2024 Porsche Macan

While the Taycan was at the dealer for some work, they very kindly leant me a brand new (less than 500 miles on the clock) 2024 Macan. Not, of course, the upcoming EV version of the Macan, but a regular ICE version.

This captures a few of my thoughts on this vehicle, not compared to the Taycan, but to a 2018 Audi Q5 – its Audi badged cousin, but from 6 years ago.

I have also had previous model year Macans as loaner vehicles in the past, and a few of these observations are changes from those versions.

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Podman on Inovato Quadra / Armbian

The Quadra is not equipped with vast amounts of memory (a whole 2GB), but even with a 2K 24 bit color desktop running in a virtual frame buffer, it has 1,3GB available for running applications. Turning off the UI increases that to 1,7GB.

While I could run the applications I am thinking of playing with on this box as simple processes, using containerized applications would have some advantages. As long as the memory constraints of this little ARM SBC don’t make that impractical.

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Inovato Quadra Headless VNC

VNC on a headless system sounds like an odd choice, and indeed, for most things I need this box for I will be connecting via ssh and have no need for a graphical interface. Since I don’t have the HDMI port connected to anything, there is even more reason to just turn it off as the default resolution without a monitor connected turned out to be a measly 1024×768 (yes, I am old enough to remember when that was a good screen resolution, but that’s no longer the case).

There are a few possible solutions to this problem:

  • Connect a monitor 🤣
  • Plug in a dummy monitor HDMI plug
  • Switch from the default Xorg server to Xvfb
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Inovato Quadra Cooling Stand

A while ago, when Raspberry Pi systems were hard to find, I bought a cheap ARM based system called an Inovato Quadra to see what it could do. It doesn’t have the GPIO options of the R-Pi, but it has USB, HDMI and Wi-Fi built in. With the optional USB dongle shown it gains faster Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as well.

Ironically, these are now sold out (they are selling them as part of a HamClock bundle rather than standalone). For those who already have one (or, should they become available again), there were a number of cooling designs online that placed large fans under the case, but they made the footprint much larger and much of the air flow from the fans was going to blow up the outsides of the case. So, I went hunting on Amazon for some better cooling options…

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Plusnet Failures

My mother, an octogenarian living alone in the UK, has been without her home phone service and internet service for 9 days now. Her mobile phone barely works at home due to lack of signal (something that mystifies me, but is a topic for a different post). Plusnet provides both her landline and her broadband, which are critical for somebody of that age in case of an emergency. Yet they are doing nothing to fix the issue.

The first challenge was actually getting this reported to them. They do not have an online form for submitting problem reports. Instead, their website literally says that to report a problem with your phone service you should call them. No joke.

Eventually, my mother managed to get through to them from her mobile, finding a place in the house where it was able to connect. They filed that in their system at 7:11pm on November 1, and simply said they had reported it to their “suppliers” to investigate.

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Purple Air / Kano Pixel

I had three of these little Kano pixel units which I bought for the kids to learn some programming on when they were on sale. Turns out the kids didn’t really use them much, and now Kano seems to be history.

The boards are based on the ESP-32 WROOM microcontroller, and can be programmed using the Arduino IDE, but they can also run MicroPython – a version of the Python programming language that runs on microcontrollers like this one. Furthermore, there is already a library which adds support for the LED matrix (128 NeoPixels), the buttons and the rotary dial on the top. Sadly, it does not have support for the USB connectors, or the built-in microphone (which I suspect is connected via the 4th USB channel that the hub IC on the board provides).

Once I had it running Python, my next thought was what could I do with it…

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California Education: Failing Kids? (3)

Part 3 – Academics

In August I covered school lunches; in January I took a look at how they fail at school sport. Now I’m going to cover what I see as perhaps the most important aspect of an education system: academics. For this, I am going to use my son’s middle school as a reference and compare his school, a California charter school, to a local private school and also to my secondary school in the UK.

Before I get into detail on middle school, however, I do have one other data point to include. A foreign student we know who arrived here at aged 17 with UK “O Levels” (which are public examinations taken typically at the end of what the US school system refers to as sophomore year). When they asked about whether they needed to attend high school or could apply directly to colleges, they were told those exams exceeded the level required for high school graduation. Two years before students in the US would be eligible to graduate from high school.

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Wireless ISP Issues

Those who have followed here for a while might recall that back in 2017 we switched our internet service from Comcast to a local wireless service through a company called Common Networks. They set up their network as a mesh network, with a couple of different locations at that time with Internet access (the Alameda movie theatre on the east end of the island, and the Digital Realty data center just over the estuary from us in Oakland providing a primary connection for the west end). If a node went down, no problem – traffic was routed around it automatically.

Monkey Brains

Fast forward a few years, and they were struggling and ended up being bought by a San Francisco based outfit called Monkey Brains who operate wireless networks in SF, and a few other locations around the bay area.

They came along and ripped out the little PC that we had on site managing the routing, and replaced the dishes on the roof. There were lots of outages and a lot of our neighbors left and switched to AT&T fiber, which was just starting to offer service around Alameda at the time. We had not had any serious outages, so we stayed.

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California Education: Failing Kids? (2)

Part 2 – Sports

Back in August of last year I wrote the first part of my analysis of public education in California, and why I felt it was failing the state’s children. As I said then, that was just the first part of the analysis, looking at the state of school lunches.

This is part two of the series, looking at sports options for elementary school age groups. Middle school in the US is hard to compare with the UK since the latter combines the US middle and high into secondary schools. Our kids are in a combined elementary and middle (so called K-8) school, and while the middle school does offer some sports, they share the facilities I detail below (the campus the school is on was originally a middle school, so it is equipped in line with the other middle schools on the island).

Furthermore, this is looking at the city of Alameda, in the San Francisco bay area. It is certainly possible that some other cities have better facilities and/or options.

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Target No Longer Family Friendly

Armed men at Target in Alameda

Not sure exactly when this started, but several of the Target stores we have visited recently, including our local one here in Alameda, now have groups of armed men in military-style uniforms, and body armour at the entrance.

This is an odd decision for Target, which claims to be a family-friendly shop, and has a stated policy of asking people not to carry weapons into their stores to help them “create an
atmosphere of family-friendly shopping that’s safe and inviting for our
guests and team members
.” Having these armed men at the door does the exact opposite of that, for a number of reasons.

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