Stranger Things, the Satanic Panic, and Life as a Nerd in the 80’s

I spent the last two weeks recovering from another bout of COVID. This time, I had to quarantine from the family in a hotel room. As a fan of heist movies, I have always wondered what it would be like to hide out in a crappy motel somewhere. Turns out that it’s pretty boring. I watched a lot of TV.

I finished season 4 of Stranger Things. For me, the story has taken on a life of its own. Whether this season is “good” or not is kind of immaterial. I just need to experience the story. The satisfaction part will come later when I re-watch it for the second or third time.

In many ways, the show is a stylized version of my own childhood. I grew up in a small town, and I went to a small high school. Like Mike, I got bullied for being a nerd. Like Lucas, I used sports (Tae Kwon Do and Kung Fu) to break out of that mold. This season also introduced Eddie, a metalhead who used drugs and music to define his identity as something more than a nerd. Instead of metal, I was into punk and alternative.

Of particular interest to me in this season is the association of Dungeons and Dragons with Satan worship. The fear of Satanic Cults was palpable when I was in middle school in the 80’s. My choices in music and games lead to some real conflict with teachers and other kids. Especially those who were practicing evangelicals. This became known as the Satanic Panic, where religious people were terrified of a massive covert conspiracy to sacrifice children to Satan. There are a number or parallels between that and QAnon today. Being misunderstood and even bullied by evangelicals is why I don’t religion of any kind. I have embraced some of the Taoist and Zen philosophy from my martial arts training, but by Western standards I am an Atheist.

Fantasy stories like Lord or the Rings and Dragonlance, combined with my study of fighting arts helped me find my identity as a warrior. It’s why I went into the military, and it’s why I find myself out on the streets marching in protests and Pride parades.

Fascism is here. Now.

I first learned about Jason Stanley when he appeared on the “Deconstructed” podcast. On that podcast (from 3 years ago) he was pretty coy about calling Trump a Fascist. There are other elements at play now in our society besides Trumpism, such as Christian Nationalism (or as I like to call them, Nat-C’s). Anyway, this is how Fascism works, and I am pretty sure it fully manifested about 2 years ago.

Adding a Small Web Server to the Smuggling Operation

One problem with using a single Docker server for a modern smuggling operation is that I end up running a bunch of web applications on different port numbers that I can’t remember. The other challenge is needing to connect to that server from a number of different methods.

I might be connecting through local ports on SSH tunnels, NeoRouter, or via a hostname.

Putting a bunch of links to the different server ports on a webpage *seemed* simple enough: just grab a basic Apache container, fire it up, and create a basic webpage full of hyperlinks. Turns out, there are several challenges with this:

  1. You don’t know what network you will be accessing the server from. The IP, FQDN, or hostname could be different every time you access the webpage. A hyper link to 192.168.1.211 is of no help if that IP is inaccessible to the client. This *could* be solved by using relative paths in the hyperlinks *but*
  2. Apache adds a leading slash to a relative path. That means that a link “:1234″ will point to http://example.com/:1234”
  3. I haven’t created a web page without using a content management system in *at least* 15 years. I am just a bit behind the kids today with their hula-hoops and their rock-and-roll.

So I did what I always do when presented with a technical challenge: fall back on a piece of knowledge that spent like 30 minutes learning that one time, like 20 years ago.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, there used to be these crappy free web hosts like Geocities where people could make their own websites. You could do all kinds of things with Java and JavaScript, but you couldn’t do anything that ran on the web server, like CGI scripts or server-side-includes. Server side includes were important, because you could commonly used code (like the header and footer for the page) in a couple of files, and if you changed one of those files, the change would replicate over your whole site.

You could do something similar with JavaScript. You put the script that you want on every page, and tell JavaScript to load it from a single file. Like so:

<script language="JavaSscript" src="header.js"/>

In the header.js file, I would put in a ton of document.write statements to force the client browser to write out the HTML of the head and body sections of the web page. I called this horrible technique “client-side includes”:

document.write('<body bgcolor="000000">');

For the current challenge, I just have to rewrite the URL for each hyperlink, based on some variables on the page:

< script language="JavaScript" >
     document.write('< a href="' + window.location.protocol + '//' + window.location.hostname + ':8989' + 
window.location.pathname + '"> Sonarr < / a > </script >

Sorry for some of the weird spacing, convincing WordPress to mark up JavaScript without actually executing it is kind of fiddly. The code examples look better here.

The solution works most of the time. I like to browse for torrents with a browser that blocks ads and JavaScript, so I have to enable JS for that tab, and then browse in that tab with caution. Sonarr, Radarr, and the like all rely heavily on JavaScript, so I prefer to use Brave’s shields wherever possible.

Using the Raspberry Pi to Turn an iPad into a Real Computer, part 5a: Fuck it. Use Mosh.

I have been writing a lot about this Raspberry Pi iPad server project and Mosh pretty much seemed purpose-built to solve the “ssh on a mobile device that hates background processes and open connections” problem.

I was doing some clever shit with screen, but I gave mosh a go and it’s dead simple to configure and use with blink.

You literally just install the mosh server on the Pi:
sudo apt install mosh

And the Mosh client is built right into Blink, which is cool. I guess.

Using the Raspberry Pi to Turn an iPad into a Real Computer, part 5: The Networky Bits

Now that I have the Pi set up as both a wireless client, and a Wireless Access Point, it’s time to get the different network tools configured.

Frequently visited networks
The web GUI doesn’t handle connecting to networks. The GUI looks like it will, but it doesn’t actually accomplish anything. I am sure there is a way to configure around the problem, but I haven’t dug into it. Instead, in typical Chris fashion, I just use a super ugly hack based on like 15 minutes of research into the problem. I’ll figure out how to do it the right way in the future (yeah, right.) but for now I just change the SSID and PSK entries in /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf and reboot the Pi.

I used this command to put the SSID info and passphrase into a file:

wpa_passphrase "Totally A Starbucks" LOLnotreallySBUX | tee sbux.txt

Where “Totally A Starbucks” is the SSID for your wireless network (put the name in quotes), and LOLnotreallySBUX is the pre-shared key for your wireless network. I created a different file for each network I want to connect to (home, work, etc.) and then created copies of wpa_supplicant.conf for each network. I call them, creatively enough, home, work, hotspot, and phone.

country=US
ctrl_interface=DIR=/var/run/wpa_supplicant GROUP=netdev
ap_scan=1

update_config=1

Delete any/all network entries, and then use the CTRL+R command in nano to read in the contents of your various files (sbux.txt, in the example above). Then save the file. The sbux.txt file in the example above will look like this:

ctrl_interface=DIR=/var/run/wpa_supplicant GROUP=netdev
ap_scan=1

update_config=1
network={
        ssid="Totally A Starbucks"
        #psk="LOLnotreallySBUX"
        psk=3f825ee60dff2f77fccfd2a74ac08023d69e1a66918687ec513afe438a2bd1fd
}

You will need one “wpa_supplicant.conf” source file for each network. You could call them wpa_supplicant.conf.home, or just home. Then I created shell scripts to copy the home file to wpa_supplicant.conf like so:

#!/bin/sh
sudo cp /etc/wpa_supplicant/home /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf
sudo reboot

I put the shell scripts in the /usr/local/bin directory, so that I could call them simply by typing home.sh or work.sh at the command prompt, and then wait for the Pi to boot back up. It ain’t pretty, but it works… every time.

Stupid (mobile) SSH tricks

Speaking of ugly shell scripts that ignore modern practices in favor of dubious hacks from 20 years ago, using SSH on a tablet is super glitchy. In order to conserve battery power, tablets and smart phones don’t like to run processes in the background. In order to conserve mobile data, tablets and smart phones don’t like to keep network connections open for any length of time. Most smartphone apps are front ends to websites or APIs, so you only need processing and network connection when the app is open. This is fine for just about every mobile app, but it murders SSH. There is a lot of talk about mosh in the Blink documentation. It’s literally a mobile-shell. It’s purpose-built to solve this problem.

So naturally, I am not going to use it yet. I’ll look into mosh at a later date (LOL). Instead I am going to create a Rube Goldberg contraption that is held together with awful shell scripts.

Because my SSH session to the Pi gets dropped a lot, I set up a host in Blink so that I can quickly connect to the Pi just by typing ssh@raspad.

On the Pi, I installed screen so that I can keep a session running and not lose whatever I was doing when the connection drops. To save a few keystrokes, I created another shell script in /usr/local/bin called “scr”:

#!/bin/sh
screen -DR 

I tried some different forms of alias, but this one actually works on the Pi.

Now, all I have to type is ssh raspad to connect to the Pi, and scr to connect to my existing screen session. And if no screen session is available, it creates a new one.

The virtual keyboard on the iPad is different in some ways from a “real” keyboard. There is no CRTL key, no arrow keys, and no F keys (F1, F2, etc.)

Most of the time, my primary workstation is a Windows PC. I have a special .screenrc that I use with PuTTy. For the life of me, I cannot figure out how to press F10 in Blink. So I just changed my .screenrc on the Pi to use F3-F6:

startup_message off

# Window list at the bottom.
# I got the long line of vars from https://bbs.archlinux.org/viewtopic.php?pid=423481#p423481
hardstatus alwayslastline
hardstatus string "%{.kW}%-w%{.W}%n %t%{-}%{=b kw}%?%+w%? %=%c %d/%m/%Y" #B&W & date&time

# From Stephen Shirley
# Don't block command output if the terminal stops responding
# (like if the ssh connection times out for example).
nonblock on

# Allow editors etc. to restore display on exit
# rather than leaving existing text in place
altscreen on

# bind F3 to detach screen session (to background)
bindkey -k k3 detach

# bind F4 to create a new screen
bindkey -k k4 screen

# Bind F5 and F6 to previous and next screen window
bindkey -k k5 prev
bindkey -k k6 next

Nah, fuck that. Just use Mosh.

Mobile Networking

The more work that goes into this little project, the more this is starting to look like a mobile home lab. While I do not have plans to remotely access the Pi from the Internet, nor do I have plans to serve anything from the Pi to the Internet, there are reasons to use dynamic DNS and an overlay network.

I have written about NeoRouter before as a means for gaining remote access to my home network. I also use it on my internal network to get access to my lab servers from my wireless network. My internal wired network (which is my lab, basically) is separated from the family wireless network. Most of the time, it’s to protect the family from my lab. Sometimes it’s the other way around. My modernized smuggling server sits on my lab network, and I use NeoRouter to access its various web interfaces.

Dynamic DNS is another thing that sounds like it’s mostly for remote access, but comes in handy for other things. I used to use it with my mobile phone to do VOIP when I traveled overseas, back what that was humanly possible. The tool that I prefer to use is DDclient.

sudo apt-get install ddclient

Configuring DDclient depends on the dynamic DNS provider that you are signed up with. But once you have it configured, you can test it with this command:

sudo ddclient -daemon=0 -debug -verbose -noquiet

These are the kinds of tools that you set up before you need them. I am not sure if I will ever need them, but it would be nice to have them running properly if I did.

Cool Networking Tools
Now that you can connect to the Pi reliably, and you can get the Pi to connect to the different wireless networks that you may come into contact with in a semi-automated fashion, it’s time to break out the nifty networking tools to run in your screen session.

  1. WaveMon
    For whatever reason, iOS lacks a decent WiFi scanner. Wavemon is a command line Wi-Fi analyzer. The Wi-Fi settings will show you nearby access points, and will use a couple of bars to show you the quality of your connection, but that’s it. To get useful signal info, you need to use Wavemon:

    sudo apt-get install wavemon

    And you run it from the command line like so:

    sudo wavemon

    You need root privileges to do scans for nearby access points. There are other mischievous tools that you can put to work from there, but mostly I use Wi-Fi scanners to see how crowded a given channel is when helping my friends and family set up their wireless networks.

  2. Nmap
    So you found a wireless network to connect to, let find out what’s on it. Nmap is probably the most complicated command line tool in existence. I am by no means and expert on using it. In fact, I really only know how to do like 3 things with it, so I’m not going to go into using Nmap pretty much at all. What I can tell you is that if the wireless network you are on has AP-host isolation enabled, you won’t see any of the wireless clients. Fortunately, the tool is small and requires very little power. This makes it ideal for running on the Raspberry Pi.
    To install Nmap:

    sudo apt-get install nmap

    To scan a single host (one IP address):

    sudo nmap 192.168.50.1

    I don’t remember if you need to be root to run Nmap effectively. Most of my experience with these tools is from Kali Linux (of which there is a Raspberry Pi distribution) where everything runs as root.
    To scan a a whole network (all the IP’s in a subnet):

    sudo nmap 192.168.50.0/24

  3. TCPdump
    We are on the wireless network and we have scanned it for cool things. Now let’s see what kind of chatter is happening. I don’t do it very often, but every once in a while, being able to monitor network traffic comes in handy. On a “real” computer, I prefer to use Wireshark, but tcpdump will work in a pinch. You install it like any other commandline tool:

    sudo apt-get install tcpdump

    And like most scanning and monitoring tools, you need to run it at root. Like Nmap, TCPdump is super complicated. If you want to monitor traffic on your hostAP network, you will need to specify the uap0 interface for your scans. You can filter your results by pretty much anything. For example, you filter ICMP traffic like this:

    sudo tcpdump -i uap0 protocol icmp

  4. iPerf3
    Now that you have seen what’s happening inside your wireless network, it’s time to test network thruput. For this task, I like to use iperf3. You need another computer to run iperf3 to send data to, but any Unix host should be capable of running it. I use it on my admin workstation when I am tinkering at home, and I run it on my hosted VM to test Internet links.
    Like WaveMon or Nmap, it’s dead simple to install:

    sudo apt-get install iperf3

    and also dead simple to run, assuming you have the right arguments:
    On your remote end (aka the hosted server):

    iperf3 -s

    On your local machine (in this case, the Pi):

    iperf3 -c hostname

Now that the Pi has expanded the iPad’s ability to connect and to troubleshoot networks, it’s time to add features that normal people will appreciate, like storage and media streaming.

Using the Raspberry Pi to Turn an iPad into a Real Computer, part 4: RaspAP

My previous post was about pre-configuring the Pi for headless booting that automatically connects to your wireless network.

This is fine for your home network, but it will be difficult to get connected to the Pi when you are traveling. Also, if you are planning to leave the Pi at home, and never use it while traveling, that is waste of a Raspberry Pi. There is a global shortage of Pi’s; they are pretty much impossible to get, even at Pandemic-Profiteering prices. If you just want to do occasional Unix shit on an iPad when you are at home, just use a VM. If you do want to use the Pi out in the field, I recommend RaspAP.

If the headless install went well, you should be able to log into the Pi via SSH and run the RaspAP installer script. I learned about RaspAP from this video:

All did not go well for me in the beginning. I couldn’t connect to the Pi wirelessly to save my life. If I plugged it in to a switch, connecting was not a problem. I tried and tried dozens of different things. I even tried a completely different Pi. It turns out that I was making a few mistakes:

  1. You absolutely have to use the 32bit version of Raspberry Pi OS lite. Not 64 bit. Not the default version that you click on accidentally. 32bit. Lite. No exceptions.
  2. I was getting owned by my own paranoid network security.

You see, the monster that we fear most is the one that we see in the mirror. Spies sweep for bugs, thieves keep things in safes, and hackers enable AP-Host isolation on their wireless networks. Host isolation keeps devices that are connected to an access point from talking to each other. They can see and talk to hosts that are on the same wired network as the AP, so you can connect to servers. The reverse is also true, servers on the wired network can see and talk to hosts that are connected to the AP. What absolutely doesn’t work with AP-Host isolation is an iPad that is connected via WiFi connecting to a RaspberryPi that is also connected to WiFi. You get nothing. Good day sir.

One way to remedy this situation is to use a server on the wired network as a jump box for SSH, and some Stupid SSH Tricks(tm) for mapping port 80 on the Pi to a local port on your iPad or laptop. Rather than deal with the keyboard situation on the iPad, I just used PuTTy on my windows laptop for the initial setup.

Begin the RaspAP install by running the quick installer:
curl -sL https://install.raspap.com | sudo bash

(I’m a Debian guy that still uses su instead of sudo, so I probably over use sudo in all of these examples.)

At this point, the order of operations is critically important. DO NOT START THE HOTSPOT! You need to configure the WiFi Client AP Mode under Hotspot|Advanced before you do anything. You can’t change the AP Mode while the AP is running, and running the AP shuts down wlan0 on the Pi, so you can’t connect to the Pi while the AP is up, and shutting off the AP cuts off your access to the Pi. I had to re-image my SD card a few times because of this error. I guess you can fix this using the wired Ethernet, but I haven’t figured out how.

To enable WiFi Client AP Mode, open the hotspot menu, set the SSID and pre-shared key options for your AP, and then click “save”. Then enable the WiFi Client AP Mode under the Advanced tab. THEN AND ONLY THEN can you start the hotspot.

Now configure hostapd to start at boot:

sudo update-rc.d hostapd defaults
sudo update-rc.d hostapd enable

Then reboot the Pi to make sure the AP comes up:

sudo shutdown -r now

It will take a few minutes for the AP to be visible to the iPad, and once the AP is visible, you should wait for a minute or two before connecting.

The thing to remember from here on out (that you can add as a host in Blink) is that when you are connected to the Pi AP, the Pi’s static IP is 192.168.50.1. From there you can add those sweet delicious network tools that are missing from iOS. My next post will cover some of those tools.

Using the Raspberry Pi to Turn an iPad into a Real Computer, part 3: Pi OS install

In my last post, I talked about setting up the iPad for access to the Raspberry Pi. Now the work on the Pi begins. Before you can do anything with the Pi, you need to install the basic OS. I tried a bunch of things, and in the end, I chose to go with a fully headless install. The Pi is going to be headless for the rest of its life, so it might as well start that way.

Imaging
Most Pi tutorials recommend Balena Etcher or Win32DiskImager to burn your image to an SD card. I have used both tool tons of times and they are both great. In fact, I have been using Win32DiskImager to read my SD cards back to an image file to make incremental backups of this project. Making backups when you hit a major milestone is super important. Also, SD cards fail all the time, so it pays to have good backups.

For this project, I went with Raspberry Pi Imager because you can configure a bunch of stuff during the imaging process. You do this by clicking the little gear icon to the lower right of the “Write” button.

Also, carefully note in the picture above that I chose the “Raspberry Pi Os Lite (32-Bit) option. You may be saying to yourself “Nah son, I’m 64bit for life.” and I am here to tell you that for this project, 64bit is a grave mistake. The RaspAP installer shits itself on 64bit Raspberry Pi OS, and you will catch hell trying to make it work. Don’t be like me. Just run the 32bit version.

Most of the initial config is going to happen with SSH, so scroll down to enable it:

Obviously the Pi needs to connect to the Internet for the initial setup, so you will want to enable Wifi, and program it to connect to your wireless network:

The next item is also important. Configuring the location sets the radio properties for the WiFi adapter, as well as the UTF-8 character set which can affect scripts running later:

At this point, you are ready to boot the Pi. You will need a way to find the IP for the Pi. You can look it up in the DHCP lease table on your router (or other DCHP server). You could run NMAP to scan your wireless subnet and look for an IP running SSHD. If you know the IP of the Pi’s wireless card in advance, you could set up a DHCP reservation. Since I am recycling this Raspberry Pi, I already had a reservation set up from it’s previous life as an amateur radio workstation.

What you don’t want to do is set a static IP just yet. In the next step, we will be setting a static IP, so that you never have to determine the IP of the Pi again.

One thing that I add to Raspberry Pi servers is to reboot them on a regular basis. This step probably isn’t necessary on newer model Pi’s, but between the small amount of memory and the unreliable nature of SD card storage, the 2b would lock up from time to time. To get around this problem I just set up a cron job to reboot the Pi every morning at 4am:
sudo crontab -e

At first you will be prompted to choose an editor. Personally, I prefer nano. Once the file is open in your editor, scroll to the bottom of the file and enter:
0 4 * * * /sbin/shutdown -r now

In my next post, I will cover installing RaspAP, which requires a full update and reboot:
sudo apt update
sudo apt full-upgrade
sudo shutdown -r now

Using the Raspberry Pi to Turn an iPad into a Real Computer, part 2: The iPad

In my last post, I talked about why I wanted to do this project, which was mostly about not wanting an old iPad to sit in a box with all my other crap. It was also about a clever use of a Raspberry Pi. While 99% of the work in this project is setting up the Pi, this post is about setting up the iPad.

Growing up the iPad
My daughter got the iPad when she was 4. We bought it refurbished from Amazon. As much as I dislike Apple as a company, and as a platform, the quality of their hardware is impressive. We put the iPad in a pink foam bumper case. It was subjected to all manner of child induced terrors: spilled milk, sticky fingers, being left to die in random places. Despite being 2 years old when we got it, and her using it for probably 5 years, it’s still in pretty good shape. The screen cracked in one corner.

I cleaned it up, and I put it in a cheap folio case.

Blink
The only real modification I made to the iPad was to install a Unix shell app called Blink. Blink has some essential tools like ping and ssh, along with the ability to map hostnames to IP addresses in a manner similar to /etc/hosts.

The app is $20 per year, it’s meant to be used for home automation, and includes a lot of that. If you aren’t into that you can just shake your iPad every day or two and keep using the app for free.

The iPad’s on screen keyboard doesn’t have some essential keys, like CTRL or arrow keys. If you are going to spend time in the Unix shell, you should probably have a hardware keyboard.

Keyboard
My wife has a Bluetooth keyboard that she uses to live-Tweet TV episodes sometimes. It doesn’t have a touchpad, it runs off of AAA batteries instead of being rechargeable, but it does have arrow keys. The F-keys (F1-F10) behave a little strangely, which I will go into more in the next post about configuring the Pi.

The most practical solution would be a keyboard with a dedicated CTRL key, arrow keys, and a touchpad. If I end up using this gear a lot, I might splurge on a cool keyboard.

I spent a little while shopping for 60% mechanical keyboards. Buying a keyboard is definitely outside of the “shit laying around the house” constraint. A retro-gray keyboard would give the iPad some cool Unix style. A 60% keyboard doesn’t solve the touchpad problem, however, and a lot of 60% layouts don’t have dedicated arrow keys.

Battery
The Raspberry Pi doesn’t have a built-in battery, so using it portably requires a battery bank. I have a small collection of batteries thanks to amateur radio and owning a couple of smartphones with terrible battery life.

The Raspberry Pi 4b requires more amperage than the previous models. I have plugged the Pi into the battery for testing purposes, but I haven’t tested how long the battery lasts with the Pi plugged in. These batteries can completely charge two tablets from 0 to 100% simultaneously, so I am pretty sure I can get several hours of use with the Pi. Of course, in a situation where I am charging the iPad and my 4G hotspot, that duration lowers significantly.

And now, the fun begins: Setting up the Raspberry Pi

Using the Raspberry Pi to Turn an iPad into a Real Computer, part 1: Prologue

This Christmas, we upgraded the kids’ iPads, and I inherited my daughter’s old iPad Air 2. I had an iPad years ago, but I didn’t like it.

I like tablets, I just didn’t like the iPad. Tablets fill this weird gap between a smartphone and a PC, where you can do what you do what you do on your phone (texts, memes, and games) only more comfortably. A laptop is best used when seated, preferably at a desk or table; it’s portable. The smartphone is great when you are out of the house or office and moving around; it’s mobile. The tablet fits into that middle space: seated but not at a desk or table, such as in bed, on the couch, on a long flight, or riding a train. Staring at a screen of any kind in a car for a long time makes me nauseous, so I prefer audio for car trips.

I also hate tablets because they come close to doing what a netbook used to, before 10 inch screens went extinct. (Yes the GPD Pocket is a thing, it’s also the price of a gaming laptop. I already have too many laptops as it is, without dropping 12 Benjamins on another one because it’s cute.) Netbooks are great for note taking in a meeting or class, or for doing light system administration tasks where you need basic networking tools like ping, ssh, or more serious tools like network scanners or wifi analyzers. Android tablets do ok in this regard, but the lineup of network tools for iOS are not great.

The problem with a tablet is that it isn’t a netbook. The problem with a netbook is that it a tablet.

Since inheriting this iPad has cost me nothing (well, I paid for it years ago) I am going to try it again. This time I am also re-creating the netbook experience using recycled technology that I already have. I am trying to create a portable (not necessarily mobile) computing setup that is smaller than a laptop, charges off of 5v DC, does Unix shit reliably, stores files and streams media without Internet access, and fits in my man purse. The theme of this project is “modular off-grid solar powered computing made with shit laying around the house.”

Modular
The essential difference between a tablet and a netbook is the keyboard. The dream is to have either a netbook with a removable screen, or a tablet with a detachable keyboard. Those purpose-built devices are nice, but they are also expensive. For this hand-me-down project I decided to kludge pieces together instead.

Using a tablet keyboard is usually pretty lame, especially a keyboard with no touchpad. Taking my hand off the keyboard to touch the screen is a major distraction. I had a touch screen laptop for years and rarely used that feature. I think I have a decent little Bluetooth keyboard somewhere, one with that ThinkPad nipple-looking thing. It’s probably sitting in a box with a bunch of broken tablets.

As much as I dislike membrane keyboards, they will be significantly better than typing on the iPad when it is propped up in that tilted landscape mode.

Off grid
Traveling with a laptop can be kind of a waste, especially when you end up not using it very much. Wasted suitcase space isn’t that big a deal anymore since haven’t been on an airplane in a couple of years. Anymore, the traveling I do is outdoor stuff like car trips and camping. Tech in these scenarios is great for keeping the kids busy when it’s rainy, cold, or on long car rides. We travel a few times each year to my in-laws lake house where there is tons of nature, but not much access to the Internet. Offline media requires the kind of storage that tablets are notoriously short on.


In the before times, when international travel was a thing, I used a cheap Andoroid tablet and a Chromebook. The Chromebook had a real keyboard and real web browser, while the Android could run arbitrary apps from the Google Play Store. The combination was a decent small toolkit. Between having kids and COVID, I haven’t gone over seas in several years. All that gear is probably obsolete now anyways.

I hate electronic waste, and yet I seem to produce a lot of it.

Shit laying around the house
This project began as a plan to reuse a hand-me-down iPad. I set the old iPad up purely to get access to FaceTime, and as I loaded my old apps on it, I discovered that it was still decently powerful.

I have also collected a few Raspberry Pi’s over the years. I have done maker stuff with them, used them to demonstrate things at 2600, including a Pi PBX one time as a proof of concept. They’re handy little things. As I get more into amateur radio, Pi’s come in handy for different digital and packet modes.

The Pi also runs off 5v DC, albeit at higher than 2a. This isn’t a problem with modern phone chargers and portable battery banks, of which I also have a couple.

Adding Solar
Amateur radio has taught me about the importance of charging batteries in the field. “Field rechargeable” is probably a better term than “solar”. Solar is more of a guideline. If something can charge from USB, you can probably charge it off of solar. If you can charge it off of solar, you can probably charge it off either 5v USB, or 12v car electrical. Wall and car chargers for smartphones are great sources of USB power, and in the family travel scenario, car and wall power make more sense. USB ports in computers can also charge USB devices, although they tend to do it very slowly. The Pi 4 can’t run reliably from a laptop USB.

I have a folding solar panel with a 12v power output and USB outputs. I normally use it to charge my portable solar generator. That’s a stupid name for the device. It’s just a big 12v battery, it doesn’t generate anything. I already have a collection of USB battery banks laying around the house, so one of those should run the Pi for a pretty long time. I even have a USB battery bank with an integrated solar panel, though it takes multiple days worth of good sunlight to fully charge it. I haven’t tried laying out the solar panel with the solar banks plugged into it to see how it charges, but I am hoping to try it out when the weather is nicer.

Stay tuned for the next installment where I get started configuring the iPad.

The Decline of Facebook

I have read and listened to Joseph Bernstein talk about Facebook being a propaganda tool. There is a lot of defining what misinformation is, and what disinformation does, but it’s mostly political. In my opinion, that makes it propaganda. My take away from Bernstein is that the existential threat of Facebook is also propaganda, from Facebook.

One very interesting fact about the Facebook whistleblower disclosures to the SEC, and one that got almost no press attention, is that she claims, based on internal Facebook research, that they were badly misleading investors in the reach and efficacy of their ads. And to me, the most damaging thing you could say about Facebook is that this kind of industrial information machine doesn’t actually work.

Knowing that some of Facebook’s power is a lie is somewhat reassuring. It’s not reassuring enough for me to go back or anything, but it does help me to not look down on the people that still use it.

I am also a big fan of Cory Doctorow’s writing. A few years ago, he blasted Facebook for basically ruining western civilization in order to make money off of advertising. There’s way more to it than that, but basically the huge troves of information that Facebook gathers in the interest of targeted advertising has cause all kinds of negative externalities. Much in the way that hydrocarbons have destroyed the environment for the purposes of selling cheap plastic shit.

Facebook isn’t a mind-control ray. It’s a tool for finding people who possess uncommon, hard-to-locate traits, whether that’s “person thinking of buying a new refrigerator,” “person with the same rare disease as you,” or “person who might participate in a genocidal pogrom,” and then pitching them on a nice side-by-side or some tiki torches, while showing them social proof of the desirability of their course of action, in the form of other people (or bots) that are doing the same thing, so they feel like they’re part of a crowd.

I have done more than my fair share of my own complaining about Facebook. It would appear that Facebook is not the all-powerful propaganda machine that it has been made out to be, and if its stock price is any indication, Facebook may very well be on the decline.

Facebook now has to somehow retain users who are fed up to the eyeballs with its never-ending failures and scandals, while funding a pivot to VR, while fending off overlapping salvoes of global regulatory challenges to its business model, while paying a massive wage premium to attract and retain the workers that it needs to make any of this happen. All that, amid an exodus of its most valuable users and a frontal regulatory assault on its ability to extract revenues from those users’ online activities.