Useful Consumer Review

I need a wireless USB HID button (to take movie snapshots, of course), so I bought this Logitech Cube “presenter”. I need a range of about five meters, so all wireless input devices are kinda chancy.

Epic unboxing sequence:

So… does it work in Linux? Yes, but no.

It generates a Prior event if you push the button while it’s oriented one way, and a Next event the other way. That’s fine. However, the range is less than two meters. Further away than that, it gets unreliable, and at four meters, there’s no signal what-so-ever. So it’s unusable for me.

I was curious about how well it worked as a wireless mouse if you had it close enough to the receiver. I’d rate it “meh”.

But it’s a nice form factor.  For something that doesn’t really work very well.

Useful Consumer Review

My old tv machine worked ok, but it was too slow to play the files MakeMKV ripped from BluRay disks.

So I bought a new one from QuietPC. I’ve bought a couple from them before, and they seem to make reliable, fanless machines.

So here are the notes on problems getting the video working under Debian Linux. Sigh.

The motherboard is Gigabyte H87N-WIFI, the VGA is “Intel Corporation Xeon E3-1200 v3/4th Gen Core Processor Integrated Graphics Controller”, which is a Haswell HD Graphics thing.

First of all, if you have xserver-xorg-video-modesetting installed, get rid of it. For some reason or other, X -configure prefers this generic driver over the Intel driver, which is pretty nonsensical. It’s not accelerated, so you can’t really use it for much of anything.

After getting rid of it, you’ll get the Intel (i915) driver instead, which works OK. Except if you want to watch video. Then you get lots of tearing. There’s a newer “tear free” version of the Intel xorg driver that fixes this problem, but it’s not included in Debian testing, even.

So go to the Intel page and download the “xf86-video-intel – 2.99.906” package. It compiles easily enough (just need to install some -dev packages). Install it by moving the intel_drv.so file after compiling over the one supplied by Debian. It should work fine. (Unless you’re reading this some time after March 2014.)

Hey! Now you can watch video. Except when the i915 driver loads, the HDMI screen turns all grey. For some reason or other, i915 jacks the backlights on the monitor up to max, leaving me with a very, very pale and bright TV.

After googling for hours, I finally found this. So you have to say

xrandr --output HDMI3 --set "Broadcast RGB" "Full"

to get black to be black. “Yay.”

I got an integrated BluRay slot player in the machine, because I thought that would look tidier than the external USB drive. However, MakeMKV says the following when I try to use it: “Drive BD-RE MATSHITA BD-MLT UJ265 1.00 has RPC protection that can not be bypassed. Change drive region or update drive firmware from http://tdb.rpc1.org. Errors likely to follow.” Indeed. And there is no region free firmware for this drive, so I’ll just continue to use my external BluRay drive.

Anybody know of a region-free slot-in slimline BluRay drive?

The Tellstick control unit didn’t work any more, because they’ve removed the “vendor” and “product” options from ftdi_sio. So this doesn’t work any more:

options ftdi_sio vendor=0x1781 product=0x0c31

Instead you have to say

modprobe ftdi_sio
 echo 1781 0c31 > /sys/bus/usb-serial/drivers/ftdi_sio/new_id

Yeah, that makes sense…

Finally, the machine has tons of USB3 ports, and just two USB2 ports. I thought that would be a plus, but it seems like my tiny USB monitor doesn’t like being plugged in to the USB3 ports. The kernel says “Cannot enable port 3. Maybe the USB cable is bad?” and the monitor drops connection.

Well, maybe the cable really is bad? It’s always the cable’s fault!

(This is where I go to look for a new cable. And I find one, and switches the cable, and everything works perfectly! It’s always the cable!)

Gack.

See? It almost works out of the box. I mean, finding out all this only took me eleven hours…

It’s the year of Linux on the Desktop any… decade… now.

Useful Consumer Review

I’ve got a computer in the kitchen (as one does), but it’s very difficult to get Ethernet

cabling to where it’s at.  So I’ve been using a Devolo dLAN Highspeed Ethernet II home plug network-via-powerline plug.

And it totally sucks.  Sure, it’s slow, but worse is the latency and unreliability.  I’m using it for NFS stuff, and it’s just too crappy for words.

The throughput is pitiful, but it’s acceptable.

[larsi@stories ~]$ scp 07112011002.mp4 sparky:/tmp
07112011002.mp4                               100%  105MB 535.1KB/s   03:21

But the  latency is crappy:

[larsi@stories ~]$ ping sparky
PING sparky.gnus.org (80.91.231.5) 56(84) bytes of data.
64 bytes from sparky.gnus.org (80.91.231.5): icmp_req=1 ttl=64 time=29.0 ms
[…]
64 bytes from sparky.gnus.org (80.91.231.5): icmp_req=14 ttl=64 time=3.24 ms
64 bytes from sparky.gnus.org (80.91.231.5): icmp_req=15 ttl=64 time=4.59 ms
^C
— sparky.gnus.org ping statistics —
15 packets transmitted, 15 received, 0% packet loss, time 14020ms
rtt min/avg/max/mdev = 2.524/8.827/29.004/8.068 ms
So before I went all drill-ey with the Ethernet cabling, I thought I’d try a different poweline model — the Netgear Powerline 200 Mbps Nano Adapter (XAVB2101 (phew)).

And look:

[larsi@stories ~]$ scp 07112011002.mp4 sparky:/tmp
07112011002.mp4                               100%  105MB   3.5MB/s   00:30

It’s like a lot faster!  7x better throughput.  The latency is kinda similar, but more even:

[larsi@stories ~]$ ping sparky
PING sparky.gnus.org (80.91.231.5) 56(84) bytes of data.
64 bytes from sparky.gnus.org (80.91.231.5): icmp_req=1 ttl=64 time=11.7 ms
64 bytes from sparky.gnus.org (80.91.231.5): icmp_req=2 ttl=64 time=9.04 ms
[…]
64 bytes from sparky.gnus.org (80.91.231.5): icmp_req=12 ttl=64 time=3.36 ms
^C
— sparky.gnus.org ping statistics —
12 packets transmitted, 12 received, 0% packet loss, time 11016ms
rtt min/avg/max/mdev = 3.353/7.262/11.787/2.470 ms
So…  it’s better, but it’s not…  good.  A max latency of 11ms, compared to the max latency of 29ms of the Devolo.

Anyway, the comparison isn’t really fair.  The Devolos are a couple years old, so they’re previous generation tech.  But it does mean that if you’ve got old powerline gear, and you want slightly less crappy performance, you may consider buying new gear.

Oh, Brando

I bought some USB3->SATA adapters from Brando.  They came with US->Euro plug adapters.  (Yes, the adapters had adapters with adapters.  Geez.)

See if you can spot the problem.

In addition, the speed I get when ripping CDs via these adapters is, as they say, teh sux.

Oh, well.  It’s not as if I actually expected something bought from Brando to work, but it was worth a shot.

Sennheiser HDR 180

Headphones cradled on the charging cradle

Most hardware seems to have been created in a “will this do?” mind set.  They have a bit of technology, and they have some economic restraints, and then they rush it to market.  It makes perfect sense, and I can’t envision that it’ll ever change, but it’s somewhat depressing.

The hardware in question this week are the Sennheiser HDR 180 wireless headphones.  They use Klear wireless technology, and they sound really good.  There are no drop-outs, there is no buzzing — they just work, even if I walk to the far side of the apartment.  They’re, technically speaking, what you would call “ace”.

Cradle on/off button

But then there’s the User Experience details.

The headphones usually rest on the charger thingie you see up there.  It’s nice.  So when I start watching something on the “TV” and I want to use the headphones, I pick up the headphones and put them on my head?

Nope.

I pick up the headphones.  Then I hit the “on” button on the base station.  Then I hit the “on” button on the headphones themselves.  Then I put them on my head.

Headphone UX

Because, I mean, why would you assume that just because I’m picking them off the charging station, I want to use them?  Perhaps I want to do something completely different.  Perhaps I picked them off the charging station to hang them out to dry on the balcony?  Or perhaps I wanted to dance around with them, fondling them inappropriately?  I mean, that’s so much more likely than wanting to use them.

This is why I hate all hardware.  Hardware never works the way it should.

And I didn’t even want to go into the UX of the headphones themselves.  You see those five buttons on the headphones?  Yes, there’s volume up, on/off, and volume down buttons.  Fine.  But then, next to them, there’s two balance buttons.  So when I have the headphones on my head, which is usually where they are when I’m using them, I have to feel around, tentatively, for the volume buttons, because once you hit the balance buttons, you’ll never get the right balance back again.  There’s no “return the balance to the, er, balanced position” button. It’s like FAIL!!!1! And who the fuck wants to change the balance, anyway?

Oh, by Emacs.  I hate hardware.

Synology DS409 RAID is Crap

Do you see that thing over there?  The Synology Disk Station DS409?  It’s crap.

It’s not the usual hardware RAID problems that make it so crappy. 

Yes, it’s slow.  Painfully slow. 

Yes, it has a weird Linux kernel that, somehow, manages to do put all NFS clients into

df: `/mirror’: Permission denied

if you change any export permissions.  Any.  Not even on the volume in question. Or

df: `/mirror’: Stale file handle

if you reboot it.  How have they even managed to do that?

No, it’s not that.

It’s that if one of the disks break (as they are wont to do, which is why we have the “R” and “I” in “RAID”), which usually happens at 2am, the thing starts beeping.

Loudly.

Beep.  Beep.  Beep.

And there’s no way to turn the beeping off.  Other than switching the entire thing off.  So you have a redundant disk system, but if one of the disks break, it starts beeping so loud that it’ll wake all the neighbours, so you just have to switch it off until you can find a new disk to replace the old one.

So it’s redundant, but you can’t use it.  Ingenious.

The only thing I can recommend about the Synology DS409 is that it’s less unstable than any of the other commodity hardware RAID devices I’ve used.  Which means that as soon as 4TB disks become available, I’m going to just make a two disk soft RAID device and escape the horrible clutches of hardware RAID makers.

(I should make this blog into an electronic consumer review site, shouldn’t I?)