Accelerate Your Large Builds Locally With Distcc

The motto of Sun Microsystems back in the day was “The Network Is The Computer” which might be kind of relevant when CPUs were slower and single-core affairs, but lately to get a faster compile, you’d simply throw more cores and memory at the problem. The thing is, most of us don’t do huge compilations all that often, we can’t remember the last time we even attempted a Linux kernel build. However if you do find yourself with a sudden need to do so, and have access to a pile of machines hooked to a network, then why not check out distcc: the fast distributed C/C++ Compiler? We’ve seen a few mentions in comments and a HaD links article referencing it, but never explicitly covered the tool. So here we go.

Continue reading “Accelerate Your Large Builds Locally With Distcc”

Modeling Network Latency

The selfhosting community is an interesting and useful part of the Internet dedicated to removing one’s own services and data from the cloud and hosting it on their own servers, often on hardware that can be physically touched. With that kind of network usage, it’s not uncommon for people to build their own routers, firewalls, and other network support systems from the ground up. And, if you go deep enough, maybe even a home lab dedicated to testing and improving the network’s various layers. This piece of software helps simulate network latency to more accurately assess quality of service, performance, and the optimization of one one’s own networks.

The tool, called Speedbump, allows a network administer to quickly build a test network where characteristics of the network such as base latency and wave shape and size can be set up. From there, a TCP proxy sends the network traffic through the virtual network, adding in a set amount of delay to anything traveling on the network. It can be installed (or built from source) on an existing installation or used from within a Docker terminal, so there are plenty of options depending on preference. It’s also available as a library for any programs written in Go.

While this certainly has applications for home labs where self-hosting services is done at a high level, this could have professional applications as well. For troubleshooting simpler network issues we’d always recommend this tool which allows a more comprehensive network test than the standard “ping” command, and if you haven’t heard of selfhosting before it’s probably time to read this primer on it and build a hobby web server from scratch.

An exploded view render of a red 3D printed case with a green PCB is inside with visible USB-A connectors with a mouse and keyboard graphic above each and "A" and "B" labels above USB-C connectors on the other side.

Building A Better Keyboard And Mouse Switch

Switching inputs between desktops seems like something that should be simple but can prove to be a pain in reality. [Hrvoje Cavrak] decided to take matters into his own hands and build a better keyboard and mouse switch.

DeskHop is built from two Raspberry Pi Pico boards connected via UART and separated by an Analog Devices ADuM1201 dual-channel digital isolator. Through the magic of Pico-PIO-USB these RP2040s can be both host and device. To keep things simple, the PCB is single-sided, and the BOM only has five distinct components.

Once hooked up to your Windows, Mac, or Linux device, your mouse pointer “magically” goes from one screen to the other when dragged across the screen edge. Keyboard LEDs can be reprogrammed to indicate which device is active, and the real beauty of the device is that since it’s a hardware solution, you don’t have to install any software on a computer you might not have admin access to.

If you want to see some more ideas for keyboard and mouse switching, check out this Pi KVM with ATX signaling, this USB triplexer, or this Pi KVM on a PCIe card.

Open Source DC UPS Keeps The Low-Voltage Gear Going

We all like to keep our network gear running during a power outage — trouble is, your standard consumer-grade uninterruptible power supply (UPS) tends to be overkill for routers and such. Their outlet strips built quickly get crowded with wall-warts, and why bother converting from DC to AC only to convert back again?

This common conundrum is the inspiration for [Walker]’s DC UPS design, which has some interesting features. First off, the design is open source, which of course invites tinkering and repurposing. The UPS is built for a 12 volt supply and load, but that obviously can be changed to suit your needs. The battery bank is a 4S3P design using 18650 cells, and that could be customized as well. There’s an ideal diode controller that prevents DC from back-feeding into the supply when the lights go out, and a really interesting synchronous buck-boost converter in place of the power management chip you’d normally see in a UPS. The converter chip takes a PWM signal from an RP2040; there’s also an ESP32 onboard for web server and UI duties as well as an STM32 to run the BMS. The video below discusses the design and shows a little of the build.

We’ve seen a spate of DC UPS designs lately, some more elaborate than others. This one has quite a few interesting chips that most of us don’t normally deal with, and it’s nice to see how they’re used in a practical design.

Continue reading “Open Source DC UPS Keeps The Low-Voltage Gear Going”

Australia’s Second Largest Telco Went Dark, And Chaos Reigned

Engineers tend to worry about uptime, whether it’s at a corporate server farm or just our own little hobby servers at home. Every now and then, something will go wrong and take a box offline, which requires a little human intervention to fix. Ideally, you’ll still have a command link that stays up so you can fix the problem. Lose that, though, and you’re in a whole lick of trouble.

That’s precisely what happened to Australia’s second largest telecommunications provider earlier this month. Systems went down, millions lost connectivity, and company techs were left scrambling to put the pieces back together. Let’s dive in and explore what happened on Optus’s most embarrassing day in recent memory.

Continue reading “Australia’s Second Largest Telco Went Dark, And Chaos Reigned”

PC Fan Controller Works On Most Operating Systems

For better or worse, most drivers for PC-related hardware like RGB components and fan controllers are built for Windows and aren’t generally of the highest quality. They’re often proprietary and clunky, and even if they aren’t a total mess they generally won’t work on Linux machines at all, or even on a headless setup regardless of OS. This custom fan controller, on the other hand, eschews the operating system almost entirely in favor of an open source fan controller board that can be reached over a network instead.

The project’s creator, [Sasa Karanovic], experimented with fan splitters to solve his problems, but found that these wouldn’t be the ideal solution given the sheer number of fans he wanted in his various computers, especially in his network-attached storage machine. For that one he wanted ten fans, with control over them in custom groups that would behave in certain ways depending on what the computer was doing. His solution uses two EMC2305 five-fan controller chip which communicates over I2C on a custom PCB with a RP2040 at the center. This allows the hardware to communicate with USB to the host computer for updating firmware and controlling over the network. There’s also a 1-wire and I2C bus exposed in case any external sensors need to be integrated into this system as well. To get power for all of those fans, the board uses a SATA connector to get power from the computer’s power supply.

With the PCB built and all of the connections to the host computer made, the custom board is able to control up to 10 fans in any custom configuration without needing a monitor or a driver since it is accessible over the network through an API. It’s also open-source so any changes to the firmware or hardware can easily be made for most air-cooled PC situations. If you’re less concerned about the internal case temperature and more concerned about all the heat your PC is dumping into a living space, you might want to look into venting your PC outside instead.

Continue reading “PC Fan Controller Works On Most Operating Systems”

Going To Extremes To Block YouTube Ads

Many users of YouTube feel that the quality of the service has been decreasing in recent years — the platform offers up bizarre recommendations, fails to provide relevant search results, and continues to shove an increasing amount of ads into the videos themselves. For shareholders of Google’s parent company, though, this is a feature and not a bug; and since shareholder opinion is valued much more highly than user opinion, the user experience will likely continue to decline. But if you’re willing to put a bit of effort in you can stop a large chunk of YouTube ads from making it to your own computers and smartphones.

[Eric] is setting up this adblocking system on his entire network, so running something like Pi-hole on a single-board computer wouldn’t have the performance needed. Instead, he’s installing the pfSense router software on a mini PC. To start, [Eric] sets up a pretty effective generic adblocker in pfSense to replace his Pi-hole, which does an excellent job, but YouTube is a different beast when it comes to serving ads especially on Android and iOS apps. One initial attempt to at least reduce ads was to subtly send YouTube traffic through a VPN to a country with fewer ads, in this case Italy, but this solution didn’t pan out long-term.

A few other false starts later, all of which are documented in detail by [Eric] for those following along, and eventually he settled on a solution which is effectively a man-in-the-middle attack between any device on his network and the Google ad servers. His router is still not powerful enough to decode this information on the fly but his trick to get around that is to effectively corrupt the incoming advertising data with a few bad bytes so they aren’t able to be displayed on any devices on the network. It’s an effective and unique solution, and one that Google hopefully won’t be able to patch anytime soon. There are some other ways to improve the miserable stock YouTube experience that we have seen as well, like bringing back the dislike button.

Thanks to [Jack] for the tip!