Blog entries tagged with "computers"

My desk

Tuesday, January 25th, 2022 at 09:53pm

While I was recently required to stay at home I spent some of the time giving each room/area of my house a deep clean, for my study I took an updated panorama photo. This prompted a couple of questions about my setup so I decided to dust off a draft I started over a year ago, so where is an overly long post…

Most of the room can be seen in the panorama photos, but this is the main desk area:

Refined setup


The desk itself is an 1800x1800mm corner desk, importantly the sides are only 600mm deep (compared the 750mm you normally have for office furniture) which means that there is more usable space on the sides and less dead space in the corner. The corner depth might have been needed back in the day of deep CRT monitors, but not these days for LCD panels.

Back in 2012 I was looking in secondhand office furniture stores for another filing cabinet or similar when I came across a small 1200x600mm desk in the same light grey. It worked out quite nicely that it could be cut up to form additional side extensions.

I was able to find a secondhand desk that I could cut and use as side extensions, I originally only planned to extend one side, but both sides fit (along with some filing cabinets and shelves) perfectly in my study.

It was also at these secondhand furniture stores that I found two more drawer pedestals, but I will get to them shortly.


I try to keep the left hand side clear so it can be used for things like mounting a photo, assembling electronics or putting together LEGO.

This set of drawers has typical office/study type items, while the other boxes contain a variety of electronics and home automation components. The clear+orange ones are the Tactix storage containers from Bunnings.

On the far right I have my printer and scanner. These sit under Billy height extensions (the one over the printer modified to be narrower) that serve as hutches. The printer and scanner are sitting on drawers so they can be slid forward when needed to be used.

Working area

The corner area of the desk is where I have my main and secondary displays, keyboard, mouse, speakers, lamp and a powerboard. All of these items are powered from another powerboard mounted under the desk as is a USB adapter for my phone, the Macbook power adapter and a bluetooth audio receiver.

It is not immediately obvious but attached to the stand for the secondary display is the switch for a (now discontinued) Eco Switch. This is a nice simple physical switch that lets me kill the power to everything in this section, it is so much quicker and easier than having to turn each item on or off.

  • Main display is a Dell UP2716D that I am still quite happy with.
  • My secondary display has been a variety of small used monitors, starting at a 15″, then a 19″ that was being disposed of when we moved offices, with the current being a new 20″ that I got at the start of lockdowns. I know Dell isn’t the best company, but their displays work for me.
  • Of course the mouse is a Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical 1.1A. Because of where the join is on the desk I need to use a mouse pad, it was surprisingly hard to find one that was small, thin and didn’t have a fabric surface, this is a Razer Sphex V2 Mini.
  • The keyboard is a Ducky One TKL side-printed mechanical keyboard with Cherry Brown keyswitches. For a long time I had stuck with a set of old HP keyboards but back in 2018 I looked around and worked out that I liked the feel of the Cherry Browns, the idea of TKL aka tenkeyless aka no number pad on the right also appealed. I had no interest in RGB lighting or excessive amounts of macros so this keyboard suits nicely.
  • With the mouse being the oldest item in this section, the second oldest are the Logitech Z4 speakers which would date from somewhere around 2009. These are still going strong and I mostly like how the sub tucks away in the corner underneath and the speakers on the desk are quite small. I also like how there are two inputs, on the second one I have a bluetooth audio adapter, so I can play podcasts directly from my phone instead of through the computer.
  • A currently hidden item is a webcam, this is mostly used for work meetings and for that it sits on top of the secondary display, but when I am not needing to use it I put behind the display on top of the stand.
  • The final item in this section isn’t that visible, it is the two white USB-C adapters coming up to the right of my secondary display. These are for my work laptop which I will describe more below.

Computers and network

The next area of the desk are the items that are on all the time. A not a clock, modem and router, then two computers one my Windows desktop and the Linux box that acts as my file/media server, used for automating various things, and is also where I run Home Assistant. These are all running from a small Eaton UPS which gives me backup for a short power outage, but also stats on how much power these things are using.

The two computer cases are on top of what looks like another drawer pedestal, except it is only one draw high. This started out as a normal set of secondhand drawers, but I was able to cut it down to be just the single drawer. I didn’t want to put the cases up on the desk and they should not go directly on the floor, this was a nice alternative to the old Macintosh that I had previously used, plus gives storage for the bits and pieces directly related to these two computers.

Mounted to the back of this section of desk is an eight port USB hub connected directly to my Windows desktop. Two ports are for the printer and scanner, but another five are for the black cables that are sitting on the desk in front of Tux. These are for short term connection of things like hard drives or Arduninos for programming. I don’t have five because I expect to plug in five devices at once, but they are five different connections: B, mini-B, micro-B, micro-B 3.0 and a USB-C.

If you look closely there is a laptop sleeve and laptop sitting on top of the two computer cases. When the laptop is down there I am not in work mode.

Printer and scanner

Only part of the printer can be seen in the above photo, but the panorama shows that the remaining items of technology are my printer and scanner. Well, except for the shredder on the floor under the UPS.

There is nothing that special about the printer (an Epson R2800 that I got secondhand and is still giving good prints) or the scanner (an Epson V700 that can also do slides and negatives) themselves, but where I have them placed is unique. For a long time they were sitting on the desk and I was finding that things would accumulate on top, needing to be moved when I wanted to use the device.

To make best use of the space the the printer I picked up a Billy height extension unit, cut it down to be slightly wider than the printer and then build a sliding shelf for the printer. So I get the space to display Lego sets, but when I want to use the printer I slide it forward. It is a similar situation for the scanner, except I didn’t need to modify the narrower height extension and I mounted the sliding shelf to the top of the filing cabinet.

KVM and the work laptop

When I first switched to the current Dell 27″ display I was still using a dedicated KVM switch for the rare occasion when I needed to directly access the Linux box. By this point the KVM was quite old and despite being digital it was designed for VGA and PS/2. When I realised that the monitor has a built in KVM switch (switching USB instead of just keyboard and mouse) I removed a bunch of cable clutter by using that instead.

The Dell display also has an audio line-out port for audio that is coming over HDMI. Initially I thought I was just saving a bit of clutter by connecting the speakers to the display instead of over to the computer, but the real benefit came when I started working from home as the KVM was now also switching audio.

Going back to the white adapters I mentioned earlier, one is the typical USB-C to HDMI/USB/Power and the other is a USB-C to displayport. The end result is that I can grab my work laptop (a macbook) from under the desk, plug in the two adapters, keeping the lid closed, and then switch the inputs on my two monitors. This is what I consider “work mode” as the keyboard, mouse, displays, webcam and speakers are now all on the work laptop. At the end of the day I switch the display inputs back, unplug the two adapters and put the laptop away, I am now back in my personal environment :)

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Musing again on a media player

Monday, June 21st, 2021 at 10:11pm

A long time ago I wrote a couple of times about different methods of playing media on my television, it looks like I never posted about the solution, which ended up being to use PS3 Media Server (now known as Universal Media Server) with all transcoding turned off, not via writing a custom FUSE filesystem to alter file extensions, but by finding the right configuration option.

As well as working nicely for my television I also picked up a cheap Android tablet and used a UPnP/DNLA app and VLC to be able to play the media on that as well. That tablet started to show its age so I picked up a newer one, at which point I found the UPnP/DNLA app didn’t exist anymore, but fortunately the ability to browse is now built directly in to VLC for Android.

It also turned out that I don’t often watch things on my television, instead playing them on my second monitor in my study, so I wasn’t that concerned when I noticed that media using newer codecs wouldn’t play on my television. This is now an eleven year old television that hasn’t had a firmware update in a long time, so I started looking in to media players again, and not just for me, but also for my parents.


About two years ago I picked up a basic Chromecast to try. It was quite easy to set up and worked exactly as described. However after some hands on experience I found that it wasn’t suitable. If you want to stream from somewhere else it is great, but the lack of control while playing (my deal breaker for a WDTV Live) and that you can’t just use it to find something to start playing is a problem.

It did come in handy for the first few months of lockdown last year when a couple of podcasts livestreamed episodes each week. The player is browser based but supports casting so I could get it started from my PC and then go relax on the couch.

I did try using my phone to control the Chromecast, but I wanted to use a traditional remote control and look at the television screen, not at the touchscreen in my hand.

Kodi on a Raspberry Pi

I find it interesting that as much as things change they also stay the same as ten years ago one thing I was considering was XBMC, well these days it is called Kodi and late last year I loaded that (using LibreELEC onto an old Raspberry Pi. This worked astonishingly well with it getting commands from the television over HDMI-CEC and importantly it being able to play the newer codecs.

Unfortunately there was a glaring issue, the Model B+ that I was using was not powerful enough to smoothly play those newer codecs. As I had proven the concept I ordered a Pi 3 B+ (at the time the only place I could find with reasonable postage didn’t have stock of Pi 4 models) which resolved that issue.

After a few months of using it every so often I was finding it ok for my purposes as a UPnP/DNLA browser and player, but I was unhappy with:

  • The odd way that Kodi would browse the UPnP share, it would display them all with a year of 1969 (aka zero in unix epoch) and put everything in alphabetical order, not folders at the top like is typical.
  • No way to power off the Pi, you can shut it down but it can’t wake up, to do that you need to power cycle it. Not what I wanted for something I might use a couple of times a month where I wanted the convenience of everything through my existing universal remote control.
  • It took me a while to work out what the controls were, which wasn’t helped by being limited to the set of commands my television would send over HDMI-CEC, and it seemed a bit laggy.

Chromecast with Google TV

While the Pi with Kodi was working fine for my occasional needs, a bit over a month ago I cam across something talking about the newer Chromecast, not the one that I already had, but the “Chromecast with Google TV” which looked like quite a nice Android device for a very good price, so I picked one up.

Like my previous Chromecast (which I still have in the cupboard) it was quite easy to set this one up, the remote control was nice and responsive and it didn’t take me long to install VLC and browse my media. As I used it I started to dislike it more and more…

  • You can’t get rid of the ads. Even though I uninstalled the included apps and switched to the app only mode, the minimal I could get the home screen down to was three ads and the icon to start VLC
  • You can’t configure overscan. I understand that on newer televisions you can turn off overscan on HDMI inputs, but not on mine and the Chromecast doesn’t have any configuration (like there is with Kodi) so I was stuck with missing edges. Not that noticeable when watching a movie, but when the menus are chopped off…
  • Google Assistant. I’m not comfortable with a microphone under the control of Google, it should only activate when you press the button and I was pleased to find that app only mode should disable it, but I was still uneasy
  • Remote control. While the bluetooth remote is nice and responsive, it isn’t that comfortable to hold and I couldn’t get it to reliably turn off my television by HDMI-CEC or IR. Being bluetooth I couldn’t use my existing universal remote, and I don’t fancy spending $$$ on replacing that with a hub type remote.
  • Signed in to Google. Unfortunately this is expected these days, but you have to be signed in for it to work, it can’t operate as a standalone media player
  • Wifi. While the wifi is convenient, I have wired ethernet at my television, so it would be good to be able to use that. Yes I know you can buy an official wired adapter or go the USB-C dongle route…
  • VLC for Android needs more work. I understand that this version of VLC is still new, but it was too glitchy (eg would jump when scrolling through a list of files, or jump to an odd place when returning from playing a video) for me to use as an (almost) out of the box solution

Returning to Kodi on the Pi

The more I was using it the more I realised that I preferred running Kodi on the Pi as I didn’t need to be signed in, I could just plug it into the wired ethernet at my television. So made sure to return the Chromecast within 30 days for a change of mind refund. The one feature that I will not have with Kodi is the ability to cast a livestream, but I do still have the older Chromecast…

Once I had Kodi running again I started to look into the issues I had with browsing over UPnP. I quickly learned that the recommendation is to simply not use UPnP, to instead share over the network using HTTP, NFS or SMB… Ah, why was I fixated on UPnP? I am constantly accessing the storage on my Linux box from Windows via SMB, how did I not think of using that? And yes it is the right option, the ordering is what you expect, I get file sizes, it even gives preview thumbnails and video resolution/codec information.

So now my remaining issue was the convenience of powering the Pi on and off, there are lots of open source projects based around a Pi, surely someone has designed something I could build? I was also aware that I could add an IR receiver directly to the Pi, that might be better than relying on HDMI-CEC for control.

I was kicking myself again as it didn’t take me long to find the RemotePi Board, an infrared remote controlled power switch for the Raspberry Pi that will work with LibreELEC/Kodi and also give me an IR receiver to control Kodi.

At half the price of the Pi itself there are people I know that would consider this too expensive, but for a ready made solution it is perfect for me so I placed an order. As the pricing was in EUR I assumed it was coming from in Europe, instead they are based in Thailand (it does say this on the ordering/shipping page) and it took three weeks to get here, yay for inconsistencies of international shipping!

The good news is that the RemotePi arrived today and I wasted no time in installing it on the Pi, following the instructions to add the startup/shutdown scripts, telling it to enable the IR receiver for an MCE remote control and then reconfiguring my universal remote control to know about a MCE device.

It is already so much more convenient. I can pick up the remote and select the “Kodi” activity which will turn on the television and the Pi, It takes about 20 seconds to fully boot and I can then browse to a video to watch. Once I am done I can then hit the off button and the remote will turn off the television and tell the Pi to shutdown. Very nice!

but what about…

It would be remiss of me if I did not mention that during all of this there are other media players that I looked up. There are a bunch of cheap Android TV based devices, there are the Amazon Fire ones, there is the Nvidia Shield, there is the Apple TV, etc… Some of these are quite expensive, some are reported to be of poor quality and some are biased towards particular services. For me there is something that feels right about opting for an open source solution, not just that it does what I want for the least money…

My final note is that earlier I mentioned my parents who have a (newer than mine) Samsung TV with apps for ABC iView, SBS on Demand and some others. These apps have been painful in getting updates in the past, so I can imagine at some point I will recommend they they get the Chromecast with Google TV as that does seem to fit their use case quite well.

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The middle mouse button

Sunday, December 27th, 2020 at 03:19pm

My computer mouse of choice is the Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical 1.1A:

I don’t recall when I first started using this mouse, but it was a long long time ago with a white version in 2006 and then black versions from 2008 on. I have tried some other mice, but kept returning to this one. I prefer it so much that at some point I picked up a few of them (new old stock) as spares.

Over the years these have been very reliable for me, typically the fault being with the scroll wheel which is rectified by disassembling the mouse and giving the whole thing a clean. Having the spares meant that I could swap out the mouse immediately, then clean it later.

There has been one fault that a clean doesn’t resolve: when the middle button stops working.

Some people I know don’t think this is a problem, but I use the middle button a lot (second only to the left button) so for me it is a big deal. For example in a web browser to open a link in a new tab do I ctrl/command-click or do I right click and select “open in new tab”? No, I simply middle click on the link…

Good thing I have those spare mice as my first action was to grab one of those from the cupboard. Still doesn’t work. It it is software issue with Windows? Reboot, still doesn’t work. Grab my work Macbook, still doesn’t work. How about Linux? Doesn’t work there either. What about a different spare mouse? Ah…

I then tested the other spare mice and found that it was only those two (the one I had been using and the first spare I tried) that didn’t have a working middle button. Time to open one of them up to see if I could see anything obvious like dirt wedged in the button, nope it all looked good. Having two mice out of action would mean I would be down to one spare and replacements at this time are quite expensive.

While I had the mouse apart I noticed that the switch for the middle button appeared to be the same as the switches for the side buttons, the side buttons that I never use, so what if I unsoldered the switches and swapped them around? It took longer to get the soldering iron set up and find my solder wick, but I was able to restore middle button functionality.

Repeating the procedure on the other broken mouse meant that these two mice are now in the cupboard as spares, not being thrown away.

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An interference coincidence?

Monday, April 8th, 2019 at 07:30pm

Many years ago I started monitoring the power consumption of my house via a ZigBee dongle that communicates with my smart meter. The quick and dirty solution I did at the time stayed in place for a long time, until it started to play up…

The first symptom I noticed was that my script would hang, in itself not that bad, except that I was calling it directly from MRTG… which would cause the entire MRTG polling loop to hang, so I wouldn’t get any monitoring. In response I split the script, one to read the usage to write to a log, and another (called by MRTG) to read the latest entry in the log.

The reading script would still get stuck, so I added a generous timeout and stopped thinking about it. Until I thought it would be a good idea to also drop the usage data onto MQTT for Home Assistant to grab. Nothing wrong with this, except that I upped the frequency from once every five minutes to every minute. Sometimes it would fail for hours, sending an email with the error every minute…

I initially noticed the increase in timeouts around the same time that I upgraded the hardware in my linux box and did a fresh install of Ubuntu. Due to default permission changes I found that I could no longer simply cat the serial port, I needed to connect using Device::SerialPort, so I was thinking that there was something wrong with the usb-serial chipset or the driver.

That was until a few weeks ago, when I upgraded the hardware in my Windows desktop.

For a long time I have been aware of a slight ticking sound coming from that computer, you know the sound of a fan slightly hitting something or being slightly off balance?

The new build went great and although I didn’t really need the upgrade it let me do an upgrade that was required, to my parent’s computer. As I was handing down parts I thought that I could replace the power supply fan instead of buying a whole new power supply, so I powered it up and heard the same noise…

… coming through my speakers.

Oh, this is not a bad fan, this is a failing power supply.

So what does serial port problems in one computer have to do with a bad power supply in another one? Probably nothing, but since replacing that power supply I haven’t had a single timeout error, it is as stable as when I first picked up the adapter. I guess it is possible that the power supply was generating interference at around 2.4GHz…

Another thing I didn’t think was related was that the UPS that these two computers run from had started to shut down. Not in any graceful manner, but with a sudden power off followed by a loud continuous beep. I suppose it is also possible that a bad power supply could also trip the UPS…

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Backing up to someone else’s computer

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018 at 11:20am

Last year I started looking at alternatives to CrashPlan for backups, it is now six months later and I can say that I have gone with both Backblaze and CrashPlan.

As my parent’s computer is the are the more common case of a single computer where everything is backed up automatically there were a couple of options. The prices were essentially the same so I chose BackBlaze purely because I have heard good things about them, the alternatives I didn’t know much about.

For my use case of wanting to select what is backed up as well as being able to backup to external drives I didn’t find an alternative to CrashPlan, they were also offering half price for the first year, so I signed up.

I currently have just over 1TB of photos which took almost a month to upload to CrashPlan. This is on my 100/40 NBN connection which is now reliable unlike earlier in the year, this would have been unthinkable if I were still on ADSL. Of course while the cloud backup was incomplete, my local backups to external drives have always been up to date.

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A replacement for CrashPlan

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017 at 10:16pm

For a number of years I have been using CrashPlan for backups, so it was a bit annoying to find out last week that it will stop working in a year’s time as they taking away the free/home plans and only targeting businesses.

My initial setup involved three computers and two external hard drives:

  • linux box acting as a destination
  • my parents desktop backing up photos/documents/etc over the internet to my linux box
  • my windows desktop backing up photos/records/documents to both the my linux box (which it was sitting next to) and the two external hard drives (one of them kept off-site)

This worked ok, but it had issues. The first (and biggest) being that the upload through my parent’s cable modem could make my adsl connection unusable, so the first change was to pay for a subscription to have my parent’s back up to the cloud. The initial sync of around 100 GB took a while but then worked nicely. (works even nicer now that they have NBN…)

The only issue I had with the linux install was when it failed to update itself. I don’t know how often there were updates, but I know that four times it would get into a loop of downloading the update, failing to install, downloading the update, etc. This would continue until the 10GB root partition would fill up. Each time I would delete the update files, open the app and manually trigger an update.

The pair of external hard drives started out at 500GB, were replaced by a pair of 1TB drives, and then at the end of last year replaced again by a pair of 2TB drives. I keep taking photos, at 25MB per raw file it adds up.

I am also slowly getting around to replacing the current linux box, so I am getting rid of some things to simplify matters. The two external drives have been sufficient, the only trick being remembering to plug one of them in (usually after coming back from taking photos somewhere), letting it sync and then swapping it with the other one which I have been keeping at work.

So now I am being forced to change…

My parent’s desktop is going to be easy as a quick look around shows that backing up a single computer to the cloud is the common use case. Their current subscription expires in February, so I have six months to find an appropriate plan.

Backing up my data isn’t as straightforward, largely due to the quality of internet here in Australia, the reason that I have stuck with a pair of external drives.

My ADSL connection is better than it used to be (almost double the speed and reliability once a tech redid the connections in the junction box out on the pole…), these days around 7000kb/s down and 800kb/s up.

I have 1TB of photos, so over four months for the initial upload to a cloud service. When I take photos I come back with a lot of them, they get culled but the backup is before that. I can easily take 400 photos in a single day, which is 10GB or more than a full day to backup. I can’t see how a cloud service works for me with ADSL.

(But what about NBN? It is available to all of the houses around me, but I’m in a unit which appears to be being left until later… even then I don’t know what tier I am prepared to pay for. I should be able to pay the same as now for 25/5 or $20 more each month for 100/40, these work out to be 5 hours and 30 minutes for that “day” of photos)

As I start to look for a replacement I have been thinking about what I want:

  • local non-cloud and free
  • specify folders to monitor
  • target is multiple external drives
  • service that detects when external drive is connected
  • revision history (not just a basic sync, can recover deleted files)
  • data deduplication (no duplicates when files moved around or renamed)

I have a year until CrashPlan stops working, I wonder what I will find…

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A few more pixels

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016 at 09:20pm

A few months ago I started to notice signs of age on my 24″ display, a solid colour was blotchy, as if the backlight was starting to fail. Oh well, it has given me over ten years of use.

I started to look into a replacement and quickly found that one division of the models is between gaming and non-gaming. For games there were displays with high refresh rates, though the colour range and accuracy wasn’t the best, but they did seem to be on the cheaper side of the scale. The other type typically used “professional” or something about colour in their name, but these were the ones that were coming up on top in reviews of displays for photo/video editing. A downside of the better quality was a higher price, but I got ten years out of the 24″ display, so I need to consider this a long term investment.

Something that I found disappointing was that most displays have settled on a 16:9 aspect ratio. My 24″ was 16:10 which meant a resolution of 1920×1200 pixels. If I got another 24″ display it would likely have a 16:9 aspect ratio which is a resolution of 1920×1080, but the reduction in height was not acceptable. In the 24″ size there were a few with a 2560×1440, yes this is 16:9 but it is greater in both dimensions, but I have briefly used a display of that size/resolution and I found that everything was too small. I know that these days scaling up the interface is a lot better than it used to be, but a 16:9 24″ display would still have a physcially smaller viewing area. This led me to 27″ displays which I found to be only available in 16:9 aspect ratio, but in three resolutions: 1920×1080, 2560×1440, and 3840×2160 (aka 4K). This was a Goldilocks scenario with one being a step down in resolution but larger physically, one that seemed just right, and the final one that was just overkill.

Now that I had a better idea of what type and size of display I wanted it was easier to locate reviews that covered those displays for photo editing. After balancing up the recommended models against price I decided on another Dell (the tipping point was finding a local store that was $200 cheaper than direct from Dell), then I sat on that decision for a while. There ended up being three Dell models I was considering, one released a few years ago, the current model which was similar in price to the earlier one but slightly less well reviewed, and the next model up from last year. My final choice was a UP2716D which I picked up just before Christmas and now my desk looks like this:

Switching to the 27" display

This is the end result of spending all of today of taking everything out, cleaning behind the desk and putting it all back in some kind of order. I do this every couple of years, each time I trying to keep it clean and organised for as long as possible. There are still some boxes to sort through, a tray is miscellaneous stuff and you don’t want to know what is in the drawers…

My old 24″ display had a card reader built into the side, this was very convenient whenever I wanted to transfer photos from my camera, such as when I took the above photo. For now I am using the portable reader that I keep in my camera bag, but I do have a reader in the cupboard that goes in a 3.5″ bay…

Another aside is that for the few days between my impulse purchase of a graphics card and getting the new display was that I was worried that I might have made a mistake. Most of the time the internet says that the maximum resolution of HDMI is 1920×1200, but then later versions of HDMI increased that. All I could find from Dell was that would be the maximum resolution if I used HDMI with the display I wanted to get, I would need to use DisplayPort to use the native 2560×1440 resolution. The new graphics card I got doesn’t have DisplayPort, it has HDMI, VGA, and DVI, so would I have to try to return it and get a different card? Maybe not as other internet searches led me to people listing what resolutions would work between various cards and displays. In the end it worked out fine, but the combination of poor or outdated documentation was annoying.

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A GPU for Lightroom

Sunday, December 18th, 2016 at 11:57am

In the four years since I last upgraded my windows desktop the only hardware change was that I had added hard drives for additional storage. On the software side it is also similar, except newer versions (Windows 10 instead of Windows 7, updated browsers, Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC, etc).

In mid 2015 when Lightroom introduced the ability to use the GPU my initial experience was negative as it broke the develop module. It was detecting the GPU in the onboard video, but was failing to use it properly. It turned out the solution was to install the Intel drivers instead of using the generic Microsoft ones. At the time there were people saying that unless you had a really high resolution display that you shouldn’t bother enabling the GPU, I didn’t notice a different either way so I left it enabled.

I don’t make panoramas that often, but I was glad that there is now merge functionality built into Lightroom, except when it fails. There was one panorama I was trying to merge earlier this year that would fail with an internal error, but it would succeed with the GPU disabled. I only had the default amount of memory allocated to the GPU, but increasing it didn’t help.

I haven’t played games for a long time so the onboard video was sufficient, but a small part of me started to wonder whether adding a graphics card with a decent GPU would be worthwhile. It doesn’t need to be a fancy gaming card, just something better enough than the onboard video.

Last Monday I went along to a Canon Collective workshop that was about shooting panoramas to make into little planets:

Federation Square

When performing the initial merge I found that it would again fail when using the onboard GPU, and then when the GPU was disabled Lightroom would max out the CPU and RAM, failing about half the time. So yesterday I picked up an Nvidia GTX 750 Ti graphics card, the second cheapest card available at local stores, but still rated around 450% better than the onboard GPU.

I don’t notice much difference while adjusting images, but based on what I see in task manager it is using less CPU and memory. However there is a big difference when merging images into the panorama. Where before it would take 15 minutes and all available memory, the same merge now takes around 3 minutes and about half the available memory. So a useful improvement.

The other thing that came out of the panorama workshop was the benefit of a tripod head that lets you pan independently of tilt. The Manfrotto 486RC2 ballhead that I use has one locking action, so to pan I used the kludge of rotating the tripod column. This isn’t ideal so on a whim I checked ebay, within 24 hours I had upgraded the ballhead to the (now discontinued) Manfrotto 488RC2 ballhead. This also came with a spare quick release and plate, which I believe I can use to make an L bracket, which will be a post for another time…

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Some Lightroom things

Saturday, May 10th, 2014 at 11:28pm


Back when I last upgraded my desktop I made the choice to put my “todo” photos on the SSD which I thought gave a significant speed improvement. I was wrong and over time I came to realise that the real speed improvement was on existing images, not any of the new images, they still had a small ‘Loading…’ delay.

Once I got around to looking into it I found the Lightroom Help / Optimize performance page which is a good starting point. These other 10 tips were also helpful.

Apart from tweaking settings such as the preview size, the biggest change to my process is that I intentionally render 1:1 previews. These previews are stored in the cache which is on the SSD. As the photos didn’t benefit from being on the SSD, all my photos are back on to a single drive (a WD Black so decent speeds) which benefits my import process and also the “todo” to “done” move of the photos.

Lens correction by default

A few months ago I started to apply lens correction and removal of chromatic aberration to all of the new photos. For a while I would do this by going to the first image in the import, checking the two boxes and then syncing the settings to the other images.

To automatically turn on the correction there seems to be two common methods, create a preset to use when importing or to change the default develop settings. As I don’t actually use the import workflow I opted for the latter, so from last week any image taken with a Canon 7D will have correction applied.

Convert to DNG

Whether or not to convert RAW files to DNG is one of those questions with no clear answer. Hence why I currently use RAW files, but as an experiment I will convert the photos from my next outing into DNG.

I expect to get a small (but it will add up) benefit from the slightly smaller file (around 2MB per), but the main benefit should be the embedded fast load data. Time will tell…

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A hardware refresh

Sunday, October 7th, 2012 at 11:18pm

Four and a half years ago I upgraded my home Windows desktop. Since then I had added RAM, switched to Windows 7 and replaced the hard drives, however it was still the same computer and was perfectly fine for most of my needs.

But not all, so for a while I had been thinking it was time for an upgrade.

One example of a frustration was the delay of around 10 seconds when loading an image for editing in Lightroom. This was only made worse by my upgrade to the Canon 7D earlier in the year, instead of loading a 10MB RAW file, it now had to load a 20MB raw file. I had been monitoring the disk and CPU usage, and it was clear that this activity was CPU bound.

Given this and some other specific performance issues (plus the feeling that after four years it was due) on Friday I bit the bullet and picked up a replacement motherboard, CPU, RAM and power supply to put in my existing case with my existing hard drives.

So far I have only described a like for like swap of components, with the biggest change having multiple monitor output built into the motherboard. There was one other change which has possibly given the greatest performance improvement: adding an SSD to the mix.

In order to best use the SSD (but without any automatic cache type usage) I changed where I store my data. On the SSD I have:

  • Windows
  • Firefox profile (with its browsing cache)
  • Lightroom catalogue (and its cache) and my “todo” photos.

With this setup Windows only takes a few seconds to load, Firefox loads almost instantly, and (most importantly) opening Lightroom and editing photos is now quick with the 10 second delay gone. Hopefully this will last me for another four years.

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Anyone selling a first generation iPad?

Thursday, April 21st, 2011 at 12:12am

Right now I am only a fraction away from buying an iPad. However, not an iPad 2, but a first generation iPad for a much more reasonable price.

Why? Let me back up a bit…

After moving into my place I did briefly consider putting a television in the kitchen. This would be in addition to the one in the lounge and in addition to my computer. But I decided to be reasonable and I resisted the tempation. The logical place to put a tv would have required an extra power point, plus it would be another place to run a network cable to. So there is no television in the kitchen.

However something that became annoying was that I would be at my computer working on something with video playing in the corner of the screen when I needed to go cook dinner. So I would pause the video, go to the kitchen for 20/30 minutes and then resume the video.

This got me thinking. What if I had a tablet that I could take to the kitchen with me that continued to play the video. My first thought was something that I could redirect the video stream to, but then I started to think about mounting the tablet next to my monitor (freeing up some screen real estate) and playing the video on it all of the time.

This tablet didn’t need to be very fancy. It needed wireless ethernet for connectivity and in addition to playing video a web browser would be handy while watching the television in the lounge.

My first thought was the iPad, but I initially dismissed it because of its price and limited video format support. My second thought was an Android tablet which has better support for formats and playing directly off the network, but they are not as refined as the iPad, yet still as expensive.

Then the iPad 2 came out, so I could consider a first generation iPad to be within my price range and a little investigation found at least two options for streaming video from a server that transcoded it.

Using an iPad borrowed from work I first gave VLC streamer a try, but it was quite fiddly to use and the server component didn’t give feedback and control over how many videos were being transcoded. It was also annoying that it left transcoded chunks behind on disk.

I gave the iPad another try tonight, this time with Air Video which has proven to be a success over the past four hours with a variety of formats including a 1080 mkv. I quite like how it can detect a supported format, can perform live conversion, or can convert in the background. The full version of the app (which lets you see more than a couple of videos per folder) would be worth the couple of dollar purchase price.

So now I am on the hunt for an iPad. Either from someone I know who is upgrading to an iPad 2, or I will turn to eBay…

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Continuing with Linux for home server

Monday, December 6th, 2010 at 11:12pm

Not that long ago I decided that I would be switching to Windows (from Linux) for my home server, specifically running Windows Home Server (WHS). I wasn’t ditching Linux entirely, it would just be running within a VM on that server.

As I said at the time the primary purpose is as a file server. Both as a target for backups and for media. The media becoming more important than before as I will have a television in a lounge room to play it on.

The specific component of WHS that I wanted was called Drive Extender. This is a storage solution where you add the hard drives to a storage pool and you then define folders within that pool. A folder can be set to duplicate its files across multiple drives for redundancy, or to just keep a single copy. Individual folders don’t have limits, whatever free space is available in the storage pool will be used.

In contrast to the other options, where you had to preallocate space and at the beginning set the redundancy level, this is just so flexible. Running out of space? Add another drive. Case not really big enough for that extra drive? Mark one of the smallers ones for removal it the data is copied off it.

I was waiting for WHS version 2. At least I was until they announced that Drive Extender would be dropped. It is the prime reason I was moving toward WHS. Many others agree and if you read further you will find that Microsoft’s reasons are not very well explained.

So, without WHS I am back to Linux. What I am now planning is an updated version of my current server. This means an LTS release of Ubuntu and I will continue to use LVM for the disks, but with a difference.

Currently I have two drives striped for media, then a partition on the primary drive for backups. The current sweet spot for drives is 2TB, so I will get two of them with 500GB of each setup in a mirror for backups, then the remaining space striped for 3TB of space for media. That should be more than enough. For now at least.

The aspect of this that I haven’t finalised is how I setup the mirror. I can partition the drives, RAID them and then setup LVM on top. Or I can just use LVM for the mirroring. Further investigation is required.

In addition to storage I also still intend to use this box for recording broadcast television. While I am quite impressed with DV Scheduler, it is no longer suitable as it runs under Windows. While I have yet to look into it, I suspect that MythTV backend will be the solution there.

The other feature of WHS that I was interested in was the ability to perform a complete workstation backup to it. I can continue using my robocopy based method as I know that it works, but that is only backing up data. If I have a drive failure I will need to spend a non-trivial amount of time to reinstall. But I have time to investigate other options (including the backup built into Windows 7).

I will continue to write about this (in between house stuff) but I actually need to act fairly soon as I have been out of space on the current server for a week now. It’s not good.

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Musings on a media player

Saturday, November 20th, 2010 at 10:53pm

Settlement for my place is coming up soon, in two and a bit weeks. My current plan is to move the big items (bed, drawers, corner desk) in on the following Saturday, three weeks from today. Although not high on the list of priorities, I have been spending a fair amount of time researching my options for a media centre. While the television I will have initially is a CRT hand-me-down, I expect to have something more modern with HDMI inputs.

At a high level I have been considering three option types: small dedicated device, XBMC running on a low power PC, or Windows Media Center on a PC.

All three of these options will allow me to play media from the network on the television, while the third option allows addition of a TV tuner so that broadcast TV can be recorded directly on the media centre. Also the PC based options can include a DVD (maybe Blueray?) drive for playback from discs.

The small dedicated device that it at the top of my list is the WD TV Live. I know at least three people with it (they are happy with it) and it could be a nice simple cheap solution. It may be possible to use third party firmware and a USB DVD drive to add on DVD playback.

The low power PC running XBMC would be based on something like the ASRock ION 330HT. This specific unit has the nice advantage of coming with a media centre remote that is fully supported, however the much larger disadvantage is the significantly higher price tag. XMBC does have additional functionality over the WD TV Live in regard to having a library of media instead of just being file based, but I cannot see myself using that enough to justify the extra cost.

The PC running Windows Media Centre would be based on common desktop PC hardware, from what I can tell the cost might be comparable to a ready-made low power PC. With a TV tuner I could directly record broadcast TV, and as it is on top of Windows 7, I could also switch out to a web browser or any other installed application.

Until today I was going to head down the Windows Media Centre path, but I am now considering the WD TV Live again. It will work out of the box and it is very cheap, so cheap that I would have no problem replacing it later with a Windows Media Centre box. It also has a composite video out so I could use it with the hand-me-down CRT television.

After bookmarking it a few weeks ago, today I got around to having a look at DV Scheduler. This is one of many alternatives I found for recording TV in the background of a Windows box. I had begun researching that as my new ‘server’ will be Windows based, so why not have the computer that is on all the time anyway handle the recording?

I know I could have been doing that for a while now under Linux with MythTV, but I am lazy and I wanted something that would install and just work. I had looked at other Windows based recording (eg the TV engine from MediaPortal) but I hadn’t been able to get them working properly. DV Scheduler on the other hand just worked once I installed it. Another option would be to record in the same way I currently record TV, using the software that came with the tuner card, but that doesn’t have a web interface or the ability to schedule recordings based on a search of an electronic program guide.

In the next few weeks I may change my mind again, but a followup post can be expected…

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More Windows, less Linux

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010 at 09:28pm

For many years I have run two desktop computers at home, a Windows desktop as my primary machine and a Linux box as a ‘server’.

This Linux ‘server’ started its life out routing internet. Over time it also became an (internal) web server, a file server, a mail server, etc. Over that same period of time it has stopped being some of those things. Also, for a period in the middle the services were split across two boxes, but then consolidated back to one, preston.

Right now core network services are handled by my router (WRT-54G running DD-WRT) so what services do I need:

  • Mail – but I am again considering moving that into the cloud
  • File sharing – both for media files and as a target for backups
  • Web server – mainly these days for internal interfaces for a variety of tools I have made, it has been a long time since I used the dev version of this site
  • Off-peak downloads – you know what this means
  • A variety of scripts – eg automatically downloading webcomics

Mail can be excluded as I will move it into the cloud, which makes file sharing as the next most important service.

Currently preston has 640GB for media and 260GB for backups. My windows desktop has over 2TB. This includes the primary copy of all my photos (around 200GB) but it also includes over 600GB that should be on the file server, but there wasn’t enough space.

It has been in the back of my mind for a while to at least upgrade the drives in preston. But that means going to SATA drives. So I would either need to get a SATA controller (preston is an aging P4 2.4 with no onboard SATA) or get a new motherboard/cpu/ram. I had decided to update shaun, my Windows desktop, to get two year old hardware. But since my recent signing of some paperwork I have put that on hold.

Why? Because I am quite likely to build a media centre in my new place. How do I make the media centre? This could be a computer with TV tuners running Windows Media Centre or MythTV, it could be a MythTV frontend with TV tuners in the backend, or it could be a simple device to play media from the network.

Due to ease of setup and use I am leaning towards Windows Media Centre. This means the backend only needs to be a file server. So how do you build a file server these days? With Linux it is still manual setup and apart from ZFS FUSE, the RAID options are still block level. I am drawn to the disk management that Windows Home Server offers. You chuck disks in and then at the filesystem level you can configure redundancy. Need more space? Just add another disk to the pool and it works it out.

But what about my scripts and other tools that run under Linux? I am not going to run them under Windows and I still want to have a Linux box available. But nothing says that the Linux box cannot be a virtual machine.

Some of the other feature of Home Server (eg backups) are also quite appealing. But for now I will wait for V2 to be released, sometime this year.

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SyncToy is dangerous for backups

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010 at 08:42pm

For a long time I have been using Microsoft’s SyncToy to backup data on my Windows boxes over the network to my Linux box. Every few weeks (in reality it was months) I would also use it to copy that same data to an external drive for the off-site backup.

Not any more.

When I first started using SyncToy I was satisfied that it was copying all files. Recently I discovered one of two things: back in the beginning I didn’t check properly, or the behaviour of SyncToy has changed since then.

So what is the problem?

The SyncToy setting I have been using (at least on the recent versions) is ‘Echo’ which is described as:

“New and updated files are copied left to right. Renames and deletes on the left are repeated on the right.”

At face value this is what I wanted, a mirror of the local files to a network share. Unfortunately I didn’t take this description literally enough, SyncToy will ONLY echo changes that are made on the ‘left’ side. What I need (for example when rotating through external hard drives) is a proper sync that analyses both source and destination to determine the differences that need to be copied (you know, like rsync).

So if for some reason files on the destination (‘right’ in SyncToy terminology) go missing or get corrupted, SyncToy doesn’t care. In the case where I am using a pair of identical external drives that I swap between home and work every couple of weeks, data that is copied to one drive is then not copied to the other drive a few weeks later.

What really confuses me is a step that the latest version of SyncToy no longer performs, which is how I noticed this (and then found that many others already knew). It used to be that when the sync ran (immediately after login) I could see it walking the destination file tree, both via network activity and in the samba logs. Why? If SyncToy doesn’t care about the destination, what is the point of this scan? Obviously they figured out that it was redundant and it was removed.

So what have I done?

Ideally I wanted a realiable win32 port of rsync that didn’t require me to install Cygwin. But without that I started looking into alternatives and I settled on Robocopy. Yes, another tool from Microsoft. For XP it is obtained from the Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit, but it is standard for Vista and 7.

Robocopy is a command line tool (there is a GUI available) which is fine with me as I want to script it. Which I have done and I now have two scripts. One to run at login which backs up local data across the network, and a second script which backs up the same data to an external hard drive. This second script also pulls other data (such as my email, etc) from the Linux box to the external hard drive.

One important option that I need to specify is /FFT which tells it to ‘assume FAT File Times’ as apparently the FAT file times are not as accurate as you would expect. But I’m copying from NTFS to ext3, FAT or FAT32 is not involved, but in between those two file systems is Samba, whose SMB implementation has similar time accuracy problems as FAT.

It has now been a week and the backups are working correctly. Hopefully it stays that way.

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Goodbye to my precious

Sunday, December 13th, 2009 at 10:04pm

Five and a half years ago I bought a 12″ PowerBook. It was a brilliant little machine that I used a lot in the first few years. But over time I used it less and less, until I didn’t even bother taking it to work with me. At that point all I was using it for was to sync my iPhone, but a few months ago I stopped doing even that when I started syncing contacts and calendar over the air to Google.

So the other day I finally made the decision … the decision to sell it. I probably will only get a few hundred dollars, but it is now up on eBay.

Two conferences have proven that at the moment all I need when away from home is my iPhone, but I’m thinking that if I do need a laptop again I’ll probably get some form of netbook.

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A year with Windows Vista

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009 at 10:19pm

It has now been a year since I started using Windows Vista on my home desktop. My verdict: it’s not as bad as people say.

But I can’t think of anything in Vista that I actually use in comparison with XP. My typical complement of applications include Firefox, Thunderbird, Putty and VLC. I could even say that if it weren’t for the comparative ease of things TV recording, video editing, DVD burning with windows applications, I could even be running Linux.

So, apart from my initial issue with DVD burning and the later issue with Foxit Reader, it has been solid. I put this down to running it on new hardware (plenty of RAM) and keeping the system simple by not installing unnecessary programs. In fact keeping the system simple is advice than can be applied to any operating system.

However, it is not without some annoyances:

  • Moving, copying and deleting files through explorer is slow. Especially over the network or on USB drives. It isn’t that the transfer speed is slow, it is the pre and post actions that take ages. In comparison performing the same actions from the command line are quick, in particular deleting files. This led me to find TeraCopy which is a must for Vista, it is also handy under XP.
  • I regularily get ‘ghost’ files. These are files that I have deleted or moved through explorer, but hang around (except are not readable) until a reboot.

In short there is nothing wrong with a properly setup Vista install, but if I hadn’t been given a free (but legit) copy of Vista I wouldn’t have bothered.

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Foxit Reader and Vista’s User Account Control

Sunday, April 26th, 2009 at 04:43pm

For a while now I have been using Foxit Reader for PDF files instead of Adobe Acrobat, primarily because it doesn’t have all of the bloat.

However for a lot of that time whenever I opened a PDF I would get the User Account Control prompt from Vista asking me to authoise the action. I did look into it when it first started happening, but wasn’t able to find a solution.

Instead of being in HTML, the road rules are only available in PDF and the UAC prompt became really annoying when I was looking up the rules for my previous post.

An upgrade to the latest version didn’t fix the problem, so I looked into it again and found a thread – Foxit Reader and Vista’s UAC – in the Foxit forums and post #16 gave the following:

  1. Find FoxitReader.exe in the Program Files folder (C:�Program Files�Foxit Software�Foxit Reader�)
  2. Right-Click on the Foxit Reader.exe file and select Properties.
  3. Under Compatibility tab, under Privilege Level, click Show settings for all users.
  4. Uncheck Run this program as an administrator.

I no longer get the UAC prompt when opening a PDF.

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My email setup

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009 at 08:25pm

It is now the end of a five day (one more than most others as we get Easter Tuesday) long weekend. Apart from relaxing and watching a lot of tv, I did manage to do some cleaning up.

In the two and a half years since I shifted my email to my Ubuntu box I have been meaning to post about it (one of the unfinished posts). Over the weekend I came across some notes that I had made when setting up everthing under Ubuntu (from packages with minimal configuration), one page of which is a diagram.

This seemed like a good starting point so here it is:

Diagram of personal email setup

After all this time the setup has not changed, apart from the addition of another client in the form of my iPhone.

So if someone were to send me an email message:

  • It is delivered to a mailbox on my hosting provider (possibly going through a forward)
  • Fetchmail runs as a daemon and polls the mailbox every five minutes and delivers to the local postfix
  • Postfix determines the message is for a local mailbox and hands it to procmail
  • Procmail writes it into a Maildir mailbox, possibly running it through SpamAssassin first

My other source of messages is from scripts (such as rss2email) that run on the same box, these are also delivered to postfix and then to procmail.

If I want to read the messages all of the access is through the Dovecot IMAP server, only configured for SSL, which works nicely for Thunderbird, my iPhone and SquirrelMail (which I rarely use).

When sending a message, Thunderbird on my desktop is configured to send it through the previously mentioned Postfix. If it is addressed to an external address the message is handed off to my ISP’s SMTP server for delivery (I would prefer to deliver it directly, but their network configuration prevents that). A copy is placed in my sent folder over IMAP.

The fact that none of this has changed in over two years shows how stable this has been for me, although there have actually been some internal changes:

  • Since OSDC last December I have been filtering all of the messages from rss2email into a separate folder. This enables me to process news less often than other messages.
  • I no longer have a copy of all the SPAM messages I have received in the last four years. This was 2.6GB of messages that I never did anything with except a couple of times to check what addresses I was receiving the SPAM through. Now once I have run sa-learn on the messages that I have manually filtered and reviewed how I was getting the SPAM, I will simply delete them.

Now, after finally posting about it, I have another post to write: about whether or not to ditch this setup and outsource it to the cloud. Actually that is two posts as I have another (long) post in mind about how much to trust the cloud.

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Tether Nokia 6120 classic to OS X for data

Thursday, March 19th, 2009 at 07:41pm

When I am on-call for work I am required to remain within 30 minutes of a suitable internet connection. I am on-call this weekend, but I was planning to go for a ride along the Federation Trail.

That would be a problem, until a mobile broadband card was suggested and I remembered that we had data enabled on the on-call phone. So I could just take my PowerBook along with me.

The steps to get online through a Nokia 6120 classic on my 12″ Apple PowerBook (running OS X 10.5.6):

  1. Connect phone via an A to mini-B USB cable
  2. Phone should be in ‘PC Suite’ mode
  3. Open System Preferences > Network
  4. Two Nokia 6120 classic interfaces were detected. (each time I connected it is detected two more…)
  5. Select the first of the new interfaces
  6. Click Advanced
  7. Set vendor to Nokia, then the only model available was GPRS (GSM/3G)
  8. I entered Telstra.wap as the APN after looking at the existing phone settings, and left CID as 1.
  9. OK, Apply, and Connect
  10. Browse the intertubes

One caveat for these instructions is that data was already setup correctly on the phone, I did not have to do that.

It should also be possible to set this up over Bluetooth instead of USB, but I know this works and it’s not as if I will need it very often. I just need to remember three things: the phone, my powerbook and the USB cable.

The connection was surprisingly responsive and I have to say that the Telstra Next G network does appear to be quite nice (they sponsored StixCampNewstead last weekend with a connection), although I would never pay for it myself.

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A puzzling router problem

Friday, November 14th, 2008 at 07:25pm

This morning when I was woken up by the thunderstorms I noticed that there must have been a brief power outage as my stereo had reset. So I checked Preston, my linux server, and found while that it had been interrupted, it had restarted without any problems.

But I didn’t have internet.

The router was still up and the cable modem had all the normal lights on so it looked ok. I just could access any external sites. I case there was a problem with the cable network because of the weather that just wasn’t being shown I power cycled both of them.

When I checked it again the cable modem had reconnected and the router was running, but the router hadn’t been assigned an IP address. That’s not right, but I had to go to work and I hoped that it was just a problem with the DHCP server that would be fixed by the time I got home.

It wasn’t, and another reboot didn’t fix it.

Against the possibility that something was wrong with the router I connected my desktop directly to the cable modem. This worked which indicated there was nothing wrong with the cable network. So I tried the router again, it didn’t work.

In case the problem was just with the DHCP client in the router I tried setting the connection details manually. This still didn’t work.

The cable modem only accepts one client MAC address at a time, so each time I changed between my desktop and the router I needed to power cycle the cable modem. To save time I had the modem clone the MAC address of my desktop. This made it work. Yes, this doesn’t make sense.

After testing all the combinations again (including resetting the cable modem to defaults) I foudn that when using the router’s own MAC address no traffic gets through. However if I have it clone another address, even one I make up, it all works as before.

This setup has worked fine for a couple of years, what changed this morning?

I’m puzzled.

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Chrome is not for me

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008 at 08:16pm

After all of the talk over the last day and so, I decided to have a look at Chrome, Google’s web browser.

It is nice, but I’m going to stick with Firefox. Mainly because the bits that are better are overshadowed by the lack of RSS support.

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Don’t run SATA optical drives under AHCI

Sunday, July 6th, 2008 at 05:43pm

One of the first things I did when building my new computer was to switch the SATA controller to AHCI. You know, because it is supposed to be better than the IDE emulation mode.

It wasn’t, at least for me…

Shortly after getting it all up and running I found that the system would regularily lock up. But only when burning a DVD which led to a lot of coasters. Thinking it was a driver problem I made sure I was running the latest ones, which partially fixed the problem. Now the burn would still fail, but the system wouldn’t lock up. Instead the drive would just disconnect.

Now I thought it was a hardware problem so I tried different cables, different power connectors and even a different drive (but still a Pioneer). The problem didn’t go away.

At first I researched problems with SATA and optical drives. Many pages ended up pointing to fix (KB928253) that seemed promising. But the fix for that was included in SP1, which I was already running, so I turned to another possibility that involved deleting the UpperFilter and LowerFilter registry entries (KB314060). This seemed like it might be relevant as I had had problems with installing burning software. But continuing the trend, this also didn’t work.

Last weekend I decided to do a fresh install. Partly to see if that would fix the problem, but mostly so I could start with a good install that I hadn’t experimented with. At first I thought this worked. Until the second DVD I tried to burn.

Which brought me to a solution I had discounted. During my research I had found pages talking about how SATA optical drives don’t behave properly under AHCI and the fix was to run them under IDE emulation. I couldn’t see why a recent SATA optical drive wouldn’t work properly under the native SATA mode, haven’t they bothered to implement the spec properly? Or maybe the controller doesn’t?

It has now been a week since I changed back to IDE emulation mode and it as been stable. I haven’t noticed any difference in performance so I’m not really sure what the fuss about AHCI being better is all about.

Aparrently there are motherboards that let you run part of the SATA controller in AHCI and part in IDE emulation. My board, an ASUS P5K Pro, does not support that. But I don’t think that would have affected my choice.

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Maybe it is time for a new phone

Friday, June 13th, 2008 at 09:17pm

I have had my current mobile phone, a Sony Ericsson T610, for well over four years now. While it has served me well with syncing with iCal and Address Book on my PowerBook, I have needed to look up sites when away from a computer.

Although that would be possible with this phone, is isn’t practical, nor has it been cost effective.

The 3G iPhone that was announced earlier in the week changes this, as I would happily pay $199 for the 8GB model. The sticking point would be the contract options, both duration and monthly costs.

Assuming that the cost is acceptable (I currently average less than $20 so I don’t know what I would accept), could I just switch?

I think so as I could simply sync with my PowerBook where I currently have my contacts stored in Address Book and I (sort of) use iCal as my calendar. It seems that I could simply point the phone at my IMAP server and browse web sites. Photos, songs and music I don’t really care about as I would be using it as a smart phone, not a media player with phone function.

But what would that mean for the future of my PowerBook? Earlier in the year I realised that I didn’t really use it anymore, let alone need to lug it back and forth to work every day. In the situation above I would need to keep using it, purely as a place to store my calendar and address book.

As July 11 approaches more information about the costs should become available and I will, in the background, keep investigating my options.

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Returning to Intel (and trying Vista)

Sunday, May 25th, 2008 at 03:13pm

Yesterday I upgraded my Windows desktop with a new processor (a shiny Core 2 Duo, motherboard, RAM, hard drive, DVD burner and power supply (actually swapping around the one I got for my linux box). What didn’t change was the case, the second hard drive and the TV tuner card.

The first significant thing about this is that I have been running the previous processor and motherboard, an AMD Athlon XP 2600+, for almost five years (23 July 2003 to be precise). I can remember a time when computers moved so fast that they were pretty much unworkable after a few years. This shows that to actually do things (except the latest games) you do not need the latest and greatest hardware.

The second significant thing is that I also made the jump up to Vista. After I turned off some of the bigger annoyances (google is your friend for this) it appears to be quite workable. On the old system this would have been a nightmare.

When I stopped to think about it I realised that while my linux boxes have all had Intel processors (Pentium 90, Pentium 233 MMX, Pentium 3 667, Celeron 1.7, and the current Pentium 4 2.4) this is the first Intel processor in my Windows desktop since the first computer I bought on my own, a Pentium 133 in 1996. After that I had a single Cyrix processor (166) followed by a series of AMD processors (K6-2 300, K6-2 250, Duron 650, Athlon XP 1800+, to the Athlon XP 2600+).

I also have to decide what to do with the old components which are enough to make a perfectly workable system. My previous method of using them to upgrade my parents computer doesn’t work since I made their computer an ex-lease small form factor desktop.

I am also now thinking about whether to upgrade Preston, my linux server, as well. In addition to the performace increase, properly supported SATA ports will be a necessity the next time I get around to upgrading the storage.

Meanwhile I will return to installing programs, but only as I need to use them.

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A use for that display stand

Sunday, March 16th, 2008 at 09:48pm

20 months ago I purchased a stand for my 24″ display but didn’t end up using it. For 9 months it has sat on my floor and before that it was being used by a friend on a 17″ display.

When I got the 24″ display I moved my old 19″ CRT (with scratches all over the surface) to my mum’s computer. Today I finally got around to replacing that with a nice Samsung 19″ LCD, but after setting it up I found that the stock stand was pretty hopeless.

Yes! A use for that stand.

While writing this post I discovered that it is two years to the day since I started this whole saga by getting the Dell display. It is still going strong.

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Fixing a whine by replacing a drive

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008 at 10:47pm

For the past few months the primary 120GB drive in Preston has been making a whining sound. It was gradually getting louder and even getting really annoying for short periods.

Back when I last refreshed the storage drives in Preston I was left with a pair of 160GB drives. One went into my windows box while the other went into an external case that I intended to use for backups. Even though I did find an external case with an internal power supply, I have yet to get one. Which means the the 160GB in the external case has had very little use in the past 15 months.

At the end of last year I refreshed the drives in Shaun, my windows box. From this I ended up with a 250GB drive that I put into the external case, freeing up the 160GB again.

Tonight I finally got fed up with the whine and I decided to swap out the whining 120GB drive by following one of many sets of instructions that I found after a search. Specifically the second response to this question, modified as appropriate.

For my future reference I entered the following after adding the new drive (as /dev/hdb) and booting into single user via one of the ‘Recovery’ boot options:

(three data partitions: /, /home, /backup)

$ fdisk -l
$ cfdisk /dev/hdb
$ mke2fs -j /dev/hdb1
$ mke2fs -j /dev/hdb3
$ mke2fs -j /dev/hdb4
$ mkswap /dev/hdb2
$ cd /
$ mount /dev/hdb1 /mnt
$ find . -xdev | cpio -padm /mnt
$ mount /dev/hdb3 /mnt/home
$ cd /home
$ find . -xdev | cpio -padm /mnt/home
$ cp -a /dev/* /mnt/dev/
$ cd /
$ chroot /mnt
$ mount -t proc none /proc

At this point I followed the instructions for installing GRUB on the new drive. Once I pulled out the old drive I found that the new one wouldn’t boot. Putting the old drive back in (now as /dev/hdb) I told the BIOS to boot from it which got me back into single user mode (boot loader from old drive, but new drive for partitions). I then found another set of instructions which told me to use the following which worked:

$ grub-install /dev/hda

I purposely didn’t copy the 60GB of backups from other computers in the house (mostly photos) between drives as their regular processes will copy it back if I leave them on overnight.

Despite warnings to the contrary, I didn’t have an issue with GRUB and the UUID of the drive as I am still running Ubuntu 6.06 LTS, If I was running 6.10 or later I believe I would have had an extra step to perform.

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Even more failed fans

Friday, October 19th, 2007 at 07:46pm

After the failure of the rear 120mm fan in preston I ordered two replacement fans. One as a replacement and another as a spare.

But where did I get them? Initially I was looking at the site for a Melbourne based supplier of PC modding gear. The cheapest ‘low noise’ fan they has was AU$15.90, but postage was another AU$10. On the site for a popular Sydney based PC parts dealer a similar fan was at a similar price of AU$15.40. But that included postage. It should be obvious which one I went with.

Now, it was when I was installing the new fan that I noticed that the two fans in the power supply had also failed. For most of the week the only fans operating in the case were the front 120mm (low flow) and the CPU fan. I had been wondering where the hot component smell was still coming from.

So what to do? With a working rear 120mm fan enough air is drawn through the power supply to keep it cool. But this could be an opportunity to replace it with one that has removable cables that would reduce the clutter inside the case.

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More fan failures

Sunday, October 14th, 2007 at 05:38pm

Following on from the failure of the fan in my UPS I discovered that the 120mm fan in the back of preston has also failed. Considering that I got this fan along with a bunch of other random parts a long time ago (ie I didn’t get it new) it is actually surprising that it has lasted this long.

Digging through the cupboard I found another fan that it was a simple matter to swap with the failed one. I also took the opportunity to clean the 120mm fan and filter that is on the front of the case. It was almost solid with dust that had been accumulated over the past year.

One of the many things that has been on my list (only in my head, I should really give Hiveminder another go) was to give the system a once over in regards to dust and cooling. Right now I’m going to order some new (quite) fans and possibly a fanbus for greater control.

Related to this is that I also disconnected my systems from the UPS. A week ago there was a brief power flicker when I was out. Instead of keeping the systems up the UPS shut down. Then this afternoon the UPS decided to shut down for no (apparent) reason. This is where I step up my research into what UPS to get, in particular the linux support.

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Internal power on an external case does exist

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007 at 09:47am

Earlier in the year I wanted an external hard drive that did not have an external power brick. I even acquired an old SCSI case, into which I was planning to fit the circuit board and power brick from a cheap external case.

Now, thanks to Zazz! I have found an external case with a built in power supply that actually seems to be available: a Sarotech Hardbox.

However, there is an interesting issue. The price.

  • Zazz has the drive case and a 400GB Samsung hard drive for a total of AU$169.90 (and AU$12.90 postage).
  • At the local computer parts places a 400GB drive currently goes for around AU$130.
  • So that would be another AU$40 for the case which is what I have seen at (the now defunct) swap meets for the ‘one touch backup’ external cases.

However a quick search online for places in Australia selling the Sarotech Hardbox brings up prices of at least AU$90. It actually makes the Zazz! deal tempting, although I do prefer Seagate or Western Digital over Samsung…

At least I know know that there is something available. But I probably wouldn’t get one unless the price is below AU$50.

Update: Further searching turned up the case for AU$47.50 and AU$10 shipping. I should get onto a friend and see if he can get it wholesale…

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The smell of hot metal

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007 at 10:18pm

This morning the fan in my UPS (that I got for free) failed.

When I got up there was a strong ‘hot metal’ smell near my computer room, but it wasn’t coming from preston, my linux server. This evening while I was emptying the bin I noticed that the UPS was unusually warm as its internal fan appeared to have failed. A spare 92mm fan, some double sided tape, a bunch of molex connectors later and the temperatiure is dropping. Albeit in a fairly noisy manner.

For some time I have been planning on buying a new UPS and it looks like I need to move that up. Unfortunately the 259 day (8 and a half months) uptime of preston (since the big power outage) is under threat.

Although that uptime was also under threat by my other long standing plan to rearrange my computers which included finally getting rid of gromit which has been shut down for almost a year.

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The power of the command line

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007 at 02:24pm

Twice in the past few days I have found that my best solution for the problem was command line tools under Linux.

First was some image manipulation:

My mother has been preparing a (physical) album from the digitial photos they took on their trip to China earlier in the year. In order to fit more photos in she was looking at collage programs so she could combine a number of photos into one print that could then be cut up. Unfortunately none of the programs could handle the simple task of combining photos, they all assumed a freeform layout.

The command line solution? The append option of ImageMagick. Once my mother has worked out which photos she wants I will write a shell script to semi-automate the process of appending a pair of images:

convert -append 1.jpg 2.jpg final.jpg

I may even take it a step further and use PerlMagick, the Perl API for ImageMagick, to make it easier to automate more complex manipulations such as cropping, resizing and rotation.

Second was some video manipulation:

I have a set of avi videos that I had been unable to archive as the total filesize was slightly bigger than a single sided DVD-R disc. I couldn’t easily chop the end off each video to reduce the size as the audio was using a variable bitrate as I would first have to convert the audio to a constant bitrate in a multistep process.

The command line solution? Transcode, a suite of command line utilities for transcoding video and audio. The following command converts the audio stream of the avi to be 64kbit/sec MP3 while leaving the video untouched:

transcode -i input.avi -P 1 -N 0x55 -b 64 -o output.avi

I couldn’t detect any difference in the quality of the audio and it had the pleasant side effect of reducing the file size enough for my purposes. A quick shell script allowed me to batch process an entire directory of videos.

Also, these were both installed on my linux box from the command line:

apt-get install imagemagick
apt-get install transcode

It is nice when it all comes together.

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Where are the internal power supplies?

Friday, May 4th, 2007 at 08:12pm

A few weeks ago Thomas Hawk posted about using external hard drives to back up photos. The post and the comments that followed provide a lot of good ideas and advice, but none of them address a fundamental issue I have with external USB drives:

  • They use an external power supply.

I have problems with this:

  • The power supply is an additional part that must be carried with the drive. This reduces the convenience of the drive unless there is a power supply at each location the drive is to be used.
  • The pins on the power connector are too fragile. Between myself and people I know there are at least a half dozen times where a drive has become useless because the connector or the socket became faulty.
  • The power supply adds to the clutter if the drive needs to be connected for an extended period of time.

A few years ago, before USB, the option for external drives was SCSI and those cases came with internal power supplies. Simply connect an IEC power lead and the SCSI cable and the drive was ready to go.

Why can’t that be the case for USB cases? You could transport a single item which could be used anywhere that had a standard power cable and a standard USB cable.

I can think of two possible solutions which both involve sacrificing a USB drive case:

  • Fit the hard drive, USB interface and the (previously) external power adapter inside another case.
  • Fit the USB interface inside a SCSI hard drive case in place of the SCSI connector.

For now I’m just going to keep my eye out for cheap SCSI cases on eBay.

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When ‘off’ isn’t off

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007 at 08:40pm

As part of the push to reduce energy usage at work we were able to borrow an energy meter so we could see first hand the usage of various appliances.

The most common LCD display we have is the HP 1702. At full brightness it uses 30.2W while at half brightness it uses 21.4W. These numbers are not that surprising, neither is the standby usage of 1.7W. What did surprise us is that when the screen is ‘off’ it still consumes 1.6W. The power needed to monitor the soft power switch is only slightly less than the power needed to watch for a video signal and to light the orange LED.

The other displays we have (HP 1740 and HP L1706) were similar with off/standby values of 1.0W/1.1W and 0.8W/0.9W.

So should we bother turning these displays off? The only way to have significantly less power consumption than putting them in standby is to switch them off (or unplug them since the points in the partitions do not have switches) at the power point.

Next week we should be able to borrow the meter for longer which means that some of us will be able to take it home for personal tests.

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It’s clock adjustment time

Sunday, March 25th, 2007 at 09:37pm

Today marks the end of daylight saving time.

As well as simply changing most clocks back an hour there are some devices that need special attention. One of these is my phone which I synchronise with iCal. The trick there is to not use the summer/wintertime setting the phone has. Instead I manually change the timezone back and forth between +1000 and +1100. At least I remembered to do that this time which saved a few hours.

Today also marks the day on which I need to start seriously reviewing the lights on my bicycle. I actually started this a few weeks ago with the purchase of some new LED based lights through eBay which allowed me to buy some Cat Eye lights at a third of the retail price. All I really need to do is work out how to mount the new rear light and how I want to use the front light in conjunction with my existing front lights.

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Shedding power

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007 at 09:29pm

This afternoon there was a mass power outage that affected most of the state.

So how did this affect me?

Firstly it made the ride home interesting as I pass through a couple of major intersections that turned into a free-for-all as there was no power for the traffic lights. I had one near miss while crossing Ferntree Gully Road when a car decided to floor it through two moving lanes of trucks…

Secondly I was able to see how long the UPS I got for free would last which I can determine from the MRTG logs on preston (my linux box that was the only device running from the UPS):

  • My router last responded at 4:10PM. This gives me a five minute window (until 4:15PM) for when the power went out.
  • The last uptime entry (i graph the system uptime in seconds) was at 16:55PM, again with the five minute window.

This means that the UPS powered preston for between 40 and 50 minutes until the batteries ran flat. Once I move the router and cable modem onto the UPS I should easily get 30 minutes of runtime which is more than ample to handle most of the blackouts I have experienced. If shaun, my windows desktop, was also running I would be surprised if I get 10 minutes…

And what was the uptime? 8,209,932 seconds which is just over 95 days. I think this is the third longest uptime for preston (it wouldn’t have been so high without the UPS riding me through some small outages) with the longer times being 115 and 105 days. In comparison I never exceeded 100 days on gromit, my old linux box.

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Second time’s the charm

Sunday, December 31st, 2006 at 03:46pm

Two months ago I failed in an attempt to switch my internet routing from Gromit, my trusty but aging linux box, to my Linksys WRT54G router. A few days ago I tried again. Unfortunately I encountered the same issues as before: difficulty establishing connections.

Then I came across a page on the DD-WRT Wiki talking about slowdown issues and how to fix them. From this page I realised that I had completely missed the display and settings related to the maximum number of IP connections. Even with Azureus sitting idle there were at least 400 connections. Considering that the default limit is 512 it is not hard to see how it may be the cause of my connection troubles.

A quick change later (maximum connections up from 512 to 4096, timeout on both TCP and UDP down from one hour to ten minutes) and all is well. So far I have been running with these settings for a day now and if I have no problems until next weekend I shall be able to disconnect Gromit and reorganise the desk, in particular the cabling.

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Lose some, win some

Monday, December 18th, 2006 at 07:29pm

The Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh that I spotted on eBay last week finished today. I was the winning bidder for a few seconds and it ended up going for over AU$1000, a few hundred more than I was willing to pay.

On the bright side my order of television DVDs arrived today after a long wait:

This adds up to over a hundred hours of viewing. I hope I get through them by March.

I also bought myself a new SD card for my camera. As well as doubling the capacity the 2GB SanDisk Ultra II Plus card that I got has a built in USB connector. This means that I can easily copy photos off (or other files onto) the card on any computer with a USB port.

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Problematic router

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006 at 06:24pm

Since I switched over to my WRT54G router a week and a half ago I have been experiencing issues regarding outgoing connections, the most noticeable symptom being three quarters of the web sites timing out. Of these I could simply hit refresh and all would be well for a time but the remainder would take a while to access. Once the connection was established all was well and it appeared that I was getting faster speeds than before (one tranfer that used to max out at 600kB/sec was getting almost 1MB/sec). That didn’t help my web browsing which can establish a dozen connections for a single page.

Last weekend I tried looking into this (the word ‘connection’ can be used in too many ways in regard to a router) and didn’t have much luck except for some sites that talked about problems with Microsoft Vista and stateful firewalls. So I turned off the stateful firewall and for about five minutes all was well. But I am not sure the improvement wasn’t just from rebooting the router…

Since I only shut down the machine that used to be my router (and it was still in place as I didn’t reorganise my desk as planned) it was a simple matter of switching the cable from the cable modem back and turning it on.

The result?

Problem free browsing.

I have a bookmarks folder of fifteen sites that at least once a day I middle click on in order to load them all up in tabs within Firefox. A single middle click and a minute later (some of the sites are slow) they were all fully loaded (including all images) without a single timeout.

It is a conundrum as I quite liked having a dedicated device for the core network functions of internet gateway, dhcp and dns. I will have to investigate further with the current firmware the router is running as well as looking into another firmware or even another router…

(I mention another firmware or another router as the web interface itself of the router was timing out on one in five pages which made configuration annoying…)

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Shutting down machines

Sunday, October 22nd, 2006 at 03:41pm

Yesterday I moved my mail setup to my newly reconstructed linux box (more about my postfix, procmail, dovecot, fetchmail and spamassassin solution later) and this afternoon I moved the core network functions of DHCP, DNS and internet gateway over to my WRT54G router (running the DD-WRT firmware). These were the last two services my trusty linux box Gromit was running (for the past 30 months as a Pentium 3 666) which enabled me to simply power it down. My immediate plans are to leave it on the desk until next weekend when I plan to do a big cleanup of the desk (eg move it to vacuum behind and rearranging the cables) at which point I will put it in the cupboard. I will leave it intact on the off chance that I need to switch back or recover something I have missed.

The other machine I turned off today was the temporary preston that was running in parallel while I rebuilt preston with new (and bigger) hard drives. Sometime this week the machine itself will get a fresh install of windows so it can replace my parent’s computer. Of the hard drives that used to be in preston: one 160GB will become the primary drive in my windows machine, the other 160GB will go into a USB external case for backups and the 80GB boot drive will go into the cupboard for a month or so until I am absolutely sure that I have not missed anything.

For the past few weeks there have been three linux machines on 24/7, my windows desktop on whenever I was home, and my PowerBook. There is a noticable different in the noise with only one of the three linux machines running…

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Double the storage

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006 at 08:58pm

On my way home from work tonight I picked up the pair of 320GB hard drives that I am using to replace my (full) pair of 160GB hard drives. That is exactly double the capacity.

It took longer to mount them in the case and attempt to arrange the cables nicely than it did to create the striped volume across the two drives and format it in the freshly installed box . I wonder how long it will take me to get used to seeing a 596GB (real GB not marketing GB) partition.

I am currently rsyncing the data across from the old drives in their temporary home which should be complete in a few hours. Despite doubling the capacity I will end up with less than 50% available as it will also include data from another 40GB partition.

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How much memory does WordPress need?

Monday, October 9th, 2006 at 09:57pm

Over the past weekend I undertook the next step in rebuilding my linux boxes which was to perform a fresh install and moving services over. As expected installing Ubuntu went smoothly with the first issue arising when setting up the local copy of this site.

Getting apache, php and mysql installed was pretty trivial as I just selected the appropriate packages for installation. After getting used to how the apache configuration files are arranges I quickly had two virtualhosts defined, one for my internal site and another for this site, and I copied the files and databases over.

The snag came when I tried to load up this site and all I got was a blank page. At first all I could find about this issue talked about mysql not loading properly but I knew that wasn’t my issue as the code I had written from scratch that talks to the database was working fine. Eventually I found a reference to the php memory limit. At first I doubled it from 8MB to 16MB. No luck. I tried looking again for other solutions until I thought of doubling it again to 32MB. It was now working.

After a bit of trial an error I found that I needed the memory limit to be at least 26MB for WordPress and the plugins I use to load (but I left the limit at 32MB). Does it use this much memory for every single request and then throw it away at the end? Hmmm…

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Not enough power

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006 at 11:04pm

Last night I moved the three hard drives from one of my linux boxes to their temporary home in the small form factor pc that I mentioned last week. Things did not go well as the drives would not reliably power up. In hindsight this could have been expected as I was attempting to run three drives from a power supply in a pc that is only designed for one.

It was only after I had returned the drives to their original home that I thought about the solution that I implemented tonight; power two of the drives from one of the spare AT power supplies that I have sitting around.

flickr: Temporary

This does make for an untidy solution but the extra drives were untidy anyway and it should only need to be like this for a week or so until I perform a fresh install of linux on the original hardware (but with different drives).

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A default install of Ubuntu

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006 at 08:23pm

As part of the larger plan (to be written about at some point in the nearish future) for rearranging the linux boxes I have at home I have been playing around with an install of Ubuntu on a small form factor 1.8Ghz Pentium 4 that I picked up at a swap meet a week and a half ago.

The default install of Ubuntu doesn’t give many options but what I ended up with was all of the hardware being detected (you wouldn’t think that detecting the components of the Intel 845 chipset would be hard until you try Windows XP SP2…) and enough basic applications installed (browsing, mail, office) to satisfy a ‘typical’ user (eg my mother).

However I am having to work around some ‘interesting’ things. For example to be able to ssh into the box I needed to manually install the openssh-server package. But all I needed to do in order to take over the X session via VNC was to go into the menu and check a box. One other thing was that there are various options (such as sharing files via samba) that when you first attempt to enable it you are prompted to install the appropriate packages.

Once I have gotten my head around it more (ultimately it will primarily be a server for my mail, local copies of my site and other stuff) this hardware will become the temporary home for my current Mandrake 9.1 install in order to maintain service while I perform a fresh install on the other hardware (which is actually the same except for a faster CPU and not a small form factor which means I have somewhere for my storage drives…).

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You can do what with environment variables?

Sunday, September 24th, 2006 at 07:02pm

Fairly regularly I create a folder of the current date to aid in sorting out files I have downloaded or similar. I finally got tired of having to manually type the date in so I decided to have a look to see if there were any existing mechanisms, preferably tied in to the context menu for a folder under windows as I already have a number of scripts hooked in there.

Fairly quickly I found one solution that I was almost about to dismiss entirely as it required altering how windows formatted dates. Fortunately I had a look at some of the responses and found something both useful and disturbing about environment variables under windows:

  • A colon and a tilde following the variable name (inside the percent characters) lets you specify a range of characters to extract from the value of the variable: eg %DATE:~10,4% pulls out four characters starting from character ten; and
  • A colon and an equals sign (inside the percent characters as before) allows a substitution to be specified. eg %DATE:/=-% replaces any slashes with dashes.

The good thing about this is that it allows me to create a one liner that extracts certain parts of the date and reassembles them in the format I prefer. What is bad is that I have never seen this usage before and I cannot find any documentation about this ‘feature’.

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I want some serious hardware…

Sunday, August 6th, 2006 at 10:30pm

About two months ago I was given a free UPS. Specifically an APC Smart-UPS 700 that has been providing stable power for two of my systems (I am still planning to deprecate the thirdat some point in the future) for most of that time with my total expenditure so far being AU$30 for new batteries.

However this is nothing compared to what other people can get

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The display stand saga

Saturday, July 1st, 2006 at 06:56pm

Not long after I got my 24" display I started thinking that it would be nice if I could replace the standard stand with one that clamped to the back of the desk. Investigations followed which resulted in the ordering of an Ergotron Neo-Flex LCD arm last Tuesday from a place in Sydney for the reasonable price of AU$125.

Over the next day or so I began to doubt my decision after I looked through photos of their setup that people had posted to the [H]ard|OCP forums (specifically the 2005 and 2006 Post Your Workstation threads) and got some ideas about how I could better use the stock stand such as simply placing the centre speaker of a 5.1 system inside the D shaped base. Another prevalent idea as to store items in the base of the stand so I relocated the cradle for my mobile phone to be under the display and put my keys, wallet and digital camera inside the base which frees up some space on the right hand side of the desk where I normally kept these items.

I had just gotten settled into minor change when the stand arrived on Friday. My doubts increased once I saw that the stand was smaller than it seemed in the photos and looked less likely to be able to support my display. Also among my first impressions was that the the plastic clips to hold the cables along the arm were less than ideal as one of them just popped off as I was taking the stand out of the box. My consolation for that was that I could run velcro ties through the slots that the clips used.

Once I had attached the 100mm to 75mm adapter plate and swapped the clamp mount for the grommet mount I attempted to mount it to the desk via the cable hole (after removing the plastic cover) but even this didn’t go smoothly as the fastening nut that came with the stand wasn’t properly threaded so it would not screw onto the bolt. This was easily overcome by getting an appropriately sized wing nut from the garage but that only let me encounter the biggest problem yet. I couldn’t tighten the joints enough to stop the screen sagging so I called it a night and put the stock stand back on.

This afternoon I tried again, included taking out the extension piece, but nothing could support the display properly so I am again back to using the stock stand. From here I guess I will sell the stand and if I try another one I will ensure that the rated capacity is well above the weight of my display and that it doesn’t just rely on a simple friction based mechanism to support the weight.

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My God! It’s full of pixels!

Thursday, March 16th, 2006 at 08:19pm

For months now I had been thinking about replacing my 19″ CRT with two 17″ LCD’s or (more recently) a single 20″ widescreen LCD. On Tuesday night I decided that I might as well give myself a treat so I ordered the Dell 2405FPW, a 24″ widescreen LCD display which has had decent reviews. One contributing factor was that they are currently 20% off as a replacement model is due to be released soon.

It arrived today and it is impressive… Unfortunately my KVM doesn’t support the native resolution of the display so I am taking advantage of a direct DVI connection to my main workstation and leaving my two Linux boxes running through the KVM on the analog input of the display. This now makes switching less convenient than it used to be so am I considering running VNC to bring the display from Preston up in a window.

One other issue at the moment is that the included USB cable is not long enough due to the configuration of my desk. This will be as simple as buying a longer cable…

Note: a few days after I originally posted this I changed the title from ‘Lots of screen real estate’ to the current 2010 inspired title. Although I thought it was from 2001 but that may be the book instead of the movie…

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The culling continues

Sunday, January 8th, 2006 at 05:54pm

Since my decision last week to start being ruthless with what I keep in my computer collection I have been constantly dumbfounded by what I thought was worth keeping. Just some of the items that ended up on the discard pile were:

  • An entire box (around 20) of old ISA I/O cards that ranged from 8-bit cards that provided two parallel and two serial ports, to16-bit cards with parallel, serial and IDE.
  • Another box packed full with the connectors mounted on backplates for the aforementioned I/O cards.
  • Yet another box of video card. These were more varied than the I/O cards but in this case I did keep the more unusual ones (eg an 8-bit VGA card) and one or two others. It is highly likely that the ones I did keep will also end up with the rest…

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It is time to be ruthless

Monday, January 2nd, 2006 at 08:56pm

On the last day of my break before I return to work I decided that I should get started on sorting out my computer collection. The first step was to at least move the empty boxes and other junk that had accumulated on the floor … which didn’t get completed…

However it was a productive afternoon as I now have four piles in the area outside my room:

Read the rest of this entry…

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My precious returns

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005 at 09:20pm

The other reason that I’m too tired to finish my previous post about OSDC is that I have my precious back with a replacement hard drive. I have finally upgraded to Tiger and for the past couple of hours I have been performing a fresh install of the OS and also installing the applications I need for day to day tasks…

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My precious has gone away

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005 at 03:27pm

This morning I dropped my precious (aka my 12″ PowerBook) off to get fixed. For a number of weeks now the hard drive has started to make a noise and over the past few days it has been locking up as if it is waiting for the hard drive to respond.

Unfortunately there is currently a four day wait before they will even be able to look at it which means I will be without it for at least a week. Hopefully they can simply replace the hard drive and I can duck away from OSDC2006 next week to pick it up. I may finally pick up a copy of Tiger at the same time…

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Hmmm… shiny hardware

Friday, July 29th, 2005 at 05:21pm

At work this afternoon a number of us took advantage of a tour from the infrastructure services department to see one of the two machine rooms. Although it was smaller than I expected we did get to see the wide variety of hardware that runs all of the centrally run services as well as a section of the core network.

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Finally lid closed mode is working

Tuesday, June 28th, 2005 at 07:25pm

Over twelve months ago when I got my 12″ PowerBook my plan was to run it through my four port KVM.

Six months ago I found a PS/2 to USB adapter that would work with my KVM and I failed to get lid closed mode working as per these instructions.

Tonight I found the final piece of the puzzle in this other set of instructions. The critical difference is that it says I need to have the power adapter plugged in for it to work which is what the Apple instructions say. What I don’t understand is why they made the power adapter a requirement. I can run both the LCD and an external display from batteries but just running an external display (with no power hungry backlight) requires even more power…

Now at some stage I will have to rearrange part of my desk (and probably clean up all the junk at the same time) in order to have a suitable place for my laptop while it is connected. Balancing on top of the rubbish bin at the end of my desk is just asking for trouble…

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Old laptop and DOS woes

Friday, June 3rd, 2005 at 11:15am

A few weeks ago I acquired a an old Toshiba Satellite 4090XCDT laptop that was being disposed of at work because it was both old and, more significantly, was playing up. I ended up spending a few hours this evening getting it back up and running for my sister to use.

The first issue I encountered was that I couldn’t get it to power up. After spending 15 minutes checking that the power adapter and the battery were ok I discovered a small switch. This switch is critical to what I was trying to do, turn the laptop on, as it locks the power button in place to prevent accidental usage. With the power button unlocked the laptop powered up immediately.

As the laptop had gone through the proper disposal procedures the hard drive had been wiped so my first task was to install an operating system. Windows was the only option based on the end user and also as that has all the supported drivers. Initially I considered Windows XP as the Celeron 400 CPU would tolerate it but after I found that it only had 64MB of RAM I decided to simply use the restore CD’s to install Windows 98.

This is where the major problems began to surface as Read the rest of this entry…

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One year and a day

Saturday, March 5th, 2005 at 01:02pm

On thursday night midway through a long overdue backup of my personal files onto dvd my Pioneer burner decided to just stop responding. It can read and burn CD’s fine but doesn’t even want to detect that a DVD (of any type) has been inserted. It is ironic that I had had the drive for one year and a day

That said I went out today (after my golf lesson) and picked up a new one, this time a Pioneer DVR-109. At the same time I picked up some new RAM to take my main windows box up to 1GB.

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iMac project followup

Tuesday, February 15th, 2005 at 09:27am

I just thought that I should say that I’m not going ahead with the iMac project that I was considering the other day. Largely because the logic board I was looking at ended up going for half of what a complete iMac can be obtained for. It just wasn’t worth it.

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Tempted to start an iMac project

Saturday, February 12th, 2005 at 04:39pm

A long time ago, at least a year but probably some time after I came across The iMac Rack-Mount Project, I thought an affordable way of getting a suitably powerful mac to play around with would be to take the logic board and drives out of a CRT iMac with a broken screen. I never did anything about it and my precious is a much more powerful system than any CRT iMac could be.

However in my my regular perusal of the items available on eBay this afternoon I discovered one that had previously escaped notice: “IMAC” PARTS. This is the logic board and drives from an iMac that has a dead screen and its current price makes it a very tempting purchase. What makes it a viable purchase is that there are already a few projects that have done just what I plan so problems like a replacement power supply have already been solved.

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PS/2 to USB adapters

Wednesday, December 29th, 2004 at 07:10pm

Back in June when I got my PowerBook I also picked up a cheap no brand PS/2 to USB adapter so I could run the PowerBook through my KVM switch when at home so I could use a full sized keyboard, mouse and monitor. Unfortunately the adapter just didn’t want to work when connected through the KVM switch.

This afternoon while at Tandy, because Phong wanted to get a USB card reader that was on special, I impluse bought a Belkin branded PS/2 to USB adapter. Superficially there are only a few differences with with Belkin one:

  • costing AU$10 more
  • being black in colour
  • having ‘Belkin’ moulded into the side
  • having a slightly different shaped centre piece

However there is one key difference:

  • The Belkin one works with my KVM switch.

Now I can run my Powerbook through my KVM switch I only need to work out whether I still want to…

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I have way too much junk

Sunday, December 19th, 2004 at 10:39pm

After helping Damien clear out some stuff when I was over at his place on Friday night I was inspired to sort through some of the stuff that I have collected over the years. Like him I have come to the conclusion that I have to be rutheless by classifying most of it as junk and throwing it away. For instance why do I have a box full of old ISA IO cards? I no longer have any 486 computers to put them in and any motherboards more recent (which I only have a couple of) come with IO onboard. The same goes for the box of network cards, the box of sound cards, the box of floppy drive cables, etc.

There is some stuff I will keep for purely sentimental reasons such as my original SoundBlaster 16 and CD-ROM. What this item has going for it is that it has now been returned to its original packaging, including the speakers and manuals. If I could just find the rest of the driver disks it would be complete.

One thing that I found that I had thought I had lost was a CD set that came with the July 2000 APC magazine that contained Red Hat 6.2, BeOS Personal and OS/2 Warp 4. This means that I could have a functional OS/2 system using this and the old hardware from Gromit (Pentium 233, etc)…

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New drives

Sunday, November 7th, 2004 at 05:48pm

On thursday I picked up a pair of new 160GB hard drives, WD1600JB’s to be precise, and I have just finished rebuilding Preston with them in a new case that I also cleared out the 120mm fan hole for. Photos are available including some before shots. Once I have copied all the data from the LVM set with the faulty drive to the new set made of the new drives and verified that all is ok I will be pulling out the old drives to leave Preston with a more modest total of 400GB (381GB if you want to count properly).

One good thing that I have learned since my earlier post is that the faulty drive is still under warranty until July next year. Now what to do with three 80GB drives…

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It’s official…

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2004 at 10:14pm

Earlier tonight I downloaded the SeaTools Diagnostic Suite and I used it to perform two full tests of all three of the Seagate drives in Preston.

And hdc, the odd drive out, was reported as having quite a number of bad sectors. I decided not to let the utility attempt to fix the errors as I then won’t be able to tell which files are corrupt without testing them all one by one.

Time to organise some new drives although I believe I will lose the ability to monitor the temperature of the drives directly if I go for Western Digitals rather than Seagates…

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Hard drive errors

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2004 at 06:15pm

Doing duty as my media storage and backup box is Preston, one of the two boxes that is always on. In it are four 80GB drives, one Western Digital WD800JB and three Seagate Barracuda IV‘s. The three seagates are combined into a single logical volume using LVM.

On the weekend as I was copying music across to Shaun in order to back it all up on to DVD’s I noticed it pause a couple of times during copying. Further investigation led me to discover a large number of instances of the following two lines in the kernel log:

hdc: dmaintr: error=0x40 { UncorrectableError }, LBAsect=42315658, sector=42315480
hdc: dma
intr: status=0x51 { DriveReady SeekComplete Error }

I was able to tell from the transfer log which files had paused and I was able to verify that they were corrupt and the errors appeared in the kernel log.

While the three drives in the logical volume are the same model one does have a couple of differences:

  • It is mounted differently in the case which means it runs hotter as there is not as much airflow as over the other two
  • It is connected via the motherboard IDE controller rather than the Promise card
  • It is around about 4 months older than the other drives
  • It was used as the boot drive in Shaun before moving into Preston

Another thing the kernel log shows is that the previous occurances of these errors was back at the start of October, the same day that I transferred a copy of most of the data across to a friend’s box. This indicates that the error has been there for a while but it hasn’t been evident as I rarely access those particular files.

Fortunately only one of the three drives has experienced the errors, the one that is different as explained above. I seriously doubt that the issue is with the onboard IDE controller as the boot drive is operating fine. Googling around brings me to the conclusion that this drive has developed a fault and I should replace it…

But with what? Do I spend AU$99 on a replacement 80GB? What about spending AU$278 on a pair of new 160GB drives? This last option does have the advantage of giving me an additional 80GB capacity with one fewer harddrive to mount and keep cool. Then what do I do with the two perfectly good 80GB drives?

There is even the option of replacing the faulty drive with a 160GB. This gives me the additional capacity but has the much more tricky task of rearranging the data on the drives rather than copying from the old volume to the new volume.

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New case for Shaun

Saturday, September 25th, 2004 at 05:04pm

Today, only four months after buying the case, I got around to moving Shaun, my main windows box, into a new case. It is part of a long term plan to move Preston, my media storage box, into the case now vacated by Shaun as it has space for plenty of drives…

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Almost one hundred days…

Saturday, August 21st, 2004 at 08:27pm

If the power hadn’t gone out earlier tonight then with an extra one day and eleven hours Gromit would have been up for one hundred days. As it is ninety-eight days is the longest Gromit has been up for anyway. Surpassing the previous record of eighty-two days

Anyway it gave me an opportunity to add the additional 128MB, that has been sitting around since I tested it almost a month ago, into Gromit. Not that it really needs it but it can’t hurt… Unless it is dodgy like the last time but there was a reason I tested it…

Now to find a reason to finally rebuild Preston and Shaun…

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A single line…

Saturday, July 24th, 2004 at 05:10pm

Today I journeyed into the Apple Centre in Malvern in order to get a reprint invoice. Why? Because the salary packaging application for my laptop was rejected because the invoice I sent over didn’t explicitly say that I had paid for it…

The reprint I got today is different in two small ways; the text ‘REPRINTED’ in the top right corner and a note at the bottom of the item description saying ‘paid in full mastercard’. Four little words that will allow for me to save around $700…

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The things people take

Sunday, July 18th, 2004 at 10:36pm

This afternoon I put a couple of early pentium desktops and a couple of empty cases out for the Hard Rubbish Collection and already half of them are gone…

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Annual Hard / Green Waste Collection 2004

Monday, July 12th, 2004 at 09:19pm

At work today someone mentioned that they had a hard rubbish collection in their area and since I knew that they also lived in the City of Monash it explained why I had seen that a number of people had put stuff out.

This year I’m not going to go out scrounging and since my area is up next week it means I’ll have to do some sorting of my computers this week. Ideally there is nothing to dispose of but I know I’m never going to do anything with things like a non functional Pentium 90…

If I hadn’t given away those two SGI Personal Iris’s back in June they would be going out now…

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Wireless is good

Thursday, June 17th, 2004 at 09:20pm

Today after lunch I pickup up a Linksys Wireless Access Point Router and right now I am sitting downstairs watching TV…

Even though I got a router I’m only going to use it as an access point as my linux box Gromit does that duty. And since I’m planning to put it out at my mum’s computer (it’s in the centre of the house) the four port hub will mean I can retire the old hub that is currently allowing her computer and the print server to be on the network. Also the router was $10 cheaper than the access point…

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Monday, June 7th, 2004 at 07:03pm

A while back I discovered a way to control multiple computers (not necessarily the same OS) via one keyboard/mouse over the network.

The other day I discovered Synergy. Unlike the VNC based solution this is purpose built solution which means that only one instance needs to run on the ‘server’, the screens can be arranged in a variety of ways, and things such as clipboard contents are copied around.

The biggest advantage is that it knows how to deal with multiple displays on a single system which allows me to run it at work so I can use my PowerBook as a third display on my work system (which has a nice pair of 17″ LCD’s)…

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My precious…

Saturday, June 5th, 2004 at 04:09pm

This morning I picked up my lovely new 12-inch Powerbook and it is so nice…

I will have to get used to all the quirks but I have a terminal and Mozilla and that is really all that matters…

Unfortunately I have hit a snag regarding my plan to run the powerbook through my KVM switch to my 19″ CRT when at my desk at home. The cheap PS/2 to USB adapter I picked up works fine when connecting straight to a mouse and keyboard but not when attached to the KVM. Time for an email to support…

Syncing iCal and the address book to my phone (a Sony Ericsson T610) via bluetooth is working nicely and I believe that I might have a solution to not being able to sync to the calendar server at work. One of the things I have written for the portal (well actually rewritten) is some code to produce a summary of a person’s calendar for the week by screen scraping the web interface. Last night (while waiting impatiently for today) I hacked away and made it output the events for the week in iCal (the standard not the program) format.

What this means is that I could set it up to reguarily stick the iCal formatted events on a web server and the subscribe to it in iCal (the program this time). iSync will then get the events onto my phone. It is a read-only solution but the main reason I still bother with my Palm Vx is to be able to carry around a copy of my calendar. If this pans out I’ll have an immaculate Palm Vx with a bunch of accessories for sale…

My next step is to get a wireless access point so I can wander around with my precious at home…

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Order has been placed

Thursday, June 3rd, 2004 at 04:55pm

Last night I placed the order and on Saturday I will go pickup my nice 12-inch PowerBook with an additional 512MB of RAM…

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I want a 12-inch PowerBook…

Saturday, May 29th, 2004 at 08:01pm

Today I made my way over to the Malvern Computers Now store to, for the first time, see a 12-inch PowerBook in the flesh, well, in it’s brushed aluminium alloy.

Two people at work have a 15-inch and until recently there was another who had a 17-inch. However I never saw them together and I was struck today with the realisation that the 15-inch and 17-inch aren’t really that differenct size wise. It’s just that the 17-inch in isolation looks ungainly. What struck me even more was how much smaller the 12-inch appeared compared to the 15-inch.

While I was there I asked about education prices and they confirmed that even though I am just a general staff member (versus an academic) at Monash Uni I was still eligible for education prices. Very good.

Since I recently got a DVD burner for my home box I’m not even considering a SuperDrive version. So what differs between the base 15-inch ($2902 EDU) and the base 12-inch ($2286 EDU)?

  • The 15-inch has a better video chipset, not really much of an issue as the most intensive thing I can envisage I’ll use it for is watching via the TV out.
  • The 15-inch has gigabit ethernet while the 12-inch only has 10/100 ethernet. Another non-issue as I don’t have any gigabit gear and on the rare occasion that I’ll transfer large amounts of data time is not an issue. There is also firewire target disk mode at 400mbit/sec.
  • The 15-inch has Firewire 800 as well as Firewire 400. Since I don’t forsee any usage of the Firewire 400…
  • The 12-inch has a Mini-DVI output which means that an adapter will always be needed for VGA, DVI, S-Video, Composite, etc. But the 15-inch needs an adapter for anything other than DVI or S-Video…
  • The 15-inch obviously has a larger screen. However I understand that they have the same pixel density…
  • Physical size differs.

For each of the differences I have a reason why the difference isn’t a factor.

The most critical issue for me is portability. I need a laptop that is small enough to fit in a backpack for my ride too and from work. The 12-inch and an STM Glove fits the bill.

Some of the people I have spoken with about this over the past weeks have commented that the 12-inch is too small for prolonged use. I totally agree with that. There are two places that I will use it most; at my desk at home running through my 19″ CRT, or at my desk at work either with another 17″ LCD or VNC to my current dual 17″ LCD setup. And then when I want to use it in other places (while watching tv at home, in meetings, on the train, outside on the grass) it is small enough to just pickup and go…

$2422 (education price for base 12-inch PowerBook with additional 256MB RAM) is not really that much money. If the amount of tax I’d save by salary packaging it is taken into account it ends up being around $1700…

This whole post has been justifying to myself why I should get a 12-inch PowerBook. Maybe in a week or so when I’m in my next credit card billing cycle (so I have the full 55 days to pay it off) and the sting of paying nineteen grand to the tax office (HECS debt voluntary repayment) wears off a bit…

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82 days, longest uptime for Gromit

Friday, May 7th, 2004 at 11:03pm

Tonight I decided to cut the longest uptime for Gromit, my linux box for network services, short at 82 days so I could add another 128MB of RAM (to the existing 128MB, it is only a P3 667) that I have had lying around for quite a while. The second longest uptime was 54 days that started back in October 2000 with kernel 2.2.12 (I know this thanks to uptimed).

Before the upgrade one of the processing script I would run at least once a week would take almost an hour because it was constantly in swap due to the 100MB of data that was loaded into memory. Now it takes a little over ten minutes…

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New toys…

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2004 at 09:00pm

On Saturday I got my new phone, a Sony Ericsson T610, and today I got a DVD burner, a Pioneer DVR-107D.

Now to find the time to properly use them…

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Gromit finally upgraded

Sunday, February 15th, 2004 at 03:49pm

The afternoon I finally got around to transplanting the hard drive and network cards from the Pentium 233 that used to be Gromit – my linux server for internet, mail, home directory – into the slimline Dell Pentium 667 that I bought secondhand at a swapmeet back in October 2003.

It is currently sitting on the top of my desk while I get around to making a hutch so it can sit under Shaun (XP desktop) and Preston (Linux media box) where the old Gromit still resides.

All this was done in a room that sat at a nice 32 degrees all afternoon. At least it wasn’t as bad as yesterday; 40 degrees outside and 38 inside.

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RAMBUS, proper dual-head, new desk, contract

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2003 at 04:31pm

In the process of shuffling hardware around today I discovered that the computer I was changing to (P3-933, 128MB, Matrox G450 dual head) used RAMBUS. As the spare 256MB SDRAM DIMM that I brought from home wasn’t going to fit I had to roll back the shuffle. However I still got the G450 card by pulling an AGP Matrox G100 out of an old Pentium II for the RAMBUS box, it only does 1024×768 anyway.

There was also a shuffle of people and desks today so after we got back from Yum Cha I moved my computer and associated bits from my desk in the middle of the room to a desk up against one side that was vacated by someone moving down the corridor. As well as moving from a corner desk to a straight desk I will now be able to place my bike behind my chair against the cupboards, as next year there will be someone sitting where I used to store it.

Also I dropped off my signed letter of offer at HR first thing this morning and finally got myself an ID card…

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LCD dilemma

Monday, December 22nd, 2003 at 09:44pm

When I got into work today there was a pile of ten 17″ LCD displays, we must have got a bulk discount.

Half of them were given to various people, myself included, which actually raises a problem. For the past two weeks I have complemented the 19″ CRT that I have been using for most of the year with a 17″ CRT connected to an old S3 PCI card. I replaced the 17″ CRT with the 17″ LCD but the S3 can’t output the desired 1280×1024 so the picture was nice and fuzzy. Tomorrow (last work day of the year) I’m planning on doing some hardware juggling at the end of which I will end up with a box with a dual head Matrox G400.

The other dilemma is that I’m now running a 19″ CRT and a 17″ LCD, the most annoying difference is in the brightness levels, ideally I would like to use a pair of 17″ LCD’s. My only hope there is either to get one of the remaining displays or do a swap so that someone who got one of the new displays will use the 19″ CRT that I currently use…

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A dual-screen hack for Windows

Friday, December 19th, 2003 at 08:20pm

Courtesy of a friend at work I have discovered Win2VNC and x2vnc. Basically they let you control two computers, each with a monitor, via the keyboard and mouse on one of them. What is very funky is that you could have a ‘desktop’ made up of a number of different OS’s, ie Windows, Linux and MacOS…

I’m tempted to grab an unused box and monitor at work next week. Put on a fresh install of linux and add it to my current dual monitor (windows) setup.

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New hardware is always nice

Sunday, October 19th, 2003 at 07:25pm

Actually old hardware, but new to me so it is still good…

I picked up a second hand box – Dell Optiplex GX110 small form factor, Pentium 3 667, 128MB, CD, floppy, onboard video sound network – at the swapmeet today in order to upgrade gromit.

Pity I won’t have the time to shuffle hard drives until next weekend…

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Upgrade shenanigans

Saturday, October 4th, 2003 at 07:22pm

I spent some time last night and this afternoon stripping down and then rebuilding my media box with some changes:

  • Replaced the aging 8GB boot drive with a new 40GB (now also a location for backups)
  • Added in a third 80GB drive (rotated out of my main box)
  • Rebuilt the LVM volume with the three drives and used XFS instead of ext3
  • Moved over from Redhat 9 to give Mandrake 9.1 a try.
  • and cleaned a lot of dust out…

Although Mandrake and Redhat are very similar there are a few quirks that I found surprising and will have to get used to…

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