Chili season 2018

Time to start preparing for the next summer’s chili season. This time I have promised myself that I will not fool around with any silly Ikea “passive hydroponics” system or similar. Just old-fashioned soil, some peat, water and a light. But I will make use of the Ikea cultivation pots and led lights, as much as possible.

I will also try to radically cut down the number of plants that I’ll grow this time. Last summer was cold, damp, dark and bad in so many ways, but one part of the problem was that I had just too many plants in the end. Packing plants too densely into a small greenhouse will just predispose all plants to pests and diseases. Smaller number is also good for getting enough sunshine and good airflow around all plants.

I am again putting my trust in Finnish chili seeds from (Jukka Kilpinen’s “Chile Pepper Empire”). I am trying to grow five plants:

  • Naga Morich (C. chinense)
  • Carolina Reaper x 7pot Douglah (C. Chinense hybrid, F2 generation)
  • 7pot Primo Orange (C. chinense)
  • Moruga Scorpion (C. chinense)
  • Rocoto Riesen, Yellow (C. pubescens)

You might spot a pattern here: this is apparently the year of superhots for me (the Rocoto Riesen is the odd one out – thanks to Fatalii for dropping it into my order as a “surprise extra”). Originally I was planning on focusing on just my regular kitchen varieties (Lemon Drop, etc.), but losing all my hot chilies last summer left some kind of craving for retribution. If all these grow into proper plants, and yield proper crops, I will be in trouble. But: let’s see!

Tools for Trade

Lenovo X1 Yoga (2nd gen) in tablet mode
Lenovo X1 Yoga (2nd gen) in tablet mode.

The key research infrastructures these days include e.g. access to online publication databases, and ability to communicate with your colleagues (including such prosaic things as email, file sharing and real-time chat). While an astrophysicist relies on satellite data and a physicist to a particle accelerator, for example, in research and humanities and human sciences is less reliant on expensive technical infrastructures. Understanding how to do an interview, design a reliable survey, or being able to carefully read, analyse and interpret human texts and expressions is often enough.

Said that, there are tools that are useful for researchers of many kinds and fields. Solid reference database system is one (I use Zotero). In everyday meetings and in the field, note taking is one of the key skills and practices. While most of us carry our trusty laptops everywhere, one can do with a lightweight device, such as iPad Pro. There are nice keyboard covers and precise active pens available for today’s tablet computers. When I type more, I usually pick up my trusty Logitech K810 (I have several of those). But Lenovo Yoga 510 that I have at home has also that kind of keyboard that I love: snappy and precise, but light of touch, and of low profile. It is also a two-in-one, convertible laptop, but a much better version from same company is X1 Yoga (2nd generation). That one is equipped with a built-in active pen, while being also flexible and powerful enough so that it can run both utility software, and contemporary games and VR applications – at least when linked with an eGPU system. For that, I use Asus ROG XG Station 2, which connects to X1 Yoga with a Thunderbolt 3 cable, thereby plugging into the graphics power of NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070. A system like this has the benefit that one can carry around a reasonably light and thin laptop computer, which scales up to workstation class capabilities when plugged in at the desk.

ROG XG Station 2 with Thunderbolt 3.
ROG XG Station 2 with Thunderbolt 3.

One of the most useful research tools is actually a capable smartphone. For example, with a good mobile camera one can take photos to make visual notes, photograph one’s handwritten notes, or shoot copies of projected presentation slides at seminars and conferences. When coupled with a fast 4G or Wi-Fi connection and automatic upload to a cloud service, the same photo notes almost immediately appear also the laptop computer, so that they can be attached to the right folder, or combined with typed observation notes and metadata. This is much faster than having a high-resolution video recording of the event; that kind of more robust documentation setups are necessary in certain experimental settings, focus group interview sessions, collaborative innovation workshops, etc., but in many occasions written notes and mobile phone photos are just enough. I personally use both iPhone (8 Plus) and Android systems (Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and S7).

Writing is one of they key things academics do, and writing software is a research tool category on its own. For active pen handwriting I use both Microsoft OneNote and Nebo by MyScript. Nebo is particularly good in real-time text recognition and automatic conversion of drawn shapes into vector graphics. I link a video by them below:

My main note database is at Evernote, while online collaborative writing and planning is mostly done in Google Docs/Drive, and consortium project file sharing is done either in Dropbox or in Office365.

Microsoft Word may be the gold standard of writing software in stand-alone documents, but their relative share has radically gone down in today’s distributed and collaborative work. And while MS Word might still have the best multi-lingual proofing tools, for example, the first draft might come from an online Google Document, and the final copy end up into WordPress, to be published in some research project blog or website, or in a peer-reviewed online academic publication, for example. The long, book length projects are best handled in dedicated writing environment such as Scrivener, but most collaborative book projects are best handled with a combination of different tools, combined with cloud based sharing and collaboration in services like Dropbox, Drive, or Office365.

If you have not collaborated in this kind of environment, have a look at tutorials, here is just a short video introduction by Google into sharing in Docs:

What are your favourite research and writing tools?

Year 2017 in Retrospect

The past year, 2017, has been so intense and packed to the brim, that it is hard to produce any sort of coherent picture, what it was all about. There remains just some flashes from the road: some new places visited, Wroclaw Poland, Hong Kong China, start as the vice dean of the new Faculty of Communication Sciences, cultivating chili peppers (only to be let down by one of the worst summer weathers in years), testing and adopting to daily use new technologies, Apple Airpods, Lenovo Yoga 2-in-1s, playing Pokémon GO in streets and parks, around the world, making plans and proposals, presenting and negotiating, being happy with the people, frustrated with the people, enjoying nature, enjoying good food, taking photographs, editing and sharing photographs, working late, sleeping badly, sleeping well, playing games, not being able to play games, getting the Centre of Excellence approved, working with colleagues on new degree programs, working with colleagues on Tampere3 university merger, working, taking kids to school, to hobbies, making food and reading bedtime stories, feeding birds, walking out in the snow, in sunshine, in rain, going to sauna. There have been many things worth remembering, some worth forgetting. Have a better year, next year, everyone!

Drone from China:

Some experiences from international trade: in late June, I ordered a “drone” – a remote controlled quadcopter – from Chinese seller The drone in question was MJX Bugs 2 model, with GPS, 1080P camera, altitude hold, and other nice features, and GeekBying was advertising the best price.

GeekBying changed the delivery company from TNT that I had asked to DHL, but I finally got the drone, at 10th July. It appeared to be a fine little device and worked fine – for two minutes. Then it run out of battery, and a key problem emerged: the battery did not charge with the provided charger. The drone remained dead.

I contacted GeekBuying and their “After Sales Service”, and they responded by asking photo or video evidence of the problem. I made a video where I showed how connecting the charger to the battery does nothing. There was a wait (of ten days) after which they said that they had “contacted the manufacturer” and that are convinced that this is a battery problem. However, a battery is small and “easy to lose during the way” so they wanted me to make another order, where the replacement battery could be combined. This sounded a bit odd. I said that thank you, but I am not interested to order something else at the moment, but I would appreciate if they could just send me the replacement battery.

Another long wait. Finally, in 11th August, I got another small package from China, with the replacement battery Geekbuying had sent me. There is a photo below, showing the original Bugs 2 battery, and the “replacement”.

Batteries: original Bugs 2 battery, and the Geekbuying "replacement part"
Batteries: original Bugs 2 battery, and the’s “replacement part”. Make a guess, which is which?

I mailed the GeekBuying After Sales Service again, explaining that the replacement battery was a completely wrong one, and that they had made a mistake. I did send them photos of both batteries, side by side, and explained that the replacement battery was of wrong capacity (750 mAh vs. 1800 mAh of the original), and that it was also of wrong shape, as the original Bugs 2 battery is specially designed to lock into the battery compartment of the drone. The whole deal was starting to smell fishy, and I asked for instructions to return the drone, and get a refund.

GeekBuying responded by email “We are sorry for that the battery is not original, as there is no original battery in manufacturer. We confirmed it and the battery can work on this drone as well, pls try it first.”

I checked their website, and they actually  were themselves advertising the original, 1800 mAh capacity Bugs 2 battery to be sold as a spare part (link here). In my response, I explained this, and said that I am not willing to “try” using a drone with a battery that is not designed for it: even while with a right voltage and connector, the drone might operate for a couple of minutes, this small battery does not lock into the Bugs 2 battery compartment. It would be dangerous to fly a drone with it, as the battery might just disconnect, and the drone could drop on something – or someone. I also considered it fraudulent practice to mail me a wrong battery, and claim that the manufacturer has no suitable battery, as they themselves openly advertise and sell the correct, original battery.

At this point I escalated the issue in into a claim. I had used PayPal in online shopping, because they advertise certain level of buyer protection.

Even after this, the only responses I got from were emails asking me to use the wrong, small battery, and send them some videos showing how it is operating. Even a single look at the photo (above) would be enough to point out that this makes no sense.

I thought that most obvious rotten practices would had been rooted out from online shopping – at least with big online stores, but this experience at least suggest otherwise. GeekBuying as a seller has been trying me to make further orders, so that it would make better financial sense for them to post the replacement battery to the faulty product they had sold and shipped. And, as I refused to make further orders, they deliberately posted a wrongly designed, smaller battery as a replacement – something that might even put the persons using the wrong battery while flying a drone into physical danger.

It will be interesting to see if I will get any refund from the drone, in the end. There is the added complication that products with lithium ion batteries can usually be shipped from China, as they come in cargo planes. But – as the kind lady in local post office today explained to me – an individual might have trouble shipping them back, due to the tighter safety regulations of regular airmail. I tried disabling the batteries (using sticky tape) and got the drone and both batteries submitted as a post package back into seller in China, but if the delivery company refuses to carry them, then I will not get a “confirm receipt of the merchandise” from GeekBuying, and it is unclear if PayPal will cover me, in that case. Also, even while PayPal advertises “Refunded Returns”, with free shipping worldwide, the actual claim notice I got from them says that I am personally responsible for all shipping costs.

At this point: the “cheap price” I got from has grown quite a bit:

  • drone price: 106,81 euros
  • shipping (from China): 22,43 euros
  • Finnish customs & DHL service fee: 31.04 euros
  • return shipping fee: 43,00 euros
  • total = 203,28 euros.

And: all the used time, energy and peace of mind for all of this? Priceless?

Edit: finally in October, after initially failing to verify that I had indeed returned the drone to the seller, PayPal in the end (after me resubmitting the claim with photographic evidence) concluded that yes, there was indeed faulty product and wrong replacement battery, and that I had returned it to the seller, and they returned me the drone price. I had lost all the other costs, and all time and energy required.

Server Update: Elementary Error?

I have been running a Windows server in our basement pretty much nonstop since 2008. Originally a personal Web server, this HP Proliant machine has in recent years mostly worked as a LAN file server for backups, media archives and for home-internal sharing. Even with a new 1.5 terabyte disk installed some years ago, it was running out of disk space. The old Windows 2008 Server was also getting painfully slow.

New server components (August 2017)
New server components (August 2017)

I decided to do bit of an update, and got a “small” 120 GB SSD for the new system, and a WD Red 4.0 terabyte NAT disk for data. (I also considered their 8 TB “Archive” disk, but I do not need quite that much space, yet, and the “Red” model was a bit faster for my general purpose use. It was also cheaper.)

This time I decided to go Linux way – my aging dual-core Xeon based system is more suitable for a bit lighter OS than a full Windows Server installation. On the other hand I was curious to try newer Linux distributions, so I picked up the “elementary OS”, which has attracted some positive press recently.

HP Proliant ML110 G5, opened
HP Proliant ML110 G5, opened.

The hardware installation took it’s time, but I must say that I respect the build quality of this budget-class Proliant ML110 Gen5 machine. It has been running soon ten years without a single issue (hardware-related, I mean), and it is very solid, and pleasure to open and maintain (something that cannot be said of several consumer oriented computers that I have used).

Installing elementary OS ("loki")
Installing elementary OS (“loki”)

Also the Linux installation, with my Samba and Dropbox components is now finally up and running. But I have to say that I am a bit disappointed with the elementary OS (0.41 “loki”) at the moment. It might have been wrong distribution for my needs, to start with. It surely looks pretty, but it is also very restricted – many essential administrative tools or features are disabled or not available, by design. Apparently it is made so easy and safe for beginners that it is hard to use this “eOS” for most things that Linux normally is used for: development, programming, systems administration.

It is possible to tweak Linux installations, of course, and I have now patched or hacked the new system to be more allowing and capable, but some new issues have emerged in the process. I wonder if it is possible just to overwrite the “elementary” into a regular Ubuntu Server version, for example, or do I need to reinstall everything and lose the work that I have already done? I need to study the wonderful world of Linux distros a bit more, obviously.

Yoga 510, Signature Edition

2017-07-30 18.39.57At home, I have been setting up and testing a new, dual-boot Win10/Linux system. Lenovo Yoga 510 is a budget-class, two-in-one device that I am currently setting up as a replacement for my old Vivobook (unfortunately, it has a broken power plug/motherboard, now). Technical key specs (510-14ISK, 80S70082MX model, Signature Edition) include an Intel i5-6200U processor (a 2,30-2,80 GHz Skylake model), Intel HD Graphics 520 graphics, 4 GB of DDR4 memory, 128 GB SSD, IPS Full HD (1920 x 1080) 14″ touch-screen display, and a Synaptics touchpad and a backlit keyboard. There is a WiFi (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac) and Bluetooth 4.0. Contrasted to some other, thinner and lighter devices, this one has a nice set of connectors: one USB 2.0, two USB 3.0 ports (no Thunderbolt, though). There is also a combo headphone/mic jack, Harman branded speakers, a memory card slot (SD, SDHC, SDXC, MMC), 720p webcam, and a HDMI connector. There is also a small hidden “Novo Button”, which is needed to get to the BIOS settings.

This is a last-year model (there is already a “Yoga 520” with Kaby Lake chips available), and I got a relatively good deal from Gigantti store (499 euros). (Edit. I forgot to mention this has also a regular, full size wired gigabit ethernet port, which is also nice.)

The strong points (as contrasted to my trusty old Vivobook, that is) are: battery life, which according to my experience and Lenovo promises is over eight hours of light use. The IPS panel is not the best I have seen (MS Surface Pro has really excellent display), but it is still really good as compared to the older, TN panels. Multi-touch also operates pretty well, even if the touchpad is not so much to my taste (its feel is a bit ‘plasticky’, and it uses inferior Synaptics drivers as contrasted to the “precision touchpads”, which send raw data directly to Windows to handle).

2017-08-01 19.21.39The high point of Lenovo Thinkpad laptops has traditionally been their keyboards. This Yoga model is not one of the professional Thinkpad line, but the keyboard is rather good, as compared to the shallow, non responsive keyboards that seem to be the trend these days. The only real problem is the non-standard positioning of up-arrow/PageUp and RightShift keys – it is really maddening to write, and while touch-typing every Right-Shift press produces erroneous keypress that moves the cursor up (potentially e.g. moving focus to “Send Email” rather than to typing, as I have already witnessed). But this can sort of be fixed by use of KeyTweak or similar tool, which can be used to remap these two keys to other way around. Not optimal, but a small nuisance, really.

2017-07-30 18.41.48Installing dual boot Ubuntu requires the usual procedures (disabling Secure Boot, fast startup, shrinking the Windows partition, etc.), but in the end Linux runs on this Lenovo laptop really well. The touch screen and all special keys I have tested work flawlessly right after the standard Ubuntu 17.04 installation, without any gimmicky hacking. Having a solid (bit heavy though) laptop with a 14-inch touch-enabled, 360 degree rotating screen, and which can be used without issues in the most recent versions of both Windows 10 and Linux is a rather nice thing. Happy with this, at the moment.

Linux on Vivobook X202E

Ubuntu on Vivobook X202E
Ubuntu on Vivobook X202E

In January 2013 I bought a Asus Vivobook X202E, a small, budget class, touch screen laptop. It has now served me almost four and a half years – an eternity in ICT terms. For some time it has been upgraded from Windows 8 into Windows 10, which in principle operates rather well. It is just that the operating system eats almost all resources, and it is painfully slow to do anything useful, with contemporary web apps and browsers particularly. Even a Chromebook serves better in that regard.

Last night I tried installing Linux – Ubuntu 17.04 version – into multiboot configuration to X202E. There were certain hurdles in the setup: it was necessary to disable Secure Boot, get into the UEFI/BIOS (fast F2 pressing in boot sequence), disable Fast Boot, enable Lauch CSM (disable Launch PXE OpROM), and enable USB options, in order to make the system bootable from an USB installation stick. (Also, my first attempts were all failures, and it was only when I tried to use another USB stick when the boot from USB disk option came available in UEFI/BIOS.)

Currently, all seems to be ok in Ubuntu, and laptp works much faster than in the Windows side. The battery of this laptop has never been strong, and in its current condition I would say that 2-3 hours is probably maximum it can go, unplugged. Thermal cooling is also weak, but if run ‘indicator-cpufreq’ tool and drop the CPU into slower speeds, the system stays manageable. The reality is, however, that the realistic life cycle of this little machine is coming towards its final rounds. But it is nice to see how Linux can be used to breath some new life into the aging system. Also, the touch controls and gestures are better today in Ubuntu, than they were only few years ago. Linux is not a touch-focused operating system by design, and gestures work rather badly in e.g. Firefox – Chrome is better in that regard. Windows 10 is much more modern in that area, and pen-based computing is something that one can really integrate in one’s daily work flow only in Windows 10. But writing, coding, and various editing tasks for example can be achieved in a small Ubuntu laptop quite nicely. Chromebooks, however, are also making promising steps by opening the vast repositories of Android apps that is good news for hybrid devices and touch-oriented users. Linux remains strong as a geek environment, but when user cultures and mainstream users needs are considered, other software and service ecosystems are currently evolving faster.