Bog Roll :: kit

It's Not Magic, It's Work!

21 Dec 2021

Network

After months of feeble and insane excuses Orange.fr have now connected my mother-in-law's house up to a fibre network. They were so useless that we actually had ADSL activated over the old copper line, to which they then complained that ADSL isn't available in areas with fibre - to which we said okay then install fibre...

Yesterday two blokes from the subcontracting firm arrived and ran a new fibre from the pole to the bracket on the house for the old phone line, and then installed a new fibre run, tested it and hooked it up to a new Orange router box. All this while the old ADSL was still working, so no loss of service.


06 Nov 2021

Canon PowerShot G5X mk II

After nearly two years of waiting I've bought a new Cannon PowerShot to replace my old one that died at the start of 2020. The G5XII has a much larger Sony sensor instead of the Canon one in the S110. The electronics are all newer and the screen is both higher quality and higher resolution. It costs more than the camera it replaced, which is okay as it's a much higher spec, but annoyingly to fit the optics into the camera it is quite a bit thicker - which is annoying...

The most annoying thing in practice at the moment is the secret squirrel file format that Canon have developed to replace the CR2 of the old camera: CR3. At the moment I can read the EXIF file data with one tool, and open it with another - that can't read the EXIF data - and then save from GIMP. It's all a bit of a faff, but it's better than it was a year ago.


24 Oct 2021

Notwork

At the moment we are camping at my mother-in-law's while the builders do things to the house. Last week I was able to work all week from home as only the electrician was working and I was able to use his live line while other bits were off. On Friday afternoon the heating engineer took out the old hot water tank, so now the house as no water as well as only some electric and no heat...

My mother-in-law moved into her house this August and ordered standard PON fibre from Orange.fr once she had a confirmed move date, and in late August we collected the Orange live box. While we've the box for a while we don't have any fibre and Orange have now made and then cancelled on the day three appointments to install about 50 m of fibre optical cable from the pole in the street to my mother-in-law's house.

So while she is paying for a 1 Gbit/s Internet net connection, all she has is a 4G WiFi puck, which works and is quicker than our old ADSL connection, but it's got no wires and every now and they she has to go back to the shop to be given a new SIM as the bandwidth has been used up....

The architect says we may need to be out of our house for about a month, while things are done, so it's going to be interesting. I had hoped to take some time off while out of the house, and got some DIY done at my mother-in-law's but work needs me to do some REST interfacing work, so that's currently not possible...


18 Oct 2020

Annoying...

One of the disks in my home server has started to moan. It's a 4 year old Toshiba 6 TB drive. I installed it back in 2016 by upgrading a computer I'd originally bought in 2008.

The original computer had a pair of 0.5 TB drives in a mirrored pair, and by 2015 I was running out of space. The PSU had already died and the case fan had developed a squeak, so both had been replaced already. One of the disks started to fail, so in 2016 I bought a new motherboard with more & faster RAM and a faster & cooler CPU. I swapped the two 0.5 TB Samsung disks with a pair of 6 TB Hitachi disks. Annoyingly one of the Hitachi disks died with a week and I had to swap it.

At the moment the computer is my home server, holding all my music in FLAC format, tv and film downloaded (not ripped DVDs) and backups of the other computers. The disks work as a mirrored pair, so even if it does die I have a copy of the data on the other disk.

I've several options:

  • Wait and see if it gets any worse, the Samsung took several weeks to fail previously and never got to the point of the RAID system complaining.
  • Swap the failing drive with a similar new drive.
  • Replace the pair with two new drives - the size could be different, the current array is 6 TB, but only 2.2 TB is actually used, so a 4 TB pair would suffice and accommodate several years more growth without a problem and be cheaper than 2 new 6 TB drivers.

Annoyingly since I bought the original 6 TB drives, the price has actually gone up, they are now €175 each on Amazon, and I paid slightly less than that in 2016, which is the first time I've ever encountered inflation on computer components - for most of my life things had undergone deflation...!


05 Sep 2020

Finally kicked the bucket...

My second oldest computer, and oldest PC has finally passed away. It started to suffer way back in 2004, and to be honest I've hardly used it in a decade. It's a Pentium II at 233 MHz with just 512 MiB of RAM. It only had a 3.2 GB IBM PATA HDD and it ran out of space to even upgrade it, before Linux dropped support for the CPU...

I've had a 6 GB HDD for it that I've never installed, so yesterday I put it in. It went in okay, but then the BIOS complained that there was no OS to boot from. I tried to change the boot order but no joy as I couldn't remeber the BIOS password... To be honest it's all a bit pointless really as I still haven't found the Ethernet dongle or the PCMCIA WiFi card for it, so it wouldn't be connected to anything.

I thought I'd take the battery out, and unhook the one on the motherboard, leave it without power for a few days and the BIOS may forget the password. Suffice to say the plastic hasn't improved in 16 years, and there are now more bits to the case than there was in the past... Anyhow it's all back together now, but it doesn't power-up at all... So it really is dead now.

I gave my previously oldest PC away before we moved to France, that leaves a Viglen MPC (AMD Geode based system) as the oldest and only remaining non AMD64 based system - if you exclude my Sun SPARC and Commodore-64...

My systems are starting to look rather dated...

  • DNUK desktop bought new, Intel i5 with SSD and HDD. Okay but GPU is getting old and will fall of Nvidia Linux support soon.
  • DNUK desktop (x2) rebuilt with newer motherboards, disks and most of the innards. Case and DVD drives are about the only original bits. Both fine, until something fails.
  • Novatech small form factor PC bought new, connected to the TV. Too underpowered for anything other than playing vidoes to the TV. Works fine though.
  • Dell Lattitude laptop, second hand, and upgraded HDD->SDD, max RAM, new battery. It's not superfast but it's fine while it works.
  • Mother-in-law's old Asus laptop, with new keyboard, more RAM and Debian instead of Windows. It's not as fast as the Lattitude, but it's a lot faster than any of the other laptops.
  • HP/Compaq that was due for the skip, when I was given it. Totally underpowered and slow to boot or shutdown but works fine, though underpowered.
  • Novatech laptop bought new, seemed pretty fast when it was new but the battery failed within a few days of the warranty expiring, and the scratch pad doesn't work anymore. Marginally faster than the HP/Compaq.
  • Viglen MPC, an AMD Geode based system which gets booted every now and then, but hasn't acrtually been used for anything in years. Won't run X anymore, don't know why...
  • Dell Inspiron, underpowered and now expired...

I mostly use my desktop or my laptop, depending on where I am. The home server is the home server and the TV media system get used weekly. My wife uses her laptop and almost never her desktop - even though the desktop is considerably more powerful. The older laptops and the Geode system gather dust...


04 Sep 2020

New Camera

Last year I thought about buying a new Camera. At the start of this year my S110 died and because of Canon playing secret squirrel with their file formats I decided not to buy anything at the time. Then COVID-19 happened and this year has been a right off.

At the moment I have an old Canon A480 and my mother-in-law's old Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3. Now I've turned off all the beeps and annoying defaults the Panasonic with it's longer zoom lens optical image stabilisation is a bit more useful than the Canon, but neither are a patch on my old S110 or the modern G series alternatives.

Putting aside the problems with the CR3 file format for the moment there are a number of options:

  • Buy a new lens assembly for the S110 and repair it myself. Spare parts used to be easy to obtain, but as the S110/S120 is quite old now they aren't as cheap anymore or common.
  • Buy another S110/S120, their price has gone up since they were discontinued but they are still about, or find a good condition one second hand.
  • Buy the Canon G9 X Mk II (€430), which has a larger sensor, better electronics, and is better in every respect for a similar sized package but the zoom range has been greatly reduced to get it all to fit in the same space.
  • Next in the Canon range is the G7 X Mk III, which has the same sensor, slightly better electronics, is slightly larger and has a slightly longer zoom range, but the price creeps up quite a bit more (€730).
  • Finally in the range (worth considering) is the G5 X Mk III, which has the same sensor and electronics as the G7, but a longer zoom range (the same as the S110) but is much larger and more expensive... (€855).

Price aside, the G9 is the smallest and easiest to carry around, especially while hiking or travelling. It has a large high quality sensor, but very limited zoom range. The G5 trades a better zoom range for size, so I get the same zoom as I started with in S110, much better optics and electronics, but not so small anymore...

At the moment I want a new camera, but I don't need a new camera, and with house work to be done, I can't really justify frivolous purchases like this...


31 Aug 2020

Physical to Virtual

After upgrading my Dell laptop from HDD to SDD I had a perfect image of the laptop on an unused HDD. I thought I'd have a go at converting it from a physical system to a virtual one.

Using the SATA-USB cable I hooked it up to my desktop system, it appeared as /dev/sdc on my desktop system. If you have a USB3 or SATA connector that will be a lot faster than the USB2 I had to use.

First you need to know how big your disk is in bytes, so for that I used:
sudo fdisk -l /dev/sdc

Next you read the image from the disk to a file. You obviously need at least as much free disk space as the image, I used:
sudo cat /dev/sdc | VBoxManage convertfromraw stdin image.vdi 160041885696
where sdc is where the dive was added, image.vdi was the image I wanted to create and 160041885696 was the disk size that fdisk returned. Once that started go for a cup of tea or two...

Next up is the bit that requires luck. In Virtualbox I created a new system, and tried to match it as close as I could to the underlying physical system it came from. When you boot the system Windows could blue screen or the Linux initramfs may be missing essential drivers, and you could be stuck. In my case, both booted fine with the settings I'd given it.

Next I wanted to reallocate the disk space. So on the Linux image I de-installed all the GUI components, leaving only a small CLI system, then using an image of GParted Live I shrank the Linux system from ~110 GB down to ~15 GB and expanded Windows from ~40 GB to ~135 GB. At this point the virtual disk image was quite fragmented and not very optimal.

I booted Windows up, deleted things I didn't need, de-fragged it and then downloaded and ran sdelete.exe from Sysinternals. That doesn't actually shrink the virtual image, but it does clean it up so that it can be compacted. I shut Windows down and then used Virtual Box to compress the image:
vboxmanage modifymedium --compact <image GUID>
You are supposed to be able to use the filename of the image file, but it didn't do anything so I used the image GUID which worked fine.

The result is now I have a fully functioning virtual Windows 10 system and a residual Linux (Debian 10) system inside a Virtual box. If I could be bothered I'd remove Linux from the image and return it to booting from the Windows boot loader instead of GRUB. The total disk size of the image on my desktop is now closer to 50 GB, which isn't too bad.

I don't run Window at home, but it's useful to have a copy lying around when some idiot company doesn't provide a way to do something with Linux and you are forced to use Windows to talk to a piece of hardware.


16 Aug 2020

SSD

Yesterday I cloned the HDD of an old Dell laptop to a new SSD with Clonezilla, then using GParted Live expanded the file systems to fill the disk.

Once that was done, I let the Windows system spend most of the afternoon upgrading, as I don't boot it often so it was rather out of date. In the process it installed lots of crap that managed to fill up all the space I'd created for it. After the upgrade and several reboots, I deinstalled all the extra crap it had added, but it now works and is running the current release of Windows 10.

The Debian system, which I use 99% of the time, wasn't happy to boot, so using GParted again, I booted up, and used a chroot to regenerate the initramfs and then updated GRUB, and on reboot it was fine.

So far that machine has had over the years:

  • A brand new Dell battery to replace the dead original one
  • A RAM upgrade from 4 GiB to 8 GiB
  • Windows 7 to Windows 10 upgrade - when MS were giving it away
  • Linux installation, and made default
  • 160 GB WD Scorpio Black HDD to 500 Gb Crucial MX500 SDD upgrade

Having done the HDD-to-SDD upgrade I don't know it feels any faster, but boot time is noticable faster.


13 Jun 2020

Too many keyboards...

I switched to my new Filco TKL keyboard this week, so I thought I should put the old keyboard away to recover space. When I put it into the storage box I realised I've rather a lot of keyboards...

  • Three IBM KB-7953 models. Two are white and one is black - though I have swapped the key caps around so that two of them are bi-coloured black and white. They are about 20 years old, and were sold with IBM p-Series servers which we used at work. I took them home when the server's were scrapped about 8 years ago. They are rubber dome technology, have PS/2 connection and are pretty compact. Since I washed them, and added some foam to them they now clean and aren't too noisy. I still use one for work, the other two are now spare.
  • Two Logitech Y-SU61 Deluxe keyboards which came with a pair of systems I bought for home over a decade ago. One is still connected and in use the other has been in storage for quite a few years now and is very clean by comparison. Both are rubber dome technology with a PS/2 interface. Odd keyboard, rather curved and have a double height delete key and no insert.
  • Another Logitech keyboard, this one is white though the keycaps have all discoloured quite a bit. PS/2 connection and rubber dome technology. My mother used it and I think since it returned to me it's been in storage. A bit grubby but seems otherwise okay - like the above Logitech a curvy shape that isn't very compact.
  • A Logitech MK520 wireless keyboard that we use with the computer hooked up to the TV in the living room. It's useful but not really a good keyboard and I'd never use it as a main keyboard.
  • A cheap corporate HP keyboard, PS/2 interface and rubber dome technology. Very cheap, my father used it with a computer I gave him at one point, I think it was from work originally. Not very exciting. I've never used it.
  • A really cheap Viglen that came with a small computer I bought for my father. This one is ghastly, but does have a USB interface which is useful on a couple of systems which don't have PS/2 connections. I've not used it other than to set up the Viglen computer that it was for.
  • A Sun type 5, for my antique SPARC system. A superior quality rubber dome keyboard with SPARC keyboard Specification 1. In theory you can make an RS-232 to USB converter of you want, and then you can use it with a PC.
  • A cheap Rii bluetooth keuboard (ANSI layout) for use with my phone or tablet. It's not very good but it's much better than using the screen on the phone for more than basic things.
  • A new Filco Majestouch-2 TKL. This keyboard uses Cherry MX brown switches and has a USB interface that can also connect to PS/2 if required. This is my main keyboard for work and home use. Other than the wireless Logitech it's the only one I actually bought.

I'd give them away, but as I know live in France, there isn't so much demand for ISO/UK QWERTY keyboards here, as the French use the ISO/FR AZERTY keyboard instead - which is a pretty awful layout...


11 Jun 2020

Review: Filco Majestouch 2 - Tenkeyless

I recently bought a Diatec "Filco Majestouch 2: Tenkeyless" keyboard in ISO/UK layout from The Keyboard Company who are the European distributor for Diatec keyboards.

The Majestouch is sold as a premium mechanical keyboard for people who type for a living. It uses mechanical Cherry MX switches and has a minimalist design. It can be used for gaming but it does not have illuminated keycaps, fancy macros or extra keys.

The layout is a conventional ISO/UK layout, the ten key less design means there is no numeric keypad, it is otherwise a classic layout. The keycaps are single-shot black plastic, though heavier double shot are available from from the manufacturer or third parties. I replaced the Windows keys with Filco blanks. WASD keys and a small sub-set of additional keycaps are also available. In ANSI layout there are more options, but not in ISO.

The interface is USB, hardwired to the top centre of the case, and comes with a passive USB to PS/2 converter if you require PS/2. The cable is 1.5 metres long. The keyboard is NKRO but this is only available via PS/2, if connecting via a USB interface it is restricted to only 6KRO.

The keyboard is sold in three styles of switches: linear/silent (red), tactile (brown) and clicky (blue). My model has the brown switches which are less noisy than the blue and have a slight tactile bump as you press them so you know when the switch has closed without having to bottom out the key. The linear red are allegedly less noisy than the brown and have no tactile feedback when you press them. They style of switch is very personal, I picked brown as it's a sensible start, I don't want the extra click of the blues.

The keyboard weighs just under 1 kilogramme and has four evenly spaced rubber feet so it doesn't slip around on your desk, it doesn't flex or rattle and feels very solid.

I've used the keyboard for a week now, and find I'm getting used to the feel of it though I'm still making mistakes as I get used to it. Compared to my previous IBM rubber-dome keyboards it doesn't rattle or click with a loud hollow sound, nor does it creak if it's twisted or has pressure applied. It does make a noticeable noise when being used though, it is not silent.

I'm not sure that I've made my mind up on the keyboard yet, it is possible that I would have prefered the Cherry MX red switches, but I don't know... I do like the fact that the keys are precise and don't wiggle and there is gentle feedback as you press them, so you don't have to bottom out the keys to know you've connected.


08 Jun 2020

TKL

I learned to type on a Commodore 64, which used Mitsumi KSR mechanical keys, with a spherical keycap double-shot keycaps. I even got used to the three-key cursor keys which were actually great once you got used to them! By the standards of PC keyboards that followed it was actually quite a better designed and built keyboard...

At University I used a selection of OEM keyboards attached to Elonex and Dan PCs. I didn't like the rattly ones but I did like the silent ones which some people called squidgy. I also used various Sun keyboards, which were rubber dome keyboards and pretty silent and of the squidgy nature. Most of these were rubber dome technology, and cylindrical keycaps rather than spherical of old. Some would have been double shot, but most were moving to single shot plastic key caps.

My first PC had the Dell SilentKey keyboard, which was rattly, ANSI layout and I never liked it. It was beige, ugly and also very large and took up far too much desk space. I swapped it for an IBM rubber dome keyboard several years later.

My next PC had a cheap Logitech keyboard with rubber-dome technology. It was okay but not great. There was a double height delete key and no insert key...! It was curved and a bit flimsy compared with the Dell and over time the markings on the keycaps have worn out and some keys have taken on a very shiny finish. I used it instead of the Dell until I swapped to the IBMs later on.

When I was able to swap the Dell ANSI for an IBM ISO keyboard I put the Logitech in storage and started to use the IBM. For most of the last ten years I've used a black IBM or later a white but otherwise identical IBM keyboard for work and home use. I also swapped some of the keycaps around on them to create a black and white ANSI style bi-colour layout. My wife complained that these IBM keyboards were very loud, as I often bottomed them out and the hollow case amplifies the noise quite a bit. While not IBM Model M quality, they were okay, though over the years some of the markings have worn. They are very square in shape shape and have a smaller desk foot print that the Logitech and noticeably more compact than the old Dell. On their last clean, I repaired the circuit trace on one of them that had failed and fitted some sound deadening foam to them all which does make them less noisy.

Today I've started to use a Filco TKL, ISO/UK layout keyboard. It uses single shot but high quality cylindrical keycaps, on Cherry MX brown switches. It's heavy, compact, has big rubber feet and has no numerical keypad, so it doesn't slip on my desk and has a tiny footprint while having full sized keys. The Cherry browns require less pressure to actuate than the old rubber domes on the Logitech or IBM keyboards and as long as I don't bottom them out they don't make too much noise. It's also the first USB keyboard I have if you exclude the really horrible Viglen I have (but never used), all my keyboards are PS/2 except the Sun which uses a proprietary Sun serial interface.


25 May 2020

Keyboards

Over the weekend I worked on my computer keyboards. My wife commented that one wasn't very clean... I took the top off and took it for a clean. I gave it a good vacuum and then washed it with plenty of soap and running water. I hung it out to dry on the washing line... While the top was drying I lifted the metal back plate out and fitted some foam under it to deaden the noise it makes.

Pleased with my success I took the top of another keyboard, same model, but different colour and repeated the process. Finally I had a look at the third model which had a damaged contact membrane. Turns out it's easy to repair with solve with metal containing paint, or a bit of carefully applied aluminium foil from the kitchen. I now have three functioning IBM keyboards again, two white and one blank (two in bi-colour pattern and one all white).

If one ignores the "QWERTY" part of the keyboard for now, I think I's stuck with that as it's what I've known since I was twelve... there are plenty of other things that could be changed.

  • Caps Lock: There are two problems with this key. The first is what use is it all? On my computer I have it mapped as compose key. The second problem is that it's a big key in a useful location.
  • F1-F12: The function keys sit there at the top of the keyboard and other than F1 which is useful for help and F12 which starts a console drop down for me, the rest are largely wasted. Does anyone remember what they do? and anyway different programs seem to do different things with them.
  • Does anyone use the OS (Windows) and menu keys? and are they actually useful? I have the right OS key mapped as another compose key.
  • Print Screen, Scroll Lock and Pause, any real use?
  • Numeric key pad. Very useful some of the time, but not always. I can see the point of the tenkeyless keyboard if you want to recover the space, but I'd want a matching option pad for some applications.
  • Why is there no USB hub built in? It seem obvious that you'd want to connect your mouse to your keyboard or one of the zillion devices that people now have.

31 Dec 2019

Cameras

I have lots of cameras, but in practice only three are regularly used, the rest are now just collected.

I have a Canon SLR, it's not the bottom of the range, but it's hardly professional and it is now two generations out, so it's not got the fastest CPU anymore, but it still has a pretty good sensor, and with my 60 mm 1:1 macro I can take some pretty good pictures with it. It doesn't go everywhere, as it's a bit big, but it still gets used quite a lot.

My next camera is a Motorola smart phone. Optically it's a joke, but it does geo-tag the pictures, integrates well with things, and as I have my phone with me all the time, I always have it. I've used it more in the last 12 months just because I have it with me, than would have otherwise.

Finally I have a Canon compact camera. It's small and beautifully formed and for the best part of the last five and half years I've had it with me. Optically it's massively superior to my smartphone, but no way near as good as my SLR. It is however a lot smaller than my SLR, and though thicker than my phone, otherwise smaller than it and ergonomically a lot better too.

For a while I had been thinking of getting a new Canon compact, the current generation have a larger sensor, faster and better CPU, and the optical range of the lens is a little bit bigger. I have hesitated because they are not cheap, and there was nothing wrong with my existing Canon - plus I've been using the smart phone more and more. Over the weekend my hand has been forced as my Canon compact has died with a lens fault. I did some Googling and if it's not dirt/grit in the mechanism (which you can blow/tap out), then it's probably a shorted ribbon cable, which there are videos explaining how to replace. The problem is that the videos are now a few years old and the replacement lens and sensor assemblies are not widely available anymore...

I've looked at the cameras on offer and while there is a very nice Sony, it's too much money, and the Panasonic looks okay, but I've used my mother-in-law's and didn't like the ergonomics, so I think it's going to be a Canon G7X Mk III, which is at least £100 cheaper here in France from a high street retailer than the best Internet supplier in the UK.


26 Sep 2016

Home Server upgrade / step 4

Since getting my home server upgraded and the disk space greatly expanded I've been re-ripping my music CD collection, replacing the various Ogg and Opus files with FLAC files. While I can't hear the difference between a good quality lossy compressed file and a lossless file, there are operational advantages to FLAC files, which is on the main reasons for the change.

On Friday the network connection to the server suddenly died, it did the same again on Saturday, while moving FLAC files about. Removing the module from the kernel and putting it back in brought the connection back to life. A quick google found that there were bugs in the Realtek r8169 family Ethernet card drivers that caused it to stop working under heavy load, and this could be fixed by using a newer module (driver).

I downloaded the latest code from the Realtek site, but as I read the instructions, I realised that my server was running an old Wheezy kernel and not the much newer Jessie one that it should have been. I installed the correct and later kernel - with later versions of the Ethernet module in it and rebooted, and so far, even under heavy load the network has stayed up.


16 Sep 2016

Home Server upgrade / step 3

One of the Toshiba 6 TB drives died and had to be sent back to Novatech. Today the new drive came and I now have a mirrored pair again. At the moment they are about 9% mirrored - so it will take a few hours before my system is fully redundant again.

While I was running with only one disk in the mirror I was manually using rsnapshot to take a backup to a spare drive that I had mounted on the box. While it wasn't full live mirror, had the worst happened I would have lost a few hours of email at the most.