Review: System 76 Wild Dog Pro

Recently, I was trying to work on the desktop at my office and it kept rebooting. Nothing in the logs nor anything to indicate that there might be a software issue, so I just assumed that my now 5 year old machine was probably at its end of life.

Without hesitation I decided to order a new desktop from System 76. I really liked the Sables we bought from them last year, so I figured it would be simple to order a Linux-compatible machine from them.

I went to their “Desktops” page and without much thought decided on the “Wild Dog Pro“. I don’t have huge requirements, so the big monster with wheels the “Silverback” (probably named after the gorilla) was right out. I picked more of a middle of the road machine with the following specs:

  • Case: Black brushed aluminum
  • CPU: 4.2 GHz i7-6700K (4.0 up to 4.2 GHz – 8MB Cache – 4 Cores – 8 Threads) + Liquid Cooling
  • Memory: 32 GB Dual-channel DDR4 at 2133 MHz (4× 8 GB)
  • Graphics: 2 GB GTX 960 Superclocked with 1024 CUDA Cores
  • Storage: 1 TB 2.5″ Solid State Drive
  • Dual Layer CD-RW / DVD-RW
  • WiFi up to 867 Mbps + Bluetooth
  • 3 Year Limited Parts and Labor Warranty

I also ordered two day shipping, since I thought I would need it fast.

I got an order confirmation almost immediately with an estimate of 2 to 6 days to ship. Soon after that I got a note stating that the Wild Dog was running toward the latter end of that range. I figured I could just use my laptop until the new machine arrived if necessary, and I waited.

While I was waiting, I still continued to use my old desktop. I noticed the rebooting issue happened toward the end of the day. It finally dawned on me (I’m a little thick) that it might be heat related. I crawled under the desk to find that the power supply fan wasn’t working. I ordered a new one of those to see if it would help.

Since the new power supply arrived before the Wild Dog shipped, and it fixed my issue, I contacted System 76 to see if I could change the shipping from “speedy” to something more like “camel”. They were happy to do it and refunded the difference in price.

Anyway, the new machine finally arrived (I ordered this on 29 January and got it on 16 February – a little slow but faster than Lenovo and Dell have been for me in the past). It showed up in a standard brown box:

Wild Dog Pro Box

The unit was minimally packaged inside (which I like):

Wild Dog Pro Box Open

Pretty case with a minimalist look:

Wild Dog Pro Front

with all of the “business” being on the back:

Wild Dog Pro Back

This has USB 2.0, USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 ports, including a USB-C connector should you be into such things.

I like the case, but they tape a letter on the top that, when removed, you can still see the marks left by the tape. I haven’t hit this with goo cleaner since it is going under my desk, but it did detract from the overall look of the unit. The letter contained a welcome note and some stickers, as well as a little cut-out dude called the “Desktop Sentinel” and named “M3lvin”. Not quite sure what that is, and a quick Google search turned up nothing.

Wild Dog Pro Letter

Of course, the first thing I did was open it up. The case is nice, although I’ve grown used to captive screws to remove side panels and was surprised when the two I took off came completely off. The system is well laid out inside with room for expansion (I wanted to put in a backup SATA drive to go with the SSD).

Wild Dog Pro Right

Wild Dog Pro Left

I can’t tell you much about the performance. It seems plenty fast, and I downloaded the test suites from Phoronix but just didn’t have the hours to run them for benchmarks. While it ships with Ubuntu 15.10, I’m a Linuxmint guy so I immediately went to install Mint on the machine.

This was harder than I thought it would be. I could not get the BIOS to boot off of the USB stick no matter what I tried (it saw the stick in the boot menu but wouldn’t boot to it). I ended up burning the image to DVD and, while slower, worked fine.

Then it dawned on me that they probably shipped with Ubuntu 15.10 because it has one of those fancy “Skylake” processors which benefits from later kernels. Luckily I had run into this with my Dell laptop, so I installed gcc-4.9 and the 4.4 kernel and everything worked but the wireless card. Turns out you need to install the latest ndiswrapper and you’ll be good to go.

Needless to say I’m eager for Mint 18 to come out with support for the later kernels.

Overall, I’m happy with my purchase. There is room for improvement on the speed of producing it and shipping it out, but my decision to use Mint was totally on me. I look forward to getting many hours of use out of this machine.

Review: Angel Sensor Fitness Tracker

Angel Sensor represents everything that’s wrong with the technology industry today.

TL;DR; Two years ago, Angel Sensor ran an Indiegogo campaign to create an “open sensor for health and fitness”. They implied that the software would be open source. I finally got mine this week and it is total bollocks. Not only is the software not open source, the app that goes with it is barely an app. There is little communication from the vendor to the community, and while the hardware is solid, it is too expensive to manufacture so the “classic” model is obsolete on delivery. Don’t deal with this company.

Okay, so I like metrics. I work on an open source project to monitor anything you reach over the network. I have a weather station at my house and a temperature sensor in my workshop. I am very eager to gather information about what’s going on in my body, and while companies like Fitbit make great products for that purpose, I distrust sending this most personal data to a third party.

So a couple of years ago I did a search on “open source fitness tracking” and came across Angel Sensor. This company claimed that they were going to create an open health platform where the software would be open source, so I bought an Angel Sensor wristband and eagerly awaited its arrival.

And waited. And waited.

Two years later, it finally arrived and it is a total disappointment.

First, the good.

The packaging is nice.

Angel Sensor Box

The band itself is in its own compartment, and on the side of the box is a little drawer that you can pull out containing the accessories:

Angel Sensor What's In the Box

You get the band, a small instruction booklet, a charging cradle and seven flexible clasps (of various lengths) that help hold the band to your wrist.

I picked out a clasp and pretty soon had it on my wrist:

Angel Sensor On Wrist

Although heavier than I would have expected, it felt comfortable, something I could wear 24/7. My LG Urbane watch is slightly thicker but overall a bit lighter:

Angel Sensor vs. LG Urbane

The instruction booklet says to charge the band fully before using, and this is where the problems started. The “classic” uses a charging cradle. At both ends of the band (where the clasp connects) are metal studs. You insert one set of studs (marked on the band) into the cradle to charge it. The problem is that there is nothing in the charger to really grab on to the studs, so in my case it kept losing the connection and charging would stop. I had to prop it up at an angle in order to keep a connection, and even then I wasn’t sure about it staying in place.

Which is a shame, since the band itself is rather stylish. While there is no screen, there are two white LEDs on each side of the band that can glow and pulse to let you know something is going on. I kept having to keep an eye on the LEDs to make sure the thing was still charging.

Note that all this is moot since the classic proved too hard to produce. The new unit is called the M1. The M1 is thicker and you lose water resistance, which I think is an important feature. While I don’t plan to dive with a fitness tracker, I might wash dishes while wearing it, so the ability to be submerged in liquid for a small amount of time is a requirement. The M1 does use a standard microUSB charging connector so that is a plus in its favor.

Summary to this point: solid hardware design, although now obsolete, with a major flaw in the charger.

My real disappointment set in with the software.

I knew something was wrong when they announced on their blog that the first app released would be iOS only. Now I don’t have a problem with people leading with the iOS version, it is a huge market, but when your market differentiation is based on being “open” one would assume that an Android version would be first to encourage more contribution. Alas, the Android version seems to be more of an afterthought. You want to see it? Here it is:

Angel Sensor Android App Screen

Yup. You’re looking at it. No menu, no explanation, just four values.

To get to this point, I downloaded the app from Google Play, launched it, and then paired it with the band. You do this by tapping on the band’s button once, which will cause it to vibrate. The sensor will then show up on the app’s screen and you can connect to it. Note that you have to do this every time you launch the app, or at least I did. The sensor will be identified by a number and a MAC address.

On the main screen you get what I assume to be heart rate, body temperature, number of steps and some unknown value represented in units of “g”. No history, no way to, say, gather and export collected data, no way to even change the temperature units from Celsius to Fahrenheit. The title bar does show connection strength and battery life, but the only other thing is a tab for firmware updates. From what I can tell, it doesn’t actually check anywhere for firmware updates, but it would give you the ability to install one should it be released.

Of course, the app doesn’t tell you the current firmware version, and there doesn’t seem to be a download section anywhere on the Angel website (the support section is just a duplicate of the FAQ section).

Oh, and if you turn it sideways, you get some graphs.

Angel Sensor Android App graphs

No explanation of what is actually being graphed, but it does wiggle around a bit. I did find a Youtube video that suggests the top two graphs are heart related and the bottom one is motion, and the IOS app shown in the video has more features, but since I don’t have a modern iPhone I couldn’t check it out.

Since I couldn’t believe this was it, I kept searching for software related to the Angel Sensor. I did manage to find some code on Github (which appears to be an SDK for accessing the API and perhaps the sad Android app). Of course, the License file is incomplete and doesn’t really say under what license the software is published. Once again people, access to source code doesn’t make it open source.

And this is the biggest flaw with Angel Sensor and one reason I have such an issue with the current technology environment. You have people like Paul Graham crowing about creating income inequality and that has resulted in a new start up life cycle. You come up with an idea (that hasn’t changed) but now you wrap it a bunch of buzzwords, like “open”, “IoT” and “mobile”, even if you don’t really understand what they mean.

Next, you raise some money through crowdfunding, often underestimating the amount needed so your “funding” can be a success. Now, remember, your audience isn’t the poor saps who decided to give you money – you want to show viability to VCs who can deliver the money you’ll actually need. You use the initial cash to build just enough product to either get a lot of investment or get acquired by someone wanting to cut a year or so off developing their own product. This is considered “success” in some circles.


This whole thing is a shame since there is a market for a truly open mobile health platform. I’m not insisting that the hardware be open (I’m not going to build my own silicon molds) but all the software, including the firmware, should be available under an OSI-approved license. Then you need to focus on building a community, and that really requires good communication.

Angel Sensor sucks at communication.

In addition to the total lack of documentation, even their blog fails miserably. In the last half of 2015 there were a total of three posts, the last one from 3 November. I used to be able to get a rapid response from a person named Io Salant, but when I wrote to them a few months ago asking for a status I got:

Io is on a well-deserved leave. Your email has been forwarded to
The team is quite busy, but will make every attempt to get to your email as quickly as possible.

Of course, never heard back. So my now “classic” Angel Sensor is destined for eBay.

In summary, this is another case of a crowdfunded effort done by people in over their heads with no real desire to create something that lasts but to make money at the expense of their customers. I wouldn’t trust Angel Sensor to feed my dog, much less monitor my health, and I can only hope someone with actual ability will come out with a truly open personal medical platform.

Mint 17.3 (Rosa) on the Dell XPS 13 (9343)

I’m a big fan of the Dell XPS 13. It is the first laptop I’ve felt an emotional attachment to since my first Powerbook. The only issue is that I have not been able to run my distro of choice, Linux Mint, due to severe issues with the trackpad.

Mint on XPS

With the release of Mint 17.3 (Rosa) I decided to give it another shot. I burned the image to a USB stick and booted to it, and the trackpad issues were gone.


So I based my system and installed Mint. I did have to use a wired network connection since the Broadcom drivers don’t seem to work on install (there is probably a way around that) but once installed they were easy to enable.

One thing I liked about Mint when I had installed it previously was that it recognized the HiDPI screen of the XPS right away. Even though the “What’s New” page says that HiDPI detection has been improved in 17.3, I found that it had regressed and I needed to squint to get the O/S installed. Once I did, however, I was able to go to Settings -> General and switch to HiDPI mode and everything was fine.

Mint HiDPI Setting

Now, the XPS hardware is so new that it really requires a 4.2 kernel. I decided to install it. No biggie, since I had to do it with Ubuntu 15.04, but I’ll be happy when Mint 18 comes out and it is supported natively (you have to do some apt magic to ignore kernel updates). Once installed, my wireless connection failed to work, and that’s where the fun began.

Usually, all I had to do was reinstall the bcmwl-kernel-source package, but this kept failing with an error. I even built the package from source but while it built just fine, DKMS would fail when installing it, complaining about “-fstack-protector-strong”. Turns out this was added in gcc 4.9 and Mint 17.3 ships with gcc 4.8.


Anyway, not hard to fix. I ran the following commands:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-toolchain-r/test
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
sudo apt-get install gcc-4.9
sudo update-alternatives --install /usr/bin/gcc gcc /usr/bin/gcc-4.9 70

and now gcc 4.9 was my default compiler. I then rebuilt and installed the bcmwl-kernel-source pacakge and things were golden.

$ modinfo wl
filename:       /lib/modules/4.2.6-040206-generic/updates/wl.ko
license:        MIXED/Proprietary
srcversion:     D46E6565F844EFBD46CE0FC
alias:          pci:v*d*sv*sd*bc02sc80i*
depends:        cfg80211
vermagic:       4.2.6-040206-generic SMP mod_unload modversions 
parm:           passivemode:int
parm:           wl_txq_thresh:int
parm:           oneonly:int
parm:           piomode:int
parm:           instance_base:int
parm:           nompc:int
parm:           intf_name:string

Just like with Ubuntu Gnome, I did have to manually install the bluetooth driver, but at the moment everything seems to work: wireless, bluetooth, the touchscreen, the clickpad, sleep, backlit keyboard, etc.

Now I use a desktop as my primary machine, so I haven’t really taken the XPS through its paces, but I’m scheduled to travel soon and I’ll be sure to post if I have any issues. I did enable the screensaver and once when I came back to the machine my mouse pointer was gone (the mouse still worked, you just couldn’t see the pointer) and I was unable to fix it without a restart (I tried the suggestions in Google but it didn’t work). For now I’ve just disabled the screensaver.

All in all, great work from the Mint team, and while I actually enjoyed my time with Ubuntu Gnome I’m happy to be back. Looking forward to Mint 18 in the Spring which should require less effort to run on the XPS with built-in support for the 4 series kernel.

Review: Signal by Open Whisper Systems

I like security, and one of the biggest security holes in my technology concerns text messaging and phone calls. While I can secure my data (for the most part), it is hard to secure traffic over the telephone network, especially with the proliferation of devices like the Stingray.

Awhile ago my friend Jeff introduced me to Red Phone by Open Whisper Systems, which was an app that would encrypt your phone calls. I could never get it to work very well, so I didn’t use it, plus Jeff was the only person I talked with who used it.

Flash forward more than a year, and I’m finding that I quite often don’t get texts from Jeff, while he gets mine just fine. He did some investigation and traced the issue to TextSecure, which was an encrypted text app also from Open Whisper Systems. Apparently I was registered on his phone as a TextSecure user, so it was trying to send text to me by that method. Since I no longer had Red Phone on my device (I play a lot with the software on my mobile devices and had not restored it after a clean install) I wasn’t getting the messages.

I went to install TextSecure and found that it has been replaced by Signal. My, what a difference a year makes. Not only was it easy to use, the app itself is pretty nice. It combines both TextSecure and Red Phone features, and is now the default SMS application on my handy.

Signal is 100% open source. The only way for true security is if everyone has the opportunity to examine the code and look for vulnerabilities. Plus, think about it, if you care about security chances are you want to send sensitive information using the service. Without open source you can’t be sure that information isn’t being intercepted by third parties.

This has resulted in some pretty high endorsements:

Quotes about Signal

Signal is available for both Android and iOS, Note that is uses a data connection to send encrypted SMS messages, so it will count against your data cap. I haven’t had the chance to try out the phone functionality as of yet, but it works fine as a normal SMS client as well.

It is nice to come across such a useful piece of software that is 100% open source, and if I happen to send you SMS messages, be on notice that I will be sending you an invite to Signal (grin).

UPDATE: This is so cool. Since the app uses data instead of the SMS protocol for encrypted texts, it works as long as the mobile device has data. Which means that I can get texts no matter what SIM card is currently in my handy. Cool! So I’m in Germany using my Ortel SIM and I’m able to get SMS messages from friends in the US who have no idea where I am or what network I’m using. Killer feature.

First Look at Ubuntu Gnome 15.10

Back when I was an Apple fanboy, I would eagerly await the announcement of new products by Steve Jobs, with one window open to the live blog feed and the other refreshing the Apple Store page so I could be the first to order the new shiny. Steve Jobs made me fall in love with my technology.

I’ve rarely felt that since, but when the new Dell XPS 13 came out I became once again attached to a laptop and I was determined to make it work under Linux.

While it ships with the latest stable Ubuntu release, 14.04, there are issues. Now I often say that we in the open source community suffer an embarrassment of riches when it comes to choice. Since I’ve found that Linux Mint with Cinnamon works best for me I tried it, but I just could not get it to work with the XPS. To address the shortcomings in Ubuntu 14.04, I read Barton’s Blog and decided to upgrade to 15.04. That addressed a lot of the problems, and I used Ubuntu with Unity for awhile, and although Unity was my first real Linux desktop it doesn’t work as well for me anymore. I also found that its HiDPI support was not quite there. I also tried Kubuntu but its HiDPI support (in my experience) was even worse, and since I’d based my laptop I figured I’d give Ubuntu Gnome a shot.

Now I wasn’t one of those haters who just ranted on Gnome 3.0, but when it came out I couldn’t get used to it. However, when I went to install Ubuntu Gnome on the XPS, I was encouraged that the installer recognized out of the box that I was on a HiDPI screen. There have been a lot of changes since that initial release and I found myself warming to it.

I do want to note that while I found all the desktop options I tried to be pleasantly polished, and, well, “pretty”, I decided to stick with Ubuntu Gnome.

A pesky issue with the touchpad and the touch screen required the 4.1 kernel or later. For months I’ve been running mainline kernels, so when 15.10 was announced with the 4.2 kernel standard, I was eager for the upgrade, and I ran it as soon as it became available.

So what does 15.10 offer? All I can really say at the moment is that it offers a pretty painless upgrade process. I ran “do-release-upgrade -d” and after answering a few prompts it went on its merry way.

Wireless worked out of the box (I used to have to futz with the Broadcom driver when on mainline) and overall the system seemed to be pretty smooth. During the boot process I get this error concerning lvmetad which I think is due to the fact that my entire laptop disk is encrypted, but the boot completes without any other issue and I have confidence it will soon be addressed.

Speaking of boot, Ubuntu Gnome has changed the logo on the boot screen. Instead of the familiar foot:

Old Ubuntu Gnome Logo

You get this new one:

New Ubuntu Gnome Logo

Forgive the quality as I had to produce the second image by taking a picture of the screen. While I like that the colors have been softened from black to a gray, I don’t like the new logo, which looks like two U’s mating. I think it is supposed to represent “UG” but I still don’t like it (and I tend to embrace change). I’m hoping someone puts together a splash screen replacement.

The only real issue that is driving me bonkers at the moment concerns the touchpad. One thing Apple just nailed is the touchpad and the Synaptics one on the XPS is oh so close.

The problem I’m experiencing concerns the cursor jumping when I left click. There are no “real” buttons, so you left click by depressing the lower left corner of the touchpad (or clickpad, whatever it is officially called). Sometimes when this happens, instead of registering a click the cursor will jump to the lower left corner of the screen, and *then* click. It is real annoying in Thunderbird since the icon in the lower left corner puts it in offline mode.

I’ve tried most of the suggestions I’ve found in the t00bz but nothing has helped. I just found a reference to HorizHysteresis and VertHysteresis so I’ll play with those values and see if it helps (update – doesn’t seem to). Not quite sure what they do, however. I think the issue has something to do with a finger from my right hand still grazing the touchpad surface when I make the click.

On the upside, the palm detection issues I was dealing with seem to be improved. Not sure if they have been solved but I’m not noticing it as much. Could be that I’ve just modified my typing form to avoid the touchpad better.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the upgrade. It should set up a nice base for the next LTS release, 16.04. I’m not quite willing to give up Linux Mint on the desktop just yet, and I’ll probably try out Mint 18 when it is released next year, but Ubuntu Gnome 15.10 has at least made switching a possibility.

One final note, I like the new shiny and I’m willing to put up with a lot in order to play with it. I give money to Dell to encourage them to supply more Linux offerings, but the downside is that Dell leads with devices designed for Windows first. If you want a true Linux experience with zero issues, check out the offerings from System 76. Our Sable all-in-one desktops Just Worked™.

Okay, so that wasn’t the final note. While I doubt any of my three readers work for major laptop vendors, I really want to see a push for physical kill switches on things like the camera and the microphone, such as on the Librem 15. I considered getting one of those but they are a little sketchy on what “PureOS” actually is, and so I’ll wait to see what others think of it first.

Review: Varidesk Standing Desk

Several years ago we did a lot of work in Sweden (Hi, Lasse!), and that is where I first saw some really nice standing desks. The first standing desk I ever saw was when I worked at Northern Telecom and it was for an employee who needed one due to health reasons, but it was fixed in place. The ones they had in Sweden (from IKEA, ‘natch) had a little switch that you could use to raise and lower it as needed, and they had places to mount a PC and run cables so they wouldn’t get snagged when it moved.

When I looked for them for the office, I was shocked by the price. A decent one with options pushed $900 and they could go north of $2000 fully loaded. While I’ve read a lot about the health benefits of standing I just couldn’t afford to get such a desk.

Recently I was on an American Airlines flight, and I just happened to see a small ad for something called a Varidesk in the in-flight magazine (and I’ve never bought something from the back of an in-flight magazine). This was something you put on an existing desk and you could use it to lift a monitor, keyboard, etc. to a standing height. It was manual, but it was considerably less than a dedicated desk.

Now, being the CEO of a profitable company it is required that I have the huge executive desk, so I do. Of course, mine was free from a business that was moving offices and all I had to do was go get it, and then repair all of the broken bits so I could put it back together. My monitor sits in one corner of this monstrosity, and I was happy to see Varidesk made a product that would fit perfectly.

Varidesk Lowered

First off, the sucker’s heavy. It cost a lot to ship due to its weight, but that translates to a lot of stability when raised. The unit I bought had a shelf for the monitor, speakers, etc., with a lower shelf for the keyboard.

In the upper shelf you will notice two holes. You place your hands through them to release levers which will allow you to raise the desk. It does take strength to get it started, but then it is balanced so that it becomes easier.

(Note: the little green light on my PC is my OpenNMS Blink notification)

Varidesk Raised

I love that everything comes up with it: the speakers, the monitor, the keyboard, my Yeti mic, etc. It will also go fairly high – I’m a little over six feet tall and I can get it high enough that I’m comfortable using it. It isn’t perfectly stable, if you are energetically pounding on the keyboard it will move slightly, but it is easy to get use to it. I did have to get some USB cable extenders to make sure things like my camera didn’t go flying off when I raised the desk, but outside of that it pretty much worked out of the box.

And, yes, when standing I like to crank the tunes and dance. You do not want to see me dance.

The Varidesk is well built and I did find myself using it, so some of the other guys in the office were interested. They don’t have fancy executive desks, so I got a slightly cheaper model that fit theirs better.

Varidesk Developers

We bought three more and everyone seems to enjoy them, although we probably don’t use them as much as we should. Because they are stylish and convertible, even in the down position they look good.

I found that after about an hour of standing my legs started to hurt. Our office, like many, is pretty much industrial carpet over concrete. There is little padding, so I bought a pad on Amazon that works well for me and I can dance longer.

It’s also cool to elevate the laptop for our daily scrum call:

Varidesk During Scrum

So, if you are thinking about getting a standing desk but already own a desk, consider the Varidesk. While it isn’t the cheapest thing out there, it is well made and will give you experience to see if you even like working standing up, which would be considerably cheaper than buying a new desk and finding you didn’t like it.

I, Robot

Today is the 11th anniversary of The OpenNMS Group. We started on September 1st, 2004 with little more than a drive to build something special, a business plan of “spend less than you earn” and a mission statement of “Help Customers, Have Fun, Make Money”.

Since I’m still working and people are using software other than OpenNMS to manage their networks, I can’t say “mission accomplished” but we’re still here, we have a great team and the best users anyone could want, so by that measure we are successful.

When it comes to the team, one thing I worry about is how to connect our remote people with the folks in North Carolina. We do a lot of Hangouts, etc, but they lack the aspect of initiative – the remote guys have to be passive and just sit there. Then I got the wild idea to investigate getting a telepresence robot. Wouldn’t it be cool if remote people could pop in and drive around the office, attend meetings, etc?

After a lot of research, I decided on a robot from Double Robotics.

Robot Tarus

The buying decision wasn’t a slam dunk. It is a very iPad/iOS centric solution which bothered me, and I had some issues concerning the overall security of the platform. So, I sent in a note and ended up having a call with Justin Beatty.

It was a great call.

Double is pretty serious about security, and assuming there are no firewall issues, the connection is encrypted peer-to-peer. While there are no plans to remove the requirement that you buy an iPad in order to use the robot, they are working on an Android native client. You can drive it on almost any platform that supports the Chrome browser (such as Linux) and you can even use it on Android via Chrome. There is a native iOS app as well.

What really sold me on the company is that they are a Y Combinator project, and rather than focus on raising more capital, they are focused on making a profit. They are small (like us) and dedicated to creating great things (like us).

Justin really understood our needs as well, as he offered us a refurbished unit at a discount (grin).

Anyway, I placed an order for a Double and (gulp) ordered an iPad.

It was delivered while I was away in England, but I was able to get it set up on Monday when I returned to the office. They have a number of easy to follow videos, and it probably took about 20 minutes to understand how everything went together.

You take the main body of the robot out of the box and place it on the floor. I had purchased an external speaker kit (otherwise, it uses the iPad speaker) which makes it look like a little Dalek, and you install that on the main post. Then you plug in the iPad holder and screw it to the post with a bolt. That’s about it for robot assembly.

The next step is to take the USB charging cable that came with your tablet and mount it inside the iPad holder. You then insert the iPad upside down and connect the cable so that the robot can power and recharge the iPad. The Double supports any iPad from version 2 onward, and they have a spacer to use for the iPad Air (which is thinner). Finally, you connect a directional microphone into the audio slot on the bottom of the iPad (or top, depending on how you look at it) and the unit is assembled.

Then I had to set up the iPad, which was a bit of a pain since I’m no longer an Apple person and needed a new Apple account (and then I had to update iOS), but once it was configured I could then pair the iPad to the robot via bluetooth. Next, I had to download the Double app from the App Store and create a Double account. Once that process was complete, I could login to the application on the tablet and our robot was ready to go.

To “drive” the robot, you log in to a website via Chrome. There are controls in the webapp for changing the height of the unit, controlling audio and video, and you move the thing around with the arrow keys.

It’s a lot of fun.

When moving you want to have the robot in its lowest height setting. Not only will it go faster, it will be more stable. This isn’t an off road, four wheeling type of robot – it likes smooth services. There is a little bump at the threshold to my office and once the robot has gone over that you want to wait a second or two because it will wobble back and forth a little bit. Otherwise, it does pretty well, and because the rubber wheels are the part of the robot that stick out the most in the front and the back; if you run into a wall it won’t damage the iPad.

I did have to mess with a couple of things. First of all, it needed a firmware upgrade before the external audio speaker would work. Second, sometimes it would keep turning in one direction (in my case, to the right), but restarting the browser seem to fix that.

You do need to be careful driving it, however. One of my guys accidentally drove it into a table, so it hit the table along the “neck” of the robot and not on the wheels. This caused the unit to shoot backward, recover and then try to move forward. It fell flat on its face.

Which, I am thankful, did no damage. The iPad is mounted in a fairly thick case, and while I wouldn’t want to test it you are probably safe with the occasional face plant.

I bought an external wireless charger which allows you to drive the robot into a little “dock” for charging instead of plugging it in. To help park it, there is a mirror mounted in the iPad holder that directs the rear camera downward so you can see where you are going (i.e. look at the robot’s “feet”). Pretty low tech but they get points for both thinking about it and engineering such a simple solution.

Everyone who has driven it seems to like it, although I’m thinking about putting a bell on the thing. This morning I was jammin’ to some tunes in my office when I heard a noise and found Jeff, piloting the robot, directly behind me. It was a little creepy (grin).

I bought it with a nice (i.e. expensive) Pelican case since the plan is to take it on road trips. I bought the iPad that supports 4G SIM cards so I should be able to use it in areas without WiFi. It’s first outing will be to the OpenNMS Users Conference, which is less than a month away. If you haven’t registered yet, you should do so now, and you’ll get to see the robot in action.

Robot Bryan

Bad Voltage will also be there, with Bryan Lunduke piloting the robot from his home in Portland. I had him try it out today and he commented “So rad. So very, very rad”.

At the moment I’m very pleased with the Double from Double Robotics. It’s a little spendy but loads of fun, and I can’t wait to use it for team meetings, etc, when people can’t make it in person. You can also share the output from the unit with other people with the beta website, although you could always just do a Google Hangout and share the screen.

Double Logo

I even like the Double Robotics logo, which is a silhouette of the robot against a square background to form a “D”. I am eager to see what they do in the future.

Review: MC Frontalot with The Doubleclicks

Best OSCON after-party ever! – Satisfied Customer

Even though OpenNMS has been around for over 15 years now, a lot of people, including open source people, don’t know we exist. In an attempt to fix that, we’ve been experimenting with various marketing efforts, and in keeping with our mission statement of “Help Customers – Have Fun – Make Money” we also want them to be fun.

I have a love/hate relationship with the O’Reilly Open Source Conference (OSCON) but I can be assured that many of my friends who are into free and open source software will be there. This year I thought it would be fun to host a concert featuring MC Frontalot. Not only is his music awesome, it should appeal to many of the attendees. We lined up a venue (the amazing Dante’s) and an opening act, The Doubleclicks.

My one fear was that no one would show up, so I was relieved when I rushed from a previous meeting to Dante’s to find the place full, and by the time the show started it was packed.

Prior to setting this up, I had not heard of The Doubleclicks. Angela and Aubrey Webber are sisters who sing about geek things. Prior to the show I listened to a lot of their music, and since I was paying for this gig they even did one of my favorites, “This Fantasy World (Dungeons and Dragons)“. When they sang the lyric “and their primarily Windows-based computers” it got a big laugh.

The Doubleclicks

One thing we struggle with in the tech world in general and open source communities in particular is how to encourage more women to get involved. As a male dominated industry, women can face particular challenges. When The Doubleclicks sang “Nothing to Prove” I realized I couldn’t have asked for a better set list if I’d tried:

We read books, we played games, we made art, we watched Lost
We said things like “D20”, “shipping” and “Mana cost”
It felt good to be myself, not being mocked
Still self-conscious, though, we whispered things about jocks

But one day, you grow up, come into your own
Now geek’s not rejection – it’s a label I own
Then ignorant haters come to prove me wrong
Tell me I’m not nerdy enough to belong

I’ve got nothing to prove
I’ve got nothing to prove
I’ve got nothing to prove

This rang particularly true due to OSCON being hit with a “gamergate“-like attack for having Randi Harper speak. Considering the number of women at the show, I think we succeeded in promoting an all-inclusive environment.

After their great set, MC Frontalot and the band prepared to take the stage. This was the fourth Frontalot show I’d organized but the first with the band. The reason I hadn’t hired the whole band before was simple: it’s more expensive. Plus, from the videos I’d seen on the Intertoobz, I didn’t think they added all that much.

I was so wrong.

It’s hard to capture on video the energy these four gentlemen bring to the stage. The man driving the beat on drums is The Sturgenius (aka Sturgis Cunningham). Blak Lotus (aka Brandon Patton) is the whirling dervish on bass. I sat an watched him spin from stage left, often winding the cord to his bass around his legs and then unwinding it just in time to avoid tripping. Vic-20 (aka Ken Flagg) played wireless keytar, and while everyone was mic’d, turns out he has the voice of an angel and did the most duty on backup vocals.

MC Frontalot and Band

They played all of my favorites, such as “Critical Hit” and “Stoop Sale“, and while Front has always given 110% at my shows, being with the band brought out something more.

When I walked around OSCON inviting people to the show, a lot of people were psyched but I still got that weird “Nerdcore Hip Hop?” look from many. I don’t think that anyone who has seen them live could mistake them for anything other than truly original musical artists.

OCSON is moving to May and to Austin, Texas, next year, and my hope is to bring the band out again. And I do actually plan to write up my thoughts on OSCON itself, but as I got almost no sleep in the last week that will have to wait. The fourteen and a half hours I slept last night seemed to have helped a lot, though.

Review: Dell XPS 13 (9343) Ubuntu Edition

Okay. When it comes to tech, I want the latest and greatest. To me, the “greatest” must include as much open software as possible. As an ex-Apple user, I want the same experience I used to get with that gear, but with free and open source software.

It can be hard. Rarely is the open source world involved in new hardware decisions by the major vendors, so we learn about new devices after the fact. Thus there is an inevitable delay between when a product is announced and when it properly works with FOSS.

Such was the case with the new XPS 13 laptop from Dell.

Now, I vote with my wallet, so back in 2012 when I needed a laptop I bought the second edition “Sputnik” Dell XPS 13, which shipped with Ubuntu. It served me well for many years and currently runs Linux Mint 17.1 with no problems. When the latest edition XPS 13 was announced, I immediately ordered it, but it didn’t work out so well.

When I discovered that the other option from Dell, the M3800, wasn’t for me, I decided to wait until they officially supported Ubuntu on the new XPS 13. I didn’t have to wait long, and I placed my order the day I learned it was available (I was happy to learn that they had to fix some kernel-level issues and it wasn’t just me).

Why didn’t I wait longer? The XPS 13 is gorgeous. I haven’t felt this strongly about a laptop since my 12-inch Powerbook back in 2013. Others seem to agree, with even Forbes praising this machine.

Anyway, the order process was simple. I got the XPS 13 with the i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, 512GB SSD and the HiDPI touchscreen. The laptop arrived about a week before it was scheduled. Go Dell.

Now for the obligatory unboxing pictures. The outer box arrived undamaged:

Dell XPS 13 Unboxing Pic 1

The laptop itself came in a separate box:

Dell XPS 13 Unboxing Pic 2

with the accessories shipped in a cardboard “square tube”:

Dell XPS 13 Unboxing Pic 3

While the small power supply came with a longer power cable with a “mickey mouse” connector, the XPS 13 comes with a small adapter that gets rid of the cable entirely (like the Apple laptop power bricks).

Dell XPS 13 Unboxing Pic 4

The laptop pretty much fills up its box:

Dell XPS 13 Unboxing Pic 5

Like with my original XPS, there is a cool little intro video that plays when you first start it up:

Please note that it only runs on the first start – you will not have to wait 40+ seconds to boot your system (usually less than 10).

The XPS 13 Ubuntu Developer Edition ships with 14.04, but I had some issues with it. First, it didn’t have the option for encrypting the home directory. I’m not sure how or why that got removed. The system also crashed when I attempted to make a backup image to a USB stick. Finally, there are apparently still outstanding issues with 14.04:

Ubuntu 14.04 includes kernel 3.13. The touchpad will run in PS2 mode and the soundcard will run in HDA mode. Currently (4/15) out of the box the HDA microphone will not work, and you will need some packages from the factory shipped image to make it work properly.

While I knew I was going to base the system, I logged in to the stock image to check out the apt repository. There really wasn’t anything outside of the vanilla Ubuntu (the few Dell packages seem to be just for recovery) so I felt fairly safe in reinstalling.

I immediately went to my default distro, Linux Mint 17.1, but found that a lot of things, especially the touchpad, didn’t work as expected. It did handle HiDPI screens just fine (you could actually see the mouse pointer increase in size when logging in). I figured I’d wait until 17.2 comes out and try it again.

On a side note, I don’t know why it is so hard to get a decent touchpad under Linux. We’re getting closer, but still, it tends to be the weakest point of the Linux laptop experience.

In search of a solution, I found Barton’s Blog and read the following:

With BIOS A00 or BIOS A01 the touchpad will run in I2C mode and the sound will not function. Please update to at least BIOS A02 and the touchpad will run in I2C mode and the sound in HDA mode. (4/15) All of the relevant patches have been backported and all functions will work out of the box.

I really liked the “will work out of the box” bit, so I installed Ubuntu 15.04.

It had been awhile since I’d used Unity, and it has really matured. I especially liked the little touches. When I changed my desktop background, the background of the Dock changed color to match it. Neat.

Where Unity still has some way to go is in HiDPI support. There is a scaling factor you can set, but it only applies to a small part of the UI. I still ended up having to customize many of my apps. For example, if you look at the settings page with scaling, a lot of the text under the icons are cropped:

Dell XPS 13 Ubuntu Text Cropped

Not a show stopper, and I used it for over a month without getting too annoyed.

Last week I saw that the release candidate for Mint 17.2 was out, so I dutifully backed up my Ubuntu install, based the system and installed Mint. Things seems to work better (although HiDPI support was not working by default), but I ran into a weird problem with trying to click and drag.

While everyone seems to deal with trackpads differently, the way I click and drag is to use the index finger of my left hand to click and hold the lower left corner of the trackpad, and then I use the index finger of my right hand to move the mouse pointer. This works fine under most desktop environments, but under Cinnamon it seems to interpret it as a right click (which usually causes a menu to drop down). If I just used a single finger to click on the window header and then move it, it worked as expected, but I couldn’t get used to it enough to continue to use it.

Oh well. I’ve posted a question on the Mint forums but no one has been able to help.

Anyhoos, since my system was based I decided to try out some other 15.04-based distros while I had the chance. I had heard great things about the new Plasma interface in KDE, so Kubuntu was next.

I can’t say much about Kubuntu since its HiDPI support is worse than Unity. Everything was so tiny I couldn’t spend much time in the UI. Oh well, what I saw was pretty.

And I should stress that this was a recurring theme in my experiments with desktop environments. Every UI I’ve tried has been beautiful and more than able to compete with, say, OS X.

By this point I decided to punt and just search on “Linux Desktop HiDPI”. Several of the results touted that Ubuntu Gnome was the best desktop to use for HiDPI systems. So, before going back to Unity I decided to give it a shot.


I haven’t used Gnome 3 in awhile, but I was encouraged in that even the install process handled the HiDPI screen well. It has become really mature, and so far has provided by far the best experience with the XPS 13. I’ve had to do little to get it to work for me.

Is it flawless? No. There is an issue with the touchpad where it occasionally translates touches into click (kernel patch approved). If you sleep the system, the touchscreen will stop working (but you can reload its module). Sometimes, the system doesn’t sleep when you close the screen, which can cause the laptop to get really, really hot.

But these are minor issues and I expect them to be addressed in the near future. I am confident that I’ve found a great combination of software and hardware, and that it will only get better from here.

I have just a few more notes to share. The battery life is outstanding – I can get 6-7 hours of use without recharging. The “infinity screen” is beautiful and bright, but by having almost no bezel they had to move the camera to the lower left corner, which creates a slightly odd viewing angle.

Dell XPS 13 Camera Angle

In closing, here are a couple of shots comparing the XPS 13 with the M3800.

Dell XPS 13 vs. M3800 Pic 1

Dell XPS 13 vs. M3800 Pic 2

Dell XPS 13 vs. M3800 Pic 3

Review: Nexus 6

As most of my three readers know by now, I was a big fan of the OnePlus One handset until I experienced their customer support (which seems intent on covering up a major defect in the touchscreen of their devices).

So, it was time to get another smart phone. Andrea had been using a Nexus 6 for awhile, I thought the phone might be too big for me. The phone is huge.

David pointed out that the OnePlus was huge compared to my previous HTC One, and it only took me a day or so to get used to that size change, so I’d probably feel the same way about the Nexus 6.

He was right.

I ordered it from the Play Store and it showed up a couple of days later. The name of the phone was actually on the bottom of the box:

Nexus 6 Unboxing Pic 1

and once I cut the “tape” I flipped it over so I could open it.

Nexus 6 Unboxing Pic 2

The phone sits in a little cardboard cradle

Nexus 6 Unboxing Pic 3

and if you remove it you can see a little packet with documentation.

Nexus 6 Unboxing Pic 4

Under that is a high amp charger and that’s about it.

Nexus 6 Unboxing Pic 5

The phone has a gorgeous display and its six inch screen is big enough that I can watch movies on it, so I loaned my Nexus 7 (that I used to use when traveling) to Ben so he could play with OpenNMS Compass on Android.

Nexus 6 Specs

It’s also blazingly fast, but all that power does come with a price: battery life. With the OnePlus I could easily go a day, even with playing Ingress to some degree, the Nexus 6 needs a little more juice. It is in no way horrible, and is much better than the HTC One, but it is still a factor. I just ended up buying a TYLT wireless charger for my desk so I can sit the handset there all day and it stays charged (yay wireless charging).

I did buy a case for the phone but that pushed it over the size limit for even my large hands. Caseless, I was worried about dropping it, so I bought a “grip” pad that sticks to the back and makes it feel less like a slippery bar of soap. So far so good.

The best thing is that, thanks in large part to Jake Whatley, I can now put OmniROM on it. It was a pretty simple process to unlock the phone using adb, install TWRP and then flash the latest OmniROM nightly. I was surprised at how much my Android experience was truncated by the stock ROM. I couldn’t shake my phone to dismiss an alarm or augment the power menu to add options like a reboot instead of just powering off. So far no problems.

The size of the Nexus 6 will be off-putting for some, but it is about the same size as an iPhone 6 Plus, so perhaps not.

Nexus 6 vs. iPhone 6+

As I was investigating alternative ROMs for the Nexus 6, I thought it was funny when I found out the code name for the device. Nexus devices tend to be named after fish.

The code name for the Nexus 6? Shamu.