Monday, August 18, 2014

Fix Missing TTY Terminal with nVidia GPU

So I had this long-running problem where as soon as I installed the drivers for an nVidia GPU, I'd lose the terminals (normally accessed by Ctrl-Alt-F1, Ctrl-Alt-F2, etc). The processes were still running, but nothing was visible. This was particularly annoying if I did anything to trash the desktop environment --- couldn't get access to a terminal to fix things.

Turns out the solution though is pretty simple: modify the file /etc/default/grub so that instead of saying "quiet splash" it says "nomodeset" (make a copy of your original grub file first to be safe):


Then run sudo update-grub. Upon reboot, the TTYs will be visible again. Spews out the entire boot log to the screen as well, but that wasn't really a concern at all for me.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Quick review: Comsol 3.5mm Audio Splitter

I bought one of these Comsol 3.5mm Splitters from Officeworks recently. Hoped it would duplicate an audio output to use on two devices, but it turned out to approximately halve the output level and muddied it up considerably (bass in particular sounded terrible). My fault for not researching first, but it is a little annoying that the advertisement or specs contain nothing to suggest how limited the device is.

In the scale of audiophile-ness, I'm a long way down the ladder, so if I can tell it's bad then it's must be really bad. (Maybe I was expecting too much?)

Do not recommend one of these at all.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Random Rant: Samsung Galaxy S2 -> S3 "Upgrades"

There are a couple of things that really bug me about the Samsung Galaxy S3 compared to the S2.

The first is the USB connectivity to Linux computers. With the S2 you could treat the phone as a standard USB device and read/write files from it with no problems. With the S3 Samsung appear to have removed that simple USB connectivity in favour of MTP, which is problematic with Linux and frankly a giant pain in the arse, requiring installation of various tools that are a bit flaky and don't work as well as a standard file browser. Definitely a downgrade, for no reason that I can see.

The other is the lack of FM radio tuner in the phone. Perhaps it's not commonly used these days, I don't know, but I used it, and found it quite handy when out and about to plug in the radio.

I upgraded got the phone via a plan, and because it was an incremental update from the same brand, I didn't think to check closely as to what the downgrades were (because why would you deliberately annoy your customers by removing stuff that worked really well and was useful?).

More fool me.

Although they sound trivial, little changes like those make the new version far less functional for me. Wondering whether I'll actually get another Samsung phone...I have a feeling competitors are probably no better. ":/

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Getting rid of mscorefonts

While installing the kubuntu-restricted-extras package, I accidentally allowed the installation of ttf-mscorefonts-installer. This kind of uglified up all my browser fonts, so to remove them I ran:

sudo apt-get purge ttf-mscorefonts-installer

Solution was based on this answer at askubuntu.

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 ( 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 (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 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...

Update 27 Jul 2014:

GoG has announced support for Linux. Currently there are 50 or so games.

Original post (13 Dec 2013):

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.


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.