Miskatonic University Press

Cabin Pressure

radio

This week I’ve listened once again to all the episodes of Cabin Pressure, a BBC Radio situation comedy that ran over 27 episodes and four series from 2008 to 2014. I think it’s the best radio sitcom ever made.

Cabin Pressure CD cover
Cabin Pressure CD cover

It’s set at a tiny air charter company that owns one plane. There’s the pilot (an anxious perfectionist who’s not a very good pilot; played by Benedict Cumberbatch), the first officer (a far better pilot, and always ready with a languid put-down; played by Roger Allam), the owner (an acerbic woman, whose company is always on the verge of bankruptcy; played by Stephanie Cole) and her son (a wonderfully good-natured fool; played by the writer, John Finnemore).

There are twenty-seven half-hour episodes: twenty-five going from A (“Abu Dhabi”) to Y (“Yverdon-les-Bains”), and a two-part finale for Z (“Zurich”). The four characters are fully formed from the first episode, and we get to know them better and better as the show goes on and their lives develop. By the end we know them all like old friends.

It’s a very funny show, and there are many lines and games (“yellow car”) and situations one will never forget. But the genius of it comes in the final episodes, where everything wraps up absolutely beautifully, and we’re left with an ending that’s funny, touching and sad all at once. It’s a perfect finish, and of all the fine work Finnemore has written, I think it’s still his best.

If you ever have the chance to listen to the show, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is an utter delight.

Pi-hole

privacy raspberry.pi

I’m now running a Pi-hole on my home network. What is it? The docs describe it as “a DNS sinkhole that protects your devices from unwanted content, without installing any client-side software.”

You get it running on your network, and then you configure your router to ask it for how to translate hostnames (like www.example.com) into IP numbers (like 10.53.48.102), which is how computers look each other up on the internet, instead of asking your internet service provider or Google. Pi-hole does the talking to your provider to look up the numbers where it needs to, but if your computer or phone asks to look up a server that just runs ads, the Pi-hole gives back a wrong answer.

This is a screenshot of what it’s blocked recently, taken from its very nice web dashboard:

This shows pretty clearly that I run Ubuntu, my main browser is Firefox, my music streaming service is Tidal and I read the Guardian. All true. (I also have uBlock Origin and NoScript and other blockers running inside Firefox, so a lot of requests are being blocked on my laptop before any network requests are made.)

It also shows a lot of requests to Mozilla for Firefox-related stuff I probably don’t need, and I also don’t need that network connectivity check all the time. I’ll probably turn those off.

One of the blocked sites on the right is metrics.cbc.ca, which must be getting requested by the CBC News app on my phone. A DNS lookup on that hostname outside my network shows it’s available at several IP numbers (this is round-robin DNS used for load balancing on busy servers):

$ nslookup metrics.cbc.ca
Server:		208.67.222.222
Address:	208.67.222.222#53

Non-authoritative answer:
metrics.cbc.ca	canonical name = cbc.ca.122.2o7.net.
Name:	cbc.ca.122.2o7.net
Address: 3.208.14.195
Name:	cbc.ca.122.2o7.net
Address: 3.219.244.74
Name:	cbc.ca.122.2o7.net
Address: 34.234.23.242

Here’s the same request on my home network, where the answer is: nothing.

$ nslookup metrics.cbc.ca
Server:		127.0.0.53
Address:	127.0.0.53#53

Non-authoritative answer:
Name:	metrics.cbc.ca
Address: 0.0.0.0
Name:	metrics.cbc.ca
Address: ::

That’s why I don’t see any ads in the CBC News app when I’m on my home wifi.

Here’s the top of the dashboard, where it shows activity:

Pi-hole activity
Pi-hole activity

I am running this on a Raspberry Pi Zero W, which is a tiny computer. It’s the small thing with the glowing green light, beside my Presto card (the size of a credit or debit card) for scale. It cost about $25 at Creatron in downtown Toronto. (The slightly larger thing is a Raspberry Pi Four, on which I’m running a Tor relay.)

Photo of two Pis hanging on a wall
Photo of two Pis hanging on a wall

Setting up Pi-hole is nontrivial. You need to get the operating system onto an SD card, plug in a keyboard and monitor long enough so you can boot it up and configure it to get it on the network, then install Pi-hole at the command line, then reconfigure the DNS settings on your router so it talks to the Pi-hole. If you’ve never used the command line or changed settings on your router, that’s not something you want to tackle lightly.

But, if you’ve ever done those two things, setting up a Pi-hole is remarkably simpler than you might expect. You might be scared you’ll mess up your whole network, but (as long you write down your original router settings) it’s easy to back out if something goes wrong—but the Pi-hole people have done such a great job it probably won’t. It got it all working in about thirty minutes, start to finish. (Once I actually had all the cables and stuff so I could attach a keyboard and monitor.)

I’m so impressed I got another Pi Zero W and I’m going to set up a Pi-hole at someone else’s house—someone who doesn’t run as many ad blockers in their browsers as I do, so I think they’ll see much more improvement than I did. After that I may do more people. Installing a Pi-hole seems like an easy way to magically improve everyone’s internet experience without them having to do anything.

In the Garden of the Delacroix Museum

art field.recordings listening.to.art

I’m running a short series on Eugène Delacroix on Listening to Art: The Death of Sardanapalus, Liberty Leading the People and Street in Meknes, with another issue to come on Tuesday. There’s a special extra to go with the new issue: a field recording made in the garden outside the apartment and studio where Delacroix lived from 1858–1863, which is now the Musée National Eugène-Delacroix. It’s on Radio Aporee ::: Maps: In the Garden at the Delacroix Museum.

Map of Paris with field recording located on it
Map of Paris with field recording located on it

This was part of a wonderful trip to France I had in July, about which I will say more later.

STAPLR is back up

libraries music sonic.pi staplr

STAPLR is back. It’s quiet today, but tomorrow the composition “Drone Swell Chord” will run and turn library reference and help desk activity into music.

When my new server was up and running I tried to get Sonic Pi going in a different way, which I thought would be simpler, but it turned out not to be. I couldn’t get it to work that way—in fact maybe it’s not even possible. So I just went back to how I’d done it before and that worked right away. Classic computer situation: spend two days trying to get something to work more simply when you should just leave it alone because you know the old way works and there won’t be any difference in the results anyway.

I hope to have a simple new composition running this fall, and then I’ll work on a more complex one that could be really interesting.

Betty smells the moldy library

archie libraries

In “The Nose Knows” Betty displays another talent—recognizing smells—and Veronica leads her around the school getting her to identify locations such as the staff room (coffee) or the art class (linseed oil). Then they go by the school library.

Betty can smell the moldy books
Betty can smell the moldy books

This would never happen. If the books in the library are in such a bad state that the smell of mold lingers in the hallway then Riverdale High has a serious problem and the health inspector would get involved.

“The Nose Knows” was written by Kathleen Webb, pencilled by Jeff Schultz, inked by Henry Scarpelli and lettered by Bill Yoshida. It first appeared in Betty and Veronica 180 (December 2002). No colourist is given but I think a different reprint gives it as Barry Grossman. I saw it in Betty and Veronica (Jumbo Comics) Double Digest 276 (October 2019). It is copyright Archie Comic Publications.

Riverdale Public Library librarian: Miss Dewey

archie libraries

Here’s another of the rare Archie stories where a librarian is mentioned: “My Loss is My Gain,” first published in Betty 165 (July 2007).

Betty talking to librarian Miss Dewey
Betty talking to librarian Miss Dewey

In the story, it’s a hot day and Betty offers to buy Jughead a cold soda, but she’s lost the five dollar bill she thought was in her pocket. She’d tucked it into a library book, so they first go there to look, but the librarian says it hadn’t been found it when the book was discharged (that is, checked back in). Later Archie takes Jughead and Betty for a soda at Pop’s. Veronica finds the bill but gives it to Betty when, displaying extraordinary powers of memory, the latter recites the serial number. The story ends happily with Betty having both the money and a soda with Archie.

The name “Dewey” is a reference to the Dewey Decimal System and its creator Melvil Dewey. It’s a name very commonly associated with libraries, and understandably so, but Dewey’s bigotry and sexism are well explained in a resolution by the American Library Association to strip his name from an award.

See also Ms Hoskins and Mrs. Bell, Miss Dewey’s colleagues at the Riverdale Public Library.

“My Loss is My Gain” was written by Mike Pellowski, pencilled by Stan Goldberg, inked by John Lowe, coloured by Barry Grossman and lettered by Jack Morelli. I saw it in Betty and Veronica (Jumbo Comics) Double Digest 275 (September 2019). It is copyright Archie Comic Publications.

STAPLR is down

libraries music sonic.pi staplr unix

STAPLR is down for a while.

The server I was running it on had been set up so that passwords expire after a year. I never logged in with a password: I used SSH and so I would connect to the server and open up a shell by magic without having to type anything (by which I mean a short series of conversations happen between my laptop and the server and they exchange incredibly complex cryptographic information).

Earlier this month, when I tried to connect, it told me my password had expired and demanded I change it. To start, it asked for my current password.

But the password I had in my password manager didn’t work! I have no idea why. Maybe this happened to me last year and I changed it in annoyance and forgot to note the new one. I had no way to log in, and neither did anyone else. The people running the virtual server can’t break in.

There was nothing to do but spin up a new one and start to configure it. I have backups and documentation, so nothing is lost, as far as I know, but it’ll take a little while to install and configure all the parts that make STAPLR work. I was running quite an old version of Sonic Pi, and I may need to do more work to get STAPLR working with the newest version, but that’s necessary anyway.

Ah well. I’ve made sure all my passwords for the new server are accurate in my password manager, and I used chage to change when my password expires. It was set to 365 days, but I made it 3650.

I used Certbot to get HTTPS going on the STAPLR web site. It took about a minute. That is one amazing piece of software. So powerful and so easy! (That is, if you’re comfortable on the command line, but even if you’re not an expert, you can just copy and paste the commands they give and it’ll work.)

Riverdale Public Library librarian: Ms Hoskins

archie libraries

“Buccaneer Buds” is a rare Archie story: a librarian is named! Ms Hoskins only appears in the first panel, where Archie tells an audience of kids at the library that she asked the gang to put on a show.

Ms Hoskins is seen and named
Ms Hoskins is seen and named

I’d have to check with children’s librarians, but this seems like something that could well happen in a public library. Possibly the high school students get some sort of credit for it, and there’s a nice audience, so it’s bringing in children.

“Buccaneer Buds” was written by George Gladir, pencilled by Bob Bolling and inked by Jim Amash (no colourist or letterer is given). I don’t know where it first appeared, but I saw it in Archie and Me (Jumbo Comics) Digest 14 (March 2019). It is copyright Archie Comic Publications.

Another named librarian is Mrs. Bell, who talked to Chuck Clayton in a Life with Archie: The Married Years issue.

Riverdale High librarian seen

archie libraries

Here’s a rare sighting: the (always unnamed) librarian who works in the Riverdale High School library. She appears in the Archie story “Innocent on Paper,” which I think first appeared in Archie and Friends Double Digest Magazine 15 (June 2012). Midway through the story Ethel and Chuck are walking down the hall. Ethel asks what Chuck is doing next, and he says he has a free period: “Reggie and I are helping the librarian move some old books and papers out of her office!”

Here they are beginning their work:

School librarian seen in this panel
School librarian seen in this panel

This is an unlikely scenario: no librarian would have people move books by carrying them like this. She’d use a book truck. Book trucks are fantastic for moving lots of books around, and they are very safe. Also, she’d probably do it herself. Librarians like moving books on book trucks.

Because the story is about Archie’s contagious clumsiness, naturally Reggie and Chuck trip over something and the books and papers go all over the floor. (This is why they would have used a book truck.) The librarian gasps and says, “I feel faint!” Then in the next panel: “Whew! I’m okay now!” The librarian is portrayed as weak and helpless in the face of just a mild accident, when in real life she’d be very capable of dealing with mishaps and would immediately help.

“Innocent on Paper” was written by Mike Pellowski, pencilled by [Tim?] Kennedy, and inked by Jim Amash (with no colourist or letterer given). I read it in Archie and Me (Jumbo Comics) Digest 15 (April 2019). It is copyright Archie Comic Publications.

Mount an Android phone on Linux/Unix with sshfs

android unix

Peter Rukavina’s typically clear and thorough How to mount an Android phone on a Mac using SSHFS showed me how to get just what I wanted: easy access to the files on my new phone from my Ubuntu laptop. Bluetooth never works right for me, and GSconnect looked good but had too much overhead. Now I have something that suits me nicely.

First, I installed Termux from F-Droid. Then I ran it, installed sshd, set a password for the account (there is no username), and ran the daemon:

pkg install sshd
passwd
sshd

This is what running sshd looks like:

Running sshd in Termux
Running sshd in Termux

Second, I set my router to always give my phone the same IP number when it gets on my home wifi network. Then I edited /etc/hosts to include a line matching that IP number with a hostname:

192.168.0.100 phone

That means I can just refer to the host phone and my laptop will get to the right other machine.

Now I could ssh into my phone!

ssh -p 8022 phone

(No username is required.) But I couldn’t access any files! Internal and external storage told me how the fix that. I ran

termux-storage-setup

in the Termux window, and that made a storage folder that had symlinks to storage folders.

Then I made a mount point on my laptop:

sudo mkdir /media/wtd/phone
sudo chown wtd:wtd /media/wtd/phone

Now I can mount the phone with this command (which will ask for the password):

sshfs phone:storage /media/wtd/phone/ -o follow_symlinks -p 8022
Accessing the files
Accessing the files

To close it off, I unmount on my laptop:

sudo umount /media/wtd/phone

And then stop sshd on the phone, with this in the Termux window:

pkill sshd

Now, this doesn’t give me access to application data folders, which I need when I do backups. For that I’ll still use adb, the Android Debug Bridge. But for getting and managing photos, which is mostly what I need, it’s great.

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