A Fresh Change

Mint Mobile mailer

Let’s be honest here, my primary motivation to change cell carriers was to save money. I’ve been paying T-Mobile a LOT of money for many, many years. I’ve gotten advertisements for CREDO mobile in the past, and I’ve looked into GoogleFi and Ting. At the time, I was still part of a big family plan, and the other members of the family were not interested in trying out new carriers.

Mint Mobile mailer inside

Now, with the divorce coming down the pipe, switching carriers provides both for an easy billing split and an opportunity for me to try something new. Enter Mint Mobile, and their $15 per month plan. It seemed entirely too good to be true, so I did some research.

They’re on T-Mobile’s network. They use pre-paid plans, and after the introductory period (3 months), you need to sign up for a year at a time to get the $15 per month rate. There’s no contract. There’s no brick-and-mortar store. Ryan Reynolds is one of the owners. (I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t cool.) If you want to bring your current phone to their network, they have a compatibility checker so you can know ahead of time if it’ll work. In fact, they encourage it. Mine was fully compatible, despite its age.

So, how is the service, really? I can’t comment on their 5G service or coverage, because my phone doesn’t support it. Their 4G LTE service, on the other hand, is just as stable as T-Mobile was. That’s unsurprising, I guess, because Mint uses T-Mobile’s network. The app they use to make the switch, to track data usage, and to make changes to your plan, is simple, straightforward, and a pleasure to use. Did you hear that? An app! That’s a pleasure for this old guy to use! I might be overstating, but IT IS A MIRACLE! EXCLAMATION POINT!

I’ve nearly completed my first month of service, and I can say that the biggest drain on my data usage is using my phone as a hotspot. When the kids want to DJ from a tablet on a car ride, or when I’m outside the laundromat, the data gets drained pretty quickly. I’m not sure what exceptions were going on with my T-Mobile plan that allowed me to get away with less usage before, but I know they had a few labyrinthine “what actually counts as data usage” rules in place.

Would I recommend this service? Yes, if you’re trying to save money, I definitely recommend it. BUT, be knowledgeable about how much data you’re using beforehand, so you don’t get any surprises. Would I mind upgrading to the next plan up for more data? Not at all, as I’d still be saving a ridiculous amount of money every month in comparison with T-Mobile.

Project Computron

Autobot Computron

Ladies, gentlemen, and non-binary friends across the spectrum, this new project, which I’ve dubbed Project Computron, is a meta-project. That’s right! It’s a project that will enable other projects!

Since work is pushing us to learn and use Kubernetes, I have decided that I am going to set up a cluster here at home. But, to have a cluster, I will need multiple machines! And a better wireless setup between my flat (second floor) and where the servers live (the basement). So! First step of prep is to set up a second machine. Well, I’ve been wanting to set up a PeerTube server for a while, so let’s just build that. Behold! My Mastadon toots on my progress!

And with that, the server is ready to go.

Project Conclusion

It’s a good feeling when your ideas are validated by companies taking a chance and investing in them. It’s probably a better feeling when the company in question doesn’t come up with the idea on their own, without you, but I’ll take what I can get.

An unexpected conclusion to the handheld Steam Box project has come in the form of Valve’s very own Steam Deck.

Previous posts on the project:

SteamDeck

The project had been on pause since I’d moved to Detroit, nearly two years ago. My friend had solved the problem of powering the screen off of the computer’s USB power/charging port, which was a huge step forwards.

We’d yet to fashion a case, but we were planning on leaving this iteration corded for power, and tackle a battery in version two. Along with portability, we were planning to add a modern processor and motherboard, as well as a touch screen.

Valve has tackled all of these issues (custom AMD processor!), as well as adding one touch pad on each side of the unit, underneath the analog sticks. They say that it will enable thumb typing, as well as precise mouse pointer control for games that need it. (Stellaris?) I wasn’t so keen on the Steam Controller‘s implementation, but I have high hopes for this device.

Am I upset that Valve beat me to it? Not in the least. I wanted portable PC gaming on Linux to be An Actual Thing in the Real World, and that’s what’s happening. They’ve moved SteamOS from Debian to Arch, but it’s still Linux, baby. Valve’s Proton project is actually commercially viable. Take that, haters!

I’m confident enough that I’ve dropped $5 USD to reserve a unit, and I’m smart enough to have waited to push that button until my unit would ship months after release, ensuring some bug fixes will have already rolled out. Now I just need to wait.

Closing the Plastic Loop

I’ve been recycling for a long time. I was into Captain Planet when I was young, and I ran my high school’s paper recycling club. For home, it started as sorting and dropping off, then sorting for curb pickup. Now it’s just plain old curb pickup, with a side of dropping off for complex things like styrofoam and electronics. But we’ve been able to recycle plastic efficiently for decades, right?

So, plastic is made from oil. Lots of plastic means lots of demand for oil, and if plastic was everywhere, then that demand becomes long term. When plastic’s resistance to degrading naturally became a public issue, the oil companies protected their long-term profits with a massive and prolonged media campaign.

I’d had people tell me, off and on, that most of what I was recycling wasn’t going anywhere but the dump. I didn’t believe it, and I dismissed the idea as paranoid. That would be fraud at a massive level, wouldn’t it?

How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled

Son of a crap. I was wrong, I was lied to (again) by the oil industry, and I ate it up. So, since reading that article, I’ve been looking into ways to recycle plastic myself. I found a kid making slingshots, and that got me started.

How To Recycle HDPE Bottle Lids Into Flawless Flat Sheet Material – Best Results

It took me a while, but I found something called Precious Plastic. They’ve designed small-scale hardware that shreds, melts, and re-casts plastics. As an added bonus, they’ve joined the Open Source Hardware movement, and released their designs and plans for everyone to use.

Precious Plastic

Well, almost anyone. The blades in the plastic shredder need to be laser-cut steel. Extruders emit a lot of fumes, so you should really have an industrial venting system. Oh, and the space they take up is designed for warehouses, not garages or basements. So, this would be great for maker spaces, small companies, or local recycling centers.

Precious Plastic -Version Two

And, really, what would I turn my plastic into? What would I make? Furniture? Drink coasters? How would I make whatever it is? Molds? Cutting and drilling? 3D printing? Wait, hold on a second, 3D printing would be viable for small things, or things built with smallish parts. Could 3D printers even use recycled plastics?

ProtoCycler+

Okay, so it can be done! But this thing only recycles used filament, not other kinds of plastic. It only does tiny bits at a time, and costs way too much money for those limitations. But it’s possible! And wait, why would I need to make things with the recycled plastic filament? Once I have the means, I could definitely turn a bunch of plastic into filament, and give what I can’t use away to maker groups, or even sell it online.

So, all I need to do is find or come up with something between Precious Plastic and the ProtoCycler, acquire or assemble it, and do the thing! Nothing to it, right?

Updates

Please, for the love of everything, confirm that you are registered to vote, and haven’t been removed from the rolls. It will take only moments, and may save your vote.

Writing the No Man’s Sky fan fiction feels good. I am definitely exercising muscles that have been dormant for a while. This will get me ready for writing the next draft of the next chapter of Adam’s Name. And by chapter, I mean book. And by book, I mean… book. Dangit.

The school year has started back up, and we opted for fully virtual, rather than a hybrid in-person and virtual setup. Neither their mom nor I felt or thought that it’s safe enough for anything else. The old adage of schools being petri dishes is incredibly apt right now, no matter how much sterilization or separation that they’re able to pull off. I am more than happy to put up with complaining about the kids missing their friends in exchange for being sure they’re not going to be involved in an outbreak.

The Razer laptop’s battery expanded, contracted, and has been replaced. Kudos to the third party battery company for not abandoning their customer after ten months. Free replacement, no ridiculous hoops, and the new one does the thing. If you’re looking to replace a laptop battery, check out ANTIEE.

Building a Minecraft Machine

So, way back around Christmas time, each of my kids asked me to build something for them or install something on their computers. My daughter wanted to learn a language on her computer. DuoLingo to the rescue. My youngest son wanted java Minecraft, with the Pixelmon mod. Done easily enough. My middle son wanted a computer to play Minecraft on when he came out to my place. Ah! A challenge!

I tend to keep pieces and parts lying around, so I went digging. I had a Lenovo ThinkCentre super small form factor PC from the Other Project, along with its mounting bracket. I had a brand new mouse, but it was from the PS/2 era. I had a monitor that I was using to troubleshoot my server when it went sideways. I had a keyboard collecting dust. That was pretty much everything I needed. Except, of course, the ThinkCentre didn’t have a PS/2 port. Too new for that. So, once again, adapters to the rescue! A quick trip to the local Micro Center, some browsing in their adapter aisle, and I came home with this oldie-but-goodie.

He wanted to play on the family Bedrock server, so Windows 10 was the operating system of choice. Then, I mounted the bracket onto the back of the monitor, and plugged all the bits and bobs in. Keyboard, mouse, monitor, everything was recognized the first time around. There was a little bit of tinkering with drivers, a little bit of poking and prodding, but in the end, everything worked, right down to the wifi.

So, now I’d made the gift, got it together, and tested Minecraft on it. No delays, snappy response, and no drops from the server. It would never play something high-end, but it did what I needed it to do. But, my middle son wasn’t out to my place as often as his younger siblings, so I needed to be able to store it away. The monitor cable was easy to wrap up and tie, but what about the mouse? It couldn’t be permanently shortened, he’d need slack on it when he used it. I’m not sure why, but this is my favorite part of the build. Two curtain hooks from an old box fit right between the computer case and the mount bracket, and the mouse wraps around them just like a vacuum power cord.

When he got the computer, my son loved it. He was excited, and the first thing out of his mouth was… “Can I play Fortnite on it?”

Ah, well. Can’t win them all!

Chip off the old block

It was a proud moment for me when my youngest son brought home a laptop from a garage sale, and said that we should fix it. According to my wife, he talked my repair skills up to the family running the sale, full of pride in his Dad. My wife had grabbed a second one out of the bin, just in case my son’s didn’t work. At $5 each, it was a hell of a deal, and all the buttering up helped a great deal. So, of course I said I’d do it!

The laptop he’d picked out was a Compaq CQ62. Single-core Intel Celeron processor, 2 GB of RAM, and a 256 GB spinning hard drive. The other was a Lonovo Chromebook N22, with mysterious Google magic inside. Maybe also hardware. Neither came with power cords, and the batteries were drained, so of course they didn’t boot up. I ordered some very inexpensive replacement cords from Amazon, and set to cleaning the laptops. They were both missing keys, but that was a worry for after confirming that they’d boot. There was a lot of dust, and some grime on the Compaq’s boards that might’ve been water damage, or might’ve just been storage ick. The Chromebook was sealed together tightly enough that I didn’t want to poke around too much, lest it never fit back together again.

When the power adapters arrived, there was great happiness! Both laptops not only booted, but heir batteries held a charge! The garage sale lady had been honest, and storage hadn’t wreaked too much havoc. For the Compaq, I restored from the factory default, which sped it up a great deal. I upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 10, and the laptop behaved just as snappily. (Shut up, it’s a word!) While watching it chug through updates, I used the task manager to see if there were any resource choke points. Lo and behold, the CPU and RAM were keeping up like champs. The hard drive, on the other hand, was SLOW. Far slower than a spinning drive should be. It passed both the quick and long tests for its manufacturer, but that took ages as well. So, I cloned the drive to a 120 GB SSD that was living in another project computer.

Everyone, I/O speed has way more impact on a machine’s behavior than it has any right to. The difference in behavior was staggering. Windows 10 – fast. LibreOffice – fast. Minecarft – responsive. Roblox – responsive. Steam – hell yeah, I’ll install! YouTube, Twitch streams – smooth! Our only disappointment was a long shot: DC Universe Online. It loaded, and ran, eventually. In the end, it just wasn’t playable with the graphics hardware. He was totally fine with it, and was just happy that it worked. Score!

The Chromebook was even easier. It booted, updated ChromeOS, and just ran. Double-score!

All that was left were the damaged and missing keys. I ordered some replacement from LaptopKey.com, and they… well, some of them popped right on. Some, due to the design of the keyboards, were a bit of a struggle. Unfortunately, they didn’t fix the problem, so I guess those keys were damaged in the layers of the keyboards themselves. Back to Amazon for replacement keyboards! When they arrived, all it took was a couple of YouTube how-to videos, a couple of screwdrivers, and a couple of hours to replace them both. Did they work?

Yes! The Compaq is fully functional and in my son’s room. The Chromebook is on my wife’s chaise lounge, and works for web browsing, app install, and streaming – both Netflix and Amazon. We spent between 40 and 50 USD, and ended up with two functioning laptops. A fun time, and completely worth it!

Giving Up and Making Progress

I’m a little frustrated, and a little irritated. MyMateVince is using Anker power bricks to supply power to many of his mobile projects. Anker themselves said that the power brick I ordered would supply the juice I needed. But, dang it, I couldn’t get it to work. I couldn’t get more power out of the USB ports than the standard amperage, and I couldn’t figure out how to trigger their PowerIQ to open up the floodgates. So, finally, after all of the tries in the previous post, and a few more, I gave up and contacted support

Assembled and updating

Support immediately told me that it was not possible with their current generation of power bricks. There may or may not have been some slamming of my head into my desk. I will neither confirm nor deny. The battery is now being returned for a full refund.

Ahem

This led me to table the idea of powering the first version by battery, and instead focus on a portable, if plugged in, version. Which led to re-assembling the machine, updating the software, and confirming that all the things still worked with all the other things. And they did! The games run even better now that Steam is pushing so hard for more Linux compatibility, some visual artifacts have disappeared, and my available library has more than doubled.

Mocking up the case

On top of that, my friend noticed that the mount plate (that piece of metal that the motherboard screws into) was attached to the case with several spot welds. I was confused by how this mattered, until he pulled out his drill and started drilling out the weld points. A butter knife and some elbow grease later, and the plate was free of the case, and available for us to use. We can now mount the motherboard on one side, and affix it to the case on the other.

Speaking of cases, my friend and I began considering. And, when he considers, it’s more like he starts mocking it up on the spot. He just happened to have this small sheet of steel lying around, and got right to bending it. So far, the only thing that we disagree on is the speaker placement.

I’m right, of course. :)