CHANS battery rebuild: giving traditional laptops a new life with refactored batteries cells

Back in 2018, when I acquired my legendary ThinkPad X220, I discovered that there is a lady in Ontario, Ms. Chulkova, who does professional battery rebuilding as a side-gig: if you’re in Canada (or the USA, to an extent) you can get your laptop (and other power tools) battery cells replaced by new high-quality cells. This is interesting if you have an electric bike or if, like me, you are a luddite who believes that the last great laptop keyboards were produced in 2011 (before the ThinkPad X230/T430/etc.) and that ultrabooks—with their proprietary slim LiPo batteries and general planned obsolescence—are an ecological disaster.

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The Longest Debugging—The journey towards a reliable Linux workstation

I have this curse where I keep finding heisenbugs not only in the software I use, but also in hardware… The difference being that, unlike software misbehavior, hardware issues take me months to figure out. But hey, they say I’m a persistent bastard.

This blog post is mainly a tale about computer hardware, which is a bit unusual on this blog, but it ties back into software and Linux graphics troubleshooting, so there should be something interesting for everybody. Enjoy a solid 20 minutes of reading my walk through the inferno, hopefully you’ll find something insightful or funny in my unreasonably persistent path to hardware salvation. Anyway, the reading time doesn’t seem that long when it took me 10 months to write this post over 37 revisions 😉 Continue reading “The Longest Debugging—The journey towards a reliable Linux workstation”

Liberté logicielle et matérielle, compte rendu de l'émission La Sphère du 16 septembre

Le 13 septembre, je reçus un curieux courriel m’invitant à participer à l’émission « La Sphère » pour un épisode dédié au logiciel libre, sur la principale chaîne radiophonique de Radio-Canada le samedi 16 septembre.

Quelques minutes avant le début de l’émission

L’épisode dure environ une heure, et la version baladodiffusion est divisée en divers segments, mais comme on m’a amené à commenter à travers pas mal tous les segments ou presque, je vous invite à écouter l’épisode intégral si le coeur vous en dit.

Loi de Murphy

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Defence against the Dark Arts involves controlling your hardware

In light of the Vault 7 documents leak (and the rise to power of Lord Voldemort this year), it might make sense to rethink just how paranoid we need to be.  Jarrod Carmichael puts it quite vividly:

I find the general surprise… surprising. After all, this is in line with what Snowden told us years ago, which was already in line with what many computer geeks thought deep down inside for years prior. In the good words of monsieur Crête circa 2013, the CIA (and to an extent the NSA, FBI, etc.) is a spy agency. They are spies. Spying is what they’re supposed to do! 😁
Well, if these agencies are really on to you, you’re already in quite a bit of trouble to begin with. Good luck escaping them, other than living in an embassy or airport for the next decade or so. But that doesn’t mean the repercussions of their technological recklessness—effectively poisoning the whole world’s security well—are not something you should ward against.
It’s not enough to just run FLOSS apps. When you don’t control the underlying OS and hardware, you are inherently compromised. It’s like driving over a minefield with a consumer-grade Hummer while dodging rockets (at least use a hovercraft or something!) and thinking “Well, I’m not driving a Ford Pinto!” (but see this post where Todd weaver explains the implications much more eloquently—and seriously—than I do).
Considering the political context we now find ourselves in, pushing for privacy and software freedom has never been more relevant, as Karen Sandler pointed out at the end of the year. This is why I’m excited that some (small) hardware vendors are bringing to fruition their work on coreboot this year and that some of them are neutralizing the Intel Management Engine in the process, because this might finally be providing an option for security-concerned people other than running exotic or technologically obsolete hardware.

Reviewing the Librem 15

Following up on my previous post where I detailed the work I’ve been doing mostly on Purism’s website, today’s post post will cover some video work. Near the beginning of October, I received a Librem 15 v2 unit for testing and reviewing purposes. I have been using it as my main laptop since then, as I don’t believe in reviewing something without using it daily for a couple weeks at least. And so on nights and week-ends, I wrote down testing results, rough impressions and recommendations, then wrote a detailed plan and script to make the first in depth video review of this laptop. Here’s the result—not your typical 2-minutes superficial tour:

With this review, I wanted to:

  • Satisfy my own curiosity and then share the key findings; one of the things that annoyed me some months ago is that I couldn’t find any good “up close” review video to answer my own technical questions, and I thought “Surely I’m not the only one! Certainly a bunch of other people would like to see what the beast feels like in practice.”
  • Make an audio+video production I would be proud of, artistically speaking. I’m rather meticulous in my craft as like creating quality work made to last (similarly, I have recently finished a particular decorative painting after months of obsession… I’ll let you know about that in some other blog post 😉
  • Put my production equipment to good use; I had recently purchased a lot of equipment for my studio and outdoors shooting—it was just begging to be used! Some details on that further down in this post.
  • Provide a ton of industrial design feedback to the Purism team for future models, based on my experience owning and using almost every laptop type out there. And so I did. Pages and pages of it, way more than can fit in a video:

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GUADEC 2016, laptops and tablets made to run GNOME, surprise Pitivi meeting

I went there for the 2016 edition of GUADEC:
I arrived a couple of days early to attend my last GNOME Foundation board meeting, in one of the KIT’s libraries. The building’s uncanny brutalist architecture only added to the nostalgia of a two years adventure coming to an end:

And so I made a new talk proposal at the last minute, which was upvoted fairly quickly by attendees:
The conference organizers counter-trolled me by inscribing it exactly like this onto the giant public schedule in the venue’s lobby:
The result was this talk: Laptops & Tablets Manufactured to Run a Pure GNOME. Go watch it now if you missed it. Note: during the talk’s Q&A session, I mistakenly thought that Purism‘s tablets were using an ARM architecture; they’re actually planned to be Intel-based. And to make things clear, for laptop keyboard layouts, Purism is currently offering US/UK, which are different physical layouts (different cutting etc.).
Also relevant to your interests if you’re into that whole privacy thing:

"SmartEco" or "Extreme Eco" projector lamp power saving modes are a trap

Here are some findings I’ve been meaning to post for a while.
A bit over a year ago, I fulfilled a decade-long dream of owning a good projector for movies, instead of some silly monitor with a diagonal measured in “inches”. My lifestyle very rarely allows me to watch movies (or series*), so when I decide to watch something, it needs to have a rating over 90% on RottenTomatoes, it has to be watched with a bunch of friends, and it needs to be a top-notch audio-visual experience. I already had a surround sound system for over a decade, so the projector was the only missing part of the puzzle.
After about six months of research and agonizing over projector choices, I narrowed it down to the infamous BenQ W1070, which uses conventional projection lamps (Aaxa’s LED projectors were not competitively priced at that time, costing more for a lower resolution and less connectivity):

First power-on, with David Revoy‘s beautiful artwork as my wallpaper

In the process of picking up the BenQ W1070, I compared it to the Acer H6510BD and others, and this particular question came up: how realistic are manufacturers’ claims about their dynamic “lamp life saving” features?
The answer is:
bullshit - ten points from gryffindor
For starters, I asked Acer to clarify what their “Extreme Eco” feature really did, and to their credit they answered truthfully (emphasis mine):

Acer ExtremeEco technology reduces the lamp power to 30% enabling up to 70% power savings when there is no input signal, extending the lifespan of the lamp up to 7000 hours and reducing operating costs. 4,000 Hours (Standard), 5,000 Hours (ECO), 7,000 Hours (ExtremeEco)*
*: Lamp Life of ExtremeEco mode is based on an average usage cycle of 45 minutes ECO mode plus 75 minutes ExtremeEco (30% lamp power) mode

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Apple Aluminium Keyboard and Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)

I finally sold my shiny “like new” Apple aluminium full-size keyboard (2008 model). It is a magnificent piece of hardware that had me drooling for days during the past winter before I took the leap and bought it. It is slim, looks good (that’s subjective), is built tough, and can act as a limited USB hub.
There is one critical thing where it went wrong: this particular keyboard causes RSI (at least in my case; your mileage may vary).

I came to this conclusion when I had symptoms of pain “in my fingers”. I wouldn’t say the joints, as it feels as if the bones themselves were painful. A disgusting feeling that even exercising (or cracking) your fingers can’t get rid of. The suffering builds up and can prevent you from typing for a day or two, and leave you confused as to what the heck is happening to you. For the record, I’m 21 years old and used the keyboard all the time since I was 7; I had never felt this before, and it was quite sudden.
In good empirical fashion, I decided to switch back to my cheap plastic Dell keyboard for a while, and back and forth with the Apple aluminium keyboard, leaving a few days/weeks (I can’t remember exactly) between each switch.
The end verdict is that the Apple keyboard is indeed causing RSI. This has been corroborated by the fact that I have been using extensively an IBM Thinkpad laptop (with the “legendary” thinkpad keyboard) for the past six months or so, and I never experienced any pain again.
So, I felt sad to sell my really nice, sturdy, quiet, sexy Apple keyboard because the damn thing is dangerous. You sure won’t see that in Apple’s marketing.
Now, I’ve spent a good deal of time reflecting upon the causes of this phenomenon. Why is it exactly that this particular keyboard induced serious pain in my fingers? Based on some research I did on the net, discussions with relatives and some more thinking, I came to suspect  the hard aluminium surface, combined with the fact that the keys are extremely flat.
This means that when you press a key, the key does not have enough “depth” to absorb the kinetic energy of your finger. In other words, each time you press a key, your finger’s bones slam onto aluminium, with almost no dampening of the impact;  stressing your bone/joints with insufficient keystroke impact cushioning would be the most probable cause of RSI that I can think of, in this case (the keyboard position, height, and other factors were controlled in this “experiment”). Combine this with a heavy typer like me (80 words per minute), and boom, you got your disaster.
Even the cheap 10$ plastic keyboards are better than the 50$ Apple keyboard in this regard. But you will only find out about RSI after using it intensively for a month or so. Fail.
I can only hope that Apple (and other companies) do not repeat mistakes such as this again. When I did research on the matter months ago, there did not seem to be any public outcry on The Internets about this keyboard causing RSI. Perhaps I am the only one who experienced such a problem, I don’t know. The one thing I know is that I cannot use this keyboard.
I would be interested in any recommendations for a good, lightweight (and small, does not need a numpad) keyboard for carrying in my laptop bag. It has to be no larger than a regular laptop, USB, not expensive (ha ha ha) and come as close as possible to the comfort of the IBM thinkpad keyboard. I know that you can buy the thinkpad keyboard as an external keyboard, but it’s a tad expensive to my tastes. Either that, or I need to find a nice seat cushion to elevate myself to the level of my laptop during classes (the seats are not adjustable, and you are bound to the table, which is too high).
2017 update: you might also want to read about my 2013 DIY sound suppressor for the Unicomp / model M keyboard. Also, learn to type in Dvorak.