tutorial

Upgrade the Raspberry Pi 4's firmware / bootloader for better thermals

In October, the Raspberry Pi Foundation released an updated bootloader/firmware for the Raspberry Pi 4 which dramatically reduces power consumption and overall temperatures on the Pi 4 by setting the USB controller and CPU into a more power-friendly mode.

I wanted to post here the instructions for checking the current version, and upgrading, because I have a large number of Pis to upgrade over time, and I needed a quick reference. For more details, check out the Raspberry Pi Documentation page Raspberry Pi 4 boot EEPROM.

Checking if the current bootloader is up to date

Upgrade system packages and install the rpi-eeprom utility:

$ sudo apt update
$ sudo apt -y full-upgrade
$ sudo apt install -y rpi-eeprom

Check if an update is required:

$ sudo rpi-eeprom-update

If you see a difference in the output, you can restart to update to the newer version. If everything's the same, you're already on the latest version.

Re-gripping a Nikon D700 DSLR

The Nikon D700 holds a special place in my heart. I started getting serious about photography right around the time digital SLR cameras (DSLRs) were overtaking film cameras in terms of quality and sales quantity. My first non-snapshot camera was a manual-focus Minolta X-700, and I'm sad I sold it years ago. The D700 was the first 'semi-pro' level DSLR I used; though I never owned one until recently.

Nikon D700 60mm 2.8 Macro lens Hero image

I rented and borrowed the Nikon D3, D3s, and D700 a number of times when they were the state of the art, and I still love the way the D700 renders images. The fact that it shoots at 12 megapixels means it's more forgiving with handheld photography at slower shutter speeds (since motion blur gets much worse as resolution increases). It doesn't do video at all... but as a photographer's camera, besides maybe the Nikon Df, there isn't a DSLR that I've enjoyed using as much for as long.

The Raspberry Pi 4 needs a fan, here's why and how you can add one

The Raspberry Pi Foundation's Pi 4 announcement blog post touted the Pi 4 as providing "PC-like level of performance for most users". The Foundation even offers a Raspberry Pi 4 Desktop Kit.

The desktop kit includes the official Raspberry Pi 4 case, which is an enclosed plastic box with nothing in the way of ventilation.

I have been using Pis for various projects since their introduction in 2012, and for many models, including the tiny Pi Zero and various A+ revisions, you didn't even need a fan or heatsink to avoid CPU throttling. And thermal images or point measurements using an IR thermometer usually showed the SoC putting out the most heat. As long as there was at least a little space for natural convection (that is, with no fan), you could do almost anything with a Pi and not have to worry about heat.

Cleaning up after adding files in Drupal Behat tests

I've been going kind of crazy covering a particular Drupal site I'm building in Behat tests—testing every bit of core functionality on the site. In this particular case, a feature I'm testing allows users to upload arbitrary files to an SFTP server, then Drupal shows those filenames in a streamlined UI.

I needed to be able to test the user action of "I'm a user, I upload a file to this directory, then I see the file listed in a certain place on the site."

These files are not managed by Drupal (e.g. they're not file field uploads), but if they were, I'd invest some time in resolving this issue in the drupalextension project: "When I attach the file" and Drupal temporary files.

Since they are just random files dropped on the filesystem, I needed to:

Make composer operations with Drupal way faster and easier on RAM

tl;dr: Run composer require zaporylie/composer-drupal-optimizations:^1.0 in your Drupal codebase to halve Composer's RAM usage and make operations like require and update 3-4x faster.

A few weeks ago, I noticed Drupal VM's PHP 5.6 automated test suite started failing on the step that runs composer require drupal/drush. (PSA: PHP 5.6 is officially dead. Don't use it anymore. If you're still using it, upgrade to a supported version ASAP!). This was the error message I was getting from Travis CI:

PHP Fatal error:  Allowed memory size of 2147483648 bytes exhausted (tried to allocate 32 bytes) in phar:///usr/bin/composer/src/Composer/DependencyResolver/RuleWatchNode.php on line 40

I ran the test suite locally, and didn't have the same issue (locally I have PHP's CLI memory limit set to -1 so it never runs out of RAM unless I do insane-crazy things.

AirPods get stuck in low-quality 16 kHz audio mode when starting a VM

I always love when I find a really dumb solution that works reliably to fix a problem that should never really be a problem in the first place. But having worked with audio devices before—though nothing nearly as complex as the AirPods—I am willing to cut Apple some slack in building a seamless aural experience with using AirPods across phone calls, VOIP, iOS devices, Macs, music, and Apple TVs... it's hard to execute perfectly, and as I said in my review of the AirPods two years ago, these little earbuds are as close to perfection when it comes to a wireless sound solution for someone like me.

Anyways, here's the problem:

Sometimes (maybe 10% of the time) when I run vagrant up to build a local development environment for one of my software projects, and I'm listening to music, my AirPods suddenly switch into super-low-quality audio mode. It sounds like you're listening to a song played through a long subway tunnel or something.

The best way to get the full PHP version string

Recently, to automate building, tagging, and pushing my geerlingguy/php-apache Docker Hub image (see this issue), I needed to find a way to reliably determine the PHP major.minor.release version string. You'd think this would be simple.

Well, using Docker, I would run the image and then try:

# php --version
PHP 7.3.0-1+0~20181206202713.23+stretch~1.gbp076afd (cli) (built: Dec  6 2018 20:27:14) ( NTS )
Copyright (c) 1997-2018 The PHP Group
Zend Engine v3.3.0-dev, Copyright (c) 1998-2018 Zend Technologies
    with Zend OPcache v7.3.0-1+0~20181206202713.23+stretch~1.gbp076afd, Copyright (c) 1999-2018, by Zend Technologies

That's great; it outputs the version right at the start. But there are a few problems here:

Analyzing a MySQL slow query log with pt-query-digest

There are times when you may notice your MySQL or MariaDB database server getting very slow. Usually, it's a very stressful time, as it means your site or application is also getting very slow since the underlying database is slow. And then when you dig in, you notice that logs are filling up—and in MySQL's case, the slow query log is often a canary in a coal mine which can indicate potential performance issues (or highlight active performance issues).

But—assuming you have the slow query log enabled—have you ever grabbed a copy of the log and dug into it? It can be extremely daunting. It's literally a list of query metrics (time, how long the query took, how long it locked the table), then the raw slow query itself. How do you know which query takes the longest time? And is there one sort-of slow query that is actually the worst, just because it's being run hundreds of times per minute?

Fixing 'UNREACHABLE' SSH error when running Ansible playbooks against Ubuntu 18.04 or 16.04

Ubuntu 16.04 and 18.04 (and likely future versions) often don't have Python 2 installed by default. Sometimes Python 3 is installed, available at /usr/bin/python3, but for many minimal images I've used, there's no preinstalled Python at all.

Therefore, when you run Ansible playbooks against new VMs running Ubuntu, you might be greeted with the following error:

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