So Long Ivy, Hello Confetti

February 4, 2024 11:34 am

We've had a pair of Eufy robot vacuums for many years now. The first one Heather named Ivy; the second one Corinne named Sprinkles. One of the several motors on Ivy finally failed a couple of weeks ago and Sprinkles needed a new battery. So Ivy donated her battery to Sprinkles and got dropped off at the eWaste facility. She was dumb, but she got the job (mostly) done. She was six years old.

To fill Ivy's, uh, tires, I bought a Roborock Q5 as a bit of an upgrade. I was slightly annoyed by the use of a phone app, but from what I can tell it seems to minimize how dependent it is on Cloud connectivity and supposedly all the mapping data stays local on the robot. And I was curious how well the LIDAR mapping and navigation works and the price was right. Corinne promptly named it Confetti.

And I must say, I am thoroughly impressed with the mapping, navigating, and cleaning algorithms. Set it up, tell it to clean, and it wanders around as it builds a map from the LIDAR data. Once it returns to the dock it processes the data and segments the data into rooms (which you can modify).

Once rooms have been segmented you can tell it to clean individual rooms, any combination of rooms, or to clean everything. On every run it continues to collect LIDAR readings and integrates them into its existing map.

Within the map you can define virtual walls and "no go" zones. I hadn't even considered how useful the "no go" zones could be until it ran into the cat's food dishes and I just dropped a "no go" zone around them and never have to deal with it again.

When told to clean a room it runs around the perimeter first and then uses an overlapping back-and-forth pattern on the interior. If you tell it to run two cycles on the same room it does the first cycle in one direction and then the second cycle perpendicularly.

Because it's navigating intelligently (unlike the bump-navigation robot vacuums, as our two old Eufy bots were), it takes significantly less time to clean a room and thus is less annoying and lets you get more floor space cleaned between charges.

We rearranged a bunch of furniture this weekend and it figured out the new room configurations without issue and just got its job done. Really the only challenge left for it is that its LIDAR sits on top and can't "see" small stuff on the ground around it (like cat toys, or shoes). So you still have to pick that stuff up to get it out of the way.

Here you can see the perpendicular cleaning pattern on the carpet:

And the map of the room after it finished cleaned showing its path:

Partial Solar Eclipse 2023

October 16, 2023 5:22 pm

On Saturday we watched the solar eclipse, which was an annular eclipse to begin with, but also only partial from our vantage point in Livermore.

I made pancakes and the Spencers came over to hang out with us.

We had some cloud cover throughout the morning and we missed the peak, but we got some good views before and after. The thin, wispy clouds made it more interesting to look at it at least.

Celery & Redis countdown/eta oddities

March 9, 2023 10:13 am

One of my projects at work uses the Python package Celery with Redis to manage executing background tasks. And we ran into some odd behavior that we didn't see explained anywhere else, so I figure I'll capture it here for the next poor soul running into these issues.

First, if you care about this subject, you should read this post over at Instawork which is a good discussion of the risks involved in using countdown and eta. It helps set the stage.


We're using Celery with a Redis broker as part of a Django application. We apply one of 3 priorities to each of our tasks: Low, Medium, and High. High-priority tasks represent things that a human user is waiting on and need to be completed as soon as possible. Low-priority tasks are things that need to happen eventually, but we don't really care when. And anything else gets configured as medium priority.

This set up worked in our validation testing. We saw the queues get loaded up in Redis and the workers execute tasks in priority order as expected.

The Wrong Queue

After a large-scale data-processing task we noticed that high-priority user tasks were not executing.

When I inspected the queues in Redis I found that the high-priority queue was full of low-priority tasks. So the workers were extremely busy (correctly) processing the queue, but the tasks they were running were low priority. And the human's task was stuck behind them all.

How did this happen?

Countdown/ETA Reservations

The first part of the puzzle is how Celery handles countdown / eta tasks. countdown allows you to say "execute the task 5 minutes from now" while eta allows you to say "execute the task no earlier than March 10, 2023 at 10:08AM."

countdown is purely syntactic sugar for eta so that you don't have to calculate actual times yourself, so when you call apply_async with a countdown parameter Celery converts it to an eta parameter. Since internally Celery only concerns itself with eta values we'll only talk in terms of eta from this point on.

When an eta task is generated it gets put into the appropriate priority queue. But, it doesn't stay in the queue until its eta passes. Instead, any worker checking the queue will reserve the task immediately and hold it internally until the eta passes.

During my investigation, while the workers were idle, I scheduled a few hundred tasks with an eta and, as a result of the above behavior, the priority queues in Redis were empty. Workers will continue reserving eta tasks from queues until they have a task that needs to actually execute now. Once the workers are busy, eta tasks will stay in their appropriate queues until a worker is freed up and comes looking again.

Processing Reserved Tasks

Alright, so our workers have reserved all of our eta tasks with varying priorities and now the tasks are starting to pass their etas and need to be executed. At this point the worker completely ignores the priorities on the tasks. It begins executing whichever reserved task it happens upon first in its internal data structure (this is probably an internal queue, but I don't know for sure).

So once a worker reserves a task its priority is no longer respected. If you schedule a few hundred eta tasks with mixed priorities (as I did) you see them executed in what appears to be an arbitrary order (I suspect they're actually executed in order they were reserved, but I haven't verified that because it's not relevant to my concerns).

This is not good and reason enough to avoid using eta tasks for anything but high-priority tasks. But, it doesn't explain how we ended up with low-priority tasks in our high-priority queue in Redis.

Death of a Celery Worker

We have Celery configured to replace each worker after completing 10 tasks. This was an attempt to work around an issue where workers would stop pulling tasks from the queue and everything would stall out. We had a hypothesis that the issue was unclosed connections to Redis and so replacing the workers would force unclosed connections to get cleaned up. We haven't yet verified what was actually happening or if replacing the workers fixed anything though. It's a very intermittent problem and we haven't identified a sure trigger. (Though we did solidly identify that if Redis isn't ready to serve connection when Celery starts then Celery will not reconnect properly and workers will only execute a single task before hanging forever.)

Anyway, the point is that we replace our workers every so often. Well, what happens to all those eta tasks the worker had reserved? They go back in the queue so another worker can get them. But, they all go into the default queue instead of going back to their appropriate priority queues. It happens that the default queue is the high-priority queue. So each time a worker was getting cycled, all the eta tasks it held were pushed into the high-priority queue.

The perfect storm

So here's the scenario. Our workers are sitting idle waiting for work to do. Our large-scale data-processing task schedules a bunch of low-priority jobs with an eta. The workers eagerly snap up all these tasks and reserve them for future execution. As soon as the earliest etas pass each worker begins executing and stops reserving more eta tasks from the low-priority queue.

Each worker completes 10 tasks and gets replaced. As each worker is replaced it returns the remainder of its eagerly-reserved eta tasks to the high-priority queue. The new workers being spawned now begin processing the high-priority queue since it's full of tasks.

A user comes along and engages in an action backed by a high-priority task. But the user's high-priority task is now stuck behind several thousand low-priority tasks that have been misplaced in the high-priority queue.

Moral of the story

We had run across the countdown parameter to apply_async and thought it would be a good way to avoid some unnecessary work by pairing some high-churn jobs with a flag so they'd only be scheduled again if they weren't already scheduled (this flag was managed outside of the Celery world).

We will be rolling back that change so as to avoid this situation in the future.

Mint 21 + Kodi 19 + Intel NUC i3

January 8, 2023 2:24 pm

The latest in my series on the subject, this follows the last upgrade in 2018: Mint 19 + Kodi 18 + Intel NUC i3.

Not much has changed in how I got my set up the way I want since 4 years ago. There is a minor change on how to get the TrueHD and DTS-HD MA audio passthrough working.

Update NUC’s UEFI

I grabbed the latest firmware from Intel (version 54) and flashed it onto the NUC. One issue I ran into (which presumably isn't new, just not noted previously), is that the NUC wasn't negotiating a display signal through my receiver and I had to plug it directly into the TV to see anything in order to do the firmware upgrade.

Next I went on a wild goose chase because after upgrading the firmware nothing could see the internal mSATA drive on which the OS is installed. After an hour and a half of messing with it (including downgrading the firmware) I eventually disconnected everything, opened it up, re-seated the drive, and put it back together and everything was fine. No idea what that was about.

Install Linux Mint 21.1

I then installed Mint 21.1.  I won't cover that in this post.  Plenty of better places to find that information.  I'm using the 64-bit distribution.

Install Kodi 19

The Kodi Wiki install guide is pretty clear:

$ sudo apt install software-properties-common
$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:team-xbmc/ppa
$ sudo apt update
$ sudo apt install kodi

ALSA, PulseAudio, TrueHD, DTS-HD MA

Since last time some minor details about how to accomplish forcing Kodi to use ALSA have changed. I still use a custom session launcher, but instead of rather forcefully killing pulseaudio it uses pasuspender and sets an environment variable for Kodi.

Create our custom session launcher:

$ nano ~/kodi_custom_session_launcher

Paste in:

pasuspender -- env KODI_AE_SINK=ALSA kodi

Make the launcher executable:

$ chmod +x ~/kodi_custom_session_launcher

Now create the custom XSession entry:

$ sudo nano /usr/share/xsessions/Kodi_ALSA.desktop

And paste in:

[Desktop Entry]
Name=Kodi with ALSA
Comment=This session will start KODI Media Center
# Note: Change "kyle" to your username

Now if you log out you should be able to select "Kodi with ALSA" as a session option from your login manager.  In Mint, this is accomplished by clicking the circle to the right of the user name.

After a little fussing and some restarts I eventually saw the correct audio targets in the Kodi settings and everything seems to be happy with the audio passthrough support.

Kodi Configuration

I setup some stuff in Kodi's advanced settings file to disable the splash screen, hide the ext4 file system's "lost+found" directories, and increase the network streaming buffer.

Create the file:

$ nano ~/.kodi/userdata/advancedsettings.xml

And paste in:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>

NUC's Remote Control IR Receiver

To use the NUC's built-in IR receiver we need to install the ir-keytable utility:

$ sudo apt install ir-keytable

Then we define the keytable we need for the Onkyo RC-764M remote using the Xbox keycode 33003.  Create the file:

$ sudo mkdir /etc/rc_keymaps
$ sudo nano /etc/rc_keymaps/onkyo_rc-764m_nec_33003

And paste in:

# table onkyo_rc-764m_nec_33003, type: NEC
# Using Onkyo Remote Code 33003
# Code mappings match same buttons when using Original Xbox Dongle Remote Code
# ScanCode LIRC_KEY # Remote button text
# LIRC_KEY is modified to get correct action in XBMC using LIRC-in-kernel fake-keyboard actions

0x2d2d3a KEY_I #Display
0x2d2d59 KEY_LEFT #Left
0x2d2d5a KEY_RIGHT #Right
0x2d2d47 KEY_UP #Up
0x2d2d48 KEY_DOWN #Down
0x2d2d4a KEY_C #Guide/Top Menu -- Context Menu
0x2d2d4b KEY_ESC #Prev CH/Menu
0x2d2d45 KEY_BACK #Return
0x2d2d56 KEY_O #Setup -- Codec Info
0x2d2d58 KEY_ENTER #Enter
# UNUSED 0x2d2d4f #Audio
0x2d2d35 KEY_COMMA #Skip Left
0x2d2d34 KEY_PERIOD #Skip Right
0x2d2d32 KEY_R #Rewind
0x2d2d33 KEY_F #Fastforward
0x2d2d31 KEY_P #Play
0x2d2d38 KEY_SPACE #Pause
0x2d2d39 KEY_X #Stop
0x2d2d3b KEY_1 #1
0x2d2d3c KEY_2 #2
0x2d2d3d KEY_3 #3
0x2d2d3e KEY_4 #4
0x2d2d3f KEY_5 #5
0x2d2d40 KEY_6 #6
0x2d2d41 KEY_7 #7
0x2d2d42 KEY_8 #8
0x2d2d43 KEY_9 #9
0x2d2d44 KEY_0 #0
# UNUSED 0x2d2d4e #+10
# UNUSED 0x2d2d46 #CLR
# UNUSED 0x2d2d7c #Search
# UNUSED 0x2d2d7d #Repeat
# UNUSED 0x2d2d7f #Random
# UNUSED 0x2d2d7e #Play Mode

Now configure a systemd service to load the keytable at boot.  Create the service file:

$ sudo nano /etc/systemd/system/ir_receiver.service

And paste in:

Description=Configure the IR Receiver for the desired keytable

ExecStart=/usr/bin/ir-keytable -c -p NEC -w /etc/rc_keymaps/onkyo_rc-764m_nec_33003


ExecStart needs the absolute path to the ir-keytable executable.  Here's what the command options do:  "-c" clears the existing keytable.  "-p NEC" puts the receiver in NEC mode. "-w /etc/rc_keymaps/onkyo_rc-764m_nec_33003" loads our custom keytable.

And enable the new service:

$ sudo systemctl enable ir_receiver.service

Bonus: Logitech Media Server

I also run Logitech Media Server for the fleet of Squeezebox Radios in the house.  I

The information for LMS is a mess.  Lots of out-of-date information and lack of clarity on recommended approaches.  The wiki linked to in the previous post is now out of date.

However, the package repository still seems to be the right place. This XML file contains the details on the latest release:

I grabbed the 8.3.0 DEB release for amd64 from:

$ sudo apt install ./logitechmediaserver_8.3.0_amd64.deb

Misc. Errata

My external USB3 hard-drive enclosure (a Mediasonic ProBox HF2-SU3S2) had been working rock solid under Mint 19. Unfortunately now it's randomly being disconnected. It immediately reconnects and I can re-mount the drives, but it's a major annoyance. The transfer speeds are about 50% faster than before (~120MB/s vs ~80MB/s, so we're hitting the very max of my gigabit networking--which is cool--but, I'd rather have it be stable).

After trying a few things (disabling auto-suspend, checking for the UAS driver [not in use]) and making no progress I wrote a cronjob to check if the disks had become unmounted and, if so, to remount them. The job runs every minute.

Ugly, but so far it's been effective. It could, obviously, be done with an array and a loop instead, but I just wanted it done and not have to try to remember the exact syntax for that.

if ! mountpoint -q /mnt/TV; then
  mount /mnt/TV

if ! mountpoint -q /mnt/General; then
  mount /mnt/General

if ! mountpoint -q /mnt/Movies; then
  mount /mnt/Movies

if ! mountpoint -q /mnt/4TB_Storage; then
  mount /mnt/4TB_Storage

if [ "$needed_to_remount" == "true" ]; then
  echo "$(date) Needed to remount disks"

And the entry in /etc/crontab to run it:

# Workaround external drives being unmounted randomly
* * * * * root /home/kyle/Scripts/ >> /var/log/remount_disks.log

Which logs when it detects the drives have been unmounted so I can at least monitor how often this is happening. So far it's been happening 3-7 times a day with what-appears-to-be entirely random intervals. Maybe the log file will reveal some pattern I can work with.

My Christmas Tree Tells me when it's Thirsty - Redux

December 18, 2022 8:02 am

Last year, I built a float sensor to tell me when the tree needed water.

This year I found a water sensor that accepts leads and I thought I'd try it out and see if it would work or if being wet would drain the battery. I grabbed an Aqara Zigbee water leak sensor ($15 at time of purchase) and some old wire to use as leads; hooked up the leads and ran them into the tree stand and mounted the sensor on the outside.

I left the float sensor in from last year, but it seems to be getting gummed up and not rising/falling smoothly, so it's not really working anymore. It looks a bit messy, but the tree skirt completely hides it.

I also bought a funnel, spray-painted it green, and stuck a hose on the end. The funnel sits about 4.5 feet up the tree around the back and the hose runs down into the stand. It was like $15 for the funnel, spray-paint, and hose. Well worth it.

So now the tree sends us a notification when it's thirsty and we add water through the funnel until it says it's happy. It's amazingly convenient. One of my best ideas. No more crawling under the tree trying to see how much water is there, finagle a pitcher around the branches, or figure out how much more to add!

My Home Assistant automation is really simple, when the sensor goes dry, send a notification to my tablet and to Jess' phone. Since it's a real water sensor I don't have to muck about telling the system to pretend it is one.

Someone should make a tree-stand water-level sensor that just lines up five sets of leads onto a piece of plastic, then you would get readings for "full", "3/4 full", "1/2 full", "1/4 full", and "dead empty." I'll probably add a 2nd sensor next year so I get "low" and "full" at least.