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I have finally found some time to play with the Raspberry Pi. Nothing spectacular; I have great things in mind for it, but for the moment I would just like it to take over the “solar” duties of the Asus EeePc that is running permanently (and hence providing a small heat source in the winter, right on my desk).

One of the first things I tried is prepping the Pi to run all that old Python USB stuff the SMA Sunny Boy requires me to use. My habit of trying to document my experiences as much as possible paid off: I just had to follow the instructions I wrote down myself in 2017 how to install an old pyusb package on Ubuntu – much to my surprise, they work flawlessly on the Raspbian 10 running on the Pi. Onwards to further testing!

It does not rain that often on July 1st here in Belgium, but it did in 2020 ;-)

Our solar electricity production numbers for June are not influenced by the latest rainy days, luckily: the panels generated just a bit more than the average of the past 10 months of June. In total, we have now surpassed the 22 MWh mark in ten and a half years.

In 2017, I was looking for a wrist-based device that would do three things:

  • keep an eye on my heart rate at all times;
  • serve as a subtle alarm clock;
  • last longer than 24 hours on a single battery charge.

I was lucky to find a refurbished Huawei Fit with standard warranty for little money, and I must admit that it did exactly what I wanted. The heart rate numbers registered by the device were pretty close to those that appeared on the cardiologists monitor. I only overslept when I really wanted to, ignoring the gentle buzz of the Fit. Just having a black and white screen was good enough for me, and that screen clearly helped to realise my third requirement: it would easily last for 5 to 6 days on a single charge without being too big and bulky. The Huawei Health app was (is) not ideal but certainly sufficient for my purposes.

Since a few months however, the Fit slowly started to degrade. Not by failing, no, but the battery performance started to get worse. And energetic physical exercise, like working in the garden, resulted in water vapour (sweat!) on the inside of the glass, rendering the screen unreadable for many hours. Time to look out for a replacement.

I surveyed the large field of activity trackers, sport watches and smart watches (if only because it is hard to distinguish those categories and the devices in them). I have no need to add applications to my watch, but I do want a measure of interaction between the watch and my phone – hence a certain measure of “smarts” is required in the watch.

Finding a replacement turned out to hard: the number of available smartwatches and activity trackers has grown, as have their features. But when you look at the battery life, the manufacturers seem to have problems extending the battery life of those new devices substantially. The Apple Watch hardly lasts a day. Android Wear devices can get you through two days if you’re lucky. Garmin has a few devices that do (much) better – if you are an athlete, you can do worse than pick one of their watches.

In the end, it turned out that the real champion of battery life is still Huawei, with the GT 2 series devices. By the way: the Honor MagicWatch 2 is almost identical to them. I saw the Huawei GT 2 on the wrist of a colleague, who spoke very favourably of it. My wrist is rather thin, so I chose the GT 2e for a better fit. 46mm is large, but I wanted to maximise the battery capacity.

I had to wait a few weeks to get it delivered (so much for webshops that promise stock availability and overnight delivery!) but I will say that so far I am quite happy with it.

The Huawei GT 2e is a large device, but it just fits my wrist and is quite comfortable. The sporty strap is a lot better and less sweaty than the one on the Fit. There is currently no real choice in alternative straps, and that is one thing I look forward to: for a more formal occasion I would like to be able to change the strap, but it would have to be a strap that closely fits to the watch’s body, like the original.

Old and new on the same arm ;-)

The screen is very nice, although not as bright as I expected: in bright sunlight some effort is needed to read all details. Functionally, it does more than what I want or need, so I have no complaints there. Did I mention that it is a relatively cheap device, compared to similar sport watches? I hope this one will last at least 3 years as well, and possibly more.

I do have a wish, though: Huawei should work on the iOS version of its Health app. Compared to the Android version, the iPhone version is missing more than a few things that I would like to use. Being able to tune the app notifications in more detail is my most important request. So there you have it, Huawei: the watch is good enough, but it will take an extra effort on the iOS app to make it even better!

Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading) has constructed a visual representation of the of the change in temperature as measured in each country over the past 100+ years: blue means “colder than average”, red means “warmer than average”. Check it out yourself at https://showyourstripes.info/.

Source: https://showyourstripes.info/ (Ed Hawkins) – click on the image to see the stripes for other parts of the world.

Since a large part of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, it is also interesting to have a look at the graphs for the oceans. There are striking differences in the temperature evolution of the North and South Atlantic Ocean respectively. Even more extreme is the graph for the Arctic waters: look at all that red in the last 15 years!

Source: https://showyourstripes.info/ (Ed Hawkins) – click on the image to see the stripes for other parts of the world.

 

My setup has been the same since quite a few years now: I have a Keepass file on Dropbox, and I use several different applications and apps on multiple devices to access and update that file. Which applications, you ask?

On my Macs as well as on my Xubuntu machines I will use Keeweb. Despite its name, it gives you a desktop application that natively accesses (and syncs) files on Dropbox. This is the application I go to for when I want or need to reorganise the Keepass file, e.g. to rearrange groups or import lots of account data.

I would use Keeweb on a Windows PC as well – if I had one. At work, we have no free choice of which application to use to store passwords, but luckily we do have the “official” Keepass Password Safe at our disposal.

On Android my favourite Keepass app is called Keepass2Android. I will admit that I made that choice a few years ago, and haven’t checked on its competitors recently (are there competitors of note, by the way?). But it does what I need it to do; it accepts Dropbox as cloud storage and it will even merge changes from the local version and the Dropbox version when it detects differences between the two during the synchronisation process. That last one is a killer feature, and it hasn’t failed me a single time in the years I have been using it.

On iOS the situation is a little more complicated – at least, that how it feels to me. I wrote earlier about KeePassium, and that is still my app of choice. I like the interface, and it does all I need when I look for account info (you can store more than just passwords there!).

But in order to sync my central file on Dropbox, on iOS the app has to go through the “Files” app from Apple. Files-the-app is capable of showing files of all kinds on the iOS device, as well as the files on several cloud file systems, like Dropbox. What is less clear to me, however, is how quickly “Files” notices changes on Dropbox and picks up the latest version of my central KeePass file. I also have had trouble getting the latest version of my file (as changed on Android, for example) onto my iPhone. Although I must admit that the last few weeks fared better: I haven’t noticed anymore missing syncs lately. What I can’t say is whether the issue was/is with Files rather than KeePassium or even my internet connection…

Anyway, when it comes to passwords I want to be sure that I’m not missing any information – or worse: I don’t want to overwrite my updated central file with an older version on iPhone! That’s why I currently always check the “last updated on” date of my Dropbox file in Files before opening the file again. Of course my Dropbox account is protected with a password, but I don’t think that is what Andrei Popleteev means when he’s writing about “How to sync KeePassium with Dropbox“.

Manually checking the file date on iOS is not an ideal situation, I know, but to me that check is a small price to pay for the greater good of having my account data available on all the platforms I use! And for me, KeePassium is still the way to go on iOS.

I know I’m (very) late to the party, but nevertheless, here it is:

Welcome in my computer stable, Raspberry Pi!

No, I’m not going to gut my Macintosh SE/30 to use it as an iPad stand.

But yes, this is a cute mod !

Photo by ‘mtietje’ on Imgur – Click on the picture to see the rest of the gallery.

Yes, “warm” and “sunny” are again the words needed to describe the local weather during May 2020. The COViD-19 measures keep us close to our house, but when we go for a long walk the atmosphere is that of a summer holiday walk. There is much less traffic on the roads, and you encounter more people walking or riding a bicycle. All that enhances the holiday feeling, and takes away a big part of the pre-Corona pressure to rush and hurry. It may seem contradictory, but yes indeed, during those walks we feel like we’re on holiday – even in the midst of a serious crisis.

May 2020 was sunny, indeed: it failed to set the highest electricity production number for the month of May in our installation by a hair. Only May 2011 did slightly better (332KWh vs. 330Kh), and that was in a time when our panels were still very new!

All that sunshine is fine – except for our garden (and for the farmers). The spring of 2020 is sunny and warm, but also very dry. This is not the post where you might expect this phrase, but here it is nonetheless: we need rain too!

Here in Europe, thanks to the surge in homeworking, there is no way to get your hands on a new webcam – they’re sold out everywhere. So I tried another solution for my older desktop machine running Xubuntu.

While installing Droidcam on Xubuntu, I encountered the following message:

gcc: error: make: No such file or directory

Strange, since I had just installed the complete GCC.

But while the GCC may have been complete, ‘make’ is a separate tool. The simplest way to install it is:

sudo apt-get install build-essential

It’s easy, once you know – but I can imagine that it’s not that easy if you’re not a developer (or a seasoned Linux user). But neither is getting Droidcam to work on Ubuntu, by the way – it takes a lot of tinkering to get it to work over USB, including the right developer mode settings on the phone as well as installing the ADB tools on Xubuntu with:

apt-get install android-tools-adb android-tools-fastboot

Now I just need a longer USB-C cable to position the phone above my desk rather than below it!

Can’t use this camera position in Skype – where’s that long cable?

As an aside: the lsusb on Xubuntu recognizes my Samsung Note 10+ as a “Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd GT-I9300 Phone [Galaxy S III] (PTP mode)“. I never connected my S3 to this copy of Xubuntu, so there must be another explanation for that weirdness…

I have written about my tribulations with the Xerox Phaser 3260 laser printer earlier this year. All in all, I’m happy with the machine: it’s probably not the cheapest option but it worked without fail for many years now, mainly helping my children with their homework and their university courses.

The trouble I wrote about earlier was in fact solely due to the appearance of Mac OS “Catalina”: this version of Mac OS requires 64-bit drivers, which were unavailable from Xerox for a very long time. During the whole process of trying out how best to work with different versions of Mac OS and the corresponding drivers I also turned on AirPrint in the printer settings. I did not hope to solve our problems that way, but in house full of iPhones and iPads AirPrint comes in handy. And turning it on for the Xerox is just a matter of clicking once:

As it turns out, this is actually the easiest way to get any Mac to print to the Phaser – even without any printer driver software. So here’s my tip of the day: if you are the owner of one or more Mac’s or iOS devices, make sure your printer understands AirPrint and turn it on! As long as you don’t need any fancy features of your printer, say for printing photos, this is the easiest and quickest way to get your printer working for you.

If I ever need to buy another printer, I’ll make sure it understands AirPrint ;-)

Last year, my brother moved to a house in what we would (almost) call the countryside. The lockdown provided him with lots of time to clean up his garden, which includes a chicken coop and a greenhouse – we all hope to be invited for a celebratory BBQ, by the way ;-)

Guess what he found in the chicken coop: a mouldy camera bag with a camera and a few lenses. Photography being one of my interests, he dropped the bag at my door last weekend. I investigated the contents: the bag went straight into the rubbish bin.

The camera turns out to be a Mamiya/Sekor 500 TL, a single-lens reflex camera for M42 lenses. It came with an uninspiring Auto Mamiya/Sekor 1:2.8 50mm lens.

The Mamiya/Sekor 500 TL

I found a few references to this model on the Internet, and having handled one myself I can understand why one (recent) review calls this camera “big, chunky and disappointing“. It is indeed well-built and probably very strong camera, but it’s also quite heavy.

The Sekor 500 TL was introduced to the market in 1966, but I guess the one I have here is younger than that. Contrary to the 1966 model, it does have a self-timer. As a nice addition, it also includes a detachable (cold) flash shoe accessory from Asahi-Pentax; I guess those two brands had similar prisms on their cameras, or it would not have fitted so well.

The Asahi Pentax flash shoe

I already have a few camera’s in my collection, and this could be a new addition… but this particular item is damaged: it has a serious dent. I’m not even sure the back closes correctly, which is essential for any camera.

The dent is quite serious, given the heavy construction of this camera

Even if there is no internal damage such a dent makes the camera probably worthless. My shelve space is rather limited, and that makes me wonder: should I really keep this one, dent and all?

PS. These are my first “product stills”, and I know that I have a lot of work to do on the white balance of those pictures!

Meteorologically speaking April was a warm and sunny month in Belgium, and that was clear from what we saw in our garden: the grass grew very fast, and our trees bloomed two to three weeks earlier than normal. Local tradition demands that we wear Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) on the International Worker’s Day events. It has been quite a while since the lily of the valley plants in our garden bore flowers on May 1st; this year, they were almost all gone before that day!

The first open flowers on our lily-of-the-valley already appeared on April 10th.

Those warm and sunny conditions are of course reflected in our solar energy production numbers. April numbers ended at almost 115% of the average for the month, and only two Aprils did better – almost a decade ago, when the reflective coating on the roof was still really reflective ;-)

I may not have much faith in Samsung’s will to do what I think they should do: keep the software of their devices up to date for more than 2 years. But I must report that the Galaxy S7 received another update to its OS: at least the Android security patch level has been upgraded to the version of March 1, 2020. Keep it up, Samsung!

Minor updates only – but that’s better than nothing!