Showing posts from 2006

To iPod or not to iPod

I have been thinking on buying a new iPod. I've got a 4GB mini iPod since 2004. It works nicely and as my iBook it has been locked into my wife's gravity field. I have to admit that both devices come with a high WAF value (you know WAF, don't you?).

The only problem with [her] iPod is that it cannot hold all the music we have. However it seems that Apple is not offering any education discount on iPod at the moment. Prices have not changed for quite a while and I find the thing a bit pricey. I've been a happy Creative customer and all our outher MP3 players at home are from them. They have a 30GB Zen Video player that seems to offer better image quality than iPod but it is 5mm thicker (though it has a mic for audio recording and an emdedded FM receiver too). Price is the same as 30GB Ipod ($249). And ... the Creative has host-mode USB (it means you can connect it to your digital camera to transfer the photos to the unit HD without using a computer).

We will need to wait …

Two in one

Both Sigmatek's dvbx200 and Woxter's xvid 675 dvbt seem to be the same: A DivX player plus a DVB-T receiver. As they look the same, they are likely made by the same chinese OEM manufacturer and just branded different. I've tested a Sigmatek unit and I've found it delivers what it promises:
It plays back DivX files from either a DVD or a USB memory stick. It also plays back the photos of your camera (provided it uses SD format) using the built in slot. It also seems a good quality DVB-T receiver.It includes an ok remote control. Don't get me wrong, this is not a top of the line product, but you hardly can beat it at that price range (around $80).

Another Genius Tablet

I mentioned before one portable tablet from Genuis (the G-Note 5000) that can also be attached to the computer to be used as a regular tablet. I'm quite happy about it but unfortunately it does not have pressusure sensitivity (two is not enough for some applications).

Wacom is the brand name drawing tablets. The problem is that Wacom tablets are quite expensive too. The main advantage of Wacom is that they pointer they use requires no battery. Other brands, however, although they have cheaper units, require a battery inside the tablet stylus.

I think I can handle the extra weight so I have bought a Genius G-Pen 4500 for around $35. Besides I am also getting a small mouse I can use in the same tablet space.

The included software worked Ok in Windows XP with The Gimp but not with Inkscape. The OS X driver seems to work only so an so (it might be it requires a good amount of processing power and my iBook is not that fast, I am not sure).

Linux was a no go. Although the G-Note worked with…

GPS navigation: Navigator 4000

The holiday season is approaching fast and so is my birthday. After having a couple of incidents of not finding my way driving the car recently, I decided it might be ok to get one of these GPS tiny toys. As I am not PDA kind of person I was thinking on a device that contains all what you need.

Some other people might want to get a Bluetooth-based GPS antenna to be (wirelessly) connected to their PDA that, equipped with the right software, will do the work of a stand-alone navigator.

As usual, there are just too many choices to make and many different brands and prices. To make things worse you learn that the unit could also include a Bluetooth hands-free adaptor or a TMC receiver. But wait, what's TMC? I'd never heard of that before. Then you learn that the business is somehow selling you extra maps too (or new versions of the ones you already have). After all, a GPS navigator is as good as the maps it is based on.

Can your GPS navigator play MP3 files or movies? Damn, this i…

Command line scanning

I needed to get scanned some pages of a catalog. I own a cheap Acer 3300U scanner that works nicely under Linux. It is not fast: It scans a 300dpi A4 color page in 50 seconds and it halves that when using gray instead. Lowering scan resolution to 150dpi reduces the scan to around 15 seconds.

But if you plan to scan more than one page you need to save each one and you have to provide a name for them. That means some mouse clicks and some typing at the keyboard. I was wondering if it was a better way, something like an automated script. I learned that there is a command line tool in the scan-tools package called scanimage that does just that: It allows you to launch a scan from a script. So what I did was to create a simple for loop and I used the loop variable to increase the page count. Each iteration was scanning a new page and converting it to a JPEG file with a sequential name.

After a power problem with the scanner I learned that next reconnection used a different device name, so I …

The YouTube of slide shows

I've just came across this service. I'm sure they have been around for a while, but it is now when I learn about it. It seems like a good idea and a useful service. The sample below is just to show you how it works.

Network SecurityView more presentations from hj43us.

It is too bad that animations are lost in the process. But rest looks quite ok (all but some minor alignment problems). It imported the above document from an OpenOffice 2.0 Impress document.

Making the move ...

As things were quite smooth lately, I chose to spice it up a bit: I've moved four of my blogs to the new Blogger beta. I was quite scared as there was a warning message telling you the process cannot be undone. So if I am not lucky with how it works I can do nothing.

This is the first post and it seems to be working ok. The editing tools look quite the same but loading times look a bit longer. So don't be shy and use this damn "comment" thing to make us know your opinion as a user (no Mom, you do not have to do it).

Update: Good news, what it has been improved is the publishing delay. Now it seems almost instantaneous. No more time waiting for a post to be published. Well done!

Sweet 4GB pendrive

I've bought --from a brick and mortar shop-- a 4GB ECO pendrive (pendrive is also the brand name). It is a stylish and small pendrive with a rotating cap that hides or discovers the USB socket. It works nicely in Linux and it does too in Windows and OSX. However, it takes a non-negligible time to be detected under WinXP. It turns out that the device is not only emulating a hard-drive but a floppy disk too. So if you have a laptop and you still keep one of these old applications that insist on writing on drive A: you might be pleasantly surprised with this unit.

You do not get any differentiation when plugging it in on a Linux box: Two different drives show up (one with 1.5MB capacity and another with 4GB). It seems only the 4GB is recognized by OSX though.

My only complain is that the manufacturer only includes a keyring but not a necklace to carry the unit around. And the rotating cap is made of plastic so your metal keys will ruin its looks in a couple of days.

eBay scams

I was looking for a new 12x zoom camera with image stabilization. I turned to eBay to see if I could find better deals and, specially, more offer than you might get from local retailers. I settled with a reputed seller from Hong Kong, and I paid almost the same as the list price from a local seller but the deal included an extra battery and a 1GB SD memory.

In the process of looking for a deal on eBay, I detected numerous problems on listings of various products (i.e: digital cameras and USB flash storage). I reported my findings to the Spanish branch of eBay but to date, four days later, I've got no answer from them. I did the same thing to Safe Harbor and I've got an automated reply, but some hours later I could see that some of the users accounts had been cancelled.

After searching a bit on the 'net I can see that a common scam is to sell fake flash storage (either USB or SD or any other format). The trick is that the storage actually works, but it only contains …

Ubuntu 6.06 LTS five months later

After some months of use I think I can provide you my impressions on how this Ubuntu thing behaves.

I used to be a SuSE Linux user since 8.0 and then, after 10.0 I had several minor issues with some hardware. I decided to give Ubuntu a go and since then I have succesfully migrated six different systems desktops to it. I have also installed more than four other copies on several relatives computers. The net result is all of them are happily running.

I have been consistenlty using Ubuntu on a daily basis since mid-June and I'm very happy with the result. I was familiar with KDE and I am now using Gnome and I cannot complain either. It just works, though I am sure some of the days I needed to pull one or two tricks out of the many on-line forums about Ubuntu (like getting 3D acceleration on some ATI cards). If you use Ubuntu Dapper Drake I can recommend you this site.
My advice is: try it out. If you do not like you can get a refund. Till now it Ubuntu is the only distro you can get the…

Genius G-Note 5000

Some days ago I saw this nice gadget on the website of a distributor. I thought it might be a good idea: A notepad you take with you, you write as many pages as you want and, when you are back home you can download all your handwritten text or drawings.

Of course you can do this with a cheap scanner without having to recourse to buying any new hardware (provided you already own an scanner). However, what I was looking for when I learned about this product was a tablet for drawing.

The Genius G-Note series does both: You can use it off-line to write more than 100 pages in the built-in 32MB of flash memory and it can also be used online as a mouse substitute (or companion). I feel much more comfortable when writing and drawing with a pen than with a mouse.

The unit came with some Windows software which was ok. Without any software the tablet looks like a USB flash drive to your system where each page drawn shows as a different file. Filenames are numbered (i.e. BK-01-001.DNT, BK-01-002…

Free software is not only for geeks

I've recently learned that the software taught at the Fine Arts School at the university I am with is based on three comercial programs: Adobe's Photoshop, Macromedia's Freehand and Microsoft's PowerPoint. The three are nice pieces of software in my opinion and I am aware they are used by many companies.
What troubles me is that students are left either bankrupt (Photoshop €1.042, Freehand €520 and PowerPoint €338, which totals €1.900) or having to get a pirate copy of the software.
With all due respect I think they could teach the same concepts (which I guess are the very basics as it is an undergraduate course) using the free counterparts The GIMP, Inkscape and OpenOffice's Impress. These programs have a similar functionality (ok, maybe just 90% of the others features) but are available for free for almost ANY platform, including Windows, Linux and Apple's OS X.

For those unfamiliar with the software world, let me put an example: If we compare the software indu…

Raahe visit

I've been visiting the School of Engineering and Business in Raahe, which belongs to Oulu University of Applied Sciences.

It's a nice place to go and it has to get quite cold during winter time. I was giving a talk on Information Security. I was lucky I did not need to fight with any computer during my stay and even skype worked as expected to get cheap phone calls home.

The most amanzing device I use there was the new Canon 5D reflex camera and 28-105mm lenses. It's worth more than $4,000 so you do not want this equipment to get lost of damaged. It seems to have very low noise 13.3 Mpixels CCD.

Have a look at some of the sample photos. It's kind of heavy weight though (at around 4Kg including the lenses).

Even Blogger has to be fought against

As you can see below, for reasons I do not know two copies of the same post are shown. I swear only one showed up when I did my original post, but somehow it appears now. Instead of deleting one I will keep it as a living proof of how many times our computer systems are unfriendly with us :-)

L.E.T.S. ?

Not sure about commercial success. But it's just awesome.

L.E.T.S. ?

Not sure about commercial success. But it's just awesome.

Simpler, better

Sometimes you bump into a new idea that solves real-life problems in a simple way. Sometimes it is even free (I do agree here with Mr. Torvalds' quote that says "Software is like sex: It's better when it's free").

Meet-o-matic is a simple web application that seems to solve the problem of scheduling a meeting. I am aware some groupware (i.e. Exchange or Lotus Notes) provides a well crafted system to do this but it is not free nor you can use it everywhere.

Meet-o-matic is a simple web page with a simple working model, no registration required. It looks good enough to me. You can give it a try to get your own opinion. You cannot lose much. In a way, I like it as much as (because no user registration is required, so no more forgotten passwords and time wasted with silly emails).

Recovering your grub boot

If you use GRUB as your Linux boot loader (it happens the same with LILO) you may notice that your boot menu is gone after installing most flavors of Windows, including Windows XP SP2. One way to avoid this problem is to install Windows first and, later, to install Linux or BSD.

Another possible solution, more general, is to fix the boot that is gone. My favourite way is to use a Knoppix CD to boot your system in Linux. Then, as the root user I mount the hard disk partition that holds / and /boot and then to chroot to the first one (/). Now you can issue the install-grub command to get your partition table boot code fixed.

Example: Boot hard drive is /dev/hda and Linux / and /boot are in /dev/hda3 partition. Open a Knoppix terminal and type:

sudo bash
mount /dev/hda3 /mnt/hda3
cd /mnt/hda3
chroot ./ /bin/bash
grub-install /dev/hda

That should be it. Do not forget to remove Knoppix CD before the next system boot.

Still more about HD repartitioning

It seems I cannot escape the yearly ritual of hard disk swapping. This year I'm getting a 250 GB IDE drive to replace my 120 GB drive at home. As usual I do not want to lose any data and I want the process to be as painless as possible. This time I used a slightly different approach: I connected the new drive to my office computer as a slave drive to copy all the data I've had at the office (back-ups are always a good thing). Then I moved the drive home. I was keeping SuSE 10.0 in my home computer but I was willing to replace it by Ubuntu's Dapper Drake. So I copied my Ubuntu install from my office and I saved myself the configuration process. I was lucky enough to get the system working (including X) without changing a bit (as have ATI graphic cards on both systems and the rest was properly auto-detected).

At home I am keeping a MS Windows Fat32 partition with some software (like taxes forms) I need to use yearly. I had a 6GB partition that was almost full, so I just did a…

Space-age sunglasses

I was having a beer with a friend in a small cafe in Peñíscola. Later, when we headed to the beach my friend missed his sunglasses. He was recently shooting a movie in the Moroccan desert. When we returned to the cafe looking for the sunglasses we were told nothing was left on our table. However, after insisting on our point the cafe owner "discovered" the sunglasses in their box. Curious.

I was not familiar with that brand and my american friend told me it's Revo, a high-tech brand of sunglasses that claims to offer the best bandpass filter using space-age technology. I cannot tell you first hand, but on paper they look good if you have two hunderd dollars to spare. They are only available in USA though.

Toshiba Qosmio F30 oddities

The Qosmio line from Toshiba adds a new capability to their laptop line: It's a DVR and DVD player using some BIOS software. The result is that you don't need to boot any OS (i.e. Windows Media Center) to use these features. It also means that even if your system is destroyed by a virust these features will still work. On top of this, Toshiba ships the system with a remote control that will make your experience even more comfortable and the Harman/Kardon loudspeakers deliver a good audio experience too (with richer bass sound than most other laptops).

But there are several catches that Toshiba let slip under the carpet. My first surprise was that inside the package they include a USB infrared receiver. My first thought that it could be there just in case you do not have a good angle when using the built-in receiver. I was wrong. I latter learned that Media Center Software is not compatible with the laptop's built-in infrared receiver so the USB one is required to use the r…

Weird Wireless

I'm visiting a friend who has a new house and a new wireless setup from Telefónica. He needed some help from his company IT department to get the thing working. On arrival he tells me that he can use the wifi connection and it works, but at the same time the computer says it is not connected.

I suspected that odd behaviuor could be due to the common WinXP/manufacturer driver schizophrenia where both the system and the wifi card manufacturer's software are trying to manage the card settings. I tried to disable the WinXP handling of the card but then I was getting disconnected. So I tried the wifi card's software: Hmmm, cool! Network scanning shows a beautiful sonar-like display where you can the different networks on your neighbourhood, names, MAC addresses, channels and ... surprise: There are two different AP using the same ESSID nearby on different channels. This is probably because a neighbour has a similar setup as my friend's.

Ok, time to change the ESSID to somethi…

Getting a ticket to Oulu

I have to visit Raahe (near Oulu, Finland) in September and the EU is quite stingy about ticket cost (unless you are a politician which I am not). Our staff wanted to get it done for not more than 650 Euros. Most airlines either do not fly to that destination or charge you more than 1000 Euros. Time to put some of my vacation time to the task of saving some of that taxpayers' hard-earned money.

The old fashion way of using a brick and mortar travel agency seemed to be a no go, as I am still waiting for a quote from them. Expedia or Travelocity had served me well in the past but it is unclear if you can get a ticket from them if you are based in Spain.

A local e-company, provided a very nice price of 476 EUR, but when I tried to complete the check-out it gave me an error. It was also unclear whether I would need to go to baggage claim when changing airline or not. It was time to give them a call (or more).

First call: All our representatives are busy, line hung-up. (Nice cust…

Carry-on e-gear

I've just realized how many different devices my family is carrying around when traveling. I mean computer-based devices. I can count two laptops, three cellphones, five MP3 players, one DivX hard drive, one mobile DivX player with a small screen, a nice unit that doubles as a flash-based MP3 player and self-powered loudspeakers, a Palm PDA, a fantastic CASIO dictionary plus translator and a Canon digital camera.

It is an amazing number of devices that suggests me that, at least for us, we are really far away from those devices that do almost everything. We are more the kind of customer that prefer one device that performs one task well. But I guess that other customers will enjoy multifunction devices. Just a question of user preferences.

Xtreme summer sports: Internet access in rural areas of Spain

It should not be that difficult. After all, last year I was attending a free Internet access (wifi) on a public libary in the north west of Spain (Galicia). But this year's experience proved quite tough and challenging.
To make a long story short I will tell you the local hotspot was not properly configured to accept user's laptops. So until I was able to let that message reach the network management people the problem prevented me to access the Internet. The problem, as with cellphone operators, is that their CRM is designed to prevent user's complaints to get to the right technicians. So it took me some courage and time till I got things sorted out.
Right now I'm sitting on the street with my laptop writing this message. The speed is so low that I am not sure I will finish the post before running out of battery :-)

Intel is back on top

Although media messages have been a bit confusing, it seems that Intel is regaining customers from AMD. At the same time that AMD is buying ATI (an therefore expanding the number of fronts the company will be fighting), Intel is presenting new versions of their saga of confusing names:

Pentium D
Core Duo
Core 2 Duo

Code names are not helping either as Yonah, Conroe or Merom tell you nothing about the processor (unless you are an Intel engineer).

So will tell you my simplified version: Pentium 4 is dead. Hyperthreading is not bad but having a dual core is better. It means more instructions executed per time unit (faster processing). Trouble is that the thing tends to be hot, hotter as it gets faster. It gets hotter because it uses more power, so computers need these 400W or 500W power supplies to keep all the parts properly sourced of energy.

Intel has moved from 90nm to 65nm which means transistors are now smaller (they have to be if you plan on packing 350 million transistors in a small p…

Advanced Web Publishing Service

This is the name of a new service offered on my university campus. It really is a Plesk-based control panel with a choice of databases and content management tools running on top of Windows 2003 servers.

As I have been running several servers and databases I thought I was well prepared to use this "advanced" new system: I was wrong. While Plesk's control panel looks nice (and you can chose the skins that pleases you the most) it was not very easy for me to manage through all the system. Eventually I was hitting against the wall when trying to import an ASCII file to fill-in a MySQL database table using phpmyadmin (because of wrong default options). I did not like the default management for SQL Server databases was done over (insecure) http connections. For reasons that were not explained PHP scripts returned a 404 Not Found error while at the same time I could not change any of the file access rights and, surprisingly, ASP files worked without any problem. Later on the sy…

New article

I already mentioned in this column that I was waiting for an article I wrote to be published on Circuit Cellar magazine. And there it is in the #193 August issue.

It describes some of my work to get an RFC 2217 serial device server based on a Rabbit Semiconductor 8-bit microcontroller. Some of the problems were mentioned here in the past but I've put together all the details to give readers an understanding of the full process.

My experience with Rabbit cores has been quite successful and I think it is a nice, cheap and low-power platform for not so complex systems' automation. The learning curve is not steep and the development tools work as expected, just keep in mind you need a serial port to get it working (and a real one will be faster than a USB-serial dongle).

World's smallest development kit

I've just got one sample ToolStick devolopment kit. It consists of a USB dongle and a credit card sized CD with the software. As the ToolStick is USB powered there is no new for an external power supply. The drawback is that it only contains a couple of outputs connected to a pair of LEDs so you can check whether your software is working as expected or not.

It is certainly a minimalistic setup and the easiest one to carry around. I'm not sure it can be very useful for general purpose development, but it seems like a cheap tool to be used (and given away) in the the classroom. A ToolStick costs $10.99 plus shipping. If you are happy with just two output LEDs I do not think any other system can beat this one as this one contains a nice Windows IDE and C compiler.

Minix is back

When I was a Computer Science student I've learned some of the Operating System basics with Andy Tanembaum's Minix educational Unix-clone. It was not powerful but it worked on a PC with less than 1 MB of RAM off a floppy disk.

While the aim of Minix, and later on that of Minix 2, was to provide an educational tool, the new version Minix 3 is intended as a microkernel OS for embedded and resource-limitted computers and for applications that require high-reliability too (I like this latter one).

Minix 3 is still a work in progress and ports to other targets different than x86 are underway. But if you want to give a try you can download the CD or USB dongle image so you boot a live system and to perform a hard drive install. While not even close to what you get with a current GNU/Linux or FreeBSD it is still worth trying it out. Full C source is available.

"Paella Valenciana" HOWTO

It is time to get out and have some fun while your computers are powered off. So I propose a radical change just for today: Cooking a typical dish from my area that all of my friends love.

First of all the ingredients you need (I assume you already have a paella pan):

You add some olive oil (to cover 2/3 or the pan surface) and start deep frying the chicken you previously have salted.

Once the chicken is getting brown, spread it to the side of the pan and put the beans in the oil to fry it a bit too (beware not to burn it). Once this is done add the tomato and garlic and fry it too.

Add one spoon of sweet paprika (non hot!) and stir and mix thoroughly. Then add water up to half an inch of the border of the pan (for this to work you have to have quite flat to start with) and add the yellow food colorant too (or safron if you can afford it).

Let the water boil for half an hour so all the ingredients will get fully cooked. Afterwards add the rice (that has to be half the volume of water you …

S.M.A.R.T. HDD temperature, too

When I installed Speedfan software to my children's computers I realized it allowed you to measure the HDD temperatures if they are SMART compatible (which they are). So I thought it would be nice too to have such info on my Ubuntu desktop too.

So I google for a moment to learn that hddtemp allows you exactly that: to measure your SMART-compatible HDD temperature from command line: just install it
sudo apt-get install hddtempand typesudo hddtemp /dev/hda (or any other drive name you have). It works as expected and you may consider to run it as a daemon so you can use the nice Gnome sensors applet that does a very nice job of showing all the temperature (and fan info if you wish) collected by several means, including acpi, lm-sensors and hddtemp. It is not installed by default so you'll have to install it too.

Motherboard temperatures

One of the important things when you plan on overclocking a system is to have an eye on the system temperature. Some systems are providing all data you need through ACPI and it is shown in the /proc/acpi/thermal_zone/ folder.

However my /proc/acpi/thermal_zone/ folder is empty. I thought that this was because a bad ACPI implementation. You know, the BIOS contains a description of the capabilities of the hardware that is handed over to ACPI and it is called dsdt. Sometimes this file is broken and it contains errors but because they only test it against some version of Windows some errors are not fixed.

You can extract your system's dsdt and fix it yourself. Linux boot process can either use the dsdt provided by BIOS or it can use a fixed copy you create on initrd. To do the latter, you need a patched kernel. The kernel that ships Ubuntu's Dapper Drake is already patched to support this feature, so you can store your patched dsdt to /etc/mkinitramfs/ and name it exactly as DSDT.a…

Fired for porn surfing (II)

Some time ago (March 2006) I mentioned I was being asked to write a judicial report. The case was about a big company (supermarket chain) firing a worker for alleged porn surfing using the company laptop.

This week I have learned that my client has won the case and he is either getting his job back or a significant amount of money for leaving the company.

What I do not know yet is if my client will sue the company for building a false and humiliating case against him.

It seems that big players have to stick to the rules too, at least sometimes.

Trying to get some music ...

... into my old Creative DAP Jukebox in Ubuntu on my new machine revealed that USB ports were not working properly. Although they were recognized nothing much happened as if interrupts were not getting to the system, however network card, keyboard and mouse were working and are also interrupt based.

Rebooting the system with the "noapic" keyword as a boot option cured the USB problem. It confirms that it was somehow due to a bad routing of interrupts. I've added this my kernel boot line in /boot/grub/menu.lst to have it as default.

Unfortunately life is always challenging us and this fix of the USB did not solve my problem. Neither Gnomad2 2.8.1 nor Neutrino software were able to talk to my MP3 player (though I have successfully communicated with it and an Ubuntu-based laptop at home). Because I've just downloaded the latest version of Knoppix that my friend Victor Alonso kindly translates into Spanish. I decided to give it a go to see if it included newer versions of …

uli526x annoyances

When testing the Asrock775Twins-HDTV almost everything went ok. The keyword here is "almost". The built-in network card did not work. It seemed like the cable was not detected. As it is a Gigabit Ethernet I was not sure if the link auto-sensing could be creating the trouble (as the computer it is connected to a Fast Ethernet switch).

I had a cheap Realtek 8139 Fast Ethernet card on my desk so I installed and I got the system working. But just to be sure I decided to reconnect the network cable to the previously non-working built-in socket to see if it was still dead. To my amazament this time the interface worked.

Next day I'm getting rid of the Realtek NIC but then here it comes again. The built-in NIC does not work. A "dmesg" command output informs me the "Link is down" so it looks like a cable problem. I install back the Realtek and everything works again, including the built-in NIC.

I'm kind of tired with this fight so I just disable the built-in…

Motherboard replacement

By now, I've replaced three computers' motherboards, two of them were brand new and the third was actually relocated from one box to another. I have used a couple of cheap Pentium D 2.66Ghz to equip the new ones (around 115 Euros each taxes included). The motherboards came with this nice install video. So if you wonder what's all this thing about LGA775 socket you may have a look at it. In case you wonder LGA stands for Land Grid Array and it is type pin-less chip carrier, similar to BGA but where the balls have been replaced by flat conductive pads. So now the pins are on the socket instead of on the chip and you have to exercise caution not to damage them (or you'll need a new motherboard).

As usual the replacement of the motherboard of a computer (and sometimes also the graphics card) is not without problems: All my systems had some version of an AMD K7 processor, so the change meant a new CPU type, new chipset and in one case, new graphics card (as the Asrock775Twin…

Hard disk upgrade

One of my computers needed an larger hard disk. It had WinXP installed and I did not want to reinstall it (and the many other applications that it had installed). But on the other hand I wanted to have a larger C: drive.

I have used Symantec Ghost in the past and it does the job quite nicely. However I wanted to do this using free software, as I was not sure if the Ghost version I got was NTFS compatible and I did not want to buy a new one.

Googling a bit will lead me to HDClone 3.1 of which there is a free version. This program clones your old harddisk content to the new one, keeping the partitioning scheme intact. You can create a bootable CD-ROM with the software so you can use it with systems without a floppy disk (alternatively you can boot from a floppy disk too). The program does a great job with a nice graphical interface.

Once I was done with the cloning I used another shareware program called Boot it. It's main goal is to act as a boot manager, enabling you to have up to 2…

Getting 3D to work

Until recently, I have been happy without decent 3D performance on my computer graphics card. But the Linux version of Google Earth spiced my curiosity. This and the fact that my old ATI Rage 128 Ultra refused to work properly with the "ati" driver that Ubuntu Dapper installed by default.

I then learned that I could install an accelerated driver from ATI but I was not lucky enough to have it working flawlessly: The system was freezing quite easily, forcing me to hardware reset it. So I recover an old card my kids had discarded, that was in fact more powerful than the ATI one. It is an NVIDIA MX440 GeForce 4 with 64MB RAM.

Again, I needed to install the special Nvidia driver for it, but now it is working. Do not think it was easy: I actually needed to perform some dark magic to get it working. The problem this time was not with the 3D not working but with Firefox. Everything was working fine till I started Firefox, then the mouse still could move but the rest of the system was …

Aging computers

I've kept my children happy with their old computers for several years, with some graphic card upgrades every now and then. But after reading this article in Tom's Hardware site I decided it was the moment to give a try to the new Dual core Intel processors.

I've to admit that I've been a happy AMD customer since the 386-40Mhz. Most of the time AMD delivered good performance cheaper than Intel. The exception to this rule had been several laptops non based on AMD processors (G4, PIII & Pentium-M) and one eventual Celeron so I could make some use of an ASUS Pundit box.

So, I got ready for the challenge and decided I was going to buy a new motherboard, new memory and an 2.6Ghz 805D processor. I wanted to buy a 1GB 667Mhz DDR2 RAM to have room for some overclocking but unfortunately it was not available at the shop. I wanted a motherboard with a basic 3D card (Asrock775-TWIN-HDTV) but unfortunately was not available so I bought another mobo that had at least an AGP slot …

Fighting with Ubuntu 6.06

After some success on my laptop and using the released version, I have decided to install Ubuntu 6.06 on my main computer at the office that has been happily running SuSE Linux 10.0. I guess it is against my own advice (and common sense) to install a new software when the old one was giving you a good service, but I can't help it, I enjoy trying out new software versions (maybe I'll have to start a branch for "Installers Anonymous").

There is always a catch: My hard drive does not have space available and I really would like to keep SuSE Linux just in case. After all I have lots of stuff installed and working, like VMware or CrossOver Office and I do not know whether all these will run trouble-free on Dapper Drake (DD is the name of Ubuntu's 6.06) or not. I know from experience that VMware use to be quite picky about kernel versions.

So I needed some free space on my hard drive before I could install Ubuntu. Catch 2: I could not resize my Linux partition from SuSE …

Google Earth for Linux!!!

I've just tested the Google Earth beta for Linux with not very good results. First the install, you get a single .bin file that contains all what you need (or almost, read on). To install it you execute the downloaded file as a shell script. It will unpack the installation files and you get a nice window informing you about the install process. It does not take long.

My first attempt was on SuSE Linux 10.0 and when trying to run the software I get a complain that I did not have Bitstream Vera font installed (the message contained a link for me to install it too). I wonder why they have not included that font (if required) in the first place in the installation file. Next the program starts but it just ends up blocking the system to a hardware reset. This time I cannot put all the blame on Google's camp as my ATI Riva 128 graphics card might be the cause of the system freezing. The 3D support on the driver is enabled and Yast2 tells you 3D support is "experimental". Ev…

USB booting and more

I've always been curious about booting from USB devices. With most motherboards, the use of an external USB CD or DVD-ROM seems to be a no brainer.

As USB flash memories now offer up to several gigabytes of storage, it seems they might serve for many pursposes.

The guys behind Damn Small Linux think that it is a good idea to have a simple GNU/Linux setup that can boot from a credit card size CD-ROM or from a USB flash memory with only 50Megabytes!! I needed to try this out. I had most success using the USB-ZIP configuration on most of the BIOS on the systems I tried this out. I even have found a new life for that old 64MB USB 1.1 pendrive I bought several years ago. The system that includes a graphical environment, wordprocessor, Firefox browser, pdf reader, spreadsheet, xmms, vnc viewer, and a long list of other useful applications.

All that was quite an achivement, and the developers want to keep the system size small. One of the drawbacks is DSL is based on a 2.4 kernel, but they …

UPV wireless network access with Ubuntu

I'm getting the hang of the different flavors of the Ubuntu thing. I tried Kubuntu while Dapper was in beta and now I've just installed Xubuntu (xfce4-based version of Ubuntu) which is specially crafted for "old" computers (low resources). The LiveCD allows you the same install as with the two more powerful siblings.

I ran out of network sockets but I had a spare USB wireless device so I used it with this computer. The fact that the computer is old means it is only USB 1.1 so I won't be able to handle the maximum speed over the network, which is not a problem at the moment. The easiest way to access our campus WLAN infrastructure is by using a VPN tunnel over the open wireless link. There is nice webpage telling you how to do it, even if you use Linux, but I always like to try something new. Today I did it: I installed pptpconfig and I got it working at the moment. Defaults are ok but the "All to tunnel" option on the Miscellaneous data of the connectio…

NSA wiretapping

I saw the link on Bruce Schneier's blog and and I found it quite funny (if you forget about the sad part, of course)

Click on the image to start playing it

What if ... ?

Imagine your computer gets a new type of malware that makes it download certain URLs every now and then. Imagine that software creates a special HTTP request with a fake "Referer:" header. Imagine that the purpose of that is to pretend that you are clicking on an advertising link. Imagine that the mentioned links are ads of porno sites. Imagine the software includes an engine to spread itself on your local network. Imagine your boss starts monitoring the employees network activities so you are caught red handed, at least apparently. Imagine that you are fired because of your alleged browsing activities.

Now stop imagining.

It might already happened to one of my clients and his colleague, both fired for the same reason (porn surfing at work) they claim it is wrong because they did not do that. I cannot tell you for sure because their former company is not interested in researching this matter any further.

However, neither the cookies nor the temporal internet files nor the URL …

Newer Ubuntu 6.06

In a previous post I explained how I got my laptop running SuSE Linux 10.0. But I was not happy with the way Linux was working on my Acer laptop. Although I managed to get everything working ok (except the internal memory card reader) I was not very happy about the power management. I was not happy it took me some effort (including recompiling the kernel) to get audio working. But after all it worked.

I have been giving away Ubuntu CD-ROMs to my students since 4.10 and I have installed Ubuntu to my brother's computer and both (my brother and his computer) have been happily working since then. It is a pity MP3 or Divx are not supported out of the box. Printing and OpenOffice and GIMP have been working like a charm.

This time I thought maybe I should give Ubuntu are try, so I downloaded the latest beta (Dapper flight 7) but instead of Ubuntu I took Kubuntu, which is a blue-ish KDE-based versus Gnome-based Ubuntu. The new Live Cd includes a more or less painless built-in graphical inst…

Mother's day shopping spree

I saw a couple of items on a PCCITY brochure that catch my eye. First one was the Freecom MediaPlayer-35 with a 250GB HD. I bought last summer a similar device from EasyBuy but I sold it after the summer as it was only 40GB capacity (though the fact it was USB-powered and only 2.5" made it quite portable). This unit is based on the use of 3.5" IDE hard disks which are cheaper and higher capacity than 2.5" cousins. This unit like many others in the market will handle your DivX, MP3 and JPG files so you can bore or scare to death your friends (worth mentioning it can also handle OGG audio). But it can also came with the relatively new feature of a LAN connection so you can also play contents from a Windows (or Samba) share on your home network. Network connection is just for streaming and video/music/photo files are transferred using USB 2.0. The unit can also play your ripped DVDs, menu included. Outputs are quite complete, including composite, analog audio, coax audio a…

Nice ad

They are playing this one now in Spain. And it seems that youtube has not a problem with you posting an ad even if your do not hold the copyrights of that ad. I guess this is what ads are for. Anyway, I think it is a funny ad.

JPEG and Wavelets

I'm teaching a course on Multimedia Data Transmission and I had to give a couple of lectures on image encoding. So I had to attempt to build some understanding on how several standards work and their underlying math. As you are probably aware, JPEG standard allows you to encode continuous-tone images (photographs) with a typical reduction of 1:20 on the storage needs over other non-lossy methods. JPEG is based on the use of the Discrete Cosine Transform (DCT) that [basically] translates image spatial information to the frequency domain, where the weaker higher-frequency components can be removed without that being too noticeable.
JPEG 2000, on the other hand, is another image encoding standard based on the wavelet transform instead of DCT. Wavelets are families of functions that allow multirate analysis of signals. And here you will find the best tutorial on the subject I have found on the web. The end result is that wavelet-based image compression provides a smoother image than DC…

Kind of fixed

After returning the CM Media 260 to the guys at Wikidi (that were quite nice with the return). I tried, again unsucessfully, to recycle an old Samsung DVD but unfortunately it was not large enough for all the stuff to fit in. So I went back to what I could find around and I bought, for the second time from the same seller, an Antler DM-318 case that seems to be a clone of Antec Minuet II case but with a distinct front plastic piece.

This first image shows the original inside of the box. After several attempts and given the case only accepts low-profile PCI cards I "borrowed" the dual PCI riser card from my Pundit case: It didn't work, as none of the two TV cards were detected. Anyway, it was impossible to fit that in. So I went to an extreme solution. I put a sheet of 3mm Depron on the bottom of the box. I removed everything and I started from scratch. The new photo shows the end result.

Unfortunately, right now everything is just laying on top of the Depron sheet without …

Back to square one

I've been told I need to buy riser cards as an add-on for the box I bought. Unfortunately the cost of the box is already well beyond the cost I was willing to spend on this particular item. I'm not 100% sure it is not my fault, but I did not get that impression when reading the manufacturers specifications. What I understood was that you may buy AGP or PCI-express riser cards. Now I guess any of them also comes with a double PCI riser card.

At any rate, I think I am going to recycle that old DVD player I no longer use and it is sitting in a cupboard and I am returning CM Media 260 box to the retailer. Let's see how this refurbishing project goes.

Buying a slim PC box is not that easy

I've got my new box on Friday. The company I bought it from did a good job at delivering on time but all what happened next has been a mess.

Firstly, when I open the box I discover the color is black and not the silver I have ordered. Not good, I emailed my supplier and they reach me on the cellphone to apologise and to offer me a replacement but not sooner than next week. I thought about it and finally I decided I would be keeping the box after all, just for the sake of getting the system rebuilt over the weekend.

Saturday, early in the morning, I start the process of disassembling the old beige-box components of my PVR. When I am done (and a bit dirty as you know how the inside of a computer is), I unpack the CM Media 260 black box to start building the new system. Manufacturer's instructions ask you to disassemble almost everything first and so do I. I assemble the power supply (not without removing some screws from the power supply to have a smooth top surface). I then plac…

Copyright infringement and fair use

Apparently, lawyers at YouTube are not aware of what fair use is. I've just got a copyright infringement notice about the video I posted yesterday that was a 38 seconds excerpt of a >1500 seconds show. And that just because they were using my name, without my permission :-)

Ok. I do not think this issue deserves more brains or more of my time.

Buying a PC box for the living room

It is not rocket science, you say. It is not, I do agree, but forget about getting it solved quickly once you do not want whatever they have to sell you. I just wanted to get an empty box that would fit in my TV table. My current TV computer uses a standard mid-tower beige-box. My only limitation was that I needed a box not taller than 14cm, but I had up to 50 cm width. It should be enough.... wrong!

The first box I bought was a new brand, Antler, a Poland-based company. The product was nice and well priced but I had a problem: It only accepted low-profile PCI cards and I needed one full size PCI slot. I went back to the web and I found this nice article. Thanks to them I could narrow down my choices to a couple of boxes only: Siverstone LC11 or CoolerMaster Media 260. The last one does not come with a power supply so it could be cheaper, or so I thought.

Unfortunately for CoolerMaster, the only partner they have in Spain that seems to sell retail is the chain. It took them one …