Android audio playback diagnosis

Half of the joy in computing is figuring out complex problems, coming up with that solution that eludes everyone else, bonus points it is simple and elegant to boot. That’s all fine in theory when you are doing it for work or out of idle curiosity, however when it affects something you do often then it starts to drive you a little bit crazy.

Enter stage left the problem I fought for about a week with my phone. The symptom was simple, I opened the Youtube app, started watching a video and about 3 to 5 seconds in it would pause. I could un-pause it and it would resume fine, but 3 seconds later it would stop again.

My first thought was network issues. I ran a speed test on my phone. It showed about 50Mb/s so that wasn’t it. Maybe it was Youtube themselves. I know Google is huge, but even the best of them have issues from time to time. Nope, played fine on my desktop. I also wondered if my network/phone combination had screwed it over. Played on 4g just fine. I quick restart and no change. OK, at this point I considered this infuriating but it was time for sleep.

The next day I concluded the issue had to be the Youtube app. According to the play store the app had updated a a day ago. I tried uninstalling the app, but I’m not allowed to do that (yey non root access). The best I could do was roll it back to the version that came installed on the phone (LG G6). I did that and no change. I also tried clearing the apps stored data, settings and cache. Again, no change.

The following day I tried to show a colleague the issue at work. Ignoring that my phone seems to have major issues with the work wifi, the video played back fine. I didn’t find this even more frustrating or anything.

That evening I was scrolling through Facebook and spotted a video I wanted to play. It to also played for a moment then stopped. Plot thickening. I continued to experiment with a few different sources of video over the next few days. Local video also had the same issue, as did videos on my local network.

During this time I was googling most evenings trying to find anyone else with something vaguely like this. I discovered a battery saving mode on the Samsung’s can often affect video playback like this, however it was a feature/setting specific to their phones so that was out the window. Everyone else who had this issue was basically just working with a poor internet connection and hitting buffering issues. I ruled that out in several ways.

I then went to show my colleague at work the local playback issue and it failed to happen and played back just fine. OK, at this point I actually felt like we were getting somewhere. I knew it had to be related to my house, not necessarily my network. That evening I tried disabling the wireless, no change, then I disabled bluetooth on my phone and like magic video playback worked as normal! Success!

Well, sort of. I actually use bluetooth day to day (connect to the car, headset, speakers etc). After a couple of days of running the phone without bluetooth on permanently I got fed up of that. The other day I sat down and started un-pairing connections to see if any made a difference. I eventually narrowed it down to the Logitech BT adapter I have connected to an amplifer to allow phones to connect the lounge audio system.

You see, I have had that for years, but only recently did I use it on my current phone for the first time. If you viewed the bluetooth screen on my phone at the time it looked like this:

If you note the top bar it shows bluetooth not connected, but the adapter is paired. That is not quite right. You see the bluetooth adapter in the lounge is on all the time. Once I paired my phone to it it was connected all the time and put all the audio through it. This was not what I wanted. To get round this I went into the settings for that device and un-ticked the media profile it had.

This would allow them to stayed paired and connected, while not causing my phone to use it for audio. Well, so I thought. Turns out my smart solution was a bit too smart for the phone. It still tried to play back through the adapter, but failed and in the meantime never showed it as connected, causing me to never realise this was the issue.

If this was someone else’s phone it would not have been nearly as annoying. However, if it had not been so annoying, I probably wouldn’t have persisted enough to work it out.


Machine Performance Testing

Some years ago Jonners put together a blog post showing some basic machine benchmarking scores using CrystalMark 2004. Being the competitive/curious fellows we all are, over a little while various friends and colleagues submitted their own scores to this post and it became a light-hearted competition (no-one actually put their machines together for this purpose, we are not that sad, but it did serve as an interesting way to compare them).

Since then over the years the tool has become less and less able to run fully, giving us no choice but to mostly let those scores stand as they are. With that in mind and given I just purchased a new Windows laptop (Dell XPS13 with 8th gen i7) we were looking for ways to compare machines again. In all those years we have always used http://www.cpubenchmark.net/cpu_list.php as one of the best ways to compare CPU’s and GPU’s. While it isn’t perfect, it is very comprehensive in the variety of units you can compare. So when we were looking for a tool to do some system benchmarking Passmark (their tool) was an obvious choice. So far those who have joined in this game have their scores in the table below. (Thomas also did a separate post with my initial score included)

Name System CPU GPU RAM HDD / SSD Total
Model Score Model 2D 3D
Craig Custom Desktop i7-3770K 8833 GTX 670 613   2389 12063 4603
Craig Custom Desktop (clean run) i7-3770K 9990 GTX 670 755 5548 2636 13053 4989
Craig XPS 13 i7-8550U 8821 Intel 620 771 1232 2443 13178 3865
Shaun Custom Desktop i7-3770K 9755 GTX 970 706 9626 2774 4299 4589
Shaun Custom Desktop (clean run) i7-3770K 9679 GTX 970 744 9414 2821 4423 4705
Shaun HP Compaq Mini 311C Atom N270 292 Nvidia Ion 88 134 262 1736 283
Thomas Custom Desktop Q6600 2837 GTX 950 340 3349 629 2371 1619
Thomas Custom Desktop (clean run) Q6600 3154 GTX 950 354 4106 784 2129 1791
Thomas Frankentop (Thinkpad R50P) Pentium M 755 253 ATi Mobility FireGL T2 186 47 281 692 219
Rick Custom Desktop Ryzen 1700X 14681 RX 480 776 8637 1862 4096 4654
Nik Custom Desktop i7-4760k 11251 GTX 1060 971 6238 2706 2873 4852
Jonners Custom Desktop i5-750 3708 GTX 1060 511 7436 1069 1472 2185
Jonners Custom Desktop (v2) Ryzen 5 1600 12527 GTX 1060 616 9651 1764 5187 4200
Andy Custom Desktop i7-8700K 16417 GTX 1080TI 917 14886 3511 5167 6239
Dave Custom Desktop QX6850 2389 GTX 285 311 1219 748 1475 1406
Dave Acer Aspire 8930G X9100 2276 GeForce 9600M 376 185 870 2294 1001
Nelson Custom Desktop i7-6700K 11551 Intel HD 530 733 1311 3022 15642 4252
Rob H Custom Desktop i7-8700K 16222 GTX 970 1099 11030 3295 5436 6573

Some of them are there to serve as a reminder how far things have come with no expectation of a high score, some of them show how actually even 5 year plus old CPU’s such as mine and Shaun’s are still more than capable today (both scores are without the over-clocking the k edition is more than able to take).

While as I write this I am top of the table, my PCIE M.2 SSD is a major reason for that and if others were to do something similar my score would be left behind by a number of them. I did however due to the age of my hardware have to go through the pain of adding a new module into my BIOS in order to get that drive to boot, so it was not an upgrade for most without a whole new motherboard/architecture.

For me the most interesting take home was that my new laptop is actually at a level of performance that I consider to be fairly close to comparable to my desktop. While clearly my desktop is getting on a bit in computing years, it is still very able. It just serves to demonstrate that laptops really have not stood still, especially in this most recent round of upgrades from Intel. It is now within sane reach to have desktop performance (minus graphics, although that is an option for larger laptops) in a very portable package.

Other benchmarks welcome, these were all done with version 9 of the trial.

And for the doubters of my scores, see below:

EDIT @ 05/01/2018: Added Jonners v2, Andy desktop, Dave Desktop, Dave Laptop

I have been knocked off my top spot thanks to my brother Andy. His build is an example of what happens when you throw down a huge pile of cash and see what happens. For me the CPU is very impressive, but for my money Ryzen is much better value, as shown by Jonners v2 and Rick.

EDIT @ 27/06/2019: Added Rob H from work

We have a new winner. Rob’s the same spec as Andy in a number of key points. If anything I’m not sure why there is a win for Rob in this, the he looses more than he wins. Assume there is some odd weighting going on in the software. I suspect a up to date run from Andy will mean he has a short lived time at the top. Nice to see my disks still winning. That may also be short lived now.


Interesting explanation of challenges of exposure in the context of video

There is a pile of extra info in here I personally did not know, despite knowing quite a lot about how stills cameras work, seeing examples of how these same principals apply to videography. While this example is about high speed, most of the information is universal.


LED Project Complete

A little over a year ago I set out on yet another of my projects. This particular cunning plan was to put up multi coloured LED lights around the top of the lounge. The theory being that owing to our white walls we would have low cost lighting of any colour we wanted.

Me being me what started as simple idea quickly turned into a rabbit hole of complications and discoveries.

First you have to choose what type of lights you want. LED strips can either come in multi coloured (RGB) or a single colour. That single colour is generally red, green, blue, warm white, bright white or natural white. Basically 5050 SMD lights are multi coloured and 3528 SMD are single colour.

Next you have to chose the density you are after. For 5050 type lights you normally have two density options, 30 per meter or 60 per meter. For 3528’s you can have 30,60 and 120.

In the case of the ones I selected they were 60 per meter which you can cut every 3 LED’s

All of these different options combined with how long a run you wish to do and how many runs you need then affect what controller you can use. In my case I wanted RGB lights which connect using a 4 pin connector.

There are quite a few options online (eBay and Amazon are some of the best places to buy this stuff) when it comes to picking a controller. The most important feature to look for is power requirements. In you need 0.6 amps per meter of 30/m density.

With that in mind I needed double that as I am running 60/m which given my total run of around 11 meters means I needed a controller that could put out 13.2A

The longer the run of lights the dimmer they get so in an ideal world if you can parallelise your circuit as much as possible it will give a more consistent light. In my case I ran some trunking in the corner of the room and had two strips running out from there. While the longer run does get noticeably dimmer towards the end I can live with it as it is the wall with the curtains etc so there is enough going on to draw your eye you don’t really notice.

The cunning plan for fitting them at the top of the walls was as follows:

Basically I took a 10mm square baton, countersunk holes in it and fitted it to the wall at the very top. I actually angled the holes to force it to have a bit of an angle when fitting. I then stuck the LED strips in under it. Turns out the 3m tape on the strips was actually quite poor. I ended up super gluing it to the baton.

The video below was shot (some time ago) when I first put them up. At this point there are only two sides done, the wall the left was done not long after. Connecting round the corner was quite a challenge until I found companies making little adapters. I still had to do a lot of soldering at this point. Since I did this a number of better connectors have come out making it possible to snap fix these. You could now build this setup without any soldering.

You can also see the wires running up in the middle of the corner. These have since been hidden away:

After I had all the lights up and running I actually had a number of issues which I have procrastinated on. One of my soldering joints failed just before I finished boxing it all in. Due to the strips being super glued in I needed to take out the damaged strip and solder the smallest joint I could, upside down. This was not even as easy as I am making it sound as I was relying on the surface tension of molten solder to keep it from falling onto the carpet.

Thankfully that worked. I have also since replaced the controller with something that can better cope with the heat of being on for a while. The old controller was in a plastic case and got very hot, the new one has a built in heat sink and stays much cooler. It seems few people are actually making efficient controllers for these still, although this market seems to be forever changing.

Finally this is what it looks like with the cover piece on, painted and as it happens, with cards along it. Note the pink is not the colour we normally have it set to, but joyfully we can pick whatever colour we want.


Price of a digital life

I was going through a spec for a media center machine for home and got to the point where I spec’d the hard-drives. It seemed silly to put in a 2TB drive given I already have masses of storage space. Then I thought about it and looked at the cost and realised it would be silly not to put in that much. The price has just dropped so much faster that we have found ways to use it (although we are getting better with HD videos and alike).

This got me thinking about how much space I actually have and what it would have cost at a time when we simply didn’t have this insane amount of space.

First I counted up all the digital storage I had to hand:

Device Capacity in GB
CSK System 128
CSK Media 1000
CSK Temp 320
CSK Data 250
CSK Data Backup 250
Destiny System 1000
Destiny Backup 1000
NAS 8000
Media Center System 120
Media Center Video 2000
Tablet Main 64
Tablet SD 32
HTC One 32
HTC One Mini 16
Apple Powerbook G4 80
Memory Stick 8
Camera SD 2
Camera SD 2
Camera SD 0.5
Camera SD 0.5
Camera SD 0.5
Total 14305.5 GB

Then I looked into what that amount of storage (done in price per GB, not like for like) would have cost over the previous decade. Unfortunately I could only find prices in dollars so I looked up conversation rates at the time of the price which gave me the following data:

Year Cost in GBP
2000 £174,519
2001 £69,965
2002 £43,460
2003 £22,176
2004 £15,254
2005 £5,962
2006 £3,900
2007 £2,862
2008 £1,971
2009 £609

For real fun I then looked up the cost for 1981 using Apple hardware (with a cost of $700 per megabyte). I had to assume the exchange rate of 0.6 as I could not find the numbers. All of that came to £6,152,509,440. So by 1981 prices I have over 6000 million pounds worth of storage sat taking up photos and films…

By today’s prices all this comes to £436. Now that is progress.

References: Prices 1, Prices 2 and Currency conversion


Mindless Task

In the last year or so I have begun the process of doing what is probably the most depressing task I have ever tried to do. I am putting together information that would be useful in the event of my death.

This is not a Will or my last wishes as such (although to a certain extent it deals with some of that). This is my passwords, my online history, my accounts over the web, our home network, the wireless, the backups and the accounts. Basically the building blocks of my digital/paperwork life that so many things require.

In the last few years I have heard of a number of people who have died before their time, who took with them the passwords and the knowledge that maintained things important to those around them.

For example when one man I knew died his family could no longer get into the family file server he had set up which contained all their digital photos. I know of another where the rest of the family could not access the computer or the banking records or even quite get to grips with the filling system that was in place.

While I have always taken very seriously the idea of backing things up, I came to realise that while I did the basics like my pictures, music and files, I didn’t back up what was in my head. All the hundreds of passwords, account logins, e-mail addresses and even how it all hangs together.

In doing all of this work (still a long way to go) I have come to realise something else. I am not just doing this to make sure Demelza and my very small (but growing) family doesn’t have additional complications that I can avoid, but also it saves me having to remember it all. I have come to rely on my mind for so many things and maybe I need to start forgetting a few things and let computers and paper do what they do best.

I don’t want to depress people… I just think sometimes our backups forget the little things.


Obfuscated solution

According to Code.org this is the year everyone should learn to code. If this isn’t your year then it should be the next one or the next one, but most importantly, you should learn to code. Why you might ask? Well the video claims you will be tomorrows rock stars, you will change the world, solve problems, get all the millions of jobs being created especially for you and perhaps most importantly, receive free lunches at work.

They have the backing of some pretty big players in the tech world, from Microsoft and Facebook to Twitter and Valve. They claim that as companies they are crying out for more coders and that may well be very true, not like they have a vested interest or anything….

I have a big problem with this (and yes as a coder technically I too have a vested interest going on here). The problem is I don’t think coders are the solutions to the problems they talk about and to the problems we face in the future, I think people who can think are.

I will let you into the big secret that this video seems to avoid…. there are both good coders and bad coders. The fact that a bad coder can still code is evidence enough that code is not the final answer or even really, half the solution.

We live in an ever more complex world where problems and solutions are becoming so complex that implementing the solution has become the simplest bit. The hard part is understanding what the problem is and figuring old how to solve it. Now I get that learning to code can teach these things. It teaches you to break problems down, to focus on the system while at the same time drilling down into the specifics etc but it is not the only way to teach this, nor does it feel like the way that will reach the most people.

The reality is trying to encourage people to learn to code is the same as trying to get everyone to learn mathematics in the past. Yeah it is some way towards your goal of problem solving, but you won’t appeal to the people that need this most. The people this appeals to will already be coding anyway. Why not simply give people problems that need solving and then let them get on an actually try? Point them in a direction and see what happens. Let them find their own way into learning and then they can take some joy in it instead of being force fed whatever solution works for a few.

I once did a subject called maths. I hated it and found it complicated. Then a few years later I did a subject called reasoned programming. That on the other hand was great. The difference? The name.


Bright idea?

Last weekend when going to a concert/event at the church in Truro I saw a “prop” for lack of better description built by a friend which got me thinking. It was wooden cross with LED lights inside and a DMX controller to hook it into their lighting system. Specifically they were not just any old LED lights, but a tape strip with RGB LED’s all the way along.

While this is not a new idea to me; it was the first time I realised they were simple enough that I could do something with them. Years ago I saw people messing around with these things in their homes creating all sorts of lighting effects. While very cool (in my eyes at least) it seemed a little out of reach. They were all building custom controllers using more knowledge than I have.

It seems however that times have changed… A little bit of work in Google, a nod from my wife and I bought the following:

  1. 3 X 5M RGB LED tapes with 300LED’s (60/M)
  2. 1 X 6A controller complete with Infrared control
  3. 1 X 6A@12V transformer

LED lights being tested

Close-up of the remote

The cunning plan is to put some edging round the ceiling of the lounge and stick these to the underside so they point down the walls on 3 sides of the room. Thanks to our walls being white this should let us change the colours of the walls as well as light the room up a little better.

Failing that they should at least look good at Christmas…


The evolution of a workstation

I recently saw a blog post showing how someone’s desk and computer setup changes over the course of 10 years. While I have only been running my own machine since 2005 I thought it might interesting to go back and look at what I used to work with.

The only unusual thing is that when I first built my machine I was running dual CRT’s. If you keep out of a few specialist industries almost no-one was doing this (I have Thomas to blame for putting the idea in my head).

This is the original setup (AMD64 3500+, 2GB of RAM, 2 160GB disks in RAID 1 and a Gefore 5900ultra for those who care).

I ran that machine for just over a year before upgrading the RAM and adding a pair of 250GB disks.

Then another year after that I decided 2 monitors didn’t cut it anymore and CRT’s were far too large, heavy, power hungry and hot so I bought 3 new TFT’s. At the same time I friend built a custom desk for it to hold the monitors. Clearly I was less minimalist back then.

Unfortunately I only had a single graphics card then so I could only run one of them. Just before moving to Brighton I upgraded the core of the machine to have an Intel Q6600, 4GB of RAM, a pair of Geforce 8600GTS’s and a further 320GB disk. This is that machine in situ in Brighton.

Another year, another location, still Brighton but we moved house. Same desk and same basic machine. At this point heat started to become a real issue with all that hardware packed into one machine.

Then after another year in Brighton I moved into a flat in Plymouth with Demelza. Finally the machine made it out of my room and into a study. I’m not sure why one of the screens is off, I seem to remember it went through a few weeks of not working correctly.

Having put up with the overheating issues for long enough I finally bought the huge case I wanted and moved the whole machine to that. I did at the same time install a new CPU cooler and PSU as well as build a monitor stand to get them back to the right height.

Then we come to today where we have moved into our house and have a different study. The machine looks the same on the outside but underneath has become an i7 32GB monster with a primary SSD for good measure.

As to where it is going next… Well, the monitors will be the next thing to change. Having worked with 3 monitors for years now I can certainly say I am ready for more. The plan is to move to 4 main working monitors and perhaps use one of the old ones as a status monitor on the right. Who knows though, I am always looking for better ways to change my workspace to make my life easier… it just happens that more monitors is the solution that has worked thus far.


Need For Speed

Recently I wrote that I had finally changed lanes on the broadband superhighway and this was as to be expected, great. However there was a little bit of a nagging issue over (rather unusually) the upload speed. The download speed of 65-70Meg was great, no issues there, but the upload speed of 1.5Meg up ish was a little less than the more like 10 I was promised.

With this in mind I called BT to ask what gives. What follows is the call/event log I kept during the issue.

Friday 18th May – Fibre installed.

Friday 1st June – Engineer came out, was told the engineer wouldn’t need to visit the house, he came to the house, called and then left as no-one was in.

Tuesday 5th June – Engineer called, saw 2000k upload, agreed the issue was not here, asked for a profile reset to happen

Friday 8th June – Profile reset meant to have happened, no change. Told I had to wait 10 days for speed to come up (never did)

Sunday 10th June – case was re-opened not by me but BT.

Tuesday 12th June – Spoke to BT and they told me they needed to send another engineer

Saturday 16th June – Engineer came round and confirmed same issue.

Sunday 17th June – BT tech support started to raise issue further, started talking to Iain.

Monday 18th June – Daily updates from Iain (no change)

Tuesday 19th June – Daily updates from Iain (no change)

Wednesday 20th June – Daily updates from Iain (no change)

Saturday 23rd June – Engineer tried to come round, was out (were never asked if this call would be OK). Engineer also confirmed same issue at the cabinet.

Sunday 24th June – Spoke to tech support who went away and then told me the profile had been reset and it would take 24hours

Monday 25th June – After 24hours no change, spoke to Iain and he is pushing the issue again.

Tuesday 26th June – Text from BT saying the issue has been closed. No speed change as yet.

Wednesday 27th June – Called to confirm issue not closed. BT confirm this and it is still being chased.

Saturday 30th June – Morning – Spoke to tech, no progress, they are going to try and chase and ring back between 9pm and 12pm

Saturday 30th June – Evening – They have said they need to send an engineer to try a reset of the profile from the cabinet, if that fails then engineer will do a lift and shift. Their calendar was not working to book one in, said they would ring back, didn’t.

Sunday 1st July – They decided we don’t need an engineer visit to the house and are sending one to the exchange. They also claim that they will do a lift and shift “if needed”. I don’t hold out much hope.

Tuesday 3rd July – Call-back in the evening asking if there was a change. Speed test confirms slightly faster upload but nothing amazing and certainly not fixed. They are going to ring tomorrow when the exchange engineer should have visited.

Thursday 5th July – Called at 9:30am. They said an engineer should have called at the exchange on the 3rd so they are going to ask them what happened. Going to call back in half an hour.

Friday 6th July – Late evening, called for an updated as the last one failed to ring back. Seems their systems are still having issues, going to get someone to ring back on the Saturday. Suggests a lift and shift might not do it, may need a cease and re-setup

Sunday 8th July – No call back on the Saturday (massive surprise). Called first thing and asked for an update. Said they would get a support engineer out (open reach) to the exchange.

Monday 9th July – Signs of progress, upload seems to have gone up to 4-5Meg

Tuesday 10th July – Call from BT saying the work had been completed and to let them know if the issue was still there. They completed a lift and shift.

Wednesday 11th July – Upload speeds now at around the 7-8Meg.

For those not counting that is 7 engineers (1 install, 2 exchange, 2 failed (although one of them then went to the exchange) and 2 to confirm the error.

Total time to resolve the issue was 40 days.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m only kinda complaining. BT did say this was a very unusual issue from day one. Most of them had real trouble comprehending that this was an upload speed issue and not a download issue. The tech’s I spoke to were bar one all very good and helpful. The biggest issue during the whole process was BT’s internal communication between the tech teams and their engineers. Everyone understood the problems they saw, but every time new things about the issue were learnt there was trouble getting that information back to the right people.

All in all I am happy the issue is solved, and after maybe a 5min call they agreed to give me 3 months free service for my troubles, so all’s well that ends well…


New computer build

Last weekend I finally got around to updating the core internals of my machine. I normally follow a tick tock upgrade model where I do a major upgrade and then a minor. After the minor of new case, PSU and CPU cooler of last time this was the more substantial upgrade of the CPU, motherboard, RAM and the addition of an SSD. I decided there was little point in doing graphics this time as I’m no gamer and I had all I needed.

This first photo is simple for scale. The bottle is a 500ml one. This was the machine as it was before I started work on it.

This is the back of the machine as it was.

And all opened up ready for me to start taking things out and cleaning them.

This is having emptied the TV card (which I really had forgotten was in there and explains why I couldn’t find that for my dad recently), graphics cards and the motherboard tray. The whole process of removing all the old components and cleaning them took about 45mins.

This is now mid build. You can see all the old disks lined up on the right, the old motherboard setup at the top and the new one at the front about to have the CPU cooler on it.

A closeup of the CPU (Intel i7 Ivybridge 3770k)

Now with the CPU, cooler and RAM (all 32GB of it) in place.

This time round I wanted to do a bit of a better job regarding the cables. While this case is huge and really air flow is never an issue, I wanted to try. In fact the hardest thing about this case is the sheer length of some of the cable runs needed. At this point all the drives were in place (note the one mechanical left out (This was the last of the 160GB drives from my original machine)) and I was just starting the back cable runs.

Motherboard tray in place and basic motherboard power.

A closeup of all the front panel connectors on the motherboard.

All the drives in place. Top to bottom: 128GB SSD, 320GB, 250GB, 250GB, 1TB.

Build basically done. Drive cables a little messy, but all out the way and actually not as bad as they look here. Both graphics cards in place at this point. When I finally booted the machine up it seems I killed one of them. It certainly wasn’t working. For the time being my 3rd monitor is using the on-board graphics which is actually pretty good

More detail of the drives showing the cables a bit more out the way.

And finally the rear of the machine.


Changing lanes

Having spent 2 years living in Brighton in the outside lane of the internet superhighway I always knew moving down to Cornwall and the West Country was going to present some frustrations. I was not disappointed if you catch my point…

In Brighton we had 50Mb/s download from Virgin Media’s cable service. In the flat in Plymouth we had 5Mb/s download on a good day and on a bad day it hardly seemed worth turning it on.

Then we moved to Saltash (other side of the river) and received much the same despite moving to BT Business (for substantially better support).

Finally after nearly 3 years of purgatory in the slow lane we have finally been allowed back in the outside lane. All 70Mb/s of it that is. I almost forgot what it was like having an internet connection you don’t have to wait for. Multiple streams of high definition video is a start, but then combine that with services like Google maps where the maps don’t “load”, they’re just “there” and you start to remember what you missed. It is worth noting the upload is not where I think it should be and I will be contacting BT about that, but it is still a metric ton faster than anything else I’ve had.

New internet connection speed test

Even I with my job sometimes forget all the benefits speeds like this could bring when delivered to every household up and down the country. Why the government isn’t really pushing this tech as fast as is possible I will never understand. (Oh wait, too busy busting a gut to get HS2 out the door before we don’t need it from all the telecommuting).

All I can really say to sum this up is the country could not have these sorts of speeds fast enough.

As an aside it is also worth mentioning that Virgin media do actually provide their 50Mb/s service in both Plymouth and Saltash (unusually), however both the places we lived in were developments newer than virgin buying the network and as far as I can tell despite golden opportunities to put in new cable Virgin seem quite content making their existing network ever faster while failing to expand it. More fool them I say.


Catalogue of errors

You would have thought these days ordering a few things over the internet and getting them delivered would be simple enough… Well, turns out not quite…

Last Sunday I finally bit the bullet and ordered a good number of new computer components for my much delayed machine rebuild. At the same time I also ordered some harddrives for the NAS. When pricing it all up it turns out I could save (even taking into account shipping) about £90 by ordering from 3 different suppliers. So on Sunday I put the order together.

All the orders were told to deliver to work (which work doesn’t like but my manager said it was OK).

Monday morning first item arrived. It was the motherboard from ebuyer. As I opened it up something didn’t look right. I studied it a little further and then sat at my machine and looked a couple of things up. I realised I had ordered the one down from the one I wanted. I thought about it for a bit, considered keeping it and in the end after weighing up the pros and cons, decided to return it for a refund an order the one I did want. I booked a TNT pickup which arrived a few hours later and took it away. At lunchtime I put together a new order for the one I did want and added an extra couple of things I had forgotten (including a DVD drive for Demelza’s machine).

Tuesday morning the DVD drive arrived (all on its own). The impressive thing about this was it was the item ebuyer said would take the longest and it arrived 2 days before it was meant to.

Tuesday afternoon the two harddrives from scan arrived when they said they should. The other item that was also being delivered was the main order from overclockers. I could see from the tracking information that it should be at work by lunchtime. Then I noticed something on the tracking details. It was being sent to home. Home where no one would be in. I phoned up overclockers who explained they had to send it there because of the way it was being paid for… would have been nice of them to tell me that and not take a delivery address. By this time I could see the order failed to deliver at home.

I then looked at my redelivery options online. I could have it sent to another address, great I thought until realising I could only change it to within the same postcode (so same road). Not as helpful. I wouldn’t have had the chance to check this was ok with a neighbour. I then looked up where their collection location was. Turns out it was about 35mins by car out of my way so that wasn’t really an option. Then I spotted they had an option to deliver to a safe place so I ticked that and gave detailed instructions that there would be a plastic box behind the side gate with a padlock in it so they could lock it shut when done. I also explained it would be chained to the house (not that I was that worried, nothing ever seems to get pinched round out way, but they said it had to be a safe place).

Tuesday evening myself and Demelza spent about an hour sourcing all the chains, boxes and locks needed to create this secure location for them. As part of the delivery companys system I had to take the card they popped through the door and leave it in the safe place signed so they could pick that up at the same time.

Wednesday morning the right motherboard and assorted extras arrived 9am on the dot at work. The main order that was to be left in the safe place was due in late afternoon. So not much to see there. When I got home after work I discovered that they had indeed found the safe place as I had described. They had also taken the signed card out of the box. What they had not done however was leave the parcel in there. Nope, they left that with our neighbour instead and left a note through our door saying which one. While you would think this was helpful unfortunately said neighbour was then out by the time Demelza got home and didn’t come home all last night.

I can see how they were trying to be helpful leaving it with next door instead of outside, however I had provided a secure waterproof location and it wasn’t raining. There was no reason not to do as instructed. Because of this last night I could not install the new drives in the NAS and start building the array. A process which I fully expect to take 24hours and is something I cannot speed up. Now thanks to them not doing as instructed I have lost at least 24 hours assuming next door are back today. Taking into account I need to NAS upgraded before I can do backup’s of my machine and then I have to run the backups before I can rebuild my machine this may well have ruined my plans for a machine rebuild this weekend. I don’t have the time to do it in the week and the weekend after that is my birthday. I have yet to complain however I very certainly am going to.

As an aside I also have to complain to royal mail today because they also left a parcel at home yesterday. This is the new router for the great internet connection upgrade of 2012. Their note through the door said they left it in our “agreed safe place” which it turns out was right in front of our house in view of everyone going by. No Royal Mail, I had not agreed a safe place with you ever, however if I had it would not have been here, it would have been round the back of our house, not in plain sight! So if they think they have an agreed safe place it needs updating.

So all in all I am quite angry about all of this. If all the companies had done as they said they would and done as they were instructed to I would be well on my way to upgrading my machine this weekend. As it stands that may not be possible.


Network attached everything

Our home network has finally made the jump from simply a set of computers going through a home router to the internet into something that better deserves the name “network”.

Up until recently our home network was made up of the following.

  1. DLink router connecting to the internet
  2. TV – Streaming content over DLNA from the computer
  3. 1 Windows 7 Computer
  4. Printer/scanner

To make matters worse our TV was connected via power line Ethernet (for the uninformed this is the same tech that plug-in baby monitors use. Signals are transmitted via the power lines in the building. The advantage is no need to run cables, but faster than wireless and you don’t broadcast out to the world (still not that fast though)).

Over the last month and a bit I have finally been bringing it all up to spec and adding a few more things to it (helped a lot by Demelza’s computer finally being fixed).

First I drilled a hole from our lounge into the floor below. I then ran a network cable between the lounge and the study, fitting wall sockets at both ends. I then mounted a gigabit switch to the wall in the study and upgraded our DLink router to a Netgear DG834G which is quite simply still the best router for the home.

My Christmas present this year (which I admit I have had early) is a Synology DS411j which is a network attached storage/webserver/media server/go make a cup of tea/everything server. It is now taking over the files on the network. It holds all the videos, music and pictures and can stream them to any device on demand (including the phones).

I cannot explain well enough how great this box is. Want to watch something from the TV on the box, just browse to it and hit play. Same for music. You can view a slideshow of your photos from there too. If I were to plug in some IP based security cameras into our network I could have it record the video from them and serve it to my phone if I wanted… It is a web server which for a web developer is a major plus (PHP, Apache, MySQL for the interested). Hell, for the really interested, it is just a Linux box, I can SSH as root to it and do what I like, install packages, stop services, mess with config etc.

I don’t even know where I am going with this other than to say my computing life is becoming awesome. I have a network running at gigabit, 2 machines connected to it, a TV that takes content, a server that gives it, a printer on the network and even two phones that can browse to files on the network and tell the TV to play them. And the best bit… it all just works with not a bit of Apple technology in sight (well, sometimes I let my Apple laptop come play)!


Computer Upgrade

Long time no blog, but no matter, I’m here now.

Over the last week or so I have been slotting into place a plan I have had for some time to upgrade some of the core hardware on my computer. Last night this plan culminated in me sitting down to put it all together. 4 Hours later it was done and below are the photos to prove it.

First the new case, all closed and read to go. For those interested this case is huge and detailed here: http://www.lian-li.com/v2/en/product/product06.php?pr_index=212&cl_index=1&sc_index=25&ss_index=61

Opened up there is a lot more space for cables and disks. It also has space for the PSU at the bottom which was a big part of my plan to keep good airflow around the CPU.

New PSU, CPU cooler, DVD drive and a few cables to go with it all.

This new PSU is modular (also a part of the plan to improve airflow).

PSU installed.

Front panel being done.

Front panel complete.

Old case with machine squashed inside.

Side panels removed and motherboard tray being removed. Starting to clear out the way some of the cables.

The lounge with the rebuild just starting to step up a gear as I move onto the CPU cooler.

All the bits out of the old case, CPU cooler off and CPU cleaned. Just about to put the new cooler on.

Turns out the new cooler was a tight fit to say the least. Note where I have had to cut away at some of the plastic on the fan to get the heatsinks to sit next to each other. Thankfully plastic was not important.

Harddrives mounted in new case.

Motherboard tray clipped in, as is the DVD drive. Just starting to do the power cables and alike.

All cabling complete. Not a very neat job and there is a lot of room for improvement, but at this point I just wanted to get it all and working.

Its new home (note lifted off the floor to reduce carpet dust).