pfSense UPS Widgets

APC BE550G UPSLast month I walked into my home office and heard the buzzing of a UPS. After switching it out with another smaller UPS, I wiped off the dust and found the model number on the bottom to be: BE550G. These older UPS models are no longer even supported by APC anymore. After doing a search online, I found BatteryPlus.com had a replacement battery and they have a store nearby. I ordered the Duracell Ultra 12V 9AH High Rate AGM SLA Battery with F2 Terminals [SLAHR12-9FR] and then picked it up the same day. After letting the battery charge overnight, I had to hook the UPS up to my Windows machine to set the Battery Date using the PowerChute software. For some reason this is not possible on other operating systems and open source software that I could find. Once I had this done, I moved the UPS over to my pfSense firewall and connected it directly to one of the USB ports on the firewall.

There are a couple of different packages for pfSense that you can install. pfSense is FreeBSD based, so you can install the software natively or use the pfSense packages to install. Once you configure the setup, the packages offer dashboard widgets that you can add to the pfSense dashboard. Here is what each one looks like.

Apcupsd

Developed for only APC UPS units, apcusd features a better looking widget.

pfSense Apcupsd dashboard widget

Network UPS Tools

Known as the NUT package, this open source software has a more simplistic dashboard, however Network UPS Tools supports more devices and has extensive features for UPS units directly connected or on the network.

pfSense UPS dashboard widget

Additional Notes

Setting up either package requires reading the setup documentation online. I was able to run both packages for a direct USB connected device.

For apcupsd set UPS Cable and UPS Type to “USB” and leave the Device field blank. If you are using NUT, set the UPS Type to Local USB and driver to usbhid.

Overall I am glad that I could salvage the UPS and keep it in service. This keeps perfectly good equipment working and prevents waste. The plus, is that my firewall and internet connection will run a bit longer and not reset during a power spike.

My Home Office Setup

Dell Monitor UP2716DThe COVID19 pandemic had multiple impacts on everyone personally and I have to admit that mentally it was difficult for me to not be able to leave the house and go to the mall or dine out. However, the time at home did allow me some time to clean-up the home office space and do some upgrades. This space has become the work space and I spend at least 50% of my time now in my home office.

Connectivity & Networking

The first significant upgrade was to our Internet. The DSL connection that we utilized for more than a decade was not capable of providing access to work VPN connections, online schooling sessions, and streaming. We had to utilize cell phones for work VPN connections and even then, the internet was spotty and unusable most days. Lucky there was a new ISP in town that was providing fiber connections and so a few weeks into the Summer, we upgraded to a new, faster internet. This allowed us to VPN for work and at the same time allow for Zoom school sessions. We have two network access points in our house. These were eventually upgraded as well. The current models are a NETGEAR Nighthawk AX5400 and a NETGEAR Nighthawk R7350 AC2400. Both of the wireless access points are wired. I try to keep most devices wired, so the access points see mostly mobile device traffic. My work laptop is wired, but the rest of the family mostly use wireless connections, but can connect directly to the access points for faster connections if they need to. The access points, along with a firewall, network switches all keep up very well with the new faster internet connection. Note that a previous NETGEAR Nighthawk (R7000) – AC1900 access point limited the upload speeds of my new 100Mbps connection.

It is simply amazing to be able to download an Apple update and watch HBO Max in 4K all at the same time.

Displays & Screens

The 24-inch monitor is the standard, the 27-inch monitor is the better upgrade, and the 32 or higher is not affordable: all of these are better than anything your work laptop has though. Monitors are weirdly frustrating and at the same time amazingly cheaper these days. However, my eyes have not gotten better, but worse as I mostly look at text all day long. Achieving crisp and readable text on a screen is a combination of science and art. If you utilize Windows 10 and MacOS X, you will see that Microsoft and Apple have different ideas on how to achieve this. MacOS X provides shadows and stresses the shape of the font letter as it scales, while Windows focuses on accurate pixels and scales worse in my opinion.

The frustration for me is that on a 27-inch monitor that has a display resolution of 2560×1440, is that I can’t really see fonts very well in Windows10. Changing the font scale to 125% makes fonts more readable but then throws off the size of Window elements. Windows10 just looks bad to me at this resolution and scale. I have thought about getting a 27-inch monitor with a typical FHD resolution of 1920×1080, but this seems like going backwards to me technology wise. The other option is to try a 27-inch 4K monitor or a larger display with the same display resolution of 2560×1440 with 100% font scaling. These options are more expensive and may introduce other problems such as dock connections, video card limitations of my work laptop.

At this time, the current setup consists of two Dell Ultrasharp U2719DX 27-Inch IPS Monitors connected via one display port cable to an OWC 14-Port Thunderbolt 3 Dock (OWCTB3DK14PSG). This is an excellent setup, as you connect the first monitor to the dock and then there is a display port out on the first monitor that you then connect to the second monitor. There is a setting you have to change on the display itself to make this work for an expanded display; by default the two monitors will come up in mirror mode. Similar to HDMI connections, DisplayPort connections to a Thunderbolt Dock are not perfect. Occasionally one of the monitors will come up in a lower resolution and the only solution that I can find is to disconnect the laptop from the dock and reconnect it. It is annoying when it occurs, but other than that it works well. Thunderbolt has its own strangeness. The display connections just work, but the rest of the dock can be disabled depending on your laptop settings in the BIOS/firmware. Security settings for Thunderbolt can disable your dock ports by default, except for display connections. Different docks will also have different display ports, so pay close attention to what ports are available for displays and I won’t even get into the whole cable discussion of what USB-C, Thunderbolt cable to get.

Input Devices

After taking an inventory, I found that pretty much everything I have for input devices is about one company: Logitech. Although I do not think Logitech has the best quality in hardware and software, they do seem to make affordable devices and I tend to gravitate to Logitech no matter what other brands I find on Amazon.

For pointing and clicking, my favorite mouse is the Logitech M720 Wireless Triathlon Mouse. What this mouse has over the competition is the bluetooth connectivity. Forget using the transceiver and instead utilize the bluetooth feature on your laptop that is probably not even being used. I have switched the rest of my computers to this mouse. It just works and feels solid compared to anything cheaper.

The most used device of all is your keyboard. It is the device that you first touch to begin your workday and it is the most neglected of all. From dust, to cookie crumbs, most of us don’t even clean the keyboard and it shows. Think about your hands and how badly they can suffer from a cheap keyboard or that terrible laptop keyboard, and you will soon discover that investing in a new keyboard is the best thing you can do for your work space. After trying a few cheaper gaming keyboards, on a whim I ended up treating myself with a Logitech G915 Wireless Mechanical Gaming Keyboard (Tactile). This keyboard is wireless and it will last about 2-3 days without a charge, but for the most part I keep it wired to the OWC Dock. The upsides with the G915 is that it has lighted keys, so I can work in dimmed light. It is super responsive to my typing and overall construction is heavier than the cheaper keyboards out there. If you do not care for the wireless feature or the full size layout there are cheaper models to choose from in the Logitech G line. I have to state that the G915 is the best keyboard I have ever used and I would have a hard time switching to something cheaper. The minor issue I do have with it is that some of the keys are only partially lighted: the “?/” key for example only have the slash lighted.

Further Considerations

Lighting is still on my list of things to change. I have typical LED tube lighting and it feels harsh on most days. I am picky about lamps and so I have not really found the perfect lighting solution for the office.

The Desk has not changed since 1996. I am still using what I had in college. I’ve considered doing a butcher block desk similar to one I put together for my son, but after looking at the time and effort I put into that project, along with the prices for wood lately, I have decided to forestall this for a bit longer. Plus I have a garage that needs a lot of work of late, so that will probably need a work table.

In closing, I hope this gave you some ideas about what to look at for your home work space.

Lexmark E260dn Filter Error on MacOS Big Sur

Lexmark E260dn ErrorOver the Summer I got a new MacBook Pro 16 to replace my current MacBook Pro from 2010. Due to the COVID19 pandemic, I had to start working from home full time, so my home office has had to go through a lot of changes to accommodate this change. This has meant, that my new MacBook has been sitting in a box for a couple of months while my desk has been taken over by my work laptop. The other hesitation has been Apple; they have been focused on iOS 14 and product launches around it, that MacOS 11, otherwise known as macOS Big Sur was released in the Fall instead of late Summer. Now with macOS Big Sur 11.1 installed, I have been slowly moving over to the new MacBook.

The first real problem I have encountered has been with my Lexmark E260dn monochrome laser printer. Lexmark no longer provides updates for this printer and since the printer still works fine and I use it sparingly throughout the year; I see no reason to replace it. The E260dn replaced a similar Lexmark printer, which died a few years ago, unexpectedly on the day I needed to print some tax documents. I suspect a power surge or electrical short killed the board. Upon downloading the printer drivers for MacOS X from Lexmark, running the installer, and adding the printer in System Preferences – Printers & Scanners, and then attempting to print an email, I got a Filter Error in the Printer Status.

After researching the problem, I was able to to fix the issue.

Reset Printing System

First open up System Preferences – Printers & Scanners. Hold down the Control key and drag your pointer over the Printers area. The option to Reset Printing System will appear. Go ahead and click on the option.

Download Lexmark Drivers

You will need to get the last updated drivers from Lexmark. Here is the direct link to the download page: Print Driver for 10.6.8 and later Mac OS. Once you agree to the download, open the installer and run through the installation process.

Add Lexmark Printer

In System Preferences – Printers & Scanners, click the plus sign and add your printer. It should come up and you should see it added. If you try to print something, it should result in the Filter Error.

Modify Settings

Use the Go to Folder… option under the Go menu to open the following location: /Library/Printers/Lexmark/filter/

Next you will need to edit the file psoptionreroute with a text editor. I recommend using BBEdit, as it will let you modify system files easily. Right Click on the file and choose Open With – Other and choose BBEdit. In the file psoptionreroute, look for the line:

use POSIX qw(tmpnam);

Comment this line out by adding a pound sign in front of it and then directly underneath add the text below:

use File::Temp qw(tmpnam);

File and Save and close the file. At this point, go ahead and attempt to print something and the error will no longer appear and you should hear your printer turning on and spitting out a page or two. Further discussion on this issue can be found on the Apple Support Forums.