My Live Streaming / Video Conferencing Setup

Telecommuting. Video conferencing. Zoom calls. Some folks shudder at these ideas, while for others these tools are second nature. Now with COVID-19 self-isolation mitigations in effect for nearly two full months, lots of folks without a heavy technical background are beginning to overcome the hurdles to reap the benefits of video conferencing tools.

I’ve been working from home “75%” since March of 2018 and I’ve been contributing to various open-source projects with people around the world since 2015 (not-to-mention that my teenage years were during ‘the rise of social media’), so the concept of online collaboration and communication have become second-nature to me.

Recently, however, I’ve been investing more into my own online-communications toolkit both for live-streaming my software creation process, as well as to enjoy higher-fidelity video conferencing. In this post, I’m going to explain my setup.

First, let’s start with the cameras. I’m a little on the frugal side, so instead of forking out $90-$120 for a mid-tier Logitech C920 (which are decent entry-level cameras), I took a critical look at one of my spare cell phones. The LG G5 (H830) touts a 5 MP, f/2.2, 18mm 1080p “selfie camera”, which is more than sufficient for calling: with the added benefit that I get an always-on monitor of my “outgoing image!”

To make this cellphone-as-a-webcam scenario work, I use an app called RTSP Camera Server on the phone. This opens any of the H830’s three cameras for access via RTSP. To get this video stream onto my computer, I use Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) with the OBS-Gstreamer plugin to get a malleable real-time stream of the video from my phone’s camera into the OBS workspace.

LG G5 H830 in flexible tripod being photographed by an LG G5 H830 in my hands

Once the stream is in OBS, I’m able to refine the video (crop, adjust colors, filters, etc) and switch between different sources like a screen capture, some “be right back” text, or include video from more than one RTSP camera. I even have two of the exact same phone (the humble H830 is available for $79 on Amazon) so that I can easily demonstrate the focal point of a project or provide a different perspective without causing a “home movie” style camera movement.

OBS Video mixing screen

As you might guess, the super-rich OBS plugin ecosystem has a few options for “consuming” the video from OBS. If I’m joining a video conference call, I use the OBS-VirtualCam plugin to “connect” the output of OBS to the “input” of whatever video conferencing application I may be using (Zoom, Jit.si, Facebook, etc). If I’m live-streaming a project, I use OBS’s built-in streaming functionality.

Overall, this whole video pipeline works pretty well, and gives me a lot of flexibility for both video conferencing as well as for live-streaming to Twitch.tv or YouTube.

Moving on to audio: I use an Audix OM2 microphone which has a hypercardioid pickup pattern that accepts sound aimed directly into the microphone while rejecting noise from the sides or from behind the microphone. This narrow-angle pickup helps a lot with reducing background noise from my computer fans or from other people in the same room.

Audix OM2 Hypercardiod Microphone

Since this microphone connects via XLR, an audio interface is necessary. I use the low-cost, yet perfectly sufficient Behringer UM2 to convert the analog XLR signal into a digital USB signal.

For headphones, I use the Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO 80 Ohm Over-Ear Studio Headphones. The headphones are light and feel comfortable on the ears, wile providing a very accurate and detailed sound.

Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO 80 Ohm Over-Ear Studio Headphones.

That’s the quick summary of my videoconferencing / live streaming setup! I’ll be glad to answer any questions or to hear what tools you’re using!

Recovering from full Elasticsearch nodes

Recently I ran out of space on a 5 node Elasticsearch cluster. Events were not being indexed, and Logstash had amassed a 10GB disk-backed queue. It was not pretty

I discovered that the fifth node was configured incorrectly and was storing the ES data on one of the smaller disk partitions. I stopped the Elasticsearch service on this node while I formulated a plan.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time (or confidence) to move the entire /var directory to the large partition (which happened to be serving the /home folder: mounted as /dev/mapper/centos-home), so I instead created a new folder at /home/elasticsearch (so it would be on the large partition), and “symlinked”/var/elasticsearch to the new home folder on the larger partition ln -s /home/elasticsearch/elasticsearch /var/lib/elasticsearch

After creating the Symlink, I started the Elasticsearch service, and watched the logs. After some time, I noticed that there were still no primary shards assigned to this new nodes (despite it being the only node with disk space utilization below the threshold), so I dug in a bit more

This is where I learned about /_cluster/allocation/explain which provides details about why certain shards may have an allocation problem. Ah ha! After 5 failed attempts to unassigned shards to my new node, Elasticsearch just needed a little kick to re run the allocation process: I opened up the Kibana console, and ran POST /_cluster/reroute?retry_failed=true to force the algorithm to re-evaluate the location of shards

Within about 90 seconds, the Elasticsearch cluster began rerouting all of the unassigned shards, and my logstash disk-queue began to shrink as the events poured into the freshly allocated shards on my new node.

Problem solved.

Stay tuned for next week when I pay off the technical debt incurred by placing my Elasticsearch shards on a symlink 😬

Configuring Multiple Networked OR USB APC UPS devices

As any proper IT-nerd would agree, UPS devices are critical pieces of equipment not only in the data center, but also at home. However, most home users are not in a position to acquire a massive 10+ kilovolt-amp UPS capable of protecting all circuits by which our various “personal devices” are powered; rather, most home/small office UPS installations are often small desktop units usually under 3kVA. In this scenario, these smaller units are typically allocated to individual devices / ares, and are typically only responsible for signaling the status of the incoming utility power to one device.

What about using multiple UPS devices for different components of the same “workspace”? Or home networks with access points and switches in more than one location (therefore each having its own battery backup)? How would one monitor multiple distributed battery backup units (presuming each UPS unit has only USB connectivity)?

APCUPSD

Enter apcupsd: “A daemon for controlling APC UPSes.” Unfortunately, the plurality of this utility’s tagline indicates a wide range of supported devices rather than multiple concurrently connected devices. To date, I’ve found one article describing how to configure apcupsd to support multiple USB-attached UPS devices, and it’s not really pretty. The gist of the process is as follows:

  1. Configure udev rules to ensure a consistent mapping (by UPS serial number) to a named mount point
  2. Create multiple apcupsd configuration files for each connected UPS
  3. Create new “action” and “control” scripts for each UPS
  4. Re-configure the apcupsd init.d/systemd scripts to launch multiple instances of the daemon (one for each UPS)

I’m generally not a fan of creating large “custom” configuration files in obscure locations with great variance from the distributed package, so this process seemed a little “hackey” to me; especially since the end result of all of these configuration files was to have “isolated processes” for each UPS to monitor.

Dockerizing APCUPSD

At this point, I decided to take a different approach to isolating each apcupsd process: an approach with far greater discoverability, version-control potential, and scalability. Docker.

I decided to use the first step outlined in the apcupsd guide on the Debian Wiki (creating udev rules to ensure physical devices are given a persistent path on boot/attach). UPS devices are generally mounted at /dev/usb/hiddev*, so we should confirm that we have a few present:

# ls /dev/usb
hiddev0  hiddev1

# lsusb
Bus 002 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub
Bus 004 Device 002: ID 051d:0002 American Power Conversion Uninterruptible Power Supply
Bus 004 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0001 Linux Foundation 1.1 root hub
Bus 001 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub
Bus 003 Device 002: ID 051d:0002 American Power Conversion Uninterruptible Power Supply
Bus 003 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0001 Linux Foundation 1.1 root hub

Great! we’ve got things that look like UPS devices on /dev/usb/hiddev0 and /dev/usb/hiddev1. Now to get the serialnumbers:

# udevadm info --attribute-walk --name=/dev/usb/hiddev0 | egrep 'manufacturer|product|serial'
    ATTRS{manufacturer}=="American Power Conversion"
    ATTRS{product}=="Back-UPS BX1500G FW:866.L5 .D USB FW:L5 "
    ATTRS{serial}=="8975309"
    ATTRS{manufacturer}=="Linux 4.4.0-170-generic ohci_hcd"
    ATTRS{product}=="OHCI PCI host controller"
    ATTRS{serial}=="0000:00:02.0"
# udevadm info --attribute-walk --name=/dev/usb/hiddev1 | egrep 'manufacturer|product|serial'
    ATTRS{manufacturer}=="American Power Conversion"
    ATTRS{product}=="Back-UPS NS 1100M2 FW:953.e3 .D USB FW:e3     "
    ATTRS{serial}=="8675310"
    ATTRS{manufacturer}=="Linux 4.4.0-170-generic ohci_hcd"
    ATTRS{product}=="OHCI PCI host controller"
    ATTRS{serial}=="0000:00:04.0"

With the now known serial numbers, we create udev rules to persist these devices to known map points:

## FILE AT /lib/udev/rules.d/ups.rules

# SCREEN UPS
KERNEL=="hiddev*", ATTRS{manufacturer}=="American Power Conversion", ATTRS{serial}=="8975309", OWNER="root", SYMLINK+="usb/ups-screen"

# ComputeAndNetwork UPS
KERNEL=="hiddev*", ATTRS{manufacturer}=="American Power Conversion", ATTRS{serial}=="8675310", OWNER="root", SYMLINK+="usb/ups-compute-and-network"

And now to re-run the udev rules:

udevadm trigger --verbose --sysname-match=hiddev*

Now, we should have some “nicely named” UPS USB devices:

# ls -la /dev/usb
total 0
drwxr-xr-x  2 root root    120 Dec 18 19:55 .
drwxr-xr-x 22 root root   4280 Dec 18 19:55 ..
crwxrwxrwx  1 root root 180, 0 Dec 18 19:55 hiddev0
crwxrwxrwx  1 root root 180, 1 Dec 18 19:55 hiddev1
lrwxrwxrwx  1 root root      7 Dec 18 19:55 ups-compute-and-network -> hiddev1
lrwxrwxrwx  1 root root      7 Dec 18 19:55 ups-screen -> hiddev0

Excellent! Now, anytime these devices are plugged/unplugged, we shouldn’t have to guess which is hiddev0 and which is hiddev1, since udev will automagically provide us named mount points for these USB devices, which will be critical to the next steps

Next, I created a docker-compose file with the three “services” I decided I’d like for this setup:

  • APCUPSD for the “screens” UPS
  • APCUPSD for the “Compute and Network” UPS
  • Apache/Multimon to provide an HTTP based interface

This docker-compose file also contained pointers to specific Dockerfiles to actually build an image for each service (hint: the two apcupsd services use the same container with different configurations).

The apcupsd container is nothing more than the latest Alpine linux image; apcupsd from the apk repository and a very lightweight apcupsd configuration files (configured to watch onlythe UPS at /dev/ups – more on this later)

The multimon container uses the latest Apache/alpine image, and adds apcupsd-webif from the apk repository along with a few configuration files for multimon. Additionally, I wrote an entrypoint.sh script to parse environment variables and generate a configuration file for multimon so that the UPS(s) displayed on the web interface can be set from the docker-compose file.

Having now covered the build process, let’s put together the docker-compose services:

Full Docker setup here: https://github.com/crossan007/APCUPSD-Multimon-Docker

Now, instead of attempting to create custom init scripts, multiplex processes within systemd, and override the packaged mechanisms for apcupsd‘s configuration discovery, I instead have a cleanly defined interface for isolating instances of apcupsd to provide a status page for my two APC UPS devices.

Thanks for reading, and hopefully this helps you in some way!

Metal embossed oak plaque

This is my first official “metal casting blog post.” It’s been a small hobby of mine since February of 2019, and I’ve only shared some pictures on Facebook/Twitter, but I’ve decided I’m going to be more intentional about chronicling my projects on my personal blog.

A while back, I saw a really neat video on YouTube where the author created a look of embossed metal letters against a mahogany wood block: https://youtu.be/15cE1SfwlQo?t=1019

After some time, I realized this would be a really neat technique to use for hand-crafted gifts. My dad loves “all things constitution,” so the idea began to create a plaque proclaiming “We The People” in this charred-wood-embossed-metal-style.

I went to the nearby hardware store to pick up a nice piece of oak; I printed out an authentic-looking rendition of the words, and got to work.

My first challenge was transposing the printed text onto the oak board. I first tried using a Sharpie marker to “trace” the text, and follow it with a hacksaw:

This process was really really slow and laborious, so brainstormed a bit to figure out how to make this go quicker. I ended up using my table saw to “thin-out” the sections of the (originally 3/4″ thick) board down to about 1/4″:

I also picked up some new wood-cutting bits for my Dremel and was able to make quick work of the remainder of the text (also without needing to first “transpose” the printout via Sharpie to the face of the wood).

I did make a small mistake here – I didn’t consider the need for “inner-letter support” (take a look at the inner section of the “W”); I’m chalking that up to “lessons learned.” I wasn’t too concerned with this at first, since the next phase of the project should have provided a degree of “masking” over this mistake.

After completing the cutouts (and proving to myself that I was capable of actually representing the text fairly accurately), I wanted to add some color: Red and Blue (thinking that the light colored wood would infer a “white” stripe. I found some water-based stain on Amazon (Minwax Red and Blue) that provided the colors I was looking for:

Next, I had to create a new “flask” to facilitate a sand-mold of this size (all my previous sand casting have been much smaller). So I constructed a new cope (top) and drag (bottom) with keyed alignment posts to ensure both sides would align after being separated and joined. I also added grooves to the inner faces of the flask so that the ptreobond sand would have some surfaces to grab onto.

After building the flask (and ordering more petrobond to account for my newly expanded flask), I packed the sand around a non-cutout replica of the plaque (since I wanted the metal to “fill in” the back section of the plaque, I couldn’t have the sand create a negative of that void)

Next, I swapped out the “blank” piece of wood for the text-engraved piece, and impressed the lettering from the wood cutout into the petrobond. I also carved a riser and a very simple gate system for the molten metal to flow.

Since molten metal will shrink 6-12% while cooling, it is important to have a “reservoir” of still-hot molten metal to back-flow into the important pieces of your casting: this allows you to control where the shrinkage will occur: in the riser and sprue, instead of in your part.

After getting the flask all-set, I heated my plaque up on top of my kerosene heater for a few hours to dry-out any trapped moisture. Trapped moisture is very dangerous in a molten-metal scenario, as it vaporizes instantly into steam and expands rapidly in volume and can cause explosions, so I was cautious to avoid this scenario.

Finally, I put the top back on the flask, and pored the metal. Unfortunately, I didn’t capture any photographs of the closed-and-finished flask, nor of the actual pour. Almost immediately as I was pouring the metal, smoke began flowing from the vent holes and from the riser hole.

After pouring, I let the metal cool covered in the flask for a few minutes. This elapsed “cooling time” may have been my project-ending mistake. When I finally removed the cope from my flask, I was dismayed at the havoc the molten metal wreaked on the oak plank

The metal stuck together nicely, and carried a faint image of the previously well-defined text; however, the thin section of wood was completely burnt beyond salvage.

I could kind of tell where the original text was lined up with the remaining slim sections of red and blue wood

Unfortunately, there’s no saving this project.

If I ever decide to mix metal and wood again, I’ll be sure to take away a few lessons/thoughts from this project:

  • Thinner wood sections burn faster
  • Oak isn’t the most flame-resistant wood available (check out cedar or epe, or manufactured materials)
  • Limit exposure time of metal to wood; maybe pour into an open-topped drag and dunk the compound piece into cooling water as soon as the metal solidifies
  • The charred color against the stain sections actually looks decent
  • Use the right tools from the beginning (Dremel, not coping saw)
  • Try “riskier” actions on a small-sample before investing a lot of time in the final piece

Override Jenkins stage Function

Recently, I needed a mechanism to identify, as part of a try/catch block, which stage in a Jenkins Groovy Scripted Pipeline was the last to execute before the catch block was called.

Jenkins does not currently store details about the last stage to run outside of the context of that specific stage. So, in other words env.STAGE_NAME is valid with a particular stage("I'm a stage"){ //valid here} block, but not in, say, a catch(Exception e) { // where was I called from? } block.

To get around this, I found a few examples, and cobbled together something that I believe will provide future functionality. I present to you the extensibleContextStage:

// Jenkins groovy stages are somewhat lacking in their ability to persist 
// context state beyond the lifespan of the stage
// For example, to obtain the name of the last stage to run, 
// one needs to store the name in an ENV varialble (JENKINS 48315)
// https://issues.jenkins-ci.org/browse/JENKINS-48315

// We can create an extensible stage to provide attitional context to the pipeline
// about the state of the currently running stage.

// This also provides a capability to extend pre- and post- stage operations

// Idea / base code borrowed from https://stackoverflow.com/a/51081177/11125318
// and from https://issues.jenkins-ci.org/browse/JENKINS-48315?focusedCommentId=321366&page=com.atlassian.jira.plugin.system.issuetabpanels%3Acomment-tabpanel#comment-321366

def call(name, Closure closure) {
    env.BUILD_LAST_STAGE_STARTED = name
    try {
        stage(name) {
            def result = closure.call()
            return result
        }
        env.BUILD_LAST_STAGE_SUCCEEDED = name
    }
    catch(Exception ex) {
        env.BUILD_LAST_STAGE_FAILED = name
        throw ex;
    }
}

This is a drop-in replacement for stage(string name){ closure} blocks in a Jenkins Groovy Scripted Pipeline, but with the added benefit of additional environment variables:

  • env.BUILD_LAST_STAGE_STARTED
  • env.BUILD_LAST_STAGE_SUCCEEDED
  • env.BUILD_LAST_STAGE_FAILED

So, as a full example, one can now do this (which was previously awkward):


try {
    extensibleContextStage("Do some things")
    {
        //whatever
    }
    extensibleContextStage("Do some More things")
    {
       throw new Exception("MAYHEM!")
    }
    extensibleContextStage("Do some final things")
    {
        //whatever
    }
}
catch(Exception e){
    // at this point, with normal stage, we wouldn't know where MAYHEM came from,
    // but with extensibleContextStage, we can look at either
    // env.BUILD_LAST_STAGE_FAILED or  env.BUILD_LAST_STAGE_STARTED
    // to know that "Do some More things" was the offendign stage.
    // this is super handy to send "helpful" notifications to slack/email
}

I hope this helps someone (if even my future self)

Terminate a stuck Jenkins job

Sometimes (especially after an un-graceful process restart), Jenkins jobs will be stuck in a running state, and cancelling through the UI just doesn’t work.

Fortunately, jobs can be stopped via the Jenkins script console with this command (courtesy of https://stackoverflow.com/a/26306081/11125318):

Jenkins.instance.getItemByFullName("JobName")
                .getBuildByNumber(JobNumber)
                .finish(
                        hudson.model.Result.ABORTED,
                        new java.io.IOException("Aborting build")
                );

Obtaining Git Repo URL from Jenkins Changeset: Unsolved

I’m attempting to obtain a Git Repo URL from a Jenkins Change set in a Groovy Scripted Pipeline, but I keep running into the same issue: the browser property (obtained via .getBrowser()) on my hudson.plugins.git.GitChangeSetList object is undefined.

I’m running the below code (with inline “status comments”) from the Jenkins groovy script console in an attempt to extract the RepoUrl from Chagesets in a Jenkins Multi branch groovy scripted pipeline:

def job = Jenkins.instance.getItem("MyJenkinsJob") 
def branch = job.getItems().findAll({ 
            item -> item.getDisplayName().contains("Project/CreateChangeLogs")
        })

printAllMethods(branch[0].getFirstBuild()) //this works, and is a org.jenkinsci.plugins.workflow.job.WorkflowRun

def builds = branch[0].getBuilds()
def currentBuild = builds[0]

currentBuild.changeSets.collect { 
  printAllMethods(it) // this works too, and is a hudson.plugins.git.GitChangeSetList.
  // enumerated methods are equals(); getClass(); hashCode(); notify(); notifyAll(); toString(); wait(); createEmpty(); getBrowser(); getItems(); getKind(); getRun(); isEmptySet(); getLogs(); iterator(); 

  it.getBrowser().repoUrl // this fails
  // the error is java.lang.NullPointerException: Cannot get property 'repoUrl' on null object
}

I found the utility class for PrintAllMethods here (https://bateru.com/news/2011/11/code-of-the-day-groovy-print-all-methods-of-an-object/):

  void printAllMethods( obj ){
    if( !obj ){
        println( "Object is null\r\n" );
        return;
    }
    if( !obj.metaClass && obj.getClass() ){
        printAllMethods( obj.getClass() );
        return;
    }
    def str = "class ${obj.getClass().name} functions:\r\n";
    obj.metaClass.methods.name.unique().each{ 
        str += it+"(); "; 
    }
    println "${str}\r\n";
}

The API spec for GitChangeSetList indicates that in extends hudson.scm.ChangeLogSet which implements getBrowser(), so the call should be valid.

Additionally, the source for GitChangeSetList invokes the super() constructor with the passed browser object.

At this point, I’m probably going to continue diving through the source code until I figure it out.

It looks like this is a documented issue with Jenkins: https://issues.jenkins-ci.org/browse/JENKINS-52747

And a (somewhat) related StackOverflow post: https://devops.stackexchange.com/questions/3798/determine-the-url-for-a-scm-trigger-from-inside-the-build

VAInfo: Verify Hardware Accelerated Video Support

On Ubuntu (and possibly other) Linux distros, run vainfo to see which Intel QuickSync profiles are supported.

For example, these profiles are supported on an Intel Haswell chip:

libva info: VA-API version 0.39.0
libva info: va_getDriverName() returns 0
libva info: Trying to open /usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/dri/i965_drv_video.so
libva info: Found init function __vaDriverInit_0_39
libva info: va_openDriver() returns 0
vainfo: VA-API version: 0.39 (libva 1.7.0)
vainfo: Driver version: Intel i965 driver for Intel(R) Haswell Desktop - 1.7.0
vainfo: Supported profile and entrypoints
      VAProfileMPEG2Simple            : VAEntrypointVLD
      VAProfileMPEG2Simple            : VAEntrypointEncSlice
      VAProfileMPEG2Main              : VAEntrypointVLD
      VAProfileMPEG2Main              : VAEntrypointEncSlice
      VAProfileH264ConstrainedBaseline: VAEntrypointVLD
      VAProfileH264ConstrainedBaseline: VAEntrypointEncSlice
      VAProfileH264Main               : VAEntrypointVLD
      VAProfileH264Main               : VAEntrypointEncSlice
      VAProfileH264High               : VAEntrypointVLD
      VAProfileH264High               : VAEntrypointEncSlice
      VAProfileH264MultiviewHigh      : VAEntrypointVLD
      VAProfileH264MultiviewHigh      : VAEntrypointEncSlice
      VAProfileH264StereoHigh         : VAEntrypointVLD
      VAProfileH264StereoHigh         : VAEntrypointEncSlice
      VAProfileVC1Simple              : VAEntrypointVLD
      VAProfileVC1Main                : VAEntrypointVLD
      VAProfileVC1Advanced            : VAEntrypointVLD
      VAProfileNone                   : VAEntrypointVideoProc
      VAProfileJPEGBaseline           : VAEntrypointVLD

References:

Display HTTPS X509 Cert from Linux CLI

Recently, while attempting a git pull, I was confronted with the following error:

Peer's certificate issuer has been marked as not trusted by the user.

The operation worked on a browser on my dev machine, and closer inspection revealed that the cert used to serve the GitLab service was valid, but for some reason the remote CentOS Linux server couldn’t pull from the remote.

I found this post on StackOverflow detailing how to retrieve the X509 cert used to secure an HTTPS connection:

echo | openssl s_client -showcerts -servername MyGitServer.org -connect MyGitServer.org:443 2>/dev/null | openssl x509 -inform pem -noout -text

This was my ticket to discover why Git on my CentOS server didn’t like the certificate: the CentOS host was resolving the wrong DNS host name, and therefore using an invalid cert for the service.

And now a Haiku:

http://i.imgur.com/eAwdKEC.png

Git: Replace Root Commit with Second Commit

While migrating code between version control systems (in my case SourceGear Vault to Git using an open-source c# program called vault2git), it’s sometimes necessary to pre-populate the first commit in the target system.

This yields an empty commit (git commit -m "initial commit" --allow-empty) with a timestamp of today, which is chronologically out of order of the incoming change set migration.

After completing the migration, the second commit is actually the commit which I’d like to be the root.

It took me a while to figure this out, but thanks to
Greg Hewgill on Stack Overflow, I was able to replace the first commit of my branch with the second commit (and subsequently update the SHA1 hashes of all child commits) using this command:

git filter-branch --parent-filter "sed 's/-p <the__root_commit>//'" HEAD