This is my computers and technology blog where I’ll be publishing mostly Linux tutorials as well as the occasional post about retro hardware, gaming, dev board projects, and anything else I think is worth sharing. For older posts, please see the archives.
2022 Year in ReviewBy stephenvk
Well 2022 has come and gone, and now is a good time to look back on the past year and see what I’ve learned, what went wrong, and what I’ll do differently in the future. This year didn’t see a whole lot of activity on the site (though I have been working on a few backend and UX improvements which should prove useful in the coming weeks) as I’ve been figuring a lot of stuff out IRL and haven’t really had much of a plan for anything until lately, but nobody’s here for that and I thought I might share some of my progress in learning how to build PC’s and setting up a small homelab to work with Tom and the gang on building small community “splinternets” to escape the prying eyes of Big Tech and restore control back to real world groups of actual people.
Misadventures in Building a 486
Originally this was planned to be its own article, but due to time, space, and budget concerns it’s kind of just been sitting on a back burner for a while now and there hasn’t really been a whole lot to write. Essentially in late 2021 I realized that now that I have some of this cool stuff called money I could maybe build for myself one of those old DOS machines you see on channels like LGR to mess around and tinker with some of the different software and hardware from what I think of as a sort of rapid transitional phase between the pioneering machines of the 80’s which were honestly more like big graphing calculators and the modern, multitasking, multimedia-enabled machines of today. Anyways I bought a bunch of seemingly compatible components including an apparently high-end motherboard I got for cheap from Ukraine of all places before the war broke out, waited for them all to show up, and then realized that we have seriously come a long way in terms of hardware since 1993. CPU’s can be inserted the wrong way, your memory configuration has to be specified by placing physical jumpers on the motherboard itself, and every time I insert a VLB card (or Very Long Board as they’re affectionately known) I think it’s going to snap. Unfortunately I never could get it to POST and realized that a second big metal box on my desk is not something I need, so for now it’s unfortunately gathering dust in the closet until I either sell the parts or find a good place to put such a thing.
- Cyrix 486Dx2 @ 66Mhz
- 2x8 MB FPM SIMM Memory
- Edom International 486VL3 Motherboard
- Winbond Kaos VL400GW I/O Controller
- Cirrus Logic GD5428 Video Card
- ESS AudioDrive 1688F FM and PCM Sound Card
- A cheap IDE SD card adapter
- A spare 300W ATX power supply
The Home Server from Hell
So a lot of the old family photos have wound up sitting on my PC’s hard drive, and I thought it would be cool to setup a cheap NAS at my parents’ house when I moved out to store them as well as maybe some backups and things as well. The plan was to put the old family computer, an old HP Compaq with an AMD Athlon II X2 220, into a 2U rack case because that’s what you’re “supposed” to do with servers and then chuck it in the network closet. Not only did I realize the TDP to performance ratio would be terrible with such a machine, but I somehow managed to crash a (mercifully empty) hard drive, brick a RAID controller, spend far more than I originally anticipated to the point I probably would have been better off building from scratch, as well as encountering numerous other issues such as the CPU fan not working, not having enough space for a second memory module, the motherboard being unable to power more than one case fan, apparently the regular WD Reds use SMR and not CMR as used to be advertised (I forget why or even if that’s an issue), not having onboard USB 3.0, heck I think it would be shorter to list all the things that went right with that machine. Learned a few things, don’t miss it, moving on.
- AMD Athlon II X2 220 CPU
- Silverstone RL-KR01 low-profile CPU cooler
- 1x2 GB DDR3 Memory @ 1066 MHz
- ASUS M2N68-LA Motherboard
- 2x WD Red Plus
- Vantec UGT-ST622 RAID Controller
- Inatek USB 3.0 Controller with internal header
- EVGA 450W Power Supply
- 2x 80mm Fans
- 3-pin Fan Controller
My own PC
For my own use when I moved out I decided to rebuild a PC that was given to us by a friend a while back but whose power supply and hard drive inexplicably went up in smoke one day and hadn’t seen any action since. We’d also kind of lost all the panels to the case, so after procuring some advice on finding a soy-free PC case from the other landchads of Heaven Tree (thanks Ray! It’s the Silverstone PS13B btw, cable managament options are lacking but otherwise a pretty nice case) I set to work on upgrading it and replacing the damaged parts. As it turned out, I only ended up keeping the motherboard, memory, and CD-ROM drive from the old unit, with the rest being a mix of new and used parts but it still saved me about 25% of the cost of building from scratch so no complaints here. Save for one that is, namely that while I did get a great deal on an AMD FX-8350, those old Piledriver CPU’s run HOT, and the cooler that was in there with the Phenom II X6 1045T wasn’t up to the task. I call it the 8-ball, since it was one of the first consumer eight-core CPU’s and I had to install a big 120mm fan on it just so my system wouldn’t turn into a jet engine just idling on the desktop. Also, I recently learned that CPU fan’s don’t pull, they push, meaning if you want it to blow hot air to the back of the PC case, you have to install the fan on the front-facing side of the cooler. (The photo has it the wrong way) The way I had it it was just blowing hot air right back at the intake fan on the front, so hopefully now it runs a lot cooler during high-performance tasks. Also in case anyone thinks it’s a good idea to install a dedicated sound card in a PC in 2022, it’s not, since Windows Vista killed support for hardware-accelerated 3D audio effects and games that support it will use software solutions instead nowadays, so unless you’re trying to play Thief on a Windows XP build there’s literally no point unless you just like sticking random things in your computer. One other thing I learned after initially publishing this article is that the “DDR” in “DDR3” stands for “Double Data Rate”, meaning a memory module advertised as being 1333 MHz is actually 667 MHz but is twice as fast as an equivalent non-DDR SDRAM module.
- AMD FX-8350 CPU
- Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO v2 CPU Cooler
- 2x4GB DDR3 Memory @ 1333 MHz
- ASUS M5A78L-M LX PLUS Motherboard
- WD Blue 1TB Hard Drive
- Kingston 128GB SATA SSD
- AMD Radeon RX 460 GPU
- EVGA 750W Power Supply
- Inatek USB 3.0 Controller with internal header
- An old Samsung DVD drive
The Thin Clients
This is where things really start to get interesting. After reading Tom’s post about the possibility of building private “splinternets” for real-world local communities, I decided to buy a few used HP T620’s after seeing thin clients featured for different uses on places like Phil’s Computer Lab and The Cheapskate’s Guide, as well as more recently seeing ServeTheHome’s videos on what he calls Project: TinyMiniMicro which discusses various mini PC’s that have come out in the last decade. These things are basically just mini computers meant for use in office environments where they act as remote interfaces to virtual machines running on more powerful servers, but they’re especially interesting to hobbyists amidst the ongoing Raspberry Pi and general chip shortage due to their still-low cost (usually), fairly low power consumption (twice that of a Pi at 6W idle but still much better than even the most efficient traditional desktops), the fact they’re x86, as well as sometimes having options like mini PCI-E for expansion. Provisioning them was straightforward enough as after installing one I was able to clone it with dd to the others using an external m.2 reader. So far I haven’t done a whole lot with them, but the plan is to set them up as Kubernetes nodes for distributed computing as I start hosting some of my own services on the splinternet as well as possibly joining Project Segfault though I would have to get a static IP to host anything public-facing as my ISP uses CGNAT for non-static IP’s meaning I can’t open ports. Honorable mention: The little hard drive toaster on the left, it’s going to replace the Athlon PC as a home NAS once I get around to it.
- 3x HP T620 Thin Client
- 6x DDR3 SODIMM Memory @ 1600 Mhz
- 3x Sandisk 128GB m.2 SATA SSD’s
The original plan for this machine was to act as a small HTPC before I realized that I neither have, need, nor want a TV in my apartment and I was just wasting my money, but it has actually turned to be pretty useful in itself as a more powerful server in my little homelab. It took me a while to get the CPU situation figured out, but apparently the Intel Xeon E3-1240 v2 is pretty much equivalent to the Core i7-3770 at a cheaper price and a lower TDP as there’s no integrated graphics, and is ideal for use in a more powerful server (relative to the thin clients at least) where multithreading is important as it has four cores with hyperthreading. (Note: You’ll need to make sure hyperthreading is enabled in your BIOS settings.) It should be noted that if power efficiency is a concern then you probably want to go with Skylake or newer according to an excellent video that Wolfgang did on the subject but at about 30W idle it’s good enough for my needs, at least for now. Since there’s no integrated graphics though you’ll need to use a discrete graphics card when provisioning or troubleshooting, though it can run fine without one for everyday use as a headless server.  I’ve also encountered a weird issue where the light on the ethernet port stays orange for some reason even though running “ip a” reports that the link speed is 1000 Mbps which is confirmed by testing with iperf3. No idea what’s up with that. Oh and you’ll also want to disable deep sleep if you want to be able to use Wake on LAN to remotely wake it from suspend.
- Dell Optiplex 3010 SFF
- Intel Xeon E3-1240 v2
- 16 GB DDR3 Memory @1600Mhz
- Seagate Barracuda 1TB Hard Drive
- Kingston 128GB SATA SSD
- A cheap SSD mount that fits in the optical bay though the bright LED on the front is annoying
- An old AMD Radeon HD 5450 used only when provisioning and troubleshooting
Bonus Round: KVM Switches!
Before ending, I’d just like to point out to people that one really neat tool when working on different PC’s simultaneously is the KVM switch, short for “Keyboard, Video, and Mouse” as it allows you to seamlessly switch between two machines while using the same I/O peripherals so you’re not having to juggle around cables as much or double up on peripherals, and they’re available for all common video interfaces. They’re not perfect, YMMV but sometimes I have to switch back and forth again to make the mouse or keyboard work after switching from one machine to the other with the one I currently use (not pictured), the Linux virtual console doesn’t seem to like having monitors plugged/unplugged, multi-monitor ones can be expensive, and plugging the USB out into the USB in doesn’t seem to do anything useful (lol), but overall they’re great little tools and I’d highly recommend investing in a good one to anyone who frequently tinkers with different PC’s or even just want a more elegant way to plug their laptop into their main workstation.
And with that I wish you a happy new year, and while I won’t make any vain promises here’s to another year on Stephen’s Homepage!
 Apparently not all machines can do this though, so you may need to make sure the CPU you use has integrated graphics depending on the system's chipset. In some cases even with integrated graphics it won't boot without a monitor or keyboard present, but apparently you can get around this by getting a dummy HDMI plug though I haven't been able to find any dummy USB keyboard plugs. There may also be a BIOS option to override this behavior but that's about all I know since I haven't encountered this issue personally as clearing the CMOS seemed to fix whatever issues were preventing it from booting. Oh and when swapping CPU's it usually helps if you don't just put the same one back in that was in there before lol.
Tags: hardware, self-hosting, homelab
Generate RSS Feeds From Gab ProfilesBy stephenvk
Hey guys, this is just a quick update to let you know about a new PHP script I wrote to generate an RSS feed for a Gab profile. To use it just replace my username in that link with that of the account you want to subscribe to, and it will fetch the account’s ID and redirect you to its RSS feed (e.g. https://stephenvk.xyz/gab2rss/?id=1078658). This way you don’t have to manually figure out the ID, and it doesn’t have to make an extra API request every other time to get it for you. Unfortunately it will not work with tags and groups, because those require an authentication token to access, I don’t really want to use mine, and they haven’t issued API tokens for a while now due to security concerns. But yeah other than that it does pretty much what you’d expect a Gab to RSS bridge to do, maybe I’ll adapt it for use in RSS-Bridge. And last but not least, here’s the source code.
Some Underrated Minecraft ModsBy stephenvk
“Minecraft” is always a hot search term, right? So I’ve been playing around with some mods again, and am thinking of actually releasing a new modpack with a major cave overhaul. Nothing major, no giant transgender laser chickens or total progression overhauls, just a relatively small collection of mods to expand upon vanilla’s systems and add a ton of new variety underground. So while that’s in the works, here’s a small list of some underappreciated mods that I think more people should check out.
This is probably the most unheard of mod on this list, but has quickly become one of my personal favorites. It originated as a simple new ores mod for I think 1.6.2, but they quickly ran into the same problem as anyone else trying to add a bunch of new ores to the game - what to do with them all? To answer this, they’ve expanded and reworked systems all across the vanilla game, from crafting to farming to even worldgen with new stone types and better mountains and cliffs.
This is probably my favorite mod because it’s just so much fun to directly play around with. Essentially what it does is it replaces the vanilla animal (which, let’s be honest, basically do nothing but make noise and wait for you to breed or kill them) and they will require food, water, shelter, space, etc; and it’s up to you to provide it. There are also several different breeds of each animal; for example some cows will be better suited for milking, while others’ meats will give different potion effects. It’s one of my favorite mods of all time, and I’d strongly recommend it to anyone looking to spice up Minecraft’s animal farming.
Minecraft’s dungeons are honestly just placeholders, being little boxes in the ground with a mob spawner. Dungeon Tactics is here to change that, adding significantly larger dungeons both above and below ground, a new sort of magic system, tons of loot, cool traps, and more. It adds new weapons, pirate ships, magic flowers with potion effects when you stand on them, and so much more that’s really best experienced for yourself.
While last year’s excellent Nether update has largely solved this problem in Vanilla, for players of older versions NetherEX is an indispensable upgrade, and arguably better compatible with the pre-1.13 direction of Minecraft which may be a plus for some. Prior to 1.16, the only major changes to the Nether since the game’s full release were the addition of the Wither and Wither Skeletons in 1.4.2 and Nether Quartz in 1.5. NetherEX solves this lack of content with new biomes, mobs, ores - essentially adding a whole parallel version of the game in the Nether that’s actually worth building bases and surviving in.
YUNG’s Better Caves
And last but not least, we have YUNG’s Better Caves, a mod that completely revamps Minecraft’s cave generation to include intricately twisting, winding, and intersecting caves, large caverns, vast underground lakes of both water and lava, and config options for everything in-between. There’s not really a whole lot else to say, as it doesn’t even add any new blocks or anything, but what it does it does extremely well, and that is adding by far the best and most intricate cave generation modded Minecraft has to offer.
So there we have it, five neat little mods with hours worth of new things to do and explore. I hope you have a much fun with them as I have, and I’ll see you next time.
Get All Your Video Subscriptions in One Place With RSSBy stephenvk
As we all know, YouTube is becoming increasingly hostile to independent voices, in large part because of extreme political bias but also because they don’t want to pay smaller channels who bring them less ad revenue. And if that’s how they want to play it, then fine, the smaller channels and their audiences will just move to greener pastures and YouTube will remain the platform of choice for bottom-of-the-barrel normie garbage. Everybody wins! Except for one problem; while it’s great that there are now multiple viable competitors to YouTube’s dominance, it’s also inconvenient having to check multiple different sites just to keep up with all your favorite channels.
Enter RSS, which I wrote about more in my last article but in summary is a simple way to get updates from practically anywhere on the web in a reader of your choosing. As I mentioned toward the end, finding a site’s feed isn’t always easy, but this article is here to help, at least with the more popular video sites. So let’s get started!
YouTube is probably the hardest, but also the most popular so we’ll deal with them first. The URL format is https://www.youtube.com/feeds/videos.xml?channel_id=UCzZpgppwC_XQMe8lFiI77-Q and usually the ID is at the end of the URL for the channel’s page Sometimes this isn’t the case though, so the easiest solution is to use a tool like the one at https://commentpicker.com/youtube-channel-id.php to get it for you. If you want to get technical, you can just search for “channel_id” in the page’s source code, which you can see by pressing F12 and searching with Ctrl+F.
For Odysee/LBRY, official RSS support has recently been added! To subscribe, simply click the menu icon at the top right of the channel’s banner, and click “Copy RSS URL”. The URL format should be something like https://odysee.com/$/rss/@ComputingForever:9
With Gab TV it couldn’t be easier, as there are feed buttons just below the normal “Subscribe” button on each channel’s page. If you’re curious, the URL is something like https://tv.gab.com/channel/thomasmoresoc/feed/rss with the channel ID being the same as in the URL of the channel’s page.
It’s much the same story for PeerTube instances, as you just click “Subscribe via RSS” at the bottom of the channel’s “Subscribe” menu. Again, for those curious this uses a format like https://videos.lukesmith.xyz/feeds/videos.xml?videoChannelId=2 (note that the domain will vary depending on what instance you’re using. Also, you’d need to know the channel ID, so this isn’t very useful.)
On BitChute (which in lowercase without spacing BTW is the worst domain name ever) the format is https://www.bitchute.com/feeds/rss/channel/corbettreport/ Note that you want the username of the channel’s owner, not it’s ID.
As for Rumble, well they don’t have RSS so you’re stuck using a feed generator, though given the absolute boomer-tier content on their homepage I doubt it would actually be of use to most of their users anyway. >_> Well, it looks like they have a decent API so if you wanted to you could scrape https://rumble.com/api/v0/Media.Channels.mrss?_p=APIKey&channel=DineshDsouza&criteria=sort=views and parse whatever is the output of that as needed to generate an RSS feed. Maybe I’ll write a script for that; if I do I’ll update this post and put it in the Goodies section of this site.
Well there you have it! With a good RSS reader, you’re now ready to setup a one-stop spot for all your video needs. Next up, we’ll be doing some more in-depth reviews of popular RSS readers and services. If you don’t see instructions for your favorite platform, do let me know over on Gab or in the comments once I revamp this blog. Adios!
What Are RSS FeedsBy stephenvk
- RSS Feeds let you subscribe to your favorite sites
- To use them you’ll need an RSS reader
- You can get a simple one here and add this link to subscribe to this blog
There’s a lot that’s wrong with the Internet today, not least black-box recommendation algorithms, egregious violations of privacy, blatant censorship, and domination by a corrupt media. Amidst all this chaos though, there is a technology that gives readers a simpler way to keep up with their favorite sites, and so much more. RSS feeds are simple files on the web that contain brief summaries and links to a site’s most recent articles, for which you’ll need an RSS reader, so let’s go over a few.
One popular option is to use an online service rather than a traditional desktop program, since after all you’ll be reading the articles in your browser anyway, and it can be cumbersome to switch back and forth between an external program. Of these, probably the most popular are Feedly, The Old Reader, and Inoreader, of which you can find more in-depth reviews here. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can even host your own such service with Tiny Tiny RSS. These services often offer things like more advanced curation and recommendation, social features, and extensibility via API’s and IFTTT integration. There are also browser extensions such as FeedBro if you just want a simple reader in your browser, and Thunderbird users already have an RSS reader built right in. Some other standalone desktop programs for Linux include LifeRea and Akregator, though there’s not any I’d really recommend for Windows other than Thunderbird. And last but not least, for all you CLI lovers there’s NewsBoat with a keyboard-driven text interface and all the extensibility you’d expect on the UNIX shell.
Now, it used to be that you could easily find a site’s feed with a bright orange button like this but unfortunately nowadays you’ll often have to dig a little deeper. Thankfully there are addons like Get RSS Feed URL for Chromium-based browsers and Awesome RSS for Firefox which will try to find the feed for you. Otherwise, a good starting point would be to try “example.com/feed”, “example.com/index.xml”, “example.com/rss.xml”, or “example.com/atom.xml”. If you really want to get your hands dirty, you could try searching through the website’s code, but at that point you might just need to find an RSS feed generator, or write one yourself if you know how.
So you may be asking, if RSS is so great, how come it’s so unheard of/unused? Well the simple answer would be that there’s no money in it, and a lot of people are now accustomed to using social media for much the same thing, but RSS isn’t entirely without blame. For one thing, the name is stupid, and can even stand for two different things: Really Simple Syndication, and Rich Site Summary. Its sister format, Atom, isn’t any better, and the icon does absolutely nothing to convey what it means. Also, no one has an RSS reader by default, so all most users will ever see is meaningless garbled XML data. In fact, with no potential for monetization, and a tiny userbase, it’s not surprising that some websites don’t have feeds at all. Still, the technology itself is a very nice and simple way for keeping up with your favorite sites, and its usefulness as a sort of crude API for web developers will keep it alive even long after Facebook and Twitter are gone. Google Reader is dead, but long live RSS!
A Review of Star Wars SquadronsBy stephenvk
A long time in a go in a galaxy not so far away, space simulators such as the Elite, Wing Commander, and Descent series were all the rage on primitive computers which were incredibly limited by every metric where blazing fast speed and raw unrestrained power are expected today. Even so, these games often pushed the limits of these machines, simulating a galaxy-wide economy, or the navigational systems of a believable spaceship, often using most of the keys on the keyboard with their myriad controls. Sadly these games fell from prominence in the early naughts, but they have been making a resurgence over the last several years. One of the latest to join this new guard is EA and Motive’s Star Wars: Squadrons, which purports itself to be a re-imagining of the classic X-wing and TIE Fighter games of the 1990’s. But with so many new features, a focus on team-based multiplayer, and the need for compatibility with game controllers on console, one has to wonder how much of the older sims is still there, and what new ideas have been brought to the table.
The core of Star Wars: Squadrons is, well, your squadron. Conventional wisdom holds that a squadron is a group of fighters all of the same class, but this game focuses on small teams of different kinds of fighters, reminiscent of the teams of mercenaries in Team Fortress 2. They can be customized with weapons loadouts, engines, shields, and cosmetics as you progress. In the Fleet Battle game mode each team tries to destroy as many enemy fighters and capital ships as possible to boost their “morale” and diminish that of the enemy. I really don’t like just how wantonly Imperial Star Destroyers, the invincible symbols of Imperial might and power, are taken down like younglings in the Jedi Temple, but this is a problem across a lot of the new Star Wars media so it wouldn’t be fair to single out Squadrons for this.
As for the navigation mechanics, maybe it’s just the layout of the maps, but movement often seems to take place in more of a 2D plane than 3D space. It almost feels more like a vehicular combat game than an arcade flight sim. Most of the maps are centered around giant space stations, so players feel like they’re going fast as they zip past which would be more difficult to convey in just the blackness of space. There’s also “drifting”, which can be done immediately after using the speed boost to let you quickly change direction, and then you boost again to go. It’s really more of a hard-coded gimmick than a natural consequence of the game’s flight engine - a very important gimmick mind you, but not as flexible or physically realistic as a 2003 game called Freelancer. In that game when you kill your engines, your ship coasts along until you fire your thrusters pointing in the direction you want to go. There’s also an odd mechanic that arbitrarily makes 50% the optimal speed for turning; I have no idea why this was done other than to make things more complicated.
Speaking of the speed boost though, it’s part of a significant change to the Engines/Lasers/Shields power management from the classic games. In the 1993 X-Wing sim (and virtually every space game since) your engines also generate power, which is limited so you have to be smart about how you distribute it. In the old games F9 would toggle through the five settings for lasers, and F10 would toggle through the shield settings, while engines would just keep whatever was left. Lasers and shields would discharge over time if unpowered but could be overcharged to increase their capacity. Well, in Squadrons the engines are treated as a separate system, and when you shunt more power to them it will also fill your boost meter. (Shunting it to lasers will do more damage, though I’m not sure if shields do anything.) I guess the idea was so you could quickly max out one system or equalize them all with the four D-pad buttons on a controller. Also by default there’s only three or four settings per system, but you can get the classic five settings in the options.
All in all Squadrons is a fun game and I look forward to playing the local multiplayer, but it seems like the developers opted for more mechanics which add a lot of complexity to the game, rather than a few simple ones which lead to gameplay depth. This is somewhat true of many space sims, but I feel that this is especially so for Squadrons. As for how it compares to the older sims, it definitely was not striving for realism or tactics but instead went with a flight system with an emphasis on going fast and unleashing absolute destruction on the enemy. It may not have the more tactical engagements or the refined targeting systems of TIE Fighter or Freespace 2, but it certainly makes up for this in providing a fun, fast-paced experience to enjoy with family and friends, whether on the living room couch or across the globe via the Internet.
EDIT: Darn it, there is no local multiplayer. Just the online, so if you wanted to play it with family you’d have to buy another copy. I’m sure there are ways around that…
Tags: Star Wars, Game Review, Space Sims