? I don’t. Something about the flat keys and their spacing; it’s got all the disadvantages of a chiclet keyboard built into the MacBook Air, with none of the benefits. I’m going to put it up on eBay and send it along to a new home. I do like how it integrates with the MacBook Air - it looks more at home than does the Air 75, and it’s smaller (though it doesn’t include the function / media keys, which are cumbersome to get to).

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

More dog stuff: The GOAT Treat Pouch, a truly impressive tiny flashlight, and Action Plush toys

I go through treat pouches way too fast. So far, this seems to be the best one yet: Paw Lifestyles – Dog Treat Training Pouch. I like the firmly attached, substantial, clip. It also comes with a belt, and a shoulder strap, etc. Probably too many pockets etc. for my purposes. Stays open (somewhat rigid), makes going in for a treat easy.

This light is amazing: Streamlight 73303 325 Lumen Pocket Mate Keychain/Clip-on USB Rechargeable Flashlight. It’s tiny. It clips to the treat training pouch I mention above. It’s brighter than the trusty Motorola MR500 I’ve been using, and it’s rechargeable (I’ve been using rechargeable AAs (AAAs, I could have sworn; I’ll check when I get home) in the Motorola; this is more convenient).

Finally: A coworker got my dogs a GoDog Action Plush! snowman. They love it. The legs kick out as they bite down. I hesitate to think what sorts of behaviors that’s rewarding. Meanwhile, I highly recommend the toys, at least so far. I’m going to pick up a pheasant. (One of mine had picked out this dragon during a birthday trip through the pet store, it was also a favorite for a while, but it’s not nearly as interactive.)

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Buying a gun in California during a pandemic

December 20th, 2021, we had an intruder in the office. A homeless man who had obviously had prior experience with involuntary psychiatric hospitalization, he remained, naked, in our reception area, for almost two hours after we placed a call to 911 (he refused to leave). Our area has become - along with most of the metro area - regrettably overrun with the mentally ill homeless, who have attempted to live in our office building, have barricaded themselves in our parking structure behind dumpsters etc. to use intravenous drugs, etc., etc. Calls to 911 frequently get us nowhere, and our staff are afraid. We have a .45 in the office, but it belongs to one of the other shareholders. I decided to get my own handgun to keep at the office for self defense. Hope I never need it!

Shortly after our naked intruder was escorted, handcuffed to a stretcher, to his next psychiatric ward, I went to the local gun store to see what they had that was in the range of what I wanted to spend. I could get a Croatian-made Springfield XD9 (I already have one, it’s ... fine) or a Smith & Wesson SD9 VE new (both were between $450-500). Or ... An immaculate “grade A” police trade-in Glock 22 with tritium sights, in the same price range. One year warranty.

My selection made, I put down a 30% deposit and headed home. The way things are right now, you have to make an appointment (at least at this shop) to start the mandatory background check. You do this via email. The first available was December 29th.

On the 29th I gathered up my driver’s license and proof of residency (a cable TV bill) and headed back to the gun shop. My (mandatory) Firearm Safety Certificate had expired - they’re good for 5 years - so I paid $25 to retake the test. (I spent about a half hour reading the Study Guide and the owner’s manual for the gun.) This is a 30 question true/false and multiple choice test. I scored 100%.

You also have to demonstrate safe handgun operation using a dummy round (loading, unloading, trigger discipline; really basic stuff). Then, I filled out ATF Form 4473 (5300.9). Thus starts the background check.

California imposes a 10 day waiting period, so the earliest I can pick it up is January 8th. (There are other limitations; only one handgun, and one long gun, can be bought every 30 days; no online ammo purchases, and in-store ammo purchases requires an “instant” background check...). I needed to email the shop again to setup a pick-up appointment. As I was out of town when the waiting period expired, I setup an appointment for the next Saturday, the 15th.

Update: I showed up for my appointment on time on the 15th (10 a.m.) and had to wait a few minutes before they were ready for me. Killed some time wandering around looking at rifles. Five or so more signatures and two right thumb prints (I also picked up a box of ammo), I paid the outstanding amount on the gun, the DROS California gun registration fee ($37.19), bought a basically mandatory lock cable ($7.95), and I was out the door with the gun stapled into an opaque, thick plastic, bag (felt like I was buying pornography). (I had a Pelican iM2050 case in the car (overkill, but it’s what I had on hand), and a lock for the case, for transportation.)

All told I spent:

$450.00 Glock
$ 37.19 DROS California Registration Fee
$  7.95 Lock Cable
$ 47.15 Sales Tax (9.5%)
$ 15.00
Firearm Safety Certificate (mine was expired; good for 5 years)
$ 10.00 Testing Fee for the Firearm Safety Certificate
------- Total (excl. ammo)

And made three separate trips total to the local gun store, which is still operating on an appointment-only basis.

Next: Some time at the range, and, a personal defense course. Looking for recommendations for the latter, now. (I took a great “home defense” course about 10 years ago, put on by Shooter’s Edge and taught by Sgt Major Bill Skiles (USMC). But it’s been too long.)

Edit: Folks have recommended Gunsite (a $1,900, 5-day commitment in Arizona), and International Tactical.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Interconnected systems - the importance of a run book

I haven’t had amazing luck with hosting providers. After moving my main system over to a new host about 8 months ago, things have been running pretty smoothly, except, today I searched one of my databases for something that should have been captured, and it wasn’t there. I’ve been monitoring the  status reports generated by the automated capture process, and everything seemed fine ... Except it wasn’t capturing documents updated at the last minute, as this one was. Even though I’d coded it to do so.

The culprit: The new VPS was set to eastern time, and this process was time-sensitive to a certain window local time. I tweaked the crontab entry and changed the local timezone:

# timedatectl set-timezone America/Los_Angeles

Problem solved, but I should have caught it earlier. Need to gather up all my random notes and documentation snippets into a runbook. The sort of thing you forget to do when you haven’t worked professionally in IT in over a decade and just dabble on your personal systems. I know better.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Replacing the Thermal Paste on a GPU

I have an eBay-sourced, flashed, GTX 680 (an EVGA card) in my MacPro5,1. A while ago it started having an issue where certain black pixels would flicker red, sometimes with horizontal red lines of flickering dots starting at those pixels. (If you moved the window with the black areas around, the lines would follow.) As it got worse the longer the machine was on, I suspected it was heat related. The screen would also black out for 1-2 seconds every few minutes. Annoying!

I finally carved out a half hour this morning and disassembled the card, cleaned off all the old thermal paste (first with ArctiClean 1 Thermal Paste Remover, then prepared the surfaces with ArctiClean 2 Thermal Surface Purifier, and applied a dollop of Arctic MX-5. Reassembled everything, crossed my fingers, powered it up and ... Not only did I not kill it, everything’s working perfectly now!

Sweet. I used:

I needed a #1 Philips screw driver bit for all the screws I had to remove on the board, but I had that already.

With the continuing GPU / chip shortage driving up prices even in the used market to absurd levels, definitely makes sense to preserve older, working perfectly, cards with this cheap and easy fix.

Followed this video: