PenguinDreams

Building a Thin-ITX Router

Thin-ITX Router
Thin-ITX Router

I had been using a Banana Pi BPI-R1 as my router. Due to some reliability issues, I attempted to replace it with a ClearFog Pro, which also met with unfavorable results. Many hobbyist tend to use old PCs as routers, as I have in the past. Due to some scaling down, I no longer have a bucket of spare parts to build a low powered Linux box. Instead of going with another ARM solution, I decided to build a custom x86_64 system based on the Thin-ITX form factor. I discovered that a x86/Thin-ITX solution was more reliable than the ARM alternatives I have tried, and ran the same cost as a high end home router.

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Review: ClearFog Pro

ClearFog Pro
ClearFog Pro

Back in February, I decided to use a Banana Pi BPI-R1 as my primary router. There wasn’t a lot of documentation on setting up the R1 as a router, and understanding the port/vlan mapping was a little complicated, so I wrote a tutorial. The BPI-R1 only has one Gigabit Ethernet controller, shared between the WAN and LAN ports and configured via vlans, which I found could result in potential security issues. Due to stability and security issues, I decided to purchase a ClearFog Pro, which featured separate Ethernet adapters for its switch, primary and SFP port. However, what I soon found was a disappointing mess of hardware and software. The manufacturer has refused my request for a return, leaving me with a $240 USD worthless brick.

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Banana Pi BPI-R1 Fails Into an Insecure State

BPI-R1
BPI-R1

Previously I had written a guide to using a Banana Pi BPI-R1 as a router. As I write this, I’ve been running the BPI-R1 as my home gateway/firewall for approximately nine months. Initially I had problems with the router freezing and needing to be power-cycled every few weeks. Although this is somewhat commonplace and accepted on consumer commodity routers, it shouldn’t be necessary on a piece of hardware designed for hobbyists. Furthermore, there were other stability and hardware issues that could cause the BPI-R1 to reboot as a switch, with public IPs being assigned to internal machines. This effectively disabled the firewall, leaving internal machines in a potentially vulnerable state.

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4k/UHD KVM Switches: The StarTech SV231MDPU2 and the IOGear GCS62DP

StarTech SV231MDPU2 KVM Switch
StarTech SV231MDPU2 KVM Switch

I recently I purchased a 4K monitor which I intended to use with both my laptop and my desktop. Both machines support a resolution of 4096x2160 over their respective display ports. Individually, each machine works well with the monitor, the Windows laptop being able to drive it at 50Hz and the Linux desktop able to drive it at 60Hz. I’ve owned many KVM switches in the past without major issues, so I was surprised to learn that using a KVM with a 4K/UHD monitor proved to have significantly more challenges than previous interfaces.

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Using the Banana Pi BPI-R1 as a Router With Bananian

Banana Pi BPI-R1 with Enclosure
Banana Pi BPI-R1 with Enclosure

For the past nine months, I’ve been using a BPI-R1 as a personal home router. It’s a small, affordable router board with a Dual-core ARMv7 processor, 1GB of Ram and Gigabit Ethernet. It and can run several flavors of Linux, however getting the initial setup going was a little tricky with the way the Ethernet switch/vlans are configured. The following is a guide to setting up a BPI-R1 using the Bananian Linux distribution.

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Aspell and Hunspell: A Tale of Two Spell Checkers

Feel so Good - The Spelling Mistakes (1980 - Album Art)
Feel so Good - The Spelling Mistakes (1980 - Album Art)

I am a terrible speller. Every few words I find myself hitting the menu key to correct some word staring at me with its squiggly red line. This proved to be horribly difficult back when I used MacOS, which lacks a menu key and requires the user to find the spell correcting shortcut for each individual application (if one even exists). In the Linux world, I’ll often open a terminal and run aspell -a when the traditional spell check fails me. Aspell is remarkably better at correcting my poor spelling, so why then do most Linux application use the terrible checking provided by Hunspell?

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Windows 10 Update KB3176493: All My Drivers Disappeared

Windows 10
Windows 10

Most of the time I spend on my computer is in the Linux world, however I do have a Windows laptop for the non-open applications I need to use from time to time. One of those applications is the video conferencing tool I use for work. Last Wednesday I was working from home, switched to my Windows laptop to prepare for the morning scrum conference, only to find Windows had decided to update and restart itself. Annoying, but not a big deal, until I logged in and realized that all my drivers for networking, bluetooh, usb audio and usb video were all disabled.

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The Philosophy of Open Source in Community and Enterprise Software

Open Source Initiative (OSI) Logo
Open Source Initiative (OSI) Logo

The idea behind open source software is a simple one. Developers decide to make the source code for their software available for free, for everyone to use, modify and redistribute. However, not all open source licenses force redistribution. Many projects today symbolically adopt a banner of open source while their primary motivation is product monetization over building community. Some go as far as to making their products difficult to use without paid support or even removing critical features and placing them in an enterprise version. We’re going to take a look at commercial/open business models implemented by companies like Alfresco, TypeSafe, Apple, Google and others. We’ll examine how they fit in with various open source philosophies of the past and where we are likely to go in the future.

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ScalaTest: BeforeAndAfterAll Does Not Work

Scala

There’s nothing quite like not being able to get something to work the way it should, and implementing a terrible hack instead. It may work for now, but you can only kick that can so far down the road. Recently a coworker discovered one of my terrible hacks, and after months of kicking the can, I finally had to figure it out. The answer involved a long journey, ending in changing a series of hyphens (-) to the in keyword. It wasn’t a bug, just an oddity of the way that the ScalaTest framework works.

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Android Fragmentation: Why the Firmware Model Doesn't Work for General Purpose Operating Systems

Android Boot Screen

When it comes to most general purpose operating systems, including Windows, Mac OS X and many Linux desktop distribution, an end user can wipe a device and reinstall that operating system from scratch. So long as the hardware is supported, or has available device drivers, the machine can work with a stock version of the operating system. When it comes to embedded systems, many use firmware, a combination of an operating system and applications, typically stored on read-only storage, and tailored specifically for a device; hardwired for a limited set of functionality.

When Google originally purchased Android Inc in 2005, their development and releases of Android for cellphones was treated more like firmware than a general purpose operating system. As Android has grown, manufactures use the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) as a base, modifying it for each of their individual headsets. The result is that users are now dependent on operating system updates from each manufacturer, leaving many devices with obsolete versions of software or worse, major unpatched security vulnerabilities. This is what’s known as Android fragmentation.

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