Week 21 – AWS Workspaces

Week 21 – AWS Workspaces

Although remote learning is working fairly smoothly, not all students have access to actual PCs or Macs from which they can run certain applications such as Photoshop or Visual Studio for a specific class. AWS Workspaces is supposed to be a solution to this issue.

Upon downloading the Windows client and logging in, I was greeting with a blank desktop, the bare essentials, and a nice Amazon branded wallpaper.

The default setting provides you with 2 Haswell cores at a base speed of 2.4Ghz. Instinctively, I ran Cinebench R20 to gauge the system’s performance, where it achieved a measly score of 418. However, this should not be surprising as I was only using 2 cores.

Changing from 2 cores to 8 brings up this window where you can view the progress of the switch.

And then, this happened. Stay tuned until next week for more info.

Week 20 – Plex

Week 20 – Plex

Last week, I received a request to do a tutorial on running a media server, which coincides perfectly with the fact that I just made a tutorial on turning an old laptop or desktop into an Ubuntu machine that can be used for various tasks such as servers. Without further ado, here’s the info. Plex is a free piece of software that automatically configures the necessary ports and runs a media server in the background on your PC, Mac, or Linux machine. It’s fairly lightweight, and provided you have a good amount of storage it should be a pretty smooth experience when using it to serve your movies, music, and more. These steps are to be performed on the machine which you want to run the server on. First, you’ll want to head to http://www.plex.tv/ and sign up using a Google, Facebook, or Apple account, or your email and a password.

Now that you’re signed in, you’ll want to click the yellow button in the top right corner of the screen labeled “Launch”. This is similar to something like the main menu on Netflix or Prime video; on the left are various types of media to choose from, and on the right is a display of different items. Click on the button on the left that says “Your Media”.

Clicking on the button that says “Get Plex Media Server” or this link will take you to the downloads page. Simply chose your OS from the dropdown menu on the left and click on the large download button. This should take seconds to download as it is a small file. Simply run the installation executable to begin the installation. This procedure may vary between operating systems, but it should be fairly simple. If you have trouble, this link will take you to their official guide where you can read more.

Make sure “Launch Plex Media Server” is ticked at the end of setup, and click “Finish”. Your server is now installed, for the most part. You will see an icon of the Plex logo in your system tray. Right-click on the icon to see more options, then click on “Open Plex”. This will open the web application in your browser of choice. Click the button on the left that says “more”, and you will see a button at the top with the name of your server, which you will have to click on for more options. From here you can add a library by folder for different types of media such as movies, pictures, and music. When you’re done with that, the server will scour the web for metadata related to that media such as album art, movie trailers, ratings, and more. You’ll notice the “Remote Access” option under the settings menu which you can enable to access your libraries from anywhere in the world provided an internet connection. That’s it. Congratulate yourself, because you now have your very own streaming service which you can simply access at any time from the mobile app, the smart TV app, or the web app by signing in at http://www.plex.tv/

Week 19 – Setting Up a Minecraft Server

Week 19 – Setting Up a Minecraft Server

Last week, I went in-depth about how you can install Ubuntu Linux on an old laptop to run various applications on it such as a webserver or Minecraft server. Today, I’m going to talk about the steps required to run a Minecraft Java Edition server with Ubuntu so that you can play with friends, and next week I’m going to show you how you can even add a plugin for crossplay so that your friends on the pocket edition or windows 10 edition can join you. The first step is to make sure you have java installed, but before that, you’ll want to make sure all of your packages are up to date. Open the Ubuntu terminal and type

sudo apt update

followed by

sudo apt upgrade

The Minecraft Java Edition server is coded in Java, so you’ll need to have Java 8 installed. To install Java, use the following command:

sudo apt install openjdk-8-jdk -y

You can now close the terminal. The next thing you’ll have to do is download the papermc server JAR file. To do this, navigate to https://papermc.io/downloads and click on the download button next to the newest build. Builds are released daily, and you will be able to update the server in the future by simply replacing the JAR file. Create a new folder on your desktop named “server” or any other name without spaces, and drag the new JAR file into it. Rename the JAR file to “server.jar”. Then, create a new text file named “start.sh”. The contents of the file should be as follows:

sudo java -Xmx1024M -Xms1024M -jar minecraft_server.jar nogui

the “-Xmx” and “-Xms” flags tell the server how much RAM should be dedicated. For 5 people or less, I recommend you set it to 2048M for a smooth experience, but you can add more or less depending on how much ram the system has. To start the server, open a new terminal window. Type in the following commands (excluding notes in parentheses) to navigate to the new folder and start the JAR

cd Desktop
cd server (or whatever the name of the new folder is)
sh start.sh

The first time you do this, you’ll notice a new file in the folder called “eula.txt”. Open this in your text editor of choice and change “eula=false” to “eula=true”. Save the file and exit the text editor. Assuming you left the terminal open, you should be able to run “sh start.sh” again. Otherwise, use the commands above to navigate back to the folder and run the start script. If all goes according to plan, you should see some new information in the terminal window like this:

Loading libraries, please wait...
[14:35:08 INFO]: Starting minecraft server version 1.15.2
[14:35:08 INFO]: Loading properties
[14:35:09 INFO]: This server is running Paper version git-Paper-268 (MC: 1.15.2) (Implementing API version 1.15.2-R0.1-SNAPSHOT)

Congratulations! You’re almost done. After the server is done generating terrain, a “>” symbol will appear next to which you will type “stop” in the terminal and press ENTER. you will now have to edit a new file called “server.properties” in the folder with the server. There are multiple features to be turned on and off which you can read about here, but the only one we need to worry about for now is the one called “server-ip=”. Open a new terminal beside the one you were using to run the server, and run “sudo apt install net-tools” to install the ifconfig command which we will use to find the local IP of the machine. then, run “ifconfig” and you will be prompted with a slurry of numbers. If the machine is connected to the internet via ethernet, take note of the “inet addr:” under “eth0”, or if it is on Wi-Fi check the “inet addr:” under “wlan0”. This is the local IP address of the machine you are running the server on. Copy this after the “=” in “server-ip=” in the server.properties and save the file. Go back to the terminal where you were running the server.jar file and run “sh start.sh” again. Your new Minecraft Java Edition server is now accessible from other computers on your network using the server’s local IP, but if you want your friends to be able to access it from elsewhere as well, you’ll need to change the port forwarding configuration on your router, which I will be covering in next week’s post.

Week 18 – Repurposing an Old Laptop

Week 18 – Repurposing an Old Laptop

Thanks to the quarantine, many of us have a lot more free time to find projects as well as unearth ancient relics such as old electronic devices out of boredom. One category of such electronic devices is laptop computers. Thanks to their compact size and relatively low power draw, a laptop computer can be easily and effectively turned into your very own server, whether it be for Plex, Minecraft, a webserver, or anything else you can think of. The process is simple. I recommend installing Ubuntu, a popular distribution of Linux which is great for many tasks, one of which being the act of running various types of servers. To do this you will need an old laptop or desktop computer which is still functional, a USB flash drive of at least 4GB, and another computer from which you will download Ubuntu. First, you’ll want to head to the download page on Ubuntu’s official website.

Clicking the green button under “Ubuntu Desktop” labeled with the latest version of Ubuntu will begin a download which we will later use to create a bootable flash drive.

The file is rather large, so it may take a few minutes depending on the speed of your internet service. The next thing you’ll want to download is a free, open-source piece of software called Balena Etcher. Simply download and install the version appropriate for your OS, and start it up.

Balena Etcher’s sleek UI is simple and easy to use.

Next, you’ll want to insert your flash drive into an open USB port on the computer you used to download Ubuntu. Click on “Select image” and choose the Ubuntu ISO file you downloaded, which should be in your Downloads folder unless you’ve changed that in your browser’s settings. Then, select the letter corresponding to the flash drive you want to use as the target and click on “Flash!”. WARNING: MAKE SURE TO BACK UP THE CONTENTS OF THE FLASH DRIVE, THIS PROCESS ERASES ALL OF ITS CONTENTS. This should take a few minutes. Once this is done, Windows may ask you to format the drive, but make sure to click cancel. Eject the drive and remove it. You can now insert the flash drive into one of the laptop’s open USB ports. Make sure the laptop is plugged in and press the power button to turn it on from a complete shut-off state. on the first screen to appear, you may notice a prompt to press a certain key to open the boot menu. This is commonly the delete key, F12, or F2. Spam whichever key it is until you arrive at the boot menu. Simply select the USB drive and it should boot into Ubuntu’s installation environment.

You should see a button to install Ubuntu. Click on that to continue. Just keep clicking on the continue button until you reach the “Installation Type” page.

You’ll want to tick the circle that says “Erase disk and install Ubuntu”, then click on the Continue button once again. Remember, if you haven’t already backed up the files on the laptop, they will be erased permanently. Chose a time zone, and then you will be able to choose a username and password. After that, the hard part is over! Make sure the laptop stays plugged in while installing Ubuntu and DO NOT TURN IT OFF during this process.

You will be greeted with this dialog. Click on “Restart Now” and if everything goes according to plan, the laptop will restart and you will be welcomed by the Ubuntu desktop.

You can now remove the flash drive which you booted from. Congratulations!

Week 17 – AWS Educate | Introduction to Amazon Sumerian Module 3

Week 17 – AWS Educate | Introduction to Amazon Sumerian Module 3

Module 3 is about actually creating a Sumerian experience. The first step is going to be signing into the AWS Console. From there, I was able to search “Sumerian” and access the Sumerian Console where I was able to create a new Scene. A scene is essentially a virtual environment in which you are able to place assets. Sumerian offers all sorts of features, like custom assets, lighting, environments, and physics.

A blank scene in the editor

There also exist Sumerian “hosts”, which are virtual people who can act as tour guides or anything else for that matter.

A Sumerian “host”

Anyway, that was my experience with module three, and make sure to stay healthy and safe.

Week 16 – AWS Educate | Introduction to Amazon Sumerian Module 2

Week 16 – AWS Educate | Introduction to Amazon Sumerian Module 2

Last week, we took a look at Module 1 of the Introduction to Amazon Sumerian course on AWS Educate. Each module is a small unit with certain “learning objectives” similar to units one would find in a textbook. Module 2 is dedicated to describing the purpose and means of using the Amazon Sumerian service in more detail. First, I learned about how Sumerian can be used to create VR/3D experiences which can be simply run from a web browser, without any coding knowledge required.

A simple demo of a 3D environment which is completely browser based.

I then learned about the intriguing WebVR, which is a Javascript API for sharing VR experiences which can be executed from a web browser. The next page discusses how Sumerian can also be used to create AR or Augmented Reality applications as well. The course then explains how the Sumerian editor can be used to create 3D environments with ease using built-in assets and environments. Users can then take another short quiz of 5 questions, and continue to module 3, which I will be reviewing next week. Until then, stay safe.

Week 15 – AWS Educate | Introduction to Amazon Sumerian Module 1

Week 15 – AWS Educate | Introduction to Amazon Sumerian Module 1

The purpose of the “Amazon Sumerian Pathway” is to teach about mixed reality, AR, and VR, as well as how Amazon Sumerian is a simple way to create these kinds of applications. Upon diving in, I encountered a brief explanation of the differences between these various technologies.

A brief explanation of MR, AR, and VR

I was then informed about different use cases for said technologies, and how they are used to help accelerate processes such as design. To wrap up module 1, I took a short quiz about the prior information which I was given where I scored 5/5 (yay!)

In conclusion, AWS Educate offers compelling online courses for people of a wide range of skill levels which teach valuable information about today’s technologies.

Week 14 – The Quarantine Has Begun

Is a Raspberry Pi and a webcam better than the AWS DeepLens? Apparently there will be a reasonably long period of time before we are able to answer that question. As you know, COVID-19 has affected all of us in various ways, from limiting social interactions to closing schools and businesses with the intent of stopping the spread. In this time I have been bored, but also have had more time to find small technology projects for myself as well as take part in some gaming. Unfortunately, there are no new things happening at the help desk as of now as school is closed, but I plan to write about reviving an old laptop whose hard drive is being reformatted as I write this in hopes of turning it into a Linux server which can be used for various purposes. Stay tuned for that, but most importantly, stay healthy.

Image courtesy of the CDC

Week 13 – AWS DeepLens

This week, we got our hands on the AWS DeepLens smart camera, which Amazon claims is “The world’s first deep learning enabled video camera for developers”. Simply put, the DeepLens is a webcam attached to an Intel powered single-board computer with Wi-Fi capabilities and USB-3.

The AWS DeepLens Image Courtesy of Amazon.com

The first step of setting up the DeepLens is fairly simple. Connect it to a monitor or TV, hook up a mouse and keyboard, boot it up and connect it to Wi-Fi. It runs on Ubuntu OS-16.04 LTS by default, so the process of logging in and setting up SSH is simple. It can then be disconnected and remotely operated from your own PC. Now that you have it set up utilizing Amazon’s own instructions which are much clearer and more detailed than these, you can run different applications on it remotely, such as their default image recognition application, which seemed to only understand the words “Computer Monitor” and “chair”. However, is the $200 price tag at the time of writing really justifiable, or can a $35 Raspberry Pi and a small camera do the same thing? Stay tuned to find out.

Small cameras like this one at $12 can be attached to a Raspberry Pi, which should yeild a similar hardware setup (for these purposes) to the DeepLens
Week 12 – Mac Pro Update

Week 12 – Mac Pro Update

To wrap up the Mac Pro upgrades, we began the two-week process of de-lidding two new hexa-core CPUs to replace the old quad core ones. After multiple failed attempts, we now have two 6-core Xeons with no visible damage. Upon swapping them in, an error was thrown, so the original CPUs were put back in their original places, and we are now in the process of updating the Mac Pro’s firmware. When de-lidding the CPUs, it is important to check online for where the capacitors around the edge of the die are, because as we found out, it is very easy to damage them by inserting the CPU into the vise grip in the wrong direction. Hopefully the time will be well spent, and it will be in working order with four extra cores, two more on each of the two CPUs.

The Xeon W3570 in its early 2000’s glory