Jay Little
Tying Up Tech Loose Ends : 2023 Edition

12/29/2023 12:04:41

So as most of you know, I tend to take the last few weeks of every year off. Primarily I use this time to celebrate the year and reflect on its events. I also use this time to tie up any tech loose ends that I have... and boy did I have a few this year.

My biggest piece of in-home tech debt was definitely my camera system. For years I have run a hodge podge front door camera which basically amounted to an indoor web cam mounted in my front window which was pointed at the foot door area of the porch. The web cam was hooked up a to Raspberry Pi 4 running an RPI distribution called MotionEyeOS. Sadly this software hasn't been updated since mid 2020 as the maintainer had stepped away and nobody has stepped up to maintain it since.

Despite having used this piece of software for years, it had numerous flaws. Namely it didn't consistently detect motion events and even when it did the video recordings weren't of the highest quality. They tended to be choppy and have dropped frames even when the camera was set to a relatively low resolution of 1024x576. Nevertheless, I was used to this software and its quirks and even managed to even get it integrated into HomeKit via the HomeBridge Camera FFmpeg plugin so summoning the willpower required to switch it was quite a challenge.

In any event, I received my Raspberry Pi 5 a few weeks ago and decided that it would serve as the deployment platform for my new camera software setup because I was operating under the assumption that the crappy video encodes were a hardware performance issue rather than a software issue (spoiler alert: this was not accurate). So last week I got cracking and installed the 64 bit version of Raspberry Pi OS on an external Samsung Fit USB drive because booting operating systems off of SD Cards is for suckers.

So what software did I decide to go with? ZoneMinder of course. To be frank, setting all of this up was a lot more painful and time consuming than setting up MotionEyeOS was as that was designed to be easily setup and maintained whereas this new setup was more of a full server type of setup as I would have to manage system updates on my own. I did this of course using the same auto update scripts that I use on my older but ultra-reliable Raspberry Pi400 file and media servers.

As it turns out, this was insanely worth the extra time. Not only is all of the software on the box coming from the Debian / Raspberry Pi OS level software repositories, but now the OS install has a well defined and easily understood upgrade path associated with it. I know that Raspberry Pi OS is a well supported Linux distribution that tends to release major updates a few months after Debian releases a new stable build and I have successfully upgraded my existing Pi400 units multiple times over the last few years without any real issue.

In addition, while ZoneMinder may not be as user friendly, it works way better than MotionEye in every imaginable aspect. So much so that I'm almost kicking myself for not doing this with a Raspberry Pi 4 years back because I think it would've worked perfectly fine even on that platform. Motion is detected consistently. Videos are recorded with no dropped frames. I can do this at a much higher resolution of 1280x720 and the system isn't even breaking a sweat. Conceivably I could increase this to 1080p if I really wanted to and may consider doing that in the future.

Finally, ZoneMinder is so much better that I was able to also add a second camera to the same hardware. This is my Front Animal camera and while I haven't made much use of it in the last year, I have decided to bring it back. This is an IR / Night Vision capable web cam that sits outside on the corner of the porch (and yes the USB cable to strung out through the window in a very ghetto like fashion) which I keep pointed at an external food bowl that I maintain for our cats that sometimes stay the night outside. However the purpose of the camera isn't to monitor the cats, but rather to monitor which other wild animals are eating the food we leave out. In the past I have acquired fun videos of Raccoons and Possums and I look forward to getting some more of that material.

This used to require a second Raspberry Pi 4 for the second camera with MotionEyeOS. Everything can now be easily done with a single Raspberry Pi 5 and again the hardware isn't even breaking a sweat doing it, so presumably a Raspberry Pi 4 would suffice as well. Anyway it took a lot of setup time to get this hardware setup as a proper server with automated nightly backups and remote storage of camera media, but it was worth it. The end result is a much easier to maintain and high performing camera system that addresses nearly every flaw exhibited by its predecessor.

My other major tech project which took place over the course of December, was replacing my Playstation 5. As much as I appreciated the quietness of my PS5 Digital Edition and its stunning performance, the time has come for me to step away from the world of proprietary console gaming. As a result of this project, my nephew and niece received my hand-me-down PS5 for their Christmas present. I also decommissioned my Nintendo Switch.

What did I replace these consoles with? The venerable Beelink SER 7 of course. This is a performant mini PC running the latest Ryzen 4th gen Zen core hardware and the integrated AMD 780M iGPU. Needless to say this thing has enough horsepower to cover most of my gaming needs out of the gate as I'm not overly obsessesd with either FPS or Visual Fidelity (yes it plays Cyberpunk 2077 at 720p well enough that I've put quite a few hours into the game this past month). In addition it has USB-4 capability which will allow me to add an eGPU as part of a planned upgrade next year.

Sadly this hardware isn't perfect. A few months prior to this, I switched my Office Mini PC to a Beelink SER 6 Max as the GPU ram in my Minisforum HX90G ended up going bad. In terms of the SER6 Max my experience has been great. However in my home office, I don't use wireless so I didn't realize that wireless and bluetooth performance on these metal Beelink units was absolutely terrible. The SER7 was no exception to this. So in order to make this hardware work in my entertainment center, I ended up reconfiguring the wireless in my house so that the Unifi 6 Lite AP I was using as an ethernet bridge for my old camera system (which now uses a powerline ethernet adapter), now hooks into an ethernet switch and provides network connectivity to my entire entertainment center.

This worked out pretty well as the entertainment center of our house had some of the worst wireless connectivity in the place so using a full AP as a wireless bridge allows us to punch through that and share the benefits among everything that lives there including the Mister Multisystem and my AppleTV. This also meant that I had to make use of controllers, keybaords and mice which worked using 2.4ghz usb dongles rather than bluetooth. Well it took some time, but I also managed to get all of that handled but it did require me to purchase an Xbox Wireless Adapter to keep using my Xbox Elite Series 2 controller. I also purchased an 8bitdo Ultimate Wireless controller as a secondary controller.

Finally, you are probably wondering what operating system this console runs. Initially I started off thinking Bazzite was the way to go as it was based on Fedora which is what I use on my mini PCs and laptops. However in practice Bazzite wasn't particularly great and worked out so badly on this hardware that I was initially reconsidering the entire project. However I decided it would prudent to try a few other Linux distributions first and my second choice ChimeraOS worked out way better. In fact it is so good that again I regret not just starting off with that but hey hindsight is 20 / 20, right?

In any event, while this project cost me more time and money than I initially predicted it has worked out rather well. I have removed proprietary console hardware from my life and now moved into a situation where at least my proprietary gaming library is now primarily situated on a single service (aka Steam) and playable across all of my personal devices (laptop, desktop, console and the portable Steam Deck). I transferred my Playstation account to my nephew, so he now has my entire Playstation gaming library. As for my Switch library, I just don't care as it wasn't that large anyway. Next year after Nintendo announces whatever successor they have lined up for the Switch, it will be worth even less as that will begin its countdown to irrelevancy and Nintendo decommissioning it entirely.

These were my two December 2023 tech projects. Both were successful though each required more effort than I realized they would up front. I hope to revisit the subject of the console next year after I add an eGPU enclosure containing an AMD GPU of some sort (RX 6600 or RX 6700 probably). This will be done in an effort to future proof the setup a bit more as the 780m may be fine for the games I want to play today, but for the tomorrow's games I will probably need a bit more performance headroom to work with. As for the camera, that project is done for now with no future upgrades on the horizon.

I hope 2023 was as good a tech year for you as it was for me. Things were dramatic this year but overall I ended up with a superior laptop, desktop, console and camera setups so in retrospect the end results were worth the stretches it took to make it all happen.

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