Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

Welcome

  • Technology is pervasive these days and touches our lives in many ways we do not realise. Software matters as much as hardware, and there is more to the latter than consumer devices we use for computing, telephony, photography or videography. From all this, we should recognise that computer code is at work in many different places.

  • All the appraisals and how-tos that you find here come from the above. Devices may not feature that much but working with computer software does, and that even extends to its creation. In addition, system management and data computing inspire new posts on finding something worthwhile to share. The hope is that you encounter something interesting in whatever you find.

Minimum viable product?

31st October 2022

While I have done my styling for websites that I have, this one has used third-party themes since its inception. This approach does have its advantages because you can benefit from the efforts of others; it can be a way to get added functionality and gain an appearance that is more contemporary in feel.

Naturally, there also are drawbacks. Getting the desired appearance can be challenging without paying for it, and your tastes may not match current fashions. Then, there are restrictions on customisation. Where user interfaces are available, these cannot be limitless. A fallback is to tweak code but ever-increasing complexity hampers that and an automated update can erase a modification, even if child themes are a possibility on at least one content management system.

For me, the drawbacks now outweigh the advantages so I have created my own design and that is what you now see. Behind the scenes, there is a back-to-basics approach and everything should look brighter. As the title of this post suggests, this is a start with further tweaks coming in time. For now, I hope that what you find will be sufficient to please.

Converting QEMU disk images to VirtualBox images on Linux Mint 21

30th October 2022

Recently, VirtualBox gained fuller support for Windows 11 and I successively set up a new Windows 11 virtual machine that I hope will supplant a Windows 10 counterpart in time. The setup itself was streamlined but I ran into such stability issues that I set the new VM aside until a new version of VirtualBox got released. That has happened with the appearance of version 7.0.2 but Windows 11 remains prone to freezing on my Linux Mint machine. Thankfully, that now is much less frequent but the need for added stability remains outstanding.

While I was thinking about trying our Virtualbox 7.0.0, I remembered a QEMU machine that I had running Windows 11. Though QEMU proved more limited than VirtualBox when it came to having easy availability of functionality like moving data in and out of the virtual machine or support for sound, there was no problem with TPM support or system stability. Since it did contain some useful data, I wondered about converting its virtual hard disk to VirtualBox format and it is easy to do. First, you need to install qemu-img and other utilities as follows:

sudo apt-get install qemu-utils

With that in place, executing a command like the following performs the required conversion. Here, the -O switch specifies the required file type of vdi in this case.

qemu-img convert -O vdi [virtual hard disk].qcow2 [virtual hard disk].vdi

While I have yet to mount it on the new Virtualbox Windows 11 virtual machine, it is good to have the old virtual hard disk available for doing so. The thought of using it as a boot drive in VirtualBox did enter my mind but the required change of drivers and other incompatibilities dissuaded me from doing so.

Removing redundant kernels from Ubuntu

29th October 2022

Recently, a message appear on some web servers that I have that exhorted me to upgrade to Ubuntu 22.04.1 using the do-release-upgrade command. In the interests of remaining current, I did just that to get another message, one like the following:

The upgrade needs a total of [amount of space with units] free space on disk `/boot`.
Please free at least an additional [amount of space with units] of disk space on `/boot`.
Empty your trash and remove temporary packages of former installations
using `sudo apt-get clean`.

Using sudo apt-get clean did not resolve the problem so the advice given was of no use. The actual problem was that there were too many old kernels cluttering up /boot and searching around the web provided that wisdom. What also came up was a single command for fixing the problem. However, removing the wrong kernel can trash a system so I took a more cautious approach. First, I listed the kernels to be removed and checked that they did not include the currently running one. This was done with the following command (broken up over several lines for clarity using the backslash character to denote continuation) and running uname -r found the details of the running kernel:

dpkg -l linux-{image,headers}-"[0-9]*" \

| awk '/ii/{print $2}' \

| grep -ve "$(uname -r \

| sed -r 's/-[a-z]+//')"

The dpkg command listed the installed kernels with awk, grep and sed filtering out unwanted sections of the text. The awk command takes the tabular output from dpkg and turns it into a list. The -v switch on the grep command gets the lines that do not match the search expression created by the sed command, while the -e switch makes grep look for patterns. The sed command removes all letters from the output of the uname command, where the -r switch produces the kernel release details, to leave on the release number of the current kernel. On being satisfied that nothing untoward would happen, the full command below (also broken up over several lines for clarity using the backslash character to denote continuation) could be executed.

sudo apt purge $(dpkg -l linux-{image,headers}-"[0-9]*" \

| awk '/ii/{print $2}' \

| grep -ve "$(uname -r \

| sed -r 's/-[a-z]+//')")

This apt to purge the unwanted kernels, thus freeing up enough space for the upgrade to continue. That happened without significant incident though there were some remediations needed on the PHP side to get the website working smoothly again.

Using inventory files with Ansible

28th October 2022

This is the second post on Ansible following my main system’s upgrade to Linux Mint 21. Then, I manually ran some Ansible playbooks only to spot messages that I had not noticed before. Here, I discuss two messages issued because of an issue with an inventory file, which is where one defines lists of servers against which playbooks are executed. The default is called hosts and is located at /etc/ansible but the system upgrade had renamed the existing one so Ansible could not find it. The solution was to take a copy and put somewhere safer. Then, I needed to add the location of the new file to the affected ansible-playbook commands using the following construct:

ansible-playbook [playbook path] -i [inventory file path]

Before I did this, I was seeing messages including the text “Could not match supplied host pattern” or others with the following text:

[WARNING]: No inventory was parsed, only implicit localhost is available

[WARNING]: provided hosts list is empty, only localhost is available. Note that the implicit localhost does not match 'all'

The cause was the same in each case and attending to the inventory file got rid of the unwanted messages. The new file also should not be affected by system upgrades in the future.

Fixing an Ansible warning about boolean type conversion

27th October 2022

My primary use for Ansible is doing system updates using the inbuilt apt module. Recently, I updated my main system to Linux Mint 21 and a few things like Ansible stopped working. Removing instances that I had added with pip3 sorted the problem but I then ran playbooks manually only for various warning messages to appear that I had not noticed before. What follows below is one of these.

[WARNING]: The value True (type bool) in a string field was converted to u'True' (type string). If this does not look like what you expect, quote the entire value to ensure it does not change.

The message is not so clear in some ways, not least because it had me looking for a boolean value of True when it should have been yes. A search on the web revealed something about the apt module that surprised me.: the value of the upgrade parameter is a string when others like it take boolean values of yes or no. Thus, I had passed a bareword of yes when it should have been declared in quotes as “yes”. To my mind, this is an inconsistency but I have changed things anyway to get rid of the message.

Removing a Julia package

5th October 2022

While I have been programming with SAS for a few decades and it remains a lynchpin in the world of clinical development in the pharmaceutical industry, other technologies like R and Python are gaining a foothold. Two years ago, I started to look at those languages with personal projects being a great way of facilitating this. In addition, I got to hear of Julia and got to try that too. That journey continues since I have put it into use for importing and backing up photos, and there are other possible uses too.

Recently, I updated Julia to version 1.8.2 but ran into a problem with the DataArrays package that I had installed so I decided to remove it since it was added during experimentation. The Pkg package that is used for package management is documented but I had not gotten to that so some web searching ensued. It turns out that there are two ways of doing this. One uses the REPL: after pressing the ] key, the following command gets issued:

rm DataArrays

When all is done, pressing the delete or backspace keys returns things to normal. This also can be done in a script as well as the REPL and the following line works in both instances:

using Pkg; Pkg.rm("DataArrays")

The semicolon is used to separate two commands issued in the same line but they can be on different lines or issued separately just as well. Naturally, DataArrays is just an example here so you just replace that with the name of whatever other package you need to remove. Since we can get carried away when downloading packages, there are times when a clean-up is needed to remove redundant packages so knowing how to remove any clutter is invaluable.

Accessing Julia REPL command history

4th October 2022

In the BASH shell used on Linux and UNIX, the history command calls up a list of recent commands used and has many uses. There is a .bash_history file in the root of the user folder that logs and provides all this information so there are times when you need to exclude some commands from there but that is another story.

The Julia REPL environment works similarly to many operating system command line interfaces, so I wondered if there was a way to recall or refer to the history of commands issued. So far, I have not come across an equivalent to the BASH history command for the REPL itself but there the command history is retained in a file like .bash_history. The location varies on different operating systems though. On Linux, it is ~/.julia/logs/repl_history.jl while it is %USERPROFILE%\.julia\logs\repl_history.jl on Windows. While I tend to use scripts that I have written in VSCode rather than entering pieces of code in the REPL, the history retains its uses and I am sharing it here for others. In the past, the location changed but these are the ones with Julia 1.8.2, the version that I have at the time of writing.

Changing the Ansible Vault editor from Vi to Nano

15th August 2022

Recently, I got to experimenting with Ansible after reading about the orchestration tool in a copy of Admin magazine. It came in handy for updating a few web servers that I have as well as updating my main Linux workstation. For the former, automated entry of SSH passwords sufficed but the same did not apply for sudo usage on my local machine. This meant that I needed to use Ansible Vault to store the administrator password and doing so opened up a file in the Vi editor. since I am not familiar with Vi and wanted to get things sorted quickly, I fancied using something more user-friendly like Nano.

Doing this meant adding the following line to .bashrc:

export EDITOR=nano

Saving and closing the file followed by reloading the session set me up for what was needed.

Upgrading from OpenMediaVault 5.x to OpenMediaVault 6.x

8th June 2022

Having an older PC to upgrade, I decided to install OpenMediaVault on there a few years ago after adding in 6 TB and 4 TB hard drives for storage, a Gigabit network card to speed up backups and a new BeQuiet! power supply to make it quieter. It has been working smoothly since then and the release of OpenMediaVault 6.x had me wondering how to move to it.

Usefully, I enabled an SSH service for remote logins and set up an account for anything that I needed to do. This includes upgrades, taking backups of what is on my NAS drives and even shutting down the machine when I am done with what I need to do with it.

Using an SSH session, the first step was to switch to the administrator account and issue the following command to ensure that my OpenMediaVault 5.x installation was as up to date as it could be:

omv-update

Once that had completed what it needed to do, the next step was to do the upgrade itself with the following command:

omv-release-upgrade

With that complete, it was time to reboot the system and I fired up the web administration interface and spotted a kernel update that I applied. Again the system was restarted and further updates were noticed and these were applied, again through the web interface. The whole thing is based on Debian 11.x but I am not complaining since it quietly does exactly what I need of it.

Getting custom Python imports to work in Visual Studio Code

18th February 2022

While I continue to use Spyder as my preferred Python code editor, I also tried out Visual Studio Code. Handily, this Integrated Development Environment also has facilities for working with R and Julia code as well as MarkDown text editing and adding the required extensions is enough for these applications; it helps that there is an unofficial Grammarly extension for content creation.

My Python code development makes use of the Pylance extension and it works a little differently from Spyder when it comes to including files using import statements. Spyder will look into the folder where the base script is located but the default behaviour of Pylance is that it looks in the root path of your workspace. This meant that any code that ran successfully in Spyder failed in Visual Studio Code.

The way around this was to add the required location using the python.analysis.extraPaths setting for the workspace. That meant opening Settings by navigating to File > Preferences > Settings in the menu system and entering python.analysis.extraPaths into the search box. That took me to the section that I needed and I then clicked on Add Item before entering the required path and clicking on the OK button. That was enough to fix the problem and all worked as it should after that.

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