Friday, March 14, 2014

Compiling Godot from Source on Kubuntu

Hearing about the release of cross-platform, open-source gaming engine Godot, I thought I'd give it a go. After getting the source from github, I hit a "what do I do now" moment? There didn't seem to be anything to run, and I couldn't find any docs that explained what to do.

Perhaps obviously in hindsight, I could have gone to the "compiling from source" page and followed that, but for whatever reason I didn't find it, so here's the process I took to get up and running (using Kubuntu 13.04):

  • There is a makefile in the root of the source code. I tried "make all", but it fell over with the error: /bin/sh: 1: scons: not found.
  • Tried installing scons (sudo apt-get install scons).
  • Make then failed with: scons: *** Do not know how to make File target `bin/godot'
  • Web search led to a Godot forum post that defined the other dependencies that are needed:
  • apt-get install scons pkg-config libx11-dev libxcursor-dev \ build-essential libasound2-dev libfreetype6-dev \ libgl1-mesa-dev libglu-dev

  • Now: $ make all
  • Should get "scons: done building targets".
  • run "bin/godot", this should open the Project Manager.
  • Continue to follow the Godot tutorials.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Nightmare that is Windows 8

I recently installed Windows 8 for the first time. Have to say it was an absolute nightmare. It took a long time, had some real eye-opening WTFs, and had a dastardly hardware incompatibility.

The system was an Intel G1620 with an Asus P8B75-M. It had been happily running various flavours of Linux, but I was passing it over to my wife to use, and the demand for Windows had come with it.

Installation Summary

The high(?) lights:

  • Only boots with the UEFI option. This is more informational than anything, but the motherboard needed to be set to this option. Newer motherboards may have this as the default now.
  • During the installation, it appears to require a Microsoft account just to use the OS. This was a real WTF moment for me (call it the "Facebook effect" perhaps, the insidious attempt by companies to force encourage everyone to create an account with them to do anything, when there is no value added for the user to do so). Fortunately, there is a workaround as Scott Hanselman details here. Basically, you click "Create a New Account", and the option to avoid creating an account appears in that step. Intuitive!
  • Something broke during the first install. This was the real "nightmare" part.

Windows 8 is People Broken

The event during install was a hard lock up (almost at the end, of course :/). The hard lock required full power cycle, and afterwards the machine refused to boot (not surprising, since installation didn't complete properly). But it also wouldn't repair afterwards, despite taking as long in the repair as the initial install took. In both cases it brought up the new-look blue screen of death (the "unhappy face" screen) with the error "CLOCK_WATCHDOG_TIMEOUT".

I reinstalled Linux to make sure it wasn't a hardware fault -- everything seem okay. I updated the motherboard BIOS (which reset the SATA devices from AHCI back to IDE, which prevented the UEFI boot until I switched them back).

In frustration, I reinstalled again. This time I unchecked "downloads updates from the internet during installation". This time, Windows 8 installed. So I immediately began to suspect the wireless card, a TP-Link TL-WN851ND, which up until this point had worked flawlessly.

As soon as I activated the wireless, bam! Windows hard-locked again, and refused to boot. Interestingly, Microsoft claim this card is compatible with Windows 8. I beg to differ.

I replaced with a D-Link DWA-548, which worked flawlessly (so, +1 for D-Link).

So I don't know if the problem was purely a Windows 8 driver issue, or if it was the combination of all the bits of hardware I was using. But I would avoid that particular TP-Link wireless card (or cards based on the same chipset) if using Windows 8.

The Interface

The above doesn't even touch on the interface, which is just plain...ugly. It is also the most infuriating interface I've used, and I've used quite a few. It's not just because it's different (the freedom to change desktop environments is one of the interesting things with Linux), but it simply...makes things difficult.

Full screen apps, hot area hovers to do even the simplest of actions...bah. Sure there are extensions to "make things right", but -- really, that's the solution? Some people say Windows 8 is a disaster. I don't know if that's true, but I do know Windows 8 is awful to use, and I'm glad that I don't have to use it myself.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Kubuntu Ugly Font Fix

I installed Kubuntu 13.10 on a machine at work today, and found the fonts in GTK applications looked pretty awful. I started stuffing around with the font settings, but in the end found that the steps detailed in this askubuntu answer were what fixed it (thanks Rael!).

Specifically, this step:

KDE Settings > Application Appearence > Fonts.
Mark Anti-aliasing as "enabled", click on "Configure",
uncheck "Exclude range", check "Use subpixel",
and select "Slight" for "Hinting".

It's strange because I've never had these issues with Kubuntu on other machines, and may have been due to the high-resolution monitor I was using.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Four-port KVM: Initial Thoughts on the PCT-MP4711

Given my computers seem to multiply for some reason, I started looking around for a KVM switch to help reduce the number of keyboard/mouse swaps needed.

While a 4-port HDMI switch would have been nice, they are significantly more expensive, so I bought a PCT-MP4711 4-port DVI KVM for $90. (An Aten 2-port HDMI switch was available for $100, and while I've usually only got two computers active at any one time, sometimes there are...more).

Here are my initial thoughts on the unit after using it for a few days:

  • It is smaller than I assumed. I was kind of hoping it would be big enough to sit under a monitor (since it came in a hard case), but given its small size I wasn't comfortable with that.
  • Some of the DVI screws were a little iffy. Would have preferred HDMI over DVI if the price was right. Screwing and unscrewing DVI cables is a pain compared to HDMI.
  • You need a "slim" DVI cable to fit in the "Console" slot at the back. Some DVI cables are a bit too fat to fit.
  • Each time you press a button, it emits a really loud and annoying beep. Not sure if this can be turned off. When a machine boots up and powers down it sometimes emits three or four beeps in a row.
  • Occasionally there is a weird delay in activating the mouse/keyboard after swapping between machines.
  • My LED keyboard always remains powered when plugged into the KVM (have to turn off the illumination manually).
  • I did once get it into a funny state where it thought it was connected to a machine that had been switched off, and wouldn't let me select the only machine that was still turned on. Pulling some of the cables out of the back reset it.

Those are mostly negatives above, but in general I'm pretty happy with it and it works very nicely. It doesn't have a long warranty (only 1yr according to the sticker on the box), so I'll see how it goes after being used for a while.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Coolermaster N200 (quick review)

Put together a machine for a friend using the Coolermaster N200 over the weekend.

A few notes I made about the case:

  • Compact size, if you're doing a basic general use desktop with a micro-ATX motherboard it doesn't waste a huge amount of space compared to cases that support ATX boards (still a lot of free space inside, it's big compared to low profile cases).
  • The front panel has that "cheap case" plastic feel (as expected in a sub-$50 case). The panelling and inside weren't too bad though. The panels came off easily, in some cheap cases they're wedged in place.
  • Comes with lots of screws, cable ties and miscellaneous stuff (rubber drive mounts!) that are sometimes missing or skimped on in cheap cases.
  • Front cables are nice and long.
  • Comes with two fans. Only 3-pin, so no control over fan speed, but they weren't overly loud.
  • Little bit of cable management space, not a lot but enough for a low-powered machine.

Overall it was a pretty decent case to work with, would be happy to use it again.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Power Usage from Random Things Around the House

I recently got a PowerMate Lite power meter, which by reputation is an accurate device for measuring power usage. Here are some results from random equipment around the house.

ItemWhile offAt IdleActivity
Desktop i5-3470 + GTX 650TI<1W52W125W (gaming); 92W (transcoding media)
Toshiba Satellite Pro A300 (laptop)-26W35W (minecraft)
Samsung NP350VSC (laptop)0.7W15W33W (minecraft)
Nexus 7 Tablet charger0.1W (nothing plugged into charger cable)5.3–7W (screen off); 9W (screen on)-
HTPC (G1620 + GT 610)<1W56W (peak at boot); 41W idle42W (video playback)
Remington DC1800D (1800W hairdryer)0.05W-1700W
CubieTruck-7W (peak at boot); 3W idle4–4.5W (playing video)
House lamp (Osram Energy Saving 13W Globe)0W-12.95–13.05W (small fluctuations)
House lamp (Mirabella 28W Halogen)0W-32.0–32.1W (small fluctuations)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

HTPC Linux Setup with DigitalNow TinyTwin

I put together a HTPC earlier in 2013, and got a Leadtek DTV2000DS Plus TV tuner (for budgetary reasons, mainly).

Had nothing but trouble with it, and ended up getting it going sort of okay in the end, but was never really happy with its performance. The firmware would only compile with a specific kernel (3.2.0.51 as the max), so no updates could ever go in. Overall it was a nightmarish experience.

Bye-bye DTV2000DS Plus...

Yesterday I blasted away the Leadtek and the previous install, and installed a DigitalNow TinyTwin USB tuner. From a fresh install to having a running MythTV was a couple of hours, compared to months of on-and-off tinkering previously. Obviously having the experience from last time helped, but this setup was relatively painless in comparison.

Brief overview of the steps, in case anyone else is using this tuner:

  • Installed fresh Mint 16 (for no particular reason, other than had it on a flash drive already).
  • After plugging in the TinyTwin, it was detected as a USB device, but didn't pick up firmware automatically. lsusb gave its ID as 048d:9006.
  • dmesg | grep dvb said something along the lines of "dvb-usb-it9135-01.fw missing". So I downloaded the firmware from https://github.com/OpenELEC/dvb-firmware (there is a link for the entire zip, or you could just clone the repo).
  • After unzipping the zip, cd into dvb-firmware-master/it9135 and then copy firmware file:
  • sudo cp -p dvb-usb-it9135-01.fw /lib/firmware
  • Followed up with a cold boot (not sure if needed, but some places suggested this can be different to a warm boot).
  • dmesg | grep dvb now showed "successfully initialized and connected", and ls /dev/dvb showed adapter0 and adapter1. Success!
  • Installed MythTV 0.27 (as per here).

After that, configuring MythTV all went by the book. Using the default over the air grabber worked as well (last time I'd tried setting up Shepherd, which I never got going properly).

Sunday, December 22, 2013

SteamOS Beta: Installation and Test

Despite my stance on DRM (I abhor the entire concept for many, many reasons, but that's for another post), due to demands gentle encouragement from friends I decided to try out Steam (and specifically, SteamOS) and see what it's all about.

At this point SteamOS is in Beta, and while it's got a lot of areas to iron out, once you get it installed it works pretty well, including fully functional AMD GPU drivers despite no official support.

Initially I tried to run this on my old Core 2 Quad system, but the install failed because the BIOS wasn't new enough (needed to have UEFI Boot option). But on a newer machine the install process was much smoother. It was a fairly low-specced machine with the following parts: Intel G1610, 2GB RAM, AMD HD7770, 128GB Sandisk Ultra Plus SSD.

SteamOS desktop

Here are the steps:

  • I chose the SteamOSIntaller.zip option, mainly because I thought the CloneZilla-based image option wouldn't work because I didn't have a 1TB HDD, which was apparently required for the image.
  • Instead of following the installer instructions in the SteamOS FAQ, I converted it to an ISO using the following command:
  • grub-mkrescue -o SteamOS.iso steam/
  • Next I put the ISO on a flash drive (using Unetbootin or ISO writer of choice). I discovered that even with the ISO, UEFI boot is required.
  • Selected "Automated Install" from the boot list. Everything went smoothly for me from this point.
  • Initially I was just running with Intel onboard graphics. After install, I plugged in the HD7770. It picked up the fglrx_pci drivers and "just worked" which was nice.
  • The first time, you have to run "steam" from the console. It downloads and installs Steam (about 220MB). After installing and creating my account, it "crashed" (spat out a crash ID anyway). I restarted using the "Steam" icon on the desktop, which worked fine.

The first game I installed was Killing Floor. I was only running it at 1680x1050 (using an old monitor), but it looked great at High settings.

Killing Floor on SteamOS at 1450x900

Only games with a Linux target will work. Non-linux games appear in the Steam client window, but don't have an "Install" button. I assume that someone will work out how to get a wine option to run Windows only games via SteamOS, but I haven't tried this yet.

Things of interest to note:

  • The installer erases the target drive, and potentially any other drives plugged in. I installed on a fresh system to make sure no data was accidentally lost.
  • USB drives mount as read-only by default, and the "steam" user doesn't have permission to do even that. Makes it a pain trying to transfer screenshots or anything between computers.
  • The software sources are limited basically to Steam repos. I assume you can add other sources in, but haven't explored this.

Friday, December 13, 2013

GOG: If Only There Was Support For...

In the past I've bought quite a few games from awesome DRM-free games site Good Old Games. But it's been a while now, primarily because I haven't used Windows for a couple of years.

They send me regular emails like this one, asking me to come back:

And I keep saying "I'd love to buy more stuff, but none of the games will run on Linux".

I understand why they can't support the platform, so I'm not blaming them, but it makes me sad, because I'd love to support their efforts.

:(

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Review: TP-Link TL-WN722N USB Wifi Adapter

Yesterday a friend from work lent me his TP-Link TL-WN722N USB wireless adapter to try out.

I plugged it into a machine running Linux Mint 15 (Cinnamon) 64-bit. At first everything seemed fine: it connected to the router flawlessly, and started getting data as fast as the internet could provide it.

Then I moved the machine into another room, to see how it would go through walls. It was about 8 metres away, going through two brick walls. It could no longer connect.

You mad bro? (Definitely didn't like being moved away from the router)

I gradually moved the machine closer, but found that I had to be in direct sight of the router and less than 1 metre away before it would connect up. I can't imagine this is normal, and must be a fault with the hardware. Bit unfortunate! If you've got one of these and get similar symptoms, I'd be returning it straight away.

Unfortunately I can't really do a proper review (even for me, I'm pretty rough after all) with these results. :(

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Review: MSI B75MA-E33 and MSI DVD-RW

I hadn't used an MSI motherboard before, so I thought I'd give one a go. They apparently have a relatively high fault rate compared to competitors, so I don't see them recommended as often.

The B75MA-E33 is a budget board, I guess targeted at low cost builds. It was the cheapest B75 chipset board at my local parts store.

The PCB wasn't too thin or flimsy, no more so than other B75 boards I've used anyway. I paired it with a G1610 CPU, and it booted up first time with no problems. All ports were functional, so no issues at all. Didn't spend long in the BIOS, seemed okay, but the case didn't have a fan that could be controlled by the motherboard, so didn't get to really test any of their fan control features. I had to pop open the manual to find the placement of the case power, reset and LED pins, since there was no indication printed on the board itself.

It only has D-Sub and HDMI ports for onboard graphics, but if you've got a HDMI monitor it seems like a fairly solid budget board.

MSI DVD-RW

In the same build I grabbed an MSI DVD drive as well, again the cheapest on offer at $16.

It came in a box (unusual these days) with a set of screws and a replaceable faceplate for people with white cases -- cute.

I was pleasantly surprised with the noise, no louder than any other drive. About the only limitation is the white text on the faceplate, unlike, say, the Pioneer DVD drives, which is in black so it's not as obvious.

But overall another decent budget option.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Review: Shaw GT-GM1 Computer Case

After reading this review on OCAU forums, I was curious as to whether the Shaw cases were really a viable option for budget builds.

So I picked up the $33 Shaw GT-GM1 from MSY to give it a test (no PSU of course -- as all good children say in their prayers at night, please don't let Daddy use a Shaw power supply).

I must admit the sound of parts rattling around inside the box was a bad sign. Turned out to be a couple of 5.25" and 3.5" clips that hold drives in place had fallen out and needed to be clipped back together -- no big deal.

First impressions: the case appearance was far from pretty, but not too garish. The crinkly front doesn't look as bad in real life as it does to me in the photos. Top-mounted power supply position is getting rarer these days, but was common a few years back and seems the way ultra-cheap cases are still made. The back screws felt a little cross-threaded. The side panels were flimsy (as noted in the other review), pretty much as expected in a cheap case.

Notes on the rest of the setup:

  • One of the 3.5" plastic disk holder clips was missing.
  • Two missing expansion slot plates at the back.
  • Motherboard risers were pre-installed. Some risers were loose and couldn't be tightened -- cross-threaded out of the box. Reworking some of the other risers (there were more than would be needed for the mATX board I had) fixed the problem, but it didn't instill any confidence.
  • No case screws! Other than the motherboard risers, nothing at all.
  • Front panel cords were cable-tied in such a way they wouldn't reach the motherboard. Pretty difficult to cable-manage them in any neat way.
  • Case comes with a single fan at the back. The fan had to be powered directly from the PSU via a Molex plug, rather than a 3- or 4-pin plug into a motherboard header.
  • Noise levels aren't great. The case fan runs flat out due to its Molex plug.

I can't remember ever feeling so dubious about a case working properly, but on first boot everything seemed okay. USB, headphones, power/reset switches and fan all worked upon testing, frankly to my surprise at that point.

So my conclusion is a little different to the OCAU reviewer's: given the problems I found with this case, I couldn't recommend it, even taking into account the price. It not unlikely that someone looking to do a cheap-as-possible build may be doing their first or at least be inexperienced. The lack of case screws and dodgy motherboard risers would likely stymie them. I was okay because I had a heap of spare parts, but that isn't everybody. Anyone actually using the case should be prepared to either replace the stock fan or fit a voltage regulator (taking the price closer to the next-case-in-line anyway).

In my opinion, you're far better off paying an extra $15 for a fifty-dollar case. Even though they may not be fantastic either, I think it's money well-spent.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Convert M4V to AVI Using ffmpeg

I tried numerous ffmpeg settings to convert some M4V (MP4) files into AVI. Most either didn't work or crashed with a segmentation fault.

The only one I found that worked was this answer at StackOverflow. However, the quality of the file produced using the settings in the answer wasn't great, so this is what I ended up using:

ffmpeg -i input.m4v -f avi -b 2048k -ab 160k -ar 44100 output.avi

The output files are about twice the size of the input file, unfortunately, but they look decent.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

AMD GPU on Linux, Revisited

It's been almost a year since I first tried to run an AMD graphics card on Linux. After some success with an AMD A-CPU build a few weeks back, I picked up a 2nd hand HD7770 yesterday to try out and see if things have improved.

There were a number of tests I was interested in doing. I didn't have a convenient dual-monitor setup available, so everything is on a single screen (dual screen was one of my major problems last time, so I might get around to this at some point). The tests were:

  • Dragging a window around, looking for tearing
  • Scrolling in a web browser, looking for tearing again
  • Playing a HD video
  • Playing a game

I installed the card on my old Intel Q6600 system, and ran off the onboard graphics to start with, to get a baseline. I installed a fresh Kubuntu 13.04 as the test platform. These are the results, discussion at the end:

Test 1: Intel i915 (onboard) Graphics
ActionResultComments
Drag windowXNoticeable glitches
Browser scrollXOccasional glitches
Movie:)
GameXUnplayable (took a few minutes and hadn't even made it through the intro to the title screen)

Test 2: Open Source (Radeon) Drivers
ActionResultComments
Drag windowXNoticeable glitches
Browser scrollXOccasional glitches, similar in appearance to the onboard performance
Movie:)
GameXGame ran, going from 20 FPS sometimes down to 5. Some major glitching, and eventually a black screen. Not playable.

Example of the in-game glitching with the open source drivers


Test 3: AMD Catalyst 13.4
ActionResultComments
Drag window:)Looks nice, but need to ensure "Tear Free" option is selected in AMD Control Centre
Browser scroll:)Again, need to ensure "Tear Free" option is selected
Movie:)And again
Game:DVery good results (eventually), no noticeable lag on full-screen.

I intended to use 13.10, but the current version of Catalyst wouldn't install properly, so I dropped back to 13.04.

Installing the driver is still fraught with difficulties. The first couple of attempts failed -- even using the ubuntu libraries with apt-get install fglrx fglrx-amdccle wouldn't work. In the end, the way I got it going was by following the instructions in this askubuntu answer. In particular, I think getting all the dependencies is critical.

The proprietary driver may have an unfair advantage in my tests drag/scroll tests, since I found the "Tear Free" switch. I'm not sure if such an option exists for the open source drivers.

So, I had better luck than last time round, but the installation process is still daunting, and dual-screen support would be good to try out.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fixing KDE Games Menu Crash

After installing the game "A Virus Named Tom" from the Humble Bundle 9, trying to view the "Games" menu in KDE started crashing.

The problem is due to the file avirusnamedtom_com-avirusnamedtom_1.desktop in ~/.local/share/applications. It contains a reference to an image where either a) the reference is invalid because it contains spaces, or b) the image is unreadable.

To fix the problem, I edited the Icon line from:

Icon=/home/ash/Software/games/installed/
  VirusNamedTom/A Virus Named TOM.bmp

to:

Icon="/home/ash/Software/games/installed/
  VirusNamedTom/A Virus Named TOM.bmp"

(Line break above is for clarity -- there is no line break in the file).

After logging out and logging back in, the Games menu should work again (although the icon for AVNT still doesn't appear properly, and I can't open the file in the default image viewer, which makes me think it's broken in some way. GIMP can open it without any problem, so I'm not sure what the issue is).

An alternative solution is to rename or delete the .desktop file, but then you lose the AVNT menu entry.

Also note this should fix a crash when clicking on the menu and selecting "Edit Applications..." -- which also occurred until I made this fix.

Hat tip to abelthorne, who posted the clue that led me to track this down.

Update 17/10/2013:
After a bit more experimentation, I found that the image can be made to work in the Games menu by saving as it as .PNG in GIMP, removing the spaces in the filename, and removing the quotes in the Icon entry in the .desktop file. There are some weirdnesses or limitations in the .desktop format it seems, and also something strange with the .BMP that comes with AVNT.