Boy, is IT complicated! Really IT?

„You do IT” or similar beginnings of conversation are very common to me for years now. After those opening words colleagues and friends tell me about their adventures with IT. How complicated it all is and that IT was meant to simplify life, etc. An example story goes like this, names and roles were intentionally left out.

User: “I change to the purchasing department on December 1st and have to apply for a user in the EiKaSys42 system”.
IT: “That’s what you should do in the UserPortal, I’ll copy the link in the chat for you”
User: “I have already searched there”.
IT: “Ah, okay, I’ll take a look… You can find it at Misc→external→purchasing→process→role”
User: “OK, Thanks”
…10 minutes later
User: “I cannot submit the form without the entry in the fields AssKeyU, EiRoMan and HerNoMo. Also my employee ID does not fit into the field.”
IT: “That’s where you enter your international employee ID, which is 6 digits long. AssKeyU stands for the key user assigned to you and EiRoMan for the division. I don’t know what HerNoMo is either, I’m just IT”.
User: “But I don’t know a key user or division, nor have I ever heard of an international employee ID”.
IT: “I can’t help you with this, I am only responsible for IT”.

You probably also know such a famous relay race, especially as a new staff member or with new procedures. Sometimes it takes days to gather all the information or users simply guess entries which leads to a lot of trouble later on.

Another common scenario is a business department provides an automated process that users must perform once a year or even less. This machinery then queries similar cryptic entries, temporary results cannot be saved and help fields contain very luminous entries such as “In the HerNoMo field you must enter the HerNoMo of your area without leading zeros”.

Who is really the problem there? From the user’s point of view the problem is often “the IT”, because otherwise they wouldn’t tell me these stories. But this is not quite accurate. Yes, a decent IT could be more consultative. It would be very nice if a consultant team in IT didn’t dump all nonsense into portals and workflows without involving affected end users and extensive user stories. Often such a procedure is rushed in as the last action before a new business application is introduced, without much trial and error.

However, it is also the responsibility of the departments to keep entries to a minimum. To provide a docket and a contact person for new employees. In my opinion – at least from the point of view of the company as such – it doesn’t make sense to throw non-specialist employees into specialist processes. The working time wasted there due to ignorance of the processes, the (non-intuitive) operation of specialized applications and incorrect, misplaced entries could easily be put into a back office that asks the user appropriate questions and serves him courteously.

So do me a favour and build systems and portals that are user friendly even when it comes to non-IT processes. The users will thank you.

Kubuntu 20.04 on an Fujitsu Esprimo Q558

I replaced the old Esprimo Q9000 by a new machine, my choice was a Q558 because of a good offer. The Q558 comes with an Intel® i5-9400T, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD and no operating system. The machine is Zero-Noise designed, the fan runs a few minutes after start, then it is quite. The processor is astonishingly powerful, just video rendering using ffmpeg produced enough heat to let the fan rotate. For me quite unusual this is a brand new machine, I usually like to buy refurbished 3-12 month old hardware. Beside one power management quirk, all works very well running Kubuntu, but read the details:

Disclaimer

This page describes my personal experiences with my hardware only. This is nothing official from any vendor! I am not responsible for anything you do with your hard- and software. For any support contact the respective vendors! Please respect the legal notice.

Who should read the following description? The machine runs mostly „out-of-the-box“. All the rest is due to you. Be willing to learn, follow instructions form Ubuntu geeks, accept to fail and start again.

A good resource for hints, tips and questions is http://ubuntuforums.org/

Preparations

I used the SSD from my old machine, you do not need any tool for this. It is very easy, but better safe than sorry, you find a “ESPRIMO Q558/Q958, System Upgrades and Repairs”-Guide at https://support.ts.fujitsu.com/ read the manual.

Open the case on the top by pressing the clip and slide the cover, then open the mount (drive cage) carefully, there it is. Memory extension would be the bottom cover.

Monitor, PC and lamp is powered via socket board with switch. To avoid the short run-up after power is back, I changed the BIOS option “Power Failure Recovery” to “Disabled”.

Installation of Kubuntu 20.04 „Focal Fossa

Installation runs smoothly, no binary drivers needed. Beware there is a power management issue, I had no problem during the installation, nevertheless maybe if you install unattended and come back to a frozen machine, better add “pcie_aspm=off” as boot parameter. Press “e” for edit, in the GRUB menu, which is the black screen menu right after start.

The system seemed fine, but after entering some power management state the system came back nearly frozen, eating hell a lot of resources.

less /var/log/syslog

showed a lot of those entries

Jul 19 11:26:38 q558 kernel: [ 2458.685052] pcieport 0000:00:1c.0: AER: Corrected error received: 0000:00:1c.0
Jul 19 11:26:38 q558 kernel: [ 2458.685123] pcieport 0000:00:1c.0: AER: PCIe Bus Error: severity=Corrected, type=Data Link Layer, (Transmitter ID)
Jul 19 11:26:39 q558 kernel: [ 2458.685125] pcieport 0000:00:1c.0: AER: device [8086:a33c] error status/mask=00001000/00002000
Jul 19 11:26:39 q558 kernel: [ 2458.685126] pcieport 0000:00:1c.0: AER: [12] Timeout

There is an issue with Active State Power Management (ASPM), means I switch it off and wait for system or Linux updates to try it again.

sudo vim /etc/default/grub

add “pcie_aspm=off” to the following line:
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT=”quiet splash pcie_aspm=off”
save the grub file and

sudo update-grub

reboot whenever you like.

++ Graphics card

„Intel® UHD Graphics 630“ works with the correct resolution and 3d support. The open source intel driver seems to be fine

++ USB

All functioning.

++ Network – LAN

The cable „Realtek Semiconductor Co., Ltd. RTL8111/8168/8411 PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet Controller“ interface runs.

No WiFi or Blutooth in my configuration of the machine.

++ Audio

„Realtek ALC671“ is doing the job as designed. As soon as you connect a device like loudspeakers pulseaudio switches the profile.

LSPCI Listing

00:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation 8th Gen Core Processor Host Bridge/DRAM Registers (rev 07)
00:02.0 VGA compatible controller: Intel Corporation UHD Graphics 630 (Desktop)
00:12.0 Signal processing controller: Intel Corporation Cannon Lake PCH Thermal Controller (rev 10)
00:14.0 USB controller: Intel Corporation Cannon Lake PCH USB 3.1 xHCI Host Controller (rev 10)
00:14.2 RAM memory: Intel Corporation Cannon Lake PCH Shared SRAM (rev 10)
00:16.0 Communication controller: Intel Corporation Cannon Lake PCH HECI Controller (rev 10)
00:17.0 SATA controller: Intel Corporation Cannon Lake PCH SATA AHCI Controller (rev 10)
00:1c.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation Cannon Lake PCH PCI Express Root Port #5 (rev f0)
00:1f.0 ISA bridge: Intel Corporation Device a315 (rev 10)
00:1f.3 Audio device: Intel Corporation Cannon Lake PCH cAVS (rev 10)
00:1f.4 SMBus: Intel Corporation Cannon Lake PCH SMBus Controller (rev 10)
00:1f.5 Serial bus controller [0c80]: Intel Corporation Cannon Lake PCH SPI Controller (rev 10)
01:00.0 Ethernet controller: Realtek Semiconductor Co., Ltd. RTL8111/8168/8411 PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet Controller (rev 0c)

LSUSB Listing

Bus 002 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0003 Linux Foundation 3.0 root hub
Bus 001 Device 003: ID 04d9:1603 Holtek Semiconductor, Inc. Keyboard
Bus 001 Device 002: ID 1a81:2205 Holtek Semiconductor, Inc. Laser Mouse
Bus 001 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub

BIOS version

V5.0.0.13 – R1.24.0 (06.05.2020)

Any hints?

Please send me any hints, new tips, report errors, etc. via comment below. Please no support requests, thanks!

Links

Fujitsu support, bios updates and documentation:
http://www.fujitsu.com/de/support/

https://www.fujitsu.com/de/products/computing/pc/desktops/esprimo-q558/

Camera, DSLR as a webcam for zoom, teams, jitsi and co.

It is quite impossible to record three people standing at a distance of 1.5 metres with a common webcam in a zoom meeting. When a typical webcam is placed far enough away so that all persons fit into the picture, the fixed focus kicks in. The picture is blurred and in our case, there was only little light. Another detail that should not be forgotten is the webcam’s USB cable length.

To be prepared for the next time and because it is a nice gadget, I remembered that there are beta drivers for some Canon DSLRs to use them as a webcam.

Be aware though that your camera was most likely not designed for use as a webcam and may degrade when used as a webcam. Please check with the camera manufacturer if and how your device is suitable for this purpose. Use this report at your own risk.

Starting point for my research were two websites: A guide for Linux using gphoto2 and the Canon Webcam Utility Beta drivers. There must be a cheap second-hand camera that is on the list of supported cameras of gphoto2 as well as supported by Canon on Windows or Mac. Please note, these beta drivers are only available from Canon USA and in the USA the camera models are sometimes called differently than ours. For example the Canon “EOS 1300D” I acquired is called “EOS Rebel T6” in the USA.

At second-hand dealers an EOS 1300D costs from about 200 EUR. My camera comes from private ownership, less than 2 km away with two zoom lenses and under 1.000 shutter releases.

Canon DSLR als Webcam

The camera worked immediately with Linux using the above instructions. Oddly enough, the resolution provided by the camera is 1056×704 (at about 20-25 fps). Under Linux, the camera controls are not available on the camera, but can be controlled via gphoto2. The mode dial should be set to “P” or “Auto”, in the video setting little changes except that the frames per second (fps) drop to about 15. Set the lens to manual focus “MF” and adjust the focus on the lens ring. The camera is now available as a resource under Zoom, Teams, Jitsi and Co. This also works in parallel e.g. for local recording of the video.

EOS1300D under Linux in VLC

Using Windows, the camera only showed a kind of splash screen with the words “EOS Webcam Utility BETA”. Uninstalling all the other Canon tools actually helped and a live image came up. This time the resolution is 1280×720, set the camera to “video” using the mode dial and it remains partly operable e.g. autofocus. In VLC, Skype and Zoom the video is square with black bars on the sides, so it’s more like 720×720. The microphone of the camera will not work in both versions.

Possibly you’ll find out which part of the EOS Utilities actually has to be uninstalled or if you can’t put the tools to sleep. Simply terminating the EOS Utilities was unfortunately not enough for my installation (EOS Webcam Utility Beta 0.9.0 for Windows 04/28/20). Beware some users report that this solution does not work with every video software.

EOS1300D unter Windows im VLC
EOS1300D under Windows in VLC

This camera provides a resolution of 1920×1080 (Full HD) in the built-in video mode, i.e. when you film with the camera itself and record to the SD card. I suppose that the webcam resolution is basically a kind of preview image for computer-assisted shooting (tethered shooting).

The webcam scenario

Having a zoom lens on your webcam is truly unique. Unfortunately, such a camera is a bit too heavy to be hung on the top of the monitor like a webcam via clip. So you need a travel tripod or a mini tripod. With my space conditions and the rather lightweight EOS1300D a mini tripod on the windowsill would be great. But this is very tricky to position the camera due to the construction. I couldn’t find good cheap monopods that can stand on a table. Maybe you have an interesting idea.

It’s worth buying an external power supply or rechargeable batteries. I emptied a battery charge in one evening testing. In a video conference, I estimate the battery to last one to a maximum of two hours. A camera power supply unit costs about 20 EUR in the open aftermarket.

A 2 m USB extender cable helps to place the camera a little further away from the notebook in the room. With gphoto2 even the connection via WLAN might work, but I haven’t tried it yet.

For unknown interiors it is worth taking some lighting with you, as existing lighting might not be flicker-free or not sufficient.

Conclusion

The DSLR webcam hobby solution is especially suitable for people who already have a camera or use the SLR camera for their actual purpose.

For my goal of a hobby video conference with several people in one room, such a DSLR solution with a matching zoom lens is also excellent. The camera is even useful for taking photos or videos before and after the conference to document it. Including all necessary parts I kept costs below 250 EUR, that’s what a very high quality webcam would cost.

Actually, I thought that these cameras would then also provide Full HD as a webcam, but if you look at the transmitted video resolutions during web conferences, 1056×704 is more than sufficient.

Finally

+ Amazing possibilities compared to a normal webcam
+ Inexpensive if second-hand camera
– Needs some time to set up
– Needs space on the desk
o Reuse of an existing camera

Improvise good lighting for video conferences

I have been witness to a number of video conferences where participants were shown as a shadow in the blazing backlight of a summer day or wonderfully only jaw and nose were visible. Not pretty, even though uncombed video snapshots are currently becoming fashionable…

At present there are no professionally illuminated video conference rooms available, so I have some ideas for improvisation.

A large amount of diffuse light is a good start. A bright full spectrum health lamp pointing towards a white wall is great for the job.

White curtains are not bad, especially if sunlight could shine towards the webcam. Coloured light, through a dyed curtain or an illuminated painted wall, should be avoided. On some webcams, you can adjust the white balance, but that doesn’t really work out nice.

Place the main light source behind the monitor. A work lamp, desk lamp or table lamps behind the monitor are well qualified. LED lamps are especially suitable because of the low heat development with high light output. Please make sure that the LEDs are flicker-free. Either purchase new ones or check their fitness individually with the webcam or mobile phone camera.

In closing, a note about the nose position of your camera. If you have to use the camera integrated in the laptop, please place a pile of books, cooking pot, cardboard, etc. under the laptop for the time of the conference. The same applies to mobile phones and tablets. Build a stable base 30 to 40 cm high, depending on your seating position, so that the camera is at your eye level.

Time management: Realise change

Do you know statements like this from coworkers “Well, I have also tried time management method X, but in my work context it doesn’t fit because … even author Y confirms this”? Although such a statement may even be true, it has nothing to do with the introduction of a personal time management system. And definitely not with the chances of mastering or failing to succeed.

In my opinion, time management, like self-management, is a highly individual approach. You have to find methods from various time management practices that may suit you, experiment, change, try again, adapt after a while and sometimes discard stuff that was well thought out at first. The right amount of endurance is vital in this case, because establishing time management is change management. Continue reading “Time management: Realise change”