Acer Aspire 5 A514-54-501Z Walmart Price Reduction

I blogged about this laptop previously but since then things have gotten better.  When I first bought it, it was $499 however Walmart lowered the price to $449 but wouldn’t give me a price adjustment so I returned it and bought a new one.

Since that time the price has been reduced further to $399.  Let me tell you why that is such a great deal.  Not many laptops are upgradeable these days but this laptop has an accessible NVME M.2 drive (that you would need to clone, or do a fresh install, if you upgrade the drive).  It comes with a 256 GB drive however I have a 1TB drive laying around here that I may slap in mine.  I just need to figure out how to clone it first.  I might have to buy an NVME enclosure as the laptop has no PCIe slot to plug an adapter into.

In addition to that there is an unpopulated SATA drive bay where you can add an additional hard drive.  There are 8GB of RAM, 4 of which is built into the main board and a 4GB (PC4-3200) stick in the DDR4 slot.  You could change that out to a 16GB stick for a total of 20GB.  Lastly you could change the wifi chip if you wanted to.

A514-54-501Z Upgrades (click pics to enlarge)

Let’s summarize:

  • Upgradeable NVME Drive
  • Can add a second SATA drive
  • RAM upgradeable
  • WiFi chip can be changed out.

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CNC Improvements

I bought a small CNC in maybe December of 2021, and in a month or so later I bought a proper CNC machine.  Basically, I knew nothing about woodworking or CNC operations.  But I taught myself.  One small lesson at a time.  Since I’m retired and in no hurry I decided to tackle skills one at a time.

So here I am just a few months later and while there is still lots to learn………….I’m cranking out beautiful pieces of woodworking.  A couple of which have impressed my own self.

Probably the first Maker Machine I ever bought was a vinyl sign machine.  I learned quickly that it isn’t only the ability to successfully make something it also includes the ability to NOT WASTE MATERIAL.  Maximizing your stock is vital in becoming a skilled artisan.  Here’s the most recent things that I made, and I have to say, to me, it is beautiful

CNC Sushi Tray

It actually is a simple make. There are two bits used and three operations.

First a 1/4″ Upcut bit is used to rough clear the material.

Then it is followed up by a tiny 1/16″ bit that carves the details.

Then finally you put the 1/4″ bit back in to do a profile cut around the outside of the tray.   Do some sanding and then oiling and you are left with basically a piece of artwork.
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Myofascial Release

This may seem unusual for what most might consider an Electronics or Computer Tech Blog but this is Human Body Tech.  Let me preach on it…………..

Sometime around the year 2000 or so I was ridiculously fat and getting fatter.  I finally decided that it was time to knuckle down and do what needed to be done.  I was living in Japan and on a business trip to Pax River, Maryland and hopped on a treadmill for the first time.  I had to run in boxer shorts and dress socks but I ran a mile on the treadmill.

I’ll spare you the progression story but suffice to say I was a huge “runner” but a runner nonetheless.  And along with that hugeness came aches and pains.  I was highly motivated to run and read EVERYTHING I could get my hands on.  There is no shortage of motivational running literature out there.  And then the inevitable happened.  I got a mild injury, probably to my IT Band.  The IT Band is a thick bunch of fibers that runs along the outside of your thighs and knee.  While researching my ouch-ee I read a book called The Pain Free Runner, about Myofascial Release for the first time.

I’m no Doctor or Nurse or Physical Therapist or anything of the sort.  I was nothing but a fat, hurt runner.   But I’ll my best to explain this in layman’s terms.  When some muscle hurts in your body the actual site of the injury or “Trigger Point” is somewhere else.  The tension from the knotted muscles or tissue pull and stretch the affected muscle where you feel the pain.  Release the knotted muscle and the pain subsides.

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Leatherman Squirt PS4 First Look

Leatherman Squirt PS4

I love multi-tools but sometimes they need to be small.  Sometimes you’re in short pants, dress pants, or just holding a keychain, but you still might have to save the day.  There are only a few multi-tool choices and most of them are Swiss Army knives.  Some Swiss Army knives have pliers on them but they are tiny pliers that pull out of the body of the knife.   It’s tough to get a man grip on something with those things.

Also I need to say I swear no allegiance to any particular manufacturer.  EDC can be very situational.  I carry a Victorinox Classic SD on my keychain which is great for tiny jobs but lacks critical tools like a beer opener!

I really love my Leatherman Surge but it is freakishly huge and this blog is about portability.  It is about those times that you can’t carry the freakishly huge multi-tool.  And that really limits the playing field.  No real man would be caught dead without EDC tools though.

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Home Automation – The Need For Local Control

Home automation is a thing.  People love to say “Alexa, Turn on the Light” and giggle when it does.

But there is an inherent problem with this.  Most home automation products you buy come with a proprietary app that you control from your phone or computer.  That means your device is DEPENDENT ON THE “CLOUD”!

What do you do when the Cloud goes “Poof”?

About a week ago a brand of Home Automation products sold by Home Depot called “Insteon” went Poof.  Gone.  Dead.  If you own Insteon devices and an Insteon hub your home automation devices simply no longer work.

Oddly enough at Lowe’s in March 2019 the same thing happened.  Their offerings called “IRIS” also went poof.  At least they gave some warning.  Insteon just stopped working.  Their website has a mea culpa statement up.  “We’re real sorry your stuff stopped working”. Real helpful. Not.

All is not 100% lost though.  If you own Insteon stuff it can be incorporated into the Home Automation software called Home Assistant.  Home Assistant is a tad bit geeky though.  I dare say that most casual Home Automation users probably can’t pull it off.
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Leatherman Signal Review

Leatherman Signal

I love Swiss Army knives but I love me a good multi-tool as well.  I have several, from several manufacturers, and since I sometimes go camping I decided to pick up a Leatherman Signal in Cobalt Blue.  In most reviews you’ll see the reviewer discuss in almost identical detail the things that are linked in the manufacturers product page.

Not me.

I’ll just tell you what I like, or don’t like about it.  First of all I have a Leatherman Surge and a Wave Plus.  I’ve had this Signal for a long time and just never got around to reviewing it.

The Surge is awesome, especially with the accessory tools such as the Rachet Driver and by and large the Wave Plus is my favorite of the Leatherman offerings.  I don’t even need to elaborate.  Just get one and you’ll likely agree.

The Signal is a different beast entirely. And I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.   And in fact I’ll cut right to the chase.  The redeeming value this knife possesses for hiking and camping is the Ferrocerium Rod (fire starter) and the hammer for pounding in some tent stakes or likewise.  And even then, the hammer has a small face on it and not a great grip for hammering.

Again, cutting straight to the chase here…………..I’d rather be toting a Wave Plus and some other separate ferro rod for starting fires.
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Acer Aspire 5 KMODE Exception Not Handled

This blog is mostly for me to remember what I did to fix the Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD) problem with my new laptop.

First of all I HATE Windows with every fiber of my being.   However, I have a CNC machine and the best design software in the world comes from Vectric which is Windows only.  So I bought a cheap laptop.  An Acer Aspire 5 A514-54-501Z from Walmart.  Not sure when it happened, but probably after an update or installation of some program but I started getting the dreaded BSOD with only a KMODE Exception Not Handled.  The computer would boot loop with the BSOD every time but if I did a hard shutdown and restart it would boot however, then it would start without Wifi Drivers.  The next reboot would clear it up.

That’s too much frustration.  Googling the KMODE error basically just said “It”s probably a driver issue” with no more details.  Since it seemed the Wifi driver wasn’t getting loaded after a BSOD I guessed it was that one.   I did a Search For New Driver in Device Manager and it said I had the latest.   Yeah.  Not true.  Seems there was a new Wifi Driver put up about 2 weeks ago.  Probably for the BSOD issue.  My device showed as this in the Device Manager

Wireless LAN Driver (MT7921)

Acer WiFi Driver

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Building a Fast Pi File Server

I just did a blog on booting a Pi 4 Compute Module from an NVME drive.  I’ll provide a Build Of Materials (BOM) for duplicating this project.  Here are the primary components:

Compute Module 4 Build of Materials

ComponentCost Description
CM4008000$75CM4 Lite 8GB No Wifi, No Bluetooth
NVME PCIe Adapter$11NVME Adapter
Samsung EVO 970 Plus 2TB$203NVME Drive
CM4 IO Carrier Board$35Carrier Board for CM4
SD Card$9SD Card (optional). Not required if your CM4 has eMMC.
Power Brick$9Power Brick. Just picked the first one I saw on Amazon. Any 12v , 2 amp or more will do. Get a 5.5mm connector.

So for just over $300 you can have an amazing file server.  Also if you back off the 2TB Samsung EVO970 to a 1TB drive you can save $100 roughly.  You can buy a cheaper Compute Module as well IF YOU CAN FIND ONE. A 2GB one is fine for serving files. For around $200, or a bit less you can have a solid, and adequately fast file server.
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Booting a Raspberry Pi CM4 From an NVME

This is another one of those things………..All the information is out there.  Several good sources have blogged about it, but NO ONE has put it in a Dummies Guide for the rest of us to follow.

NVME support and NVME booting is now built in to Raspberry Pi OS.  If you have a Compute Module Lite you can use the SD Card Copier program to copy your SD card to your NVME drive and boot to the NVME by removing the SD card, however if you have a Raspberry Pi 4 Compute Module with eMMC you have to change the Boot Order according to the docs

NOTE:  THIS IS SPECIFIC TO THE COMPUTE MODULE 4.  THERE IS AN EASIER WAY TO CHANGE THE BOOT ORDER WITH A REGULAR RASPBERRY PI IN PI OS.  DON’T GET THE METHODS CONFUSED.

It’s not hard to do this.  And even if you use an SD card it might shave a little time off the boot to not have it looking for other boot sources first.  I recommend doing the following steps anyway so the NVME drive is first in the boot order.

First and foremost I will assume you have a booting Raspberry Pi CM4:

  • Raspberry Pi CM4 either with eMMC booting or via SD Card. (This example will be from SD) I have an 8GB with no WiFi or Bluetooth.
  • NVME PCIe Adapter – This one works fine.
  • SSD NVME – Bang for the buck I recommend the Samsung EVO 970 Plus I’ll be using the 2TB version of this card.
  • A micro USB to USB cable.
  • Power supply of 12 volts and probably a minimum of 2 amps.  I am using an old router brick that is 12v. 1.5 amps with no issues so far.  I do recommend around 20 watts of power for the board, adapter board, and SSD.

Once booted up normally with the adapter and nvme drive connected let’s check to see if it is recognized with these two commands:

lspci
lsblk

lspci and lsblk results (click pic to enlarge)

You can see the nvme drive is detected.  Good!

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Is It Time To Abandon Raspberry Pi?

The Raspberry Pi is a single board computer that came out in 2012 and cost $35.  The intent was to teach computer science and coding to school age children.  The program and the Pi itself  is (or was) a raging success.  Hobbyists flocked to the low cost board that ran Linux and created myriads of projects that were fun, useful and educational.   I’ve been raving on them since 2012.

I’m ready to stop raving.

Why?  Because you can’t get them anymore.  To exacerbate things even more the CEO of Raspberry Pi (Trading) Ltd. came out on April 4th on their website and said that current production was going to businesses that have their livelihood dependent upon Raspberry Pi.

I’m sure a more reasonable translation is “these are our biggest money producing customers and phooey on the individual consumer”.  That is of course my quote.

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