Monday, October 23, 2017

Making a Return


Subtitle: Wonderful Amazon and wonderful England.

Marcus and Agata have now moved out of Switzerland and right now we begin to enjoy the advantages of living in a country we fully understand, with a finely developed retail system.

So I made a product return.  Something that I will explain is not usually possible in Switzerland

Amazon is Wonderful
If you live in the UK, and are adept, or have a need for online ordering with next day delivery on over 1 million items you would be a total idiot not to join Amazon Prime

Besides this and the ability to use Amazon Video, or Amazon Music, Amazon purchases also entitle you to 

return bought items, for any reason within 30 days

No questions asked!

In Switzerland
Only by exception will an Online or a Physical store allow a return of goods that is not faulty.

In true "Buyer beware" style if it was not the right colour, or you just did not like it.  Tough luck. They may insist that you

- Return the product in original packaging
- Return the product in unopened packaging (??)
- Return with X days of order  (not delivery)
- Return for a credit note only

Goodbye Netgear SRX5308



Our Quad WAN port, VPN capable firewall arrived.  But after over 30 minutes of trying it was pretty much dead as a dodo

- On power ON, the Test light is hard ON. This is not correct
- The Hard Reset  (pressing the reset button on the back for 8 seconds) did not work
- No IP addresses were seen to be available via any DHCP LAN connection
- From a Linux command line from my 192.168.1.x computer I could not reach the Netgear at the default 192.168.1.1



Eventually I connected a Serial cable and interface and using putty connected to the port.  Do inspect the above diagram (click to enlarge)

- So the unit is alive
- Some tosser has badly flashed both boot images
- You see the bootloader start
- But it can't get any further
- And the bootloader has no intelligence to reflash the image  (I tried tftp tftpd, no joy etc)



I then tried to register the product at the Netgear website, but somebody else already has.  Hmm.  So I am unable to make a warranty or support call / claim

There was nothing else to do but make an Amazon return.

And, again amazingly Amazon allows you to do this for free.   You print out a label for either the Post office or 'Pass my Parcel' and Amazon picks up the cost.

It is just frikkin incredible.

To Recap
Here is the Amazon Prime Link

It is about 80 GBP per year


You get 1 day delivery, Amazon Music and Amazon Video

30 day no quibble return policy

Why would one shop anywhere else?




Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Dark Religions are Departed and Sweet Science Remains



Perhaps  the Blake quotation in this title meant that Science will remove the Dark Religions so as to enable the enlightened Religions to flourish.

I can only say that to find out the truth, you should read or listen to, why,  Dan Brown of course.

In the household of Marcus and Agata we have both been walking around, glued, transfixed, fascinated,  <insert adjective> as the latest novel which focuses on the struggle between Religion and Science unfolds.


Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to attend a major announcement—the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Kirsch, who was one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard two decades earlier, is about to reveal an astonishing breakthrough . . . one that will answer two of the fundamental questions of human existence.

As the event begins, Langdon and several hundred guests find themselves captivated by an utterly original presentation, which Langdon realizes will be far more controversial than he ever imagined. But the meticulously orchestrated evening suddenly erupts into chaos, and Kirsch’s precious discovery teeters on the brink of being lost forever. Reeling and facing an imminent threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape Bilbao. With him is Ambra Vidal, the elegant museum director who worked with Kirsch to stage the provocative event. Together they flee to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.


Navigating the dark corridors of hidden history and extreme religion, Langdon and Vidal must evade a tormented enemy whose all-knowing power seems to emanate from Spain’s Royal Palace itself . . . and who will stop at nothing to silence Edmond Kirsch. On a trail marked by modern art and enigmatic symbols, Langdon and Vidal uncover clues that ultimately bring them face-to-face with Kirsch’s shocking discovery . . . and the breathtaking truth that has long eluded us.


http://danbrown.com/origin/

https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/Crime-Thrillers/Origin-Audiobook/B01LWQGXO1

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Origin-Robert-Langdon-Book-5/dp/0593078756/


#DanBrown
#Origin






Saturday, October 21, 2017

Honey I left the Internet On



1975 Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody

Our Internet connection in England is currently struggling along.  In fact it is metered and the latest almost disaster is just one further example as to why this must not be allowed to carry on much later.



1978 Kraftwerk: The Robots

Marcus left an Internet greedy application playing on a single computer here in England.


1979  Buggles: Living inthe Plastic Age

I noticed it a few hours later

50GB of streaming later.  In a single afternoon :-(



2017 Maroon 5 : What Lovers Do

Our Internet provider charges 0.01 GBP / MB out of plan

So if this was an out of plan charge the cost would have been

50,000 * 0.01 = 500 GBP

Through luck Marcus caught it in time.

We are quite literally considering moving out of England as a precautionary and cost saving measure.

Grump on.


Friday, October 20, 2017

Review: The Blue Snowball Microphone



Subtitle: Microphone of choice for your Server

I already talked about a quality webcam for your computer, now it is time to look at a quality microphone.

On my Supermicro based workstation the motherboard has no Sound card, so the conventional way to attach a microphone would involve installing a PCIe sound card.

But there is an alternative way and that is to use a quality USB microphone.

After much research I honed in on the Blue Microphone company.   They are more popular in the Apple domain, but as you will see they work just brilliantly in the Windows domain too.


The microphone we will look at is the White Snowball, also available in black.

Dodgy Packaging

Due to being wise and old, or possibly just the latter I can say that Blue package their Microphone in a large box over twice the required size, with a massive cardboard air spacer.

This is an ancient trick to fill the shelves in your computer store with a large more prominent box.  Shame on you Blue.

With that being said ...


Included
I got the White Microphone   (Black is also Available)

A small tripod stand

A USB cable to link to a USB2 interface or better

Does It work?

Yes on my Windows Server it works just brilliantly.  I have crystal clear sound and I use it mostly with Google Hangouts or Skype . In either App I have the choice to select this Microphone or any other on my workstation.

I can 100% recommend this as a way to bring high quality audio to your Workstation  / Server based motherboard at under 100 USD for the installation.





Thursday, October 19, 2017

Review: Logitech Brio 4K Webcam


I waited over 3 years for this moment.  Yes, Logitech finally has a 4K Webcam allowing you to project a truly high quality resolution picture to your loved ones or other video conference targets.


But You Look Great
Is often something I hear when I join a video call and then I see my counterparty broadcasting their video to me at resolutions as low as a 2000 genre VGA 640x480 webcam.

Just because I made an effort to have a Strong Internet connection and quality Webcam hardware does not affect the quality of your image that you might be sending me on your pixelated VGA resolution hardware.

To me it makes a very big difference.  I have been known to get quite irritated when well healed  (i.e. rich folks) I talk to just can't be bothered.

So then

- This is a 4K webcam, i.e. more pixels and better resolution than a HD webcam

- In the UK you can buy direct from Logitech here

- It will cost you about 200 GBP


- You connect from the webcam with a USB-C cable to your USB 3.X port on your computer

- Technically there is 4K 4096 x 2160 pixels "Ultra HD" at 30 frames per second

- 90 degrees field of view and 5x Digital Zoom

- Windows 10 users  (but not Windows Server) can use this as a Windows Hello facial recognition login

- Webcam includes a microphone too







The camera comes with a weighted wrap around connector that enables it to sit on top of a monitor screen without falling off.



Besides the driver there is a settings application

Stuttttering



I've been using this 4K webcam now for over 6 months.   It's only been with the latest firmware update of 2.0.12 at the time of writing that has stopped the stuttering.  To me if you have problems

- Update the Firmware  (of course!)
- You are connecting to a USB 3.1 type 1 or type 2 port right?
- Your Internet Connection is at least 10 Mbit/second free right?
- Try using the Camera on its own PCIe USB card or on an uncontended USB port interface


The Final Word
Many people in this world care about their physical appearance and how they look to people in a real life, face to face situation.   I hope that in 2017 a similar level of professionalism applies to your Web presence when in a Business or Personal video call.

Get a decent Webcam and Microphone, please!  And if you have the funds then consider a 4K Logitech Brio Webcam, it will send the ultimately clear and quality video stream of you to others.





Brio Features


Links
Logitech Brio Support

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Review: Lenovo 305 Budget Laptop


Subtitle: When everything just works

What We Bought and How
We bought a Lenovo 305 from an auction.  Actually  Lenovo 305 151IBD aka 80 NJ.  We described the process here.  As supplied the machine looked new and was installed with Windows 10 home and had the above specification.



BIOS Screens
Once we found the Novo button which is a tiny hole on the right of laptop, (not to be confused with a very dim power LED on the left)  pressing it allows BIOS start, and a custom Boot Menu.  The later is important because of Secure Boot it's not possible to switch between the 2 different OS I plan to install any other way




The supplied BIOS was at latest level and is the traditional character based one.


Easy to Open
 With just a few screws removed, the laptop back is open and internals revealed. No screws are hidden under any feet and the screws are standard, not weird shapes needing special tools



Yes,  believe it people.   The memory and hard disk and wireless card are socketed.

They can all be easily upgraded in seconds.
Hard Drive Upgrade

Out with the supplied 1TB spinning disk and in with my last spare Solid State Disk.   It's great being able to recycle stuff, and this modest Crucial Disk will really enhance laptop performance.

This laptop does not have a PCIe Disk slot but I think a 550MB/second SATA disk is still going to make it fly.


Memory Upgrade


2 x 4GB Memory modules are supplied and this may be upgraded to 16GB using 2x8GB.   Doing so is an extra expense and I don't think required, but we'll monitor and if our donor complains about the speed this could be an option.



Notes on the Laptop

- Construction is adequate.  It is not top notch!  The worst I found is the plastic around the base of the laptop sides.  Thin and cheezy

- Speakers are large and great

- It has a DVD drive.  Ugh!  Making the laptop bigger and heavier.  But actually for its intended recipient who still uses DVD, possibly great

- Screen resolution of 1366 x 768 is okay but not great on this relatively large 15.6" screen

- Low resolution webcam and microphone, so Skype is possible without adding any peripherals.  We also tested our Logitech Brio (4K webcam) and it worked flawlessly over the USB3 interface.

- We wanted a 15.6" screen which is large and easy to read, not anything smaller

- There are 2 x USB3 ports and 1 x USB 2 port

- Bluetooth 4 Low Energy so it can communicate with headsets and Sports Watches, no issue

- The power adapter is really really small and the battery is external and removable and just clicks to the back of the laptop

- The laptop is moderately chunky, but still much thinner than any gaming laptop, so there gamers!

- No backlit keyboard

- The keyboard is UK, so personally having used a US keyboard for the last 20 years or so it is driving me a little nuts.  Also, in this case there is a small set of return and delete keys which are too close to the numeric keyboard which I wish was not there.   But for slower typists I am sure it is going to be just fine.



What is Working

- CD/DVD working
- Bluetooth
- Fast Wireless Networking (40MB/sec measured)
- Windows 10 Enterprise Installed
- Linux Mint 18.2 Installed and switchable via Novo button
- Windows 10 Installed with multiple language support
- Windows 10 Local and Internet based users installed
- Common applications like Skype and VLC installed
- Battery Charge and Rundown test - fine

Summary
We bought this laptop at auction for under 280 GBP.   It is a gift and a secondary computer for somebody. 

Everything is working just fine.  The laptop is now dual installed with Linux Mint and Windows 10, boots and operates quickly from the fast Crucial SATA SSD, suspends and resumes nicely.  It plays DVDs and has a fast Wireless card.   It's moderately chunky but has reasonable design and looks.

So far we are really pleased with this purchase.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Multiple Monitors on one Computer




Subtitle: Including the Gigabyte GTX1060G1

When you work with computers day in and day out you really begin to appreciate your peripherals.   You can and should carefully select your Keyboard, Mouse and Screen setup.

In our case this involves choosing the best components to do the job; and today I focus on driving multiple screens from a single computer and single Graphics Adapter


No Gaming Please
Over the years I have migrated from multiple PCIe graphics cards in a single computer to just one to drive a multi monitor landscape on which I can interact most productively

The last iteration was the Gigabyte GTX 960 described here.

It seems my solution involves purchasing a powerful multi port Gaming card which means

- Entering the bizarre website world of the gamer
- You will be introduced mainly to the importance of weird stuff like being able to have an LED lit graphics card
- And being able to change the colour of the lighting on your card  (which you could see if your computer case has a perspex side screen)
- But on the plus side you get multiple ports and a fast response from them



This Nvidia 1060 based card from Gigabyte has no less than 5 ports and can drive 4 of them concurrently.

The card is 2 slots wide and plugs into a single PCIex16 slot. Take careful length of the card to see it will fit in your motherboard case i.e. not bump into something on the motherboard or case edge.

The top DVI-D socket is now only useful for older monitors

You get 3 DisplayPorts each capable of handling a 4K screen or in fact upto a 7680x4320x60Hz screen.   I know: bonkers!

And last a HDMI 2.0 port supporting upto a 4K screen (4096 x 2160)


With Unlimited Resources?

If cost was not a limiting factor I would attach 3 Dell 8K UP3218K monitors on 3 DisplayPorts only


Back to Reality
In reality,  in the land of definitely finite expenditure I've chosen to connect


a) 4K TV  (see my article here )  via HDMI 2.0

b) My 6  year old  HP ZR30W screen on DisplayPort  [NB This screen is old and also very power hungry at about 130 Watts comparing with only 60Watts for newer 4K screens]

c) A relatively new Iiyama 4K screen on DisplayPort

The Idea Then
So a single server houses the Nvidia 1060G1 Card

For economy this server is also my workstation

The Card enables 3 High resolution screen attachment (with the chance to add a 4th screen in the future!)

I don't attach screens to other computers but ssh, telnet, vnc, Remote Desktop into those headless systems displaying their usually graphical desktop window on one of the above screens.



The server OS allows the customisation of multiple screens into one logically huge screen.  And I choose to scale up 4K screens to 125% so that the windows are legible to me.

Performance!



The recommended  Gigabyte GTX1060G1 is a high performance gaming card.  It's almost sleeping with the load that I am driving it with.   If however you really want something faster I'd recommend the Gigabyte Geoforce 1080 Ti card with water cooling,  oh and 11GB of onboard memory.  Bonkers.


Summary
Using a enthusiast level, gaming graphics card from Gigabyte enables me to drive multiple 4K screens simultaneously on a single Workstation.   And multiple screens give you the flexibility to have multiple open and discrete windows active to give you maximum productivity.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Folklore, and, the Wisdom of the Ancients



 Subtitle: And the Old Wives Tale

Recently we have been out collecting Conkers, for various reasons.

One reason is that our neighbour confidently informed us that they were a deterrant to spiders.


Before I had chance to research this conkers had placed themselves in several Spider hotspots of the house



However it soon became clear that the deterrent as such was simply not working.

Today Marcus lives in the world where I more believe in the wisdom of the Internet / World Wide Web.   Oh and theories, when used in the scientific meaning of the word,  backed up with evidence and the Scientific Method.

I call Bunkum to those who rely on, espouse, or promote their opinions when I find they are based on Folklore, The Wisdom of the Ancients,   An Old Wives Tale, or something they learnt from their parents who learnt it from their parents.

I would say

- Trust the Scientific Method
- The Theories that result from It
- Don't just believe one story you heard on the Internet
- Always consider opposing claims or viewpoints but not without evidence
- Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
- Draw your oppions from substantial and detailed Internet Research
- Beware of Cognative Biases

And back then to Conkers.  Here are some articles to read

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2016/09/conkers-spiders/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1217709/Do-conkers-drive-spiders-bonkers-Royal-Society-Chemistry-tests-old-wives-tale.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/6255510/Spiders-v-conkers-are-arachnids-really-scared-of-horse-chestnuts.html






The KLF: Justified and Ancient

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Apple and OSX: it just DOESN'T always work



Reed and Vega: Walk on the Wild Side



Subtitle: A walk to the dark side


There was a day when Marcus frequently dabbled with that expensive, proprietary,  obsessively obsolescent company Apple.  After all, in many ways they do make excellent products.

As such today it is only Agata is my suffering family member and wife who is tasked with being uptodate with all things Apple.

This Sunday I needed an emergency Internet router and so had to dust off my emergency backup Apple Mac Mini



It's never easy with Apple
So I have used Apple since about 1979, so please don't counter my following  irritation as that of a new uniformed user.


I had to find and plug in the damn thing.  Now it is very elegant and small I'll give it that.  But of course using my Microsoft Media keyboard    it's a total challenge to translate those weird apple keys onto a normal :-) keyboard.



Then I had to upgrade it to the latest macOS and include any recent security patches of course



I was going to update iMovie as well but on looking at the size of the update of over 2GB,  I nearly fainted.  Life is too short for this right now.   (WTF Apple!!)

VNC Working
I need to access the system headless because I'm actually running out of HDMI/Displayport interfaces.  I use VNC


You need to enable this in settings, sharing.



USB Tethering
The object of the exercise is to test out multiple WAN gateways, so I need to configure this Mac Mini's Ethernet as a default Gateway, so that in my test client computers will point to multiple Internet Gateways.

The Mac Mini will just be one of them.

Plugged in the Android Phone which tethers without issue via USB to any Microsoft Windows or Linux computer.

With Apple ... a big nothing!!

Bloody typical

NDIS for Apple


So it turns out Apple refused to write the driver so a nice man called Joshua Wise came to my rescue.


Learning Points
The myth that /Apple just works/ is just that.  A myth.

Not only is there an Apple Screen of Death  but Apple is resistant to implementing many forms of interoperability.   This NDIS example is just one.






I continue to think of Apple as  Sharon Stone in Total Recall   Not totally to be trusted :-)



And now I am trundling off to do this router, multiple gateway testing.  What else could possible go wrong now ....





Saturday, October 14, 2017

Living in a 64bit World


Daft Punk: Instant Crush 8 Bit




Subtitle: 32bit shame


Let me be clear.

Apple's iPhone smartphones run a 64 bit Operating System

My Network Attached Storage QNAP runs a 64 bit Operating System

My Apple Computer runs a 64 bit Operating System

My Windows Laptop runs a 64 bit Operating System

My Workstation Runs a 64 bit Operating System


32bit Unclean
However since both Windows Server (or Windows 10) or OSX can still run 32 bit applications some totally lazy application developers can still not be bothered to provide a native 64 bit version.

To name and shame





[System.Diagnostics.Process[]] $processes32bit = @()

foreach($process in get-process) {
    $modules = $process.modules
    foreach($module in $modules) {
        $file = [System.IO.Path]::GetFileName($module.FileName).ToLower()
        if($file -eq "wow64.dll") {
            $processes32bit += $process
            break
        }
    }

}

$processes32bit | sort-object Name | format-table Name


Name
----


avgui
AVG Anti Virus, Server Edition


CefSharp.BrowserSubprocess
Chrome Browser


Dropbox
Dropbox
Dropbox

Dropbox File Sync and Share


EXCEL
Microsoft Excel

ExpressTray
Garmin Express Tray Icon


GoogleCrashHandler
Chrome crash handler


googledrivesync
googledrivesync

Google Drive File Sync and Share


nvcontainer
NVIDIA Web Helper

Nvidia Graphics Driver



PfuSsMon
SSFolderTray

Scansnap Tray Icon and Monitor Software


vmware-tray
VMware tray icon

If there is a single thing that is pushing me to move to Linux it is that the Windows and to a lesser degree the OSX world Application developers are complacent and lazy enough to stay put with 32 bit executables.


Shame on you all





Daft Punk: Instant Crush   (64 bit version)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Garmin 935: Simply the Best



Unofficially Marcus and Agata are quite competitive and one of the ways that this manifests itself is that we often choose slightly different technologies.

And, for some years we have always chosen different Sportswatch implementations.

But as shown above, astonishingly we both agree that there is no better Athletes watch, right now in Autumn 2017 than the Garmin 935.


Audience and Caveats
This is a top tier product and so it will cost you about 400 GBP including UK taxes from Wiggle  (at Platinum level customer discount) but in our opinion this is well worth the investment.

First though, who is this watch for?

- It is for serious athletes
- It is attractive enough that you can wear it 24x7, and with 24 hour heart rate monitoring, you should really do so
- It is lighter and slimmer than its only real competitor, the slightly more attractive Garmin Fenix5
- Posers really don't wear this watch.  Posers will choose something with bling, and something that may have a lot of applications, a better display, but far less accurate activity measurement
- If I was single I'd say that if I saw a potential partner wearing a Garmin 935 I'd say: Yes, serious athlete, investigate further :-)


What does it do So Well?

We wear this watch 24x7 and first it functions as a watch!  The display is on continuously, none of that turn wrist or raise to display the time.  It's a watch, or activity tracker, it is on all the time.

The Essentials
Garmin structures the 935 and other models like 735XT and Fenix 5 into the following categories

Watchface
There is a Garmin standard watchface, but you can choose from over 50 developer made watchfaces in the Garmin App store.  Marcus currently uses a customisable face called WF4COOL which I chose because it has an exceptionally large font and I can customise the watchface to include my current heart rate and number of steps.

Widgets
At the top level display of watch function, a Widget is an application that is not an activity or field within an activity.  Example: A compass, or Steps Measurement or Calorie Count.  As with Watchface you can add Widgets from the App store be they from Garmin or developers.   You can use the left watch buttons to move from the Watchface to any of these widgets.

Applications
Garmin provides a number of standard applications like  Run, Walk, Trail Run, Bike, Pool Swim, Open Water Swim, SUP, Hike, Cross country Ski.  Additionally a vast number of new applications are available from the store

Data Fields
Applications use Data Fields.  For example the Run application uses screens.  You choose say 3 screens, First screen has 1 Data Field == Time, Second Screen has say 2 Fields == Distance, Current Speed.  Etcetera.  But what if you have need of a more esoteric Data Field?  Example Graphical Heart Rate.   This might be available in the store, so Download it, then any app can have this as a Data Field to display.  Hence custom data fields extend any Application.


The Forerunner 935 is like the 735XT or lower Garmin model but it has a longer battery life of over 12 hours and has more Applications and a better user interface than the cheaper models.  (It is the same UI as the Fenix 5)





Garmin 935 in depth

And a Lot More
This is one hell of a product.  It is really unlikely that you will find this watch lacking in tracking and logging any part of your fitness regime.  Whether it is recording that Ultra Marathon,  timing your IronMan,  or simply giving you turn by turn directions on that 100Km weekend Cycle, whilst measuring your time, distance, speed, cadence.  It really does it all.  I have some DC Rainmaker screen shots below of function, from this In depth Review














In Summary Then
The Garmin 935 is currently the state of the art GPS Sportswatch.   I don't feel there is a better product out there.  So if you have the 400 GBP to spend, then absolutely go ahead immediately.