Chuck's Cool Reviews and Info

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I have seen and heard lots of discussions about the best way to achieve financial independence via some means this way to van life or this way to becoming a couch surfer. All valid and with merit, but I have not seen or heard much discussion about the overseas work option for fast tracking financial freedom. I will present my personal journey on that here and now, as I think it is a serious contender as well as a great opportunity to see the world.

Here is the TLDR:
If you are in the life position where you can stomach some time away from America, there is serious money to be made in the Middle East working for American companies and NOT and I repeat NOT being in physical danger. There are positions of all shapes and sizes and these come with housing and car paid for typically along with federal tax savings and high salaries. How to find them: google around what country you are willing to work in such as Kuwait, Dubai, or Qatar specifically looking for DoD contractor jobs in these countries for positions with your skill sets. This can be anything from Accounting, to IT to Gym management.

Here is a Villa tour of my 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom apartment rented for the exact allotment that my company gave me per month. This gives you an idea of the living conditions you can expect there within reason. This was a pretty nice place. There are better and there are worse.

My journey and experience: I became a DoD contractor in 2011 when I took a position working on an Air Force base in Florida doing Windows Active Directory support for the base network. That was my introduction to the contracting world. You don't need to do this step, but this is what I did. I always had in the back of my mind that I would like to do some work overseas if I came across something and the timing and location were right, but until then, I would do this job and be satisfied with it.

Government contract work in the US is like any other job, short of dealing with coming on and off base and occasionally hearing machine gun fire in the background. I had military experience so I knew what I was getting into, but this is not a requirement. Lots of contractors don't have military experience.

Regardless, in around 2016 my life was in a place where I wanted to start looking for overseas work. I brushed off my resume, googled around, asked around and eventually got in contact with a company recruiter for Vectrus. They happened to have several contract listings and I applied for some that I found via google and their web site directly. I found a position I was interested in - in Kuwait, went through the interview process via phone and after some time, an offer was presented and accepted by me. Because I was contracting on base with coworkers with overseas experience, I knew some info before agreeing and did some research of my own. I knew somewhat what I was getting into that Kuwait was a safe country with lots of overseas workers there supporting the local population and that I could get by speaking English there and that the base I was going to would be fine. The company would provide me about $1k to live on the economy on my own, or I could live in their free company housing. They would provide me a car as well.

The salary I was to be making in Kuwait was double what I was making for the similar position in the US (At the time, I had moved from AD support to Virtualization support, but that is not really relevant) This does not include housing provided nor housing allowance, as this was additional compensation.

To fully understand what costs you can slash, here is how my costs shook out for me.

Pay: 200k

Fixed Expenses:

Food - varies in cost

Cell phone - 15 bucks a month unlimited calls and data

Internet - 35 bucks a month (Internet is provided and included free with company housing, but I lived out on my own in a 3 bed 3 bath villa with company housing allowance.)

Excellent, Full, $0 deductible 100% paid, no copay healthcare was also like $30 bucks a month taken out of my paycheck. This is an 'overseas plan' with 0 out of pocket costs for any medical issue in any country other than America. If I was to need medical care while on vacation in America, there would be a deductible and copays in America only. Any other country, and I was fully covered 100%. I had no major health issue while in Kuwait, but did see a dermatologist and dentist while there a few times and the experiences were top notch and 100% free.

Federal income taxes are also a benefit while working overseas. The first $105ish thousand (it varies and changes every year) of your pay is not taxed at all. Make less than 100k, and you will pay zero federal taxes. State taxes vary by state, but they typically not tax you if you are not living there. I live in FL, so no issue.

If you make more than the untaxed rate though, you will be taxed a the full rate for your tax bracket for the remainder over 105k. So this means that the first 105k is not taxed, but if you earn 200k and are in that tax bracket, you will be taxed on anything over 105k at the tax bracket of an earner earning 200k.

Compare that to what you pay in America for housing, vehicle, taxes, healthcare, insurance, repairs, etc costs and you can see that this is simple and cheap living that almost can't be beat under any circumstances short of living with mom and dad and driving their car.

Kuwait charges you no income nor sales taxes, nobody in the country pays electric bills nor water bills, the fuel for the company car and insurance for the car is covered by the company. The base has a base exchange store for shopping for dry goods and electronics with the US dollar, but you can also get anything you need on the Kuwait economy, which can be expensive as everything is imported there and the exchange rate is not favorable for the US dollar. The Kuwait Dinar is very a strong currency. It fluctuates, but is generally 3 US dollars to 1 Kuwaiti Dinar. So you want to cook your own meals as much as possible, as eating out is pretty pricey. There is also a law against drinking any alcohol of any kind there, so you will save money on booze.

Almost every penny of my paycheck went to savings while I was there. I saved a ton of money and learned about index and other investing and all of the stuff I didn't know much about because I mostly didn't save much before going there short of 401k and IRA investing.

The shifts there for my work were long 12 hour shifts and a mix of day shift and night shift, so the days melded together and the work was only somewhat rewarding. It is not something that I would recommend spending many years doing, as it is hard on your mind and body, but every job is different and you might find a groove and be completely happy.

The best thing about being over there (short of the good pay and no bills) is the location as far as travel. Being on that side of the pond opens up reasonably quick trips to the side of the world that is not conveniently reached from America. The company I worked for had a generous 6 week vacation offering plus lots of holidays off. They were very free about approving vacation and we pretty much could come and go as much as we wanted. (pre covid) We were always going or talking about going or giving trip reports to each other while we were there. It was awesome. I saw Qatar, Dubai, Thailand, Greece and the Philippines. All easy trips from the Kuwait International Airport, as well as similar trips to anywhere from the massive airports in Qatar or Dubai as well.

Living in these places is HOT. The weather is not awesome if you need rain in your life, but you get used to it and there is A/C everywhere of course. It is also nice to get a more worldly view of life and get more of an appreciation (or not) of how things are in America. Do your research as to the safety of these countries, and you will find that each of these entire countries are likely safer than even just your town in America. That is what I found with Kuwait, and what made my decision to go there much easier.

If you made it this far and would like to see my personal recommendation if I was to go overseas now knowing what I know from having lived it:

I would look at Kuwait, but just to see what they are paying there. Kuwait pays a bit better than the others from my experience, mostly because it sucks to live there the most.

I would compare pay to Kuwait, but take a position in Qatar or Dubai. I prefer Qatar, as it is really nice and less crowded than Dubai, but either are nice. Lots of touristy crap to do in Dubai, but all expensive and you can hit it on a visit if you need to, you are going to be doing that stuff daily.

You can get a near direct flight from either country to darn near anywhere in the world from their excellent airports, they have excellent infrastructure and clean and modern facilities vs. Kuwait, which is not as touristy and has not invested in infrastructure as much and the roads suck.

Best and most important maybe to you is that you can have an alcohol drink in both Qatar and Dubai, as they are legal in hotel bars. They are not cheap, but you can at least hit a happy hour up with your buddies. Happy hour in Kuwait is not a thing, or if it is, it amounts to dinner and maybe a sheesha or hooka if you happen to smoke. I never did that crap.

So I suggest one of those two countries and also suggest purchasing this cheap book to help you direct your income once you have paid off all of your debit and don't know what to do with your incoming money. It is a really easy read and it truly is simple.

Good luck to you and I hope this helps you reach your own financial freedom goal.

In a previous post, I provided instructions for getting Plex Hardware Transcoding working on your 11th gen Jasper Lake Celeron CPU Server running Ubuntu.

The Aerofara system I am using here is outfitted with 8 gigs RAM and is running in dual channel mode.

For this one, let's talk about the hardware transcoding capabilities of this processor vs. 4k content. Frankly, it blew me away when I first investigated it. See images below to see it powering through some top shelf 4k bitrates.

I want to show repeatable scenarios for you to test with your systems, so I am using the Jellyfish bitrate test files as test dummies for this effort. You can download them all for you own testing here:

I created a Video Test Files library in Plex and added all of these files to it. I then played every single file. They all played, and the 4k ones hardware transcoded down to 1080p, as that is my monitor's resolution. I was amazed. This is a $220 crap computer. My previous crappy Plex server running on a Celeron N4100 struggled with anything 4k.

Then I wanted to know how far I could push it. I put the largest video in this collection (jellyfish-400-mbps-4k-uhd-hevc-10bit.mkv) into a repeating play loop and got two streams going before it fell over with excessive stuttering and buffering.
This was playing over a wired connection and my destination computer had plenty of power remaining. I am assuming that the integrated GPU was at its max. The CPU was doing fine with plenty of available capacity as well as plenty of available system RAM.

This is a rough test, as these are 30 second clips set on a loop, so it gets going and then has to stop and start again every 30 seconds. It is maybe possible that with a longer video that this CPU could do more hardware transcoded streams as it had more time to compute and buffer more streams rather than starting over every 30 seconds.

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I purchased a new China Aerofara mini computer to use for Plex serving to replace my aging Kodlix that had been working fine as a Plex server, but I wanted to see what a new CPU and the new Intel graphics could do with my media library. (I have nothing in 4k except video test files.)

I messed around with it for a while in Windows 10 and since it was Windows 11 compatible, I went through the upgrade to see what that looked like. I think went back to the task at hand and did a wipe and install of Ubuntu Server to prepare it for its Plex serving duties.

Tried Ubuntu Server 20.04 LTS and it did not recognize the Intel integrated graphics at all. I noticed that during the Plex server install, it didn't see the Intel integrated GPU.

I figured it was the old kernel, so instead of fighting with upgrading Kernel and getting an unknown status as a result, installed the latest Ubuntu Server. (21.10) That got the GPU recognized, but still no Hardware Transcoding.

After messing around, here is the fix I found:

Create and then edit the file:


Add the line below and save the file:

options i915 enable_guc=2

then run this command:

sudo update-initramfs -u

That is it, you should now have Plex doing hardware transcoding with your Jasper Lake Intel IGPU.

I've been using Synology Network Attached storage devices for years as my iSCSi and NFS storage location for VMware ESXi hosts on my home lab. (The Synology is also my shared media storage location as well.)

I choose to use 7 of the 8 bays in my Synology device as a RAID 5 volume for media and file sharing storage and the 8th drive bay houses an SSD drive that I use for my iSCSi based ESXi VM datastore storage shared between my ESXi hosts.

The problem I have always had is how do I efficiently backup my VMs in the event that the datastore SSD drive that they are on dies? I have tried scripts, Veeam One year free trials, etc, but nothing was simple and set it and forget it.

Then my buddy turned me on to to the existing and free application that is on the Synology Package Center just waiting to be discovered.

The app is called Active Backup for Business. enter image description here

Once installed, you can schedule backups and do restores of Workstations, Servers, Virtual Machines, etc all from the Active Backup for Business interface.

The best thing about it is that it can work similarly to Veeam, such that doing a restore can be instant if you select that option during the restore process. It mounts your VM .vmdk that was backed up and attaches an NFS datastore to your ESXi host and boots the VM up instantly. This is really sweet and gets you back to basic functionality quickly.

This scenario happened to me over the weekend: My single drive SSD housing the VMs datastore died and my Synology started beeping at me to tell me there was a failure. I used Active Backup for Business to restore my VMs and had them back up and running (on the NFS datastore it placed on my existing media share to be used temporarilly.) in a few minutes. Once they were running, I went ahead and addressed the failed SSD by pulling it out and popping in a replacement drive I had on hand. After creating a new iSCSi datastore on the new drive, I did a storage vMotion from the NFS restore location to the SSD datastore to get my normal VM drive performance back and was all set from there.

Active Backup for Business is an effective, limited down time, no cost and very effective backup and restore solution, especially for VMs.

Additionally, I use vCenter for my home lab. I got a legit license for it quite cheap on Ebay. I suggest you look there if you need a license for your homelab products.

I recently purchased a Razor dirt bike to mess around with. They are under 500 bucks on Amazon and I figured I could make it fun with a bit more investment and using what I had on hand via the easiest means possible. Part 3 went off the rails, but that's ok. It was worth it.

Here are the videos I posted on its progress.

It is a beast now.

Part 1 -Overview and battery swap from stock lead acid batteries to a 40volt Lithium Hart tool battery.

Part 2 -Streamlining and discussing next steps

Part 3 -After installing the upgraded motor and controller and before and after riding videos

Part 4 -Additional details about how I am connecting the Hart batteries together and discussion about my custom made battery and how I messed up building it.

Part 5 -I have constructed a new self built battery with higher amperage cells and better overall construction. This is a battery discussion and show and tell of what I have created.

Install Docker and Portainer

- Posted in Blog Entries by

This is a quick and dirty install onto an Ubuntu Server 20.04 install.

Install Docker:

sudo apt install apt-transport-https ca-certificates curl software-properties-common curl -fsSL | sudo apt-key add - sudo add-apt-repository "deb [arch=amd64] focal stable" sudo apt install docker-ce sudo systemctl status docker sudo usermod -aG docker ${USER} su - ${USER} groups

Install Portainer:

cd ~/

docker volume create portainer_data

docker run -d -p 8000:8000 -p 9000:9000 --name=portainer --restart=always -v /var/run/docker.sock:/var/run/docker.sock -v portainer_data:/data portainer/portainer-ce


Add Application Templates from Reddit Github:

Go to Settings | App Template and enter:

Portainer Default App Templates:

Nvidia Geforce Now has been around for a little while, but never had a client for Linux. Geforce Now is awesome because it allows you to play games on non-gaming capable computers, so that jalopy that you have had for years that does everything else fine, can acceptably play the latest games now too.

Nvidia just recently announced that Geforce Now can be run on Chrome computer devices (Chromebook typically) which are outfitted with very basic hardware.

Chrome devices are just modified Linux systems. Soon after the announcement of Geforce Now on Chrome devices, we have details on how to run it within Linux and I have tried it on my Linux Mint machine and it works perfect and is pretty awesome.

Check out the details here:

Even if you don't have a Linux computer, you could run this on your Mac or Windows computer and avoid installing the Geforce client.

One interesting thing here is that (even if paying for the Geforce Now service) you could play the latest and greatest games and save a ton of money over constantly chasing the hardware requirements of the latest games.

Geforce Now doesn't work with all games, so check their list to know what you can and can't play.

I had to do this for my Arlo cameras. (Used to like them, but they are now junk and I don't recommend them any more) PiHole was not blocking anything with relation to them, however they were not functioning properly while the PiHole was involved.

The cameras were not recording movement and the Arlo web interface was telling me that my base station could not communicate with the internet after login and about a minute of login time. If I disabled the PiHole for 5 minutes, the Arlo cameras and web interface would work fine.

There appears to be no way to set a static IP address and static DNS servers on the Arlo, so no way to set a different DNS server just for Arlo and bypass the PiHole.

Here is how I fixed it.

Using a typical router for DHCP for all clients

Configure router so that the client you want to have no PiHole interference on is getting a static IP

Create a new group in PiHole in group management Find the client IP in group management clients and add it to the above created group

Create a regex white filter for all, e.g. .+

Add that filter to the above created group only under Group Management | Domains

That's it. It will take effect immediately.

enter image description here I noticed like others have that my original Bose model QC35 headphones would not pair. I beat on the switch all I want, but no ready to pair voice.

I took it apart following youtube instructions and did the rubbing alcohol fix. That seemed to work while the headphones were apart, but once I put the back plate back on, no go.

So now, I take the back plate on and off and the consistent problem is that it will pair all day with the cover plate off, but never while the cover was on. Eureka! We have a switch throw problem.

So I took out my drill and a sharp bit and proceeded to mangle the cover to test this theory. Note that I didn't do a good job following the angle of the switch, but it is functional. You could do a much better job, but faced with the death of a nice older set of otherwise functioning headphones, I didn't take much care and mangled away. A good thing to do from here would be to use a black sharpie to color in the edge so that it is not as noticeable. I hope this gets out there and helps somebody with the same issue.

Update June 10, 2020: This fix worked for me for a bit, but the switch was rotating inside the headphone assembly. I decided to remove the plastic power switch that is normally used entirely. This leaves a tiny power switch that is not handy to get to inside the headphone. I am now accessing it through the enlarged hole and using a pen to reach it and power the headphones on and pair bluetooth that way. It is not ideal, but it is working fine for me.

Background: The Atomic Pi is a $35 single board computer with an Intel Atom Z8350 quad core processor. This processor comes with a graphics core that doesn't specify Intel Quick Sync, but based on the video processor details I thought it was a feature that was available, but not advertised.

-Chuck Update From the Future: 1-27-2021

I actually ran this as my primary Plex server at my home for a couple of weeks. It ran fine when it was running, but I had stability problems. I was running Ubuntu server 20.04 and Plex from a USB attached SSD drive and for some reason it would randomly disconnect, bringing things to a halt. It happened occasionally but enough that it was a problem, so I tested swapping cables with the same result and eventually scrapped this effort and went back to my tried and true fanless Kodlix Intel Celeron N4100 based Plex server.
I'd previously been running an Intel NUC with an i3-3100U as my Plex server and it was great too, but it had some slight fan noise and the Kodlix was sitting around doing nothing so I put it to work.

Wanna know more about this board? Head over to the Atomic Pi subreddit.

I set out to run Plex on the Atomic Pi to see if it would do hardware transcoding of videos. Plex transcodes out of the box with no modifications if you are using an Intel CPU with the Quick Sync feature. (And have purchased a Plex Pass subscription.)

I don't expect the Atomic Pi to be a world beating Plex server option, but for $35 if it can manage a couple of transcoded streams it would be very impressive.

Test Details: -Wiped the Atomic Pi's onboard storage and installed Ubuntu Server 18.04.2 LTS with all patches up to date as of 5-13-19. One thing worth noting, you will want to use a powered USB hub if you are installing Ubuntu from a USB DVD drive. I cracked my head on this one for a bit because the Bios would see the DVDROM but the board would not boot from it. I eventually just installed Ubuntu Server from a USB flash drive with the install files on it since I didn't have a powered USB hub handy.

-Installed Plex Server quickly and simply by running the command: sudo snap install plexmediaserver

-Configured the Plex server via its web interface and be sure to tick the box under the transcoding section to do hardware transcoding and I left the transcoder quality setting to the default of auto.

-Downloaded the Big Buck Bunny 1080p Surround .avi file to test with and copied it to the Atomic Pi local storage.

Here are the results: enter image description here

I was able to run 4 transcodes of various qualities before things started maxing out. You can see the (hw) was activated on each streaming session. I would say that 4 is the max for this video and 3 would be ideal. It could probably manage some non transcoded direct streams as well here since they don't impact the device much at all. Depending on your user load, you could actually use this as your primary Plex server.
If you have 2 direct streams and 2 transcodes happening at the same time and depending on the video it might just be able to do it. It could certainly do it with this video.

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Reported CPU and bandwidth usage data from Plex during 4 transcode session.

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Here's the result from the python utility: s-tui running on the Atomic Pi during the 4 transcode session. You can see that it was putting in work, but the graph is similar to what Plex saw also. Some spikes to 100% CPU, but it was by no means fully saturated. It also shows the frequency of the CPU, and thanks to that monster heatsink, the CPU was not throttling due to overheating.

Well, that's it. I hope this helps you understand the kick ass deal that these boards are.

Bonus Content: I figured someone might wonder what transcoding looks like on this board without the hardware box checked in Plex and just done via software against the CPU.

Here are the graphs. It is possible, but only a single stream.

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The CPU is pegged and stays pegged during this single software transcode stream.

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Linux utility agrees. It is flat out, but is actually making less heat and consuming less power. The hardware video processor onboard does take some power to do its work during hardware transcodes apparently. Seems logical.