The contact form is temporarily out of order. I’m hoping to have it back in order soon.
The Working Centre’s Computer Recycling project has been working furiously to get more Windows 7-compatible systems built. We have a large number of systems (HP dc7100′s) that have a PCIe video card slot, but the onboard video isn’t compatible with Windows 7. The rest of the dc7100 works fine with a little bit of extra RAM provided we add a decent video card. In the picture left we added an AMD ATI Radeon X1650. Not only did Windows 7 pick up the driver automatically, but it improved the Windows index several points.
But cards like the Radeon X1650 are in short supply. We have a few higher-end cards that require additional power, and these are great, but a bit overkill for the HP dc7100 model (which doesn’t have the 6 pin power connector needed to run these cards).
Thanks to everyone who has supported The Working Centre’s Computer Recycling Project with hardware donations this past year – you’ve enabled us to make lots of improvements. And thanks to those who continue to support us on a regular basis. Drop offs can be taken to 66 Queen Street South (Kitchener). We have a side door on Charles Steet (66 Queen Street S is the corner of Queen and Charles Street). We’re open Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 5pm. Please feel free to email me here for other drop off times.
One of the jobs I’ve been meaning to do is to figure out the disparity between the movies I’ve ripped and those still sitting on my shelves. This is the first step in my master plan to better organize all the videos on our XBMC media center.
Part of the inspiration for this comes from the fact that now that I have a more powerful desktop computer ripping and re-encoding video at higher quality settings becomes more possible.
The very first step was to catalog the videos I already had stored on XBMC. To do this I just redirected a listing of the movie folder to a file:
ls > mymovies.txt
Next I needed a way to organize and categorize all my physical DVDs and Blueray discs. In the past I used Tellico. This round I used GCStar collection manager, a collection manager with plugins to do books, movies, tv shows and other types of collections. For each movie I entered part of the name and clicked the Fetch/Lookup button to fetch the meta-data from third party sites. The default meta-data site wasn’t working so I switched it to Film-Affinity and lookups worked fine. Film-affinity was able to find most movies, but couldn’t find a handful of movies: Fred Williamson movie Joshua, the Sam Elliott (not Sharon Stone) version of The Quick and the Dead, and some Telly Savalas movies. I might try switching up the meta-data source in order to grab the other titles. At the moment the collection manager is sitting with approximately 292 titles in it with about 20 not in the collection.
I haven’t figured out what I’ll use to determine the properties of movies on XBMC, but it’ll likely be ffmpeg combined with some switches in a shell script to tell me things like each movie’s dimensions, bit rate and size. Part of the problem is that I encoded some movies using Handbrake, others using Acidrip, and still others using other software. I’ve determined that I want to use Acidrip to do most of the ripping and encoding. I’ll still need MakeMKV for Blueray discs, it’s about the only thing that works under Linux, but or most of my DVD rips I’m going to stick with Acidrip – I’ve just gotten used to it.
This is mostly what I’ve been up to lately. I spent about 40 minutes last night physically cleaning our XBMC PC. I shut it down, unplugged, removed the CPU fan from the top of the heat sink, cleaned both the fan and heat sink, then cleaned the rest of the PC internals. It’s amazing how quickly it accumulates dust. I didn’t use compressed air, just an old toothbrush (not on any electronics of course). The CPU fan makes less noise, though at some point I’d like to replace it completely with a water cooling block to eliminate as much noise as possible.
Last night I was working for only the second time on my newly built desktop system and I managed to kill my Linux Mint 16 Cinnamon desktop. I didn’t know until 4:30am this morning when I got up and switched on my system that I’d killed my desktop environment. 4:30am is a little early for me to get up, I’m normally groggy around 5:30 and get up around 6:30am, so when I saw Ubuntu 13.10 loading it felt strange (because I knew the Mint logo normally loads on boot). I didn’t think too much about it until the desktop didn’t load at all.
Then I started tracing my last steps. Just before shutting down I was ripping CDs using Banshee. That couldn’t be the cause of Linux Mint not booting. I had shut down correctly, so there really shouldn’t have been a problem. I thought harder (difficult to do at 4:30am) and it dawned on me that I’d installed the Virtualbox:i386 package just before that. To fix the problem I switched to a virtual terminal (CTRL+ALT+F1) and started installing Cinnamon packages. I also installed the lightdm greeter. This got me to a graphical login (not the one from before) but when I tried logging in I got an error that the Cinnamon desktop couldn’t load (with the packages installed). Installing the package mint-meta-cinnamon fixed this problem, but there are still several customizations I had before installing the Virtualbox:I386 package corrupted everything.
What surprises me is that there was no warning, “hey idiot, this will uninstall your Cinnamon desktop.” I installed through the Mint installer, maybe if I installed through a terminal I would have noticed what the package was removing.
Your top 5 favourite computer-related movies as chosen by viewers of this site are:
5. Swordfish – 5 votes
4. Tron – 6 votes
3. Hackers – 8 votes
2. The Matrix – 10 votes
1. Wargames – 12 votes
Tied for sixth place 4 movies all with 4 votes: Pirates of Silicon Valley, Sneakers, Anti-Trust, and We Are Legion: The Story of Hacktivists. Each person who voted got to choose up to 5 movies they liked. Voting didn’t take into account each person’s favourite movie, just 5 movies each person liked.
Personally my choice would have been something like:
5. Pirates of Silicon Valley
Anti-trust might seem like a strange movie choice – it has a terribly cheesy plot that seems to follow the Microsoft Anti-trust days – Tim Robbins is even made to look like Bill Gates. The acting is well… and the premise of killing off hackers (code monkeys) is way overblown, but I enjoyed spotting a standard Gnome desktop in the movie. If it wasn’t for the “leader is killing hackers” premise it might have been a much better movie. Still I like it.
Last weekend I plunked down $60CDN+tax for a Logitech G105 “gaming” keyboard. The keyboard features 6 gaming keys and 3 macro-programmable keys, plus back lighting and what I thought was the most exciting feature: a gaming mode that prevents you from triggering “Windows” event keys while gaming. Sadly for me the gaming mode key didn’t work at all, it doesn’t seem to prevent Windows seven from closing your game if you press Alt+F4. I use the Alt key and various function keys for a number of games so this failure is quite disappointing. I tried the gaming button a couple of times to make sure it wasn’t just off, nope.
The back lit blue on black keyboard isn’t that impressive either. Don’t be fooled by the right side of the box, the keyboard looks like the left side. Also the feet feel a bit fragile, like they’d break if any pressure was applied to the keyboard.
What do I like about the G105? Lots. The keys feel good and well spaced out, though I occasionally hit a key I don’t mean to. The Backspace and Enter keys are both large, some keyboard annoyingly cut these important keys down in size. I also like the greyed out wasd and arrow keys though I’m not sure it’s ever going to make a difference to game play. I haven’t used the macro or G-keys but I’m still getting used to the keyboard. It seems odd but I also like the weight of the keyboard, it feels like some quality construction went into it – even if it is plastic.
The keyboard is actually 2 tone, black on top and red on the bottom (with the exception of the previously noted grey keys). It’s kind of a nice look but I was left wondering if it really was any better than some of the Dell keyboards we have in Computer Recycling with the volume knob on them. Because the gaming key didn’t work as expected I felt like I overpaid.
I have never understood why some people are such die-hard fans of anything Apple makes. I’ve never been overly impressed with Apple and after trying out the new iPad Air I still feel this way. Order one from a store like Chapters and the 16GB version will run you a bit more than $520 after taxes.
Right off the bat I noticed Apple has chosen to use yet-another-proprietary cable, one that you can’t use with your older iPad 2. The cable is also very short. I was able to put the Air on my nightstand with the wall plug less than 2 feet below, but just barely.
Booting feels faster than the iPad 2 – the first plus for the Air. It also comes out of sleep quicker when you hit the power button.
Then there’s the whole Apple account thing. We have an iPad 2 which we create an Apple ID without needing to use a credit card. The Air doesn’t seem to let you create an Apple ID without entering credit card information. It appears you can create an Apple ID via Apple’s web site without needing credit card information: https://appleid.apple.com/cgi-bin/WebObjects/MyAppleId.woa/wa/createAppleId? but it seems kind of sleazy to not give people the option to create an account without credit information on the iPad. Even “FREE” apps cannot be downloaded from the store until you have an Apple ID.
On the iPad 2 and on my Acer Iconia B1 tablet I play a game called Blood Brothers. I found certain send buttons which worked well on the iPad 2 and on the Iconia B1 don’t work as well on the Air, the touch for that particular screen just doesn’t seem to be as sensitive on the Air, but this is probably an app problem – I haven’t had an issue with most of the other apps I use.
The iPad Air is quite heavy and it feels solid on the bottom, but looking at the shiny screen I feel like if I ever drop it the Air will break into lots of little pieces.
At approximately $520+taxes the Air seems way overpriced and over-hyped. The screen is nice, but it really doesn’t feel that much better than the screen on the iPad 2, even if it is a much better screen.
The last little issue I had is that the Air seems to go into a dim mode and when you try pulling it out by tapping the screen it stays dim until you hit the power button.
Check out the icons to the left. These icons were in the top right of my Xubuntu panel. I was a bit confused when I saw the battery power icon because the computer I’m on is my newly built desktop computer (more on that in a second). Normally this icon would appear for a notebook as the notebook battery is starting to discharge. There’s no discharging that occurs on the desktop (well actually the internal CMOS battery does discharge over time, but that’s another story). Then I noticed the keyboard icon was very close to the battery and it dawned on me that Xubuntu actually can tell that the batteries in my Logitech K400r wireless keyboard are discharging – pretty freaking cool!
This post is actually the second time I’ve been using my newly built desktop computer (mentioned a few posts earlier). All I can say is WOW! Now I know there are lots who own a Core i7 and that Core i7′s kick the llama’s … but I’m loving this AMD A8-5600k based system. GIMP loaded like never before, I was shocked how fast it loaded. It’s going to be really sweet using this system. Tonight I’m archiving a few more DVDs for XBMC. I’m using Acidrip for this batch and going to experiment a bit now that I have a faster processor.
Good Morning America reported on a story this morning where a Reddit user discovered that her secret santa was philanthropist and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. Bill had sent her items from her Reddit list and made a donation of a REAL cow in her name using heifer.org. According to The Globe and Mail Bill did this to help raise awareness of heifer.org, but of course you have to wonder if it isn’t part of a publicity stunt to remind people of Microsoft.
Ironically one of the items on the Reddit user’s web list was an Apple device.
To be fair Microsoft often gets slagged over any kind of move they make, even if there’s some interest in it for consumers. Take it when Microsoft tried introducing anti-virus in DOS, anti-virus companies became enraged and fought back citing it was an extremely anti-competitive move. Imagine for a moment if MS actually had anti-virus built in since early DOS days, Windows might have actually ended up a bit more secure than it is now. Security Essentials isn’t a bad program, it’s certainly better than nothing, but it doesn’t find a lot of malware and doesn’t seem to provide any protection (if it does it’s terrible).
I mentioned pcpartpicker.com in a previous post as a good site for assembling a computer, but what do you do when you want to compare the features of 2 CPUs? I’ve found cpu-world.com to be a great resource for comparing the features of CPUs, it’s how I decided on the AMD A8-5600K CPU for my next budget build. I compared similarly priced modern Intel dual core systems to the A8-5600K (the A8-5600K is a quad core) before settling on it.
The comparison doesn’t show particular applications (for example showing how each perform encoding a movie), but talks about trade-offs like “uses more power,” or “is 25% faster on multi-threaded applications.”
Cpu-world.com sometimes also displays information such as whether the CPU was originally a boxed CPU or an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) CPU made for a line of machines.
Gsmartcontrol is a fantastic Linux program for checking grabbing smart information from hard drives. One of the great things about gsmartcontrol is that the hard drive doesn’t need to even be partitioned or formatted. Gsmartcontrol needs to be run as root, but don’t worry if you’re running Xubuntu or one of the other Ubuntu derivatives, it’ll run straight from the menu. If you get a Unknown device message you know that you’re not running as root.
Gsmartcontrol has 7 tabs: Identity, Attributes, Capabilities, Error Log, Self-test Logs and Perform Tests. As soon as gsmartcontrol loads you might see red on the Error Log and Attributes tabs – don’t panic – yet! Often we see drives with errors where the drive has come across a bad sector at some point and marked the bad sector. Drives can work with bad sectors (notice the Overall Health Self-Assessment Test has PASSED). Typically I click the Perform Tests tab to run a short test on the hard drive. If the drive passes but the Error Log shows a lot of errors I’ll consider replacing the drive. You’ll also want to check out the Self-Test Logs which shows the amount of hours the drive has on it. Anywhere near 50,000 hours and you should seriously consider replacing the drive.
I’ve tested about a dozen 250GB SATA hard drives and found that drives with more than 26000 hours on them tend to have a number of errors. Out of a dozen, if I remember correctly, about 5 were in bad enough shape that I wouldn’t even consider using them. Good rule of thumb, if it fails the short test back it up and get another drive.
Gsmartcontrol is not installed by default in Xubuntu/Ubuntu so you’ll have to install it.
sudo apt-get install gsmartcontrol
Another use for gsmartcontrol is grabbing the model number/identifying hard drives, or grabbing the hard drive serial number (for insurance purposes).
Extreme gamers are always tinkering with the latest cutting edge hardware and software in order to pump up game Frames Per Second (FPS). Gamers know that the right video driver can make a big difference to game performance. In general the more up-to-date the driver and software the better the performance (but not always).
The other day I noticed that after I installed Xubuntu on my desktop system I wasn’t using the latest (beta) driver, but an (recommended) older driver. I changed to the newer driver (Settings > Additional Drivers) and it made a difference of 2.7 FPS on the OpenArena FPS game test (Phoronix Test Suite). It also made a difference on a number of the other Phoronix tests I was conducting, including some CPU-performance related tests. It seems it could be worth making sure you’re using a newer driver for every day performance too since it’s not just games that appear to benefit from the most recent drivers. Note that you may have to scroll down the Additional Drivers list to see a more recent driver.
If you’ve been reading my blog awhile you know I don’t often directly promote a particular organization or company. In the past I’ve promoted sites like Full Circle Magazine, a Linux-based PDF magazine, not because I’ve been writing for the for almost 2 years, but because I ever started writing for them I learned things from FCM.
Another source of Linux information I like is Category 5 TV. Category 5 doesn’t always cover Linux, a couple of recent episodes are Windows-centric, but in general a large amount of content is Linux-centric. One of the fantastic things about the show is that it’s been going for over 6 years now, every Tuesday night – a pretty amazing commitment. Lots of shows, including ones I’ve done, start up and run for a few episodes before shutting down (one podcast I did went about 18 episodes). 6 years, once a week, is an amazing accomplishment for a video show – Category 5 Tech TV should be proud.
Now they’re trying to fund-raise for a new studio. There’s about 4 days left at this time of writing and they are far away from their approximately $18,000 first stage goal. Before I try to convince anyone it’s a worthy show to donate I recommend checking out a couple of recent episodes (within the past year). Personally, I donated $50 to the show, but there are lots of spots at the $2 donation point. To donate go to their page on Indiegogo: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/studio-build-for-category5-technology-tv.