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Fri, 09 Dec 2011

Finally faster - 10:23
Well it happened, this is now hosted on something a bit faster. Since sometime in 1999 Martijn and I have had the same colo machine (wherever it was located). An AMD K6-2 400 Mhz, with 128 MB of RAM and 2 9 GB IDE drives (not raided or anything). For a while now we had been discussing the need to upgrade the hardware to something a bit more recent, or at least to put more memory in.

Back in November I mentioned this to Steve Walsh of Nerdvana, he told me they do colo, and would throw in new hardware (leasing arrangement) all for less per month than we are currently paying and colocated in a rather nice facility in Sydney. Martijn and I thought this sounded tops so signed up.

Finally we shifted all the domains and config and data and everything across for the final time last night and we now are actively using the new server for all domains we host and everything else. The new machine is definitely a nice step up, now a Dual 3 GHz Xeon with Hyperthreading, 1 GB of RAM and 2 250 GB SATA drives configured in RAID 1 for full redundancy. Damn this new machine is fast, operations that used to take a few minutes now happen in 2 or 3 seconds.

Finally I can do a few things I have been holding off from doing on the old machine for a while, either for lack of disk space, lack of memory or incredibly high load caused by trying to do the things I had in mind. Heck I may even add some sort of comments thing to this diary (Jane reckons I need comments here)

One of the other problems with the old machine was I had never gotten it to cleanly boot up into a kernel newer than 2.2.20pre2, which meant ancient firewalling, probably a few vulnerabilities, inability to try some new things that may have been interesting and a few other issues. The machine was also running Woody, so it is nice to have Sarge with a few even newer bits on the new machine.

RIP, long live (we did not change the name, which was confusing once or twice while moving config over).

[15:46:41] 9 calyx sjh ~>
  sh -c 'cat /proc/cpuinfo ; free ; df ; uname -a' | egrep 'MHz|Mem|cg0-data|Linux'
cpu MHz         : 3000.269
cpu MHz         : 3000.269
cpu MHz         : 3000.269
cpu MHz         : 3000.269
Mem:       1036352    1001088      35264          0      68208     713860
/dev/mapper/vg0-data 235694888   8981204 214741076   5% /data
Linux calyx #1 SMP Fri Nov 25 23:43:09 EST 2005 i686 GNU/Linux
[15:47:27] 10 calyx sjh ~>

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Sat, 05 Feb 2011

New toy - A netbook with great battery life - 15:43
Before heading up to a few weeks ago I was thinking about the need to be able to keep using my laptop all day at the conference. The battery in my XPS M1330 simply does not last that long. Also commuting in the Brisbane heat carrying that, and a power adapter along with the other stuff needed into the conference every day seemed like overkill.

I have been reading about various netbooks for a while, and finally I realised I have a good laptop for the things I need a laptop for provided by work. However when travelling it is handy to have something less important and expensive, with better battery life. Everything else can be easily dealt with. The Samsung series of netbooks regularly had the best battery life mentioned in reviews, so looking at the models in stock at JB Hifi the NF 210 was claimed (by Samsung) to have 14 hours. Most Linux reviewers of it seemed to suggest 8 to 10 hours was the norm. So I headed over to buy one.

For AUD $437 I got a 1 GB RAM, 250 GB hdd, Atom N445 dual thread (I think) netbook with a 1024x600 screen and a huge battery life with the 6 cell battery it came with. At lca I was able to leave the (rather minimalist) power adapter where I was staying and just take the netbook, it easily lasted the whole day open during all talks and using wireless the whole time plus some other usage.

Gnome power battery status suggests 12 hours from 100% charge with the screen on minimum brightness, right now I am typing this outdoors with the screen at 50% the battery is at 50% and the report suggests 5 hours remaining. I installed a standard Debian Squeeze netinst install off a usb stick and downloaded an identical set of packages (almost) to those on my laptop, no need for a restricted environment as it is a fairly powerful computer anyway. Pretty much everything has worked well under Linux, the only slight complication was the need for a ppa samsung-backlight deb to control the backlight from the keyboard. The backlight seems to go dim on no use even when those options are not selected in gnome power manager so also something that could be investigated.

Also Paulus bought one and had a few problems with it freezing due to the closed wireless firmware on resume from suspend it seemed. I have had one lockup (possibly related) but it has not been a problem. The wireless driver does need to be reloaded on resume from suspend before it works (easy to do) but that is something I may be keen to look into at some point. I should not be surprised though how easy it was to have a capable working Linux system, that is often the norm with hardware these days (especially with much better/broader driver support than any other operating system).

For getting around the place some light work (compiling, interpreters, emacs, web browser, etc) it is a capable system and not lacking. I am a happy purchaser, even though my first one had to be returned within three hours of purchase due to a failed hard disk, since then it has been excellent.

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Fri, 02 Jul 2010

USB key destruction, Game On! - 11:15
Back in 2008 I lost and then destroyed some cute tiny pink metallic usb keys, I decided if I buy another usb key it should be one of the water proof, shock proof, dust proof variety. Today I bought an 8GB PNY Lovely Attache stick in pink (easy to find for sale with a google search), though the image etched into it is a bit sex and the cityish (especially with the pink cover) it does claim to be water proof, dust proof and shock proof. Game On!

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Mon, 17 Aug 2009

dc++ or new digital camera - 14:43

New Panasonic DMC-FT1 (fullsize)

Old Panasonic DMC-LZ5 (fullsize)

So I bought myself a 6MP, 6x optical zoom, panasonic dmc-lz5 in January 2007. It has been a good camera and has worked well for 2.5 years now. I guess one thing I found a little bit jarring is it seemed to have more sensor induced noise (it looked like a painting up close) in many photos. However on the whole I liked it.

When I have it with me in an event I tend to carry it in my jersey pocket, in a padded bag inside a dry bag. This makes the camera quite bulky (and heavier), it also makes it a lot harder to whip it out for a photo (have to undo the bags, get it out, put it back etc). At geoquest this year one of my team mates had a Panasonic DMC-FT1 (called the TS1 in US and possibly Europe) which is waterproof to 3 metres and shock proof to 1.5 metre drop. He was swimming with it in his pocket and getting it out to take shots in the ocean and simply kept it there where it could easily get banged up.

One of my housemates already had an Olympus camera she uses in races that is similar (waterproof and shock proof), this Panasonic one I was looking at came out this year and has some nice features, as I am still somewhat partial to Panasonic cameras (Crash's influence) I decided this is the one I wanted. 4.8 optical zoom, 12 MP, AVCHD (1080p) video recording, no moving parts externally. So I ordered it last Wednesday night and it came on Friday morning.

When water used to get into the drybag/camera bag while racing the camera would fog up and be useless for taking photos, this camera I can now keep in a pocket or neoprene pouch and let it get wet and it will still work fine. Also My test photos so far do not have the painted looking noise as the LZ5 did and the photos appear crisper. I like it, I also think Jane may like the purchase as I will give her the old camera as I no longer need it.

Of the photos on the left, the photo of the new camera was taken with the LZ5 and the photo of the LZ5 was taken with the new camera. A few other photos taken this weekend (3 paddling on Saturday afternoon and one at the Gravity XC race at Stromlo yesterday also turned out well). The new camera is effectively the same size as the old one, however as I do not need the camera bag or dry bag it will be more compact and easier to deal with.

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Fri, 10 Jul 2009

An easy to use cheap DVB-T USB dongle - 11:35
The other night at home we realised that the tv did not have digital tuning capability, thus with the Ashes starting we could not watch the tour coverage. As I am not at home at 6pm much I could not even watch the highlights package easily (repeated at 9:30pm on SBS2). Although my mythtv box at work can record this stuff, it had been playing up and not making scheduled recordings, and I had not fixed it yet. (finally started an upgrade yesterday, have not had time to see how it went)

Anyway I did not have time to go into town and buy a digital tuner to go with the tv, however the on campus computer shop has USB DVB-T dongles. One they had for sale (rather cheap at $68) is the Leadtek Winfast DTV Dongle Gold, which according to this page at the mythtv wiki works well on Linux. So I bought one, plugged it in, discovered that the driver is already in the 2.6.30 kernel I am running, the firmware linked to on that page first however was buggy, some forum posts suggested running the latest 4.95.0 firmware rather than 4.65.0 and it would work (it did).

After playing around with a few tv programs I settled on simply using xine which can tune into all the channels I scanned for Canberra. I am happy to say this works a treat and only took about 5 minutes to make it work. Of course if I make it to swimming tonight I may try to come back past the shops in Civic and buy a tuner box for the tv in the lounge room so everyone can enjoy the tour at home.

Though I do not watch tv much I have to say it is sort of exciting to have a tuner that only takes up a really small amount of space (the dongle, antenna and short usb cable extension are about the size of a small USB hard drive all up) in my laptop bag and works fine in most places like this.

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Fri, 19 Dec 2008

Hamster out of focus - 12:51

Broken Hardware Label (fullsize)
I noticed a hard drive on a bench here with the label affixed to it written by one of us "Broken Harddisk - username - May 2005". Thinking about it I considered the fact that there was excessive information on the label, to anyone here it is fairly obvious that this is a hard drive.

We always ensure broken hardware has a label like this attached with the name of who noted it was broken and the date on which we noted this. However thinking about this excessive information I began wondering if we could instead try messing with people's heads. Instead of saying broken hard disk we could instead say Broken rabbit.

This of course led me to take the photo to the left, after all is that not what you consider and accurate and useful statement about the hamster in the photo?

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Thu, 27 Nov 2008

Easy Dell HSDPA SIM access - 12:15
So my Dell XPS M1330 came with a built in Dell 5520 WWAN HSDPA card. This shows up on the USB bus and appears to work in Linux using usbserial (with vendor= and product= arguments to modprobe) with ttyUSB0 appearing correctly in /dev.

Originally I had no intention to use it, and the laptop came with it specced for Vodafone usage. Recently however Telstra and Optus have both started offering prepaid wireless broadband. I was wondering how easy it would be to change the SIM to one of those networks. After all lsusb currently outputs

Bus 002 Device 019: ID 413c:8138 Dell Computer Corp. Wireless 5520 Voda I Mobile Broadband (3G HSDPA) Minicard EAP-SIM Port

The book that came with the laptop has good instructions on how to pull it apart and access various parts of the hardware. So I had a glance at the WWAN instructions and was easily able to open it up and look at the device. However when I did this I discovered that the SIM was not attached to the device at all.

At this point I googled more accurately for details about the location of the SIM in Dell laptops with HSDPA devices. It was at this point I discovered an article on the Register that said Dell's are not tied to Vodafone and quite plainly pointed out to me the location of the SIM is in the Battery bay.

And hey presto an easily accessed Vodafone SIM is indeed sitting right there, it should be no problem to put a Telstra or Optus SIM in on a prepaid plan. Telstra appears to have better coverage by far, their USB devices may or may not work with Linux, however I know from experience the Optus USB device does work with Linux. However I do not need either for this laptop, Optus offer a SIM only prepaid kit for AUD $30, Telstra do not mention offering it, however forums suggest you can walk into a Telstra shop and ask for a 3G prepaid kit and request that it be wireless broadband enabled for around AUD $30 also.

The other nice thing I would like to note from this experience is how good the book that came with the laptop from Dell is, that it has good detail about accessing most of the hardware in the laptop is very useful and means you are less likely to break things if you want to look inside.

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Wed, 28 May 2008

Yet another sign I may work with computers - 18:26
how many lcds is too many?
How many lcds is too many? (Full Size)
I noticed this is likely a sure sign I work with computers or am a geek today, in my office I had 5 lcds displaying something. Admittedly the two on the right are showing the same thing on a dual head computer doing an install without configuring the dual heads.

Sort of reminiscent of Jon's experiment in the office a while back (though not as cool). On a side note I am writing this post on the new laptop, the first time I have written a post on it. I must say the keyboard is awfully nice to type on.

On the whole most things work really well, which is impressive, not much configuring or mucking around and things just work, Linux really is improving all the time toward a better desktop experience. I am trialling using a normal default Gnome environment and so far it seems to be going well.

My biggest annoyance is probably the nvidia graphics card, that I can not yet use xrandr 1.2 stuff to do funky things with x output from within X and a few other problems (apart from the most basic problem of it being closed source crap). Next I need to work out how to enable vga output to projectors to be on all the time and a 1600x1050 output to a screen at home to watch dvds and such on.

When I tried to set up a 32 bit chroot yesterday debootstrap failed so I need to hunt down the reason for that if I want to be able to see flash (more closed source crap) videos. Still I like this new toy, infact I will be leaving my old laptop at work when I go home in a few minutes as this seems capable of doing everything I need in a laptop configuration wise already.

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Mon, 26 May 2008

It arrived - 15:09
two laptops, new and old
Two laptops, old oneiros left, new shiva right (Full Size)
two laptops, new and old
Lids open (Full Size)
So the new laptop I mentioned arrived this morning, I took the photos you can see on the left before I had even turned it on. Though I had already scratched the palm rest area slightly getting the vista sticker off and then I put a penguin sticker on the lid. The colour is really spot on, a metallic pink very similar to my mountain bike, I can sort of, in my head justify this as being race related gear as I download my GPS and HR training data to my laptop, and also do some CORC or Bilbys stuff on my laptop.

Anyway I have booted into a Debian Lenny daily amd64 build iso and installed Debian from that, still pretty bog standard. I will probably have to use the Nvidia closed source drivers as the NV driver though it is driving the screen nicely and appears to handle xrandr for using a projector nicely will not to DRI yet.

As choosing the name of the new machine is important I was a little worried about what to call the new laptop. However as I no longer had the machine shiva I was able to reuse that as a laptop name.

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Mon, 19 May 2008

Little laptops that can - 18:15
With apologies to Walty Piper I must say the power available in modern laptops is staggering. I am getting a new work laptop sometime this week (or maybe next). The laptop I have been using since August 2004 is a lovely Dell X300, a small, light portable laptop that I still find remarkably powerful and useful. Specs are "Intel(R) Pentium(R) M processor 1.40GHz, 640 MB RAM, 60 GB HDD". The laptop I chose to replace this is a Dell XPS M1330 (they come with pink lids, how could I pass that up). This will have a T9300 CPU (Dual core 2.5 GHZ, 6 MB of L2 Cache), 4 GB of RAM, 320 GB HDD, built in dvd burner, a host of other things, a pink lid (I may have already mentioned this, but I am excited about that) and still only weigh around 1.8 KG (thus still be portable).

All this in such a small package is mind boggling to pretty much anyone who has been around computers since 486 or earlier model chips powered most PCs. I doubt I will be getting any Heidelberg Scars now.

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Thu, 10 Apr 2008

Not meant to own one - 15:51
just before lca2008 this year I saw a fantastic 2 GB usb memory key in the computer shop on campus here at ANU. Around 4mm thick and 1cm by 1.5cm square with a metallic pink top, made by pqi. I bought one and took it with me to Melbourne. However I did not attach it to anything (such as keys or phone) and lifting m wallet out of my pocket one evening in Melbourne it also came out of my pocket and was lost forever.

On my return to Canberra I bought another one and all seemed fine. I tied it onto my phone and was able to slip it inside the leather phone cover so it stayed put and was out of the way. This was until last Wednesday morning when I crashed and fractured my collar bone my phone was in a back pocket of my cycle jersey. Though the phone has come out of the crash unscratched and working as well as it was previously. The usb key has a bent pink metal cover and the back of the plastic bit where the chip contacts are is scratched a bit.

After seeing APC tests in which the USB keys still often worked after much more severe torture than this one would expect it would still work. Alas I plug the key into a usb slot and nothing happens, definitely dead, tried it in multiple computers with a lot of wiggling around of the key. So small pink usb key junkie that I am I wandered over to the store today and they no longer have the 2GB key in pink, and they rang the importer who also no longer has them, only blue or black which really is not as cool. Thus it appears I am simply not meant to permanently own a cool small pink usb key.

I did however see a helmet in the Giro line up that is a rather cool pink, maybe I should get that to replace my broken helmet.

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Tue, 18 Sep 2007

Keyboard training - 15:04
I have noticed my wrists getting sore when typing on my computer at work for long periods form time to time. I decided I should put more of an effort into trying out a Natural shape keyboard for a while. When Mikal was here for a month recently he recommended the Microsoft Natural Keyboard 4000 model. This is a mostly black keyboard with a usb cable to the computer (none of this silly wireless stuff) and appears to be the most recommended keyboard on most RSI and similar topic websites and blogs.

I finally convinced Bob to purchase three of these (one for me, one for the head of department and another in case Mikal^Wanyone requests one). Of course I am writing this diary entry on my laptop which sort of defeats the purpose, however I will be making an effort to get used to the new keyboard. It is quite a change as I had previously been using an old ps2 keyboard that I liked the feel of. One of 5 or so I found a cache of at work and had snarfed up and connected to my home computer, work computer and any other deskbound computer I had to type much on.

My typing is a little slower on the new keyboard, only having used it for an hour two now, however it feels nice and the shape is not strange or keys in the wrong places it seems. I had wondered about using the non standard keys and the strange zoom switch (though as a scroll wheel) however most of the extra keys do not show up as having an event in X (using xev). Searching for information on this I find a few Microsoft Natural Keyboard 4000 howtos or forum discussions, however the methods to get the extra keys all seem to require a kernel patch, one which is not integrated into the distribution kernels. Thus unless anyone can suggest some other mechanism to get the events to user space I guess I will leave it be for now, after all I need it to type, not to press weird buttons on.

I also have to train my fingers to hit q rather than tab in mutt to get out of an email all the time.

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Wed, 01 Aug 2007

And the k bone is connected to the - 17:47
So after checking with dell today to ensure we would not mess up the warranty to play with my laptop and reseat the keyboard I had a look at fixing the problem. I must say this is a remarkably easy fix, there are 4 screws on the bottom marked k, these hold the keyboard in. Unscrew them, seat the keyboard how you need to, screw them back ensuring they are tight. Job done.

I am sure Bob is laughing at me right now as he tends to pull anything he buys apart the minute it is in his hands, ignoring any other issues.

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Tue, 31 Jul 2007

Please go away clicky key - 22:58
I am sure the old ibm keyboards that had a positive key click and made a noise on each key press are all well and good. If that is what you wish to use and are used to it. On my laptop it is getting on my nerves.

I have had a problem with the screen on my laptop (dell x300) for a year or so. There has been a brighter circle in the middle of the screen, also the screen hinge has been a bit loose and wobbly. The machine was still usable and functional so I did not give it much thought and got on with things. However as the warranty runs out in August sometime I decided I had better do something about the problem.

Thus we had a dell technician in the other day (Monday morning) to replace the screen. All good the replacement screen is fine, no bright circle and it has stopped wobbling all over the place.

Well all is fine with the screen now, however the technician had the keyboard out while making the screen change and somehow it seems has not reseated the bottom right hand side of the keyboard. The outcome of this is there is a noisy click sound when ever I press right arrow, page up or page down, or enter.

I could open it up and fix it at work tomorrow I guess, however it is still under warranty so maybe I should get dell back to look at it. Having only a few keys on the keyboard behave as if they were on an old ibm keyboard is not really a desirable behaviour.

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Thu, 05 Jul 2007

SDVO cards are an answer - 11:34
After my question yesterday regarding DVI outputs on motherboards with Intel Graphics, JK and others have pointed out that SDVO cards will do the job. The Xorg wiki even has a page detailing which SDVO cards work which is good to see.

I had a look around and found HT sell one of the HP cards and it should work (if it is the DY674A) and there is another mob in Queensland selling a HP SDVO card that definitely the correct chipset. Next time I am in Fyshwick I should check out HT and see if they have one.

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Wed, 04 Jul 2007

Any boards with onboard Intel graphics with a dvi output? - 17:10
So I have been wondering if there are any motherboards available in Australia with onboard Intel Graphics and a DVI output plug on the board. From searching the web it appears the Intel G33 Chipset includes the GMA 3100 graphics which can have DVI output and some of the boards with this chipset sold in the US appear to have a DVI output. The Intel DG33FB board for example should be available with a DVI output.

However I can not from a few searches find a board with the chipset above or some other Intel graphics chipset which has DVI output being sold in Australia. The reason I ask for the Intel graphics is that it means having a supported graphics chipset with open specs under Linux and full capabilities available.

I do not have my heart set on that model specifically, DVI output capable board that works with Socket 775 and allows me to run a computer with the Intel open video driver under Linux would be good. Anyone know of one being sold in Australia?

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Fri, 19 Jan 2007

The new camera - 08:04

Old camera front (fullsize)

Old camera back (fullsize)

New camera front (fullsize)

New camera back (fullsize)

As I mentioned last week I purchased a new digital camera. A Panasonic DMC LZ5, I have used it a fair bit so far, on the Friday morning mountain bike ride last week, riding up to Sydney and for various other photos in the last week.

I like the camera, and I took the above photos of both cameras last week just to show them off, the new one is a bit smaller and definitely lighter. It was just as well I had two cameras last week or I would have had a chicken and egg problem, how do you take a photo of a camera if you only have the one camera. (okay so a mirror is one solution, but I am ignoring that for the purposes of this lame chicken and egg reference).

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Wed, 10 Jan 2007

Neato, new and shinier photos to come. - 14:33
So after much deliberation I finally decided to get a new digital camera yesterday. Most of what I use a camera for is photos while doing events or outdoors doing something, thus a small easily pocketed model is a good thing. I notice often I have a lot of blue induced by shaking in my photos so getting good image stabilisation in a compact camera was the plan. Also a really short auto focus time and shutter release time was a good target. I was pretty much settled on getting a Panasonic camera for a bunch of reasons. In the end I decided on the Panasonic DMC LZ5 to replace my 3.5 year old Canon PowerShot A60.

The camera was ordered yesterday from a mob in Adelaide, and arrived at work in Canberra around an hour ago. More details and photos and stuff to come once some playing has happened. I am sure my sister will be happy as I intend to give her the old camera (she does not have a digital camera) and it is still a nice sturdy camera.

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Tue, 09 Jan 2007

The sync option to mount does not mix well with vfat and memory cards - 16:41
So I was wondering why the performance of USB memory sticks appeared to be so pathetic on my laptop and my desktop at work the other day. Read performance was fine with 10 or 1 MB per second, however depending on which memory stick I used I got between 70 KB/s and 600 KB/s.

After banging my head against this for a while I googled for details about bad usb memory performance on Linux. I came across a lkml thread from may 2005 that seems to have helped enough. Apparently the performance of USB memory with the sync option and vfat filesystems is really pathetic, this is largely due to the repeated hammering of 2 blocks with every sync.

Alan Cox has some good and salient points in the discussion (to be expected from such a guru I guess), notably he points out most quality flash memory is very unlikely to be too adversely affected in a short time by using sync and he has a link to some details of life time guarantees from some companies for their flash products.

Anyway I disabled sync on the desktop image and my own desktop and disabled it on my laptop, all of a sudden I get 2MB/s or better depending on the memory stick I am using. Neato.

Interestingly Alan suggests the documentation for mount is generated form the kernel docs somehow and should be up to date and thus not continue to suggest that vfat filesystems ignore the sync flag. It is interesting to see that my Debian unstable copy of that man page on my laptop today still suggests that vfat ignores the sync option. At a glance I can not see any mention of this on the Debian bugs page for mount.

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Wed, 02 Aug 2006

Do they really make fake crappy network cards? - 16:24
This is interesting, as Bob mentioned on the CLUG list we had some problems with some network cards that appeared to be Realtek 8139 based recently. As suggested in a few (linux netdev posts with mention of the pci id 1904:8139 there) places, there may (a copy of the code here from the INTEX Zip file mentioned in the previous post) be a 2.4 driver (of somewhat questionable licence, quality and capability)

It was interesting to see, as Bob pointed out, the driver supplied with the cards will load on windows, and appear to say it is a 8139 card, yet it was not recognised as a 8139 by the default windows 8139 driver, nor does this driver work with other 8139 cards.

I kind of wonder what details can be extracted from the 2.4 driver file, as suggested in the netdev posts it may be weird, however if we are allowed to use those register details and such it should be possible to get a working 2.6 driver and maybe even make a driver that does not suck. Of course I do wonder why you would want to fake a 8139 rather than badge it as if it were a much better network card.

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Getting a Kyocera FS 820 Laser Printer working under Linux - 14:42
I needed to buy a laser printer that would be used on a POS system and make it work under Linux. I looked at the Linux printing suggested printers page and found they recommended a Kyocera FS 820 as it is fully supported and provides a very low cost per page. I purchased it at a local computer shop for AUD $185 which is pretty damn cheap.

Kyocera provide a lot of ppd's that can be used with Linux, however they do not provide one for this printer. The Linux Printing page for the printer is not much help, however I find the PPD for the F-820 drives it successfully at 300x300 and also at 600x600 if I manually add the line

*Resolution 600x600dpi/600 DPI: "<</HWResolution[600 600]>>setpagedevice"
to the ppd file. I also found the margins needed a bit of adjustment, at the moment the best I can get (losing a few mm off the top of the page currently) is with
*Margins Custom/Custom : "<</.HWMargins[0 20 30 0] /Margins[0 0]>>setpagedevice"
as a Custom margin in the ppd file.

To get the printer working I needed the usblp driver in the 2.6 kernel and to install a few packages (cups and related), at the moment I have installed "cupsys foomatic-filters-ppds cupsys-driver-gutenprint cupsys-driver-gimpprint foomatic-filters python-foomatic python-ipy printconf hpijs hplip pconf-detect" (on debian) however I suspect I do not really need all of them.

One problem I had with it for a while is it did not seem to be able to find the usb printer most of the time. It took me a while to realise (by running lpinfo -v a few times that it seemed the printer utilities no longer were able to see the usb printer device after the first time they looked for it after it was plugged in. I hope this is due to some bugs in the kernel version or cups version I am using (notably I compiled usblp with gcc 4.0.3 and the kernel I inserted it into was compiled using gcc 4.0.2) and this is on a machine running sid. When I get the production machine set up it is running a debian kernel image and also a sarge system everywhere. For now I can put up with testing from my laptop by re plugging the cable every time I need to print.

Interestingly the device shows up as usb://Kyocera/FS-820 (also you can speak to /dev/usb/lp0) which as they say means it can be plugged in with other printers and not be dependent on plug in order (though if you plug in multiple FS-820's that may now work <g>) Oh and I wonder if the above mentioned need to re plug the usb interface all the time is a cups utils bug due to the fact /dev/usb/lp0 is there all the time an if I do "echo text > /dev/usb/lp0" at any time it prints a page with that plain text on it quite happily.

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Tue, 20 Jun 2006

More success with the tv tuner card - 16:06
Thanks to tpot for a bunch of help with suggestions on what to use t make this run. I was able to tune into a channel (SBS HD) and record it successfully (dump to a file the broadcast stream) and play it on my laptop.

I needed the dvb-utils and dvbstream packages, Tim said first off generate a channel scan in a format xine and other applications will understand (including tzap) which is done using the scan program from dvb-utils.

/usr/bin/scan -o zap /usr/share/doc/dvb-utils/examples/scan/dvb-t/au-canberra > channels.conf

This channels.conf is understood by xine and the tzap command (tune to a channel), to tune into a given channel run tzap -r "Channel Name" where the channel name is listed in the channels.conf. I have not yet found Ten/Capital, however this is using rabbit ears in my office, I suspect when hooked up to the roof mounted antenna at home all will be better. This was enough to find a lot of other channels though so that is good.

Leaving tzap running in the background in another xterm I was then able to run "dvbstream 8192 -o > output.ts" and it sat there dumping the raw video/audio stream until I hit control c. As Tim pointed out the stream is about 1 MB per second and with dual audio streams can soak up more. Almost 2 minutes and I was using 150 MB of disk for the output.ts already. I strongly suspect transcoding to a more compressed on the fly will be necessary. The 8192 above is a dummy value that simply tells dvbstream to dump all of the stream it sees.

Anyway I copied the file to my laptop and played it with mplayer, the quality really is rather nice 720x576 I think, definitely better than normal tv, woohoo bring on the Tour de France.

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Mon, 19 Jun 2006

TV Tuner Card - 20:56
So I finally purchased a TV Tuner card today, a Leadtek WinFast DTV2000 H, I bought it thinking it was a DTV2000 which is supported in Linux with the bttv driver. Upon realising it was a different card I was worried it was not yet supported. However upon looking around the site I found a link to their Mercurial repository with the latest list of supported cards with the CX88 chipset from the cx88 devices page. The machine I am installing on is an old PIII 866 and for the last while I have been building kernel packages and the v4l-dvb tree. I have however successfully gotten the card recognised so that is good.

I am of course doing this as the Tour de France is looming and I look forward to being able to record all of the live stages televised onto a computer.

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Mon, 22 May 2006

Program your chest messages from Linux - 14:29
Last year at lca2005, Bob purchased a led message display badge (AMPLUS Ebadge) from the computer shop on campus to display messages scrolling across my chest. The badge is pretty cool, as can be seen on me here while talking to Edale. At the time the program to modify the message was only available in Windows, though it was likely to be simple to write a program on Linux that could do this, a the time we were somewhat busy and no one bothered making it work on Linux.

The badges are still available from the computer shop on campus, and probably from other places, anyway Bob sat down for two hours last night, sniffed the protocol and wrote a user space program that sets the serial port to the right speed and pumps the necessary data across, this way you can set the message from a command line program on Linux rather than find a windows machine (which are somewhat rare anywhere we happen to be)

If you happen to have the badge or plan to get one, Bob has put the source code in public accessible svn, "svn co" to get the source (or simply follow that link in a browser).

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Wed, 08 Mar 2006

Web Cams are fun - 21:22
So I spent a while today at work mucking around with some web cams we bought cheaply. They used the spca5xx driver which is apparently based on the old ov511 code. One of the two (and IMO the nicer camera) is the remarkably cheap Logitech Quickcam for Notebooks, it looks like some small flying saucer side on. Once the spca5xx driver was installed I was able to use gqcam and pan around the office and wander around with a laptop attached watching the video.

I can kind of understand why there would be fun aspects to Mikal's PhD research, mucking about with imaging and output quality of these things among other topics. I guess I was having more fun with this one as I was setting it up to be used for something other than a security monitor which is what we use a few other cameras around the department for.

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Mon, 20 Feb 2006

Commodity mp3 players - 18:18
Before the 2004 24 Hour race I decided to buy an mp3 player (in case I found I wanted some music while doing laps around 3am). I found I was never particularly interested in the distraction of music while riding. However I still have the mp3 player. A Frontier Labs Nex IA, this fit with my requirements of, solid state (compact flash or similar) and uses removable (AA in this case) batteries. Both points mean I was less likely to damage a spinning hard disk when using it in rough environments and if the batteries ran out I simply popped a few more in I did not need to be near a power point to recharge it. I paid around AUD $150 for the unit at the time (September 2004) and have since bought a few large CF cards to have a variety of music hot swappable.

Today I was in Jaycar and saw a player that satisfies the above requirements, the cost was AUD $31. It uses SD/MMC as media and takes a single AAA battery, mp3 players really are commodity items now days. It comes with earplugs (which cost around AUD $20 miniimum in shops anyway), a AAA battery, a neck strap and a usb connection cable. You can buy 512 MB SD cards for AUD $60 if you know where to shop.

Admittedly this device does not have fm radio or display track names or make navigation easy (ie no folders and directories which the mp3 player my sister has now does allow, though hers does not have a removable battery) so it is somewhat like an Apple Shuffle in this case (the lcd display simply shows track number and time in the track).

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Thu, 15 Dec 2005

I have new feet! - 16:12
3M Rubber Stick on Feet
3M Stick on Rubber Feet (Full Size)
See my shoes did not fit, so I thought it might be easier to get new feet than new sho.... ahh who am I kidding it is not even a amusing attempt at being humorous, the title of course refers to my missing laptop feet.

This is largely to remind me where I got them, I first went to office works and they did not have them, I later found them for sale at the hardware store Bunnings. Now I think of it I recall buying the feet for my Pismo there also years ago. I got black rather than clear as they are cheaper, and really who wants to sit around admiring the see through feet on a laptop anyway?

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Thu, 01 Dec 2005

Laptop feet go bye bye - 17:36
I just noticed a few hours ago that my laptop (dell x300) is missing two of the rubber stabilising feet on its base. When this happened to my pismo powerbook a few years ago I was able to purchase basic round rubber stick on feet and they worked. The feet on this dell are long thin bits of rubber. I need to have a bit of a look around OfficeWorks or similar to see if they sell feet that will work.

The laptop rattles a bit when I type now unless I have my palms resting next to the touchpad while typing, which is a slightly inefficient typing position and possibly damaging long term. I noticed the missing feet as one of them fell off, however somehow I lost it as I flicked it away before realising what I had just flicked away.

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Sat, 25 Jun 2005

Strange breakage - 23:33
I changed the machine I am using as the gateway/firewall at home finally today. The old machine has been problematic for about two years, for some reason it would not cleanly boot up a more recent kernel, nor would it reboot cleanly, also it would sometimes panic when high memory use processes were running such as large rsyncs. It appeared it may have been a memory problem however after testing that it appeared it was something in the motherboard.

Anyway the new machine does not display the problem and is a fresh install of the new debian stable with the 2.6.8 kernel from that. This means I can finally do load balancing and priority for ssh and things like that on the gateway so bulk transfers will not make everything slow. (My flatmates all seem to be bittorrent or kazaa or whatever addicts)

When I first booted the box up and put in place I could ping machines the Big Bad Internet, however I was unable to make a tcp connection, tcpdump would see packets returning but they never seemed to get up to the application. This really had me stumped for a while, eventually I tried swapping the NIC hooked up to the ADSL modem with the NIC hooked up to the house LAN, to my surprise I found I was now unable to make tcp connections with machines in the house.

So it appears this NIC could process some packets such as ICMP, however did not fully process, or caused some other problem with TCP packets at least. I pulled the rather lovely DEC Tulip (one of two I purchased in 1999 because I wanted some real DEC Tulip cards before they ceased to exist) out of the old box and put it in in place of the card with the strange behaviour. Once the machine had booted with the Tulip everything worked perfectly.

The card with the strange behaviour is an older Tulip, a 21041 (10 MBit with a coax connector and cat5) rather than the 21141 now in there, both of them are using the de4x5 driver so it does not sound like a problem with the driver. Anyway, this is a really strange hardware problem.

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Thu, 02 Jun 2005

Kernel upgrade time - 14:15
So I tested the new toy yesterday with an older 20 GB drive lying around at work and all seemed fine. I went and ordered a 200GB WD 8MB Buffer IDE drive to use as storage for backups and other not particularly frequently accessed data at home, I thought 200 GB because, heck this stiff is cheap now days, the drive was about AUD $160, with AUD $12 shipping, comparing this to spending over AUD $500 on a 12 GB drive just 6 years ago it really begins to freak you out a bit.

Anyway I went to plug the drive into my laptop and found it did not work with my 2.6.7 based kernel. Tony was around, and as he recently upgraded his laptop kernel (his permalinks are currently broken though) we plugged the device in there to see if it would work with the new larger drive. It did, thus it appears the usb-storage upgrade that happened around 2.6.9 is indeed better, or at least better for this specific hardware combination. I guess I should finally put the time in and upgrade my laptop kernel, what fun I have to look forward to</tic>, ACPI DSDT patches, a few other patches, SWSUSP, etc.

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Wed, 01 Jun 2005

IDE to USB2 bare adapter. - 16:37

R-Driver II USB 2.0 to IDE Adapter (full size)
I saw this item reviewed on dansdata a while ago and it appealed to me as a rather neat toy. Thinking about external drives a bit recently and I thought what the heck I want to have one of these. They ship from the US for USD $38 ($3 shipping worldwide for anything sold on that site), I ordered it on Friday afternoon and it arrived on my doorstep at home (though I put work as the delivery address) this morning.

Unlike Dan I have not done any transfer speed tests or anything, I have plugged a 20 GB drive lying around at work in to test and it worked fine. The Power adapter is only needed for 3.5" drives, laptop drives are powered by the USB connection itself. Due to the US source the power plug (not pictured) was available with vertical flat, round, or the square British plugs, Dan suggests bending the US flat plugs to the Australian angle, however the thing works fine with any standard computer/kettle/etc power cable so there is no need for that.

Something I like about this is it is very compact, geeky and bear metal. If you happen to have a bunch of drives around you need to check out, or put stuff on you need not mount them in anything, simply plug it in and away you go. This has interesting implications for JBOD solutions (possibly slow of course) too as you can put a bunch of disks in some case with a few fans, and usb leads coming out of the case to another computer. Anyway I think it is a rather neat geek toy.

Update: Mikal complained I had not linked to either USBGEEK.COM or more specifically to the R-Driver II Product page (which was on the cables page (which has a few variations of this product and some other cool stuff, though the version 1 of this device is possibly dodgy, and is not double sided anyway)). I am sure Mikal is far more interested in some of the other products sold here, such as the Cafe Pad or Vacuum.

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Fri, 25 Feb 2005

Our experience with Dell Thermal Event error - 22:18
Late last week some of the Dell Optiplex gx270 desktops in the department started spontaneously shutting down. Upon restart we saw the error "Previous shutdown due to thermal event.".

This suggests something like fan failure allowing the case to become too hot, so last Friday I looked closer and noticed the power supply fan in one of the systems was indeed dead. We replaced the power supply and the machine appeared to work, at least initially. Ringing Dell we requested they rectify this problem with a few replacement power supplies (4 machines had failed at this point).

On Monday we discovered the machine with the replacement power supply dead again, and it would not stay up for more than 5 minutes after booting due to over heating for some reason. All this time I had been googling around a fair bit trying to find if anyone had any real suggestions about what could cause this (happening to more than one machine in so short a time was unlikely to be a simple hardware failure, too much of a coincidence).

Google showed some Dell support pages which were no real help, if you see the error "Previous shutdown due to thermal event." check that both fans are operating. Well yeah, they were not, but replacing them did not permanently fix it, and we had already been through that. A few comments in various user forums suggested some sort of mother board problem, however were not more specific and only said in some instances Dell had replaced the boards and the problem had gone away.

Dell phone support said they would send a few power supplies, and new CPU's with new fan units, this was their suggestion to us, so they had lined up a tech to come over (a day or two later than our support contract stipulated they should have fixed the problem by).

The tech rocked up with one replacement power supply and fortunately a replacement motherboard (just in case), even though we had reported 4 failures at this point. As soon as we described what was happening to the tech he said "Oh the capacitors on the board near the CPU have failed, they will be leaking or bloated". Apparently this has been happening with a large number of these Dell machines and other similar models. A worrying thing to find out when we remember we have approximately 120 Dell Optiplex gx270's in the department.

We had not even thought to look at the capacitors or anything, fan failure and overheating did not suggest to us that this could be the problem, of course that google searches and Dell tech support also did not suggest this as a possible cause is why I am writing this now (in the hopes, that if it happens to someone else, they can read this account of what a possible cause for the error "Previous shutdown due to thermal event." in Dell desktop machines and other similar hardware.

I suppose, possibly, it should have occurred to us to look at the capacitors, we have had large scale capacitor failure in the past as many nodes of our 192 CPU Bunyip Beowulf Cluster. The capacitors in many boards blew up, leaving large black holes around where they were mounted on the mother board. (Bob has some photos, I can not find them just now after a quick search though)

The failures in the cluster were after prolonged periods of running nothing but sse2 instructions (by prolonged I mean a few days or even weeks at a time), that sort of constant current load was not initially factored into the boards by the manufacturer (Epox). Fortunately in that case Epox replaced all the mother boards with boards that could handle the high current for sustained periods.

In the case of these Dell desktops, most of them have not been working too heavily, sure many run intensive integer stuff for one of our researches (a computer farm) in out of hours time, and they are all turned on 24/7, but this is not particularly high usage. It has been suggested by some other people on campus that

Dell is only the latest in a long line of affected electronics manufactures. MSI (used by Protech), Gigabyte, ABIT, ASUS have been affected over the past 2 years. Motherboards, video cards, TV tuners, apparently even some stand alone DVD players and other home electronics - anything these capacitors have been used in - have been playing up as well.

References: 1, 2, 3.

Since the Dell tech mentioned it had been happening a lot, we have started opening up a large number of the computers in the department and found many capacitors bloated or leaking, just waiting to fail. If you have a Optiplex gx270 maybe you want to have a look at the mother board, the large capacitors near the CPU are the main culprit.

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Tue, 22 Feb 2005

Damn noisy machines - 22:09
One of the controlling nodes for the large Beowulf cluster here (the machine just started making a racket (the power supply fan failing) as it is across the other side of the TSG area here I can hear it. I should wait for Bob before doing anything like shutting it down and replacing bits, so I think maybe it is time to go home, not everything I was trying to get done is finished, but hey it is after 10pm.

On a side note, I got the Jodi Martin album Twenty One Stairs today (as kind of recommended by BCG and the order placement mentioned here), I had to put a cheque in the mail and send off for it, and as it appears the retailer linked from the Jodi Martin website is out of stock of her studio album "Water and Wood", I am trying the postal request and delivery method for that album also. Once I have listened to Twenty One Stairs some more I will probably talk about it more in the correct category (this post is yet more evidence of why I want multiple category post capability in blosxom).

Oh and yeah I notice Hugh mentioned buying and using some white lightning lube on his recumbent. I agree the wax based lubes are good as you have a nice not messy drive train, however the thing I notice is they do not last very long before reapplication is necessary. I use dry lubes on my mtb usually, and have to relube once every 40 to 100 KM most of the time (so often more than once a day, and in endurance races usually once per lap or every two laps), on the road bike I tend to use wet lube (tri-flow being the standard) as it lasts a lot longer between reapplication, and the lack of dust to gunk it up means the drive train can stay cleaner. Of course for Hugh, YMMV.

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Wed, 12 Jan 2005

Cute but overpriced - 14:59
So in the keynote at Macworld one of the items announced was a cheaper Mac with no screen, keyboard, mouse, etc. Just the box. Sure I can see this can be cool for people who want a Mac but have the other stuff already. Personally I just am not interested (I suppose to some extent because I am not stuck in the world of windows). The new computer, MacMini is a good size, about that of a cd drive by the looks of things. Definitely cheaper for the grunt available than the briQ (though not quite as rackable), however as this is not aimed at the rackable or smaller, market for servers, I would be far more likely to go for an x86-64 box and run Linux on it.

I saw a suggestion yesterday (prediction 3) that if Steve Jobs wants to spend some of the money in the bank to entice more people to Apple, he could with this new machine subsidise it by US $100 per unit, the person suggesting that thought the price may end up being around US $350 per unit, now after the announcement we see they cost US $499 per unit. Sure it is still cheap, but unless you have a hungering for MacOSX it is not cheap for the grunt. I am happy to run Linux, the price for a reasonably grunty MacMini in Australia (80 GB disk, 1 GB memory, 1.4 GHz G4) is over AUD $1400, for that in Australia (from eyo as an example) you could purchase a Shuttle Form factor 939 kit (SN95G5) ($440), Athlon 64 3200+ ($313.50), 1 GB Ram (2 512 Apacer chips) ($264) (2 means with the 939 you get much faster memory access), Radeon 9250L 128 MB AGP ($69.50), 200 GB Maxtor IDE HD ($193.60), Pioneer Dual layer capable DVD (all formats) writer (cdr etc also) ($132). AUD $1412.40. Same price, Linux would run a hell of a lot faster on this and it is still a small footprint sitting on your desktop.

I admit there are people out there who use MacOSX, and there are crazies out there who use windows, oh well IMO their loss. I also admit I am suckered a bit by the idea of a cd drive sized desktop to run Linux on, and I always thought the Apple Cube was cute, though overpriced. I also like running Linux on non x86 architecture (sparc, ultra sparc, m68k, powerpc sitting in my house, though turned off now days as I don't actually use the systems any more).

Update: Seen on Kottke just now, a flickr image with instructions on how to convert your iPod to and iPod Shuffle in three easy steps. Cute/Amusing, I agree with Mikal though, the price of the new device is pretty good for its capacity and size.

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Fri, 07 Jan 2005

Large MMC Card and Card Reader. - 12:39
As mentioned I ordered a large MMC card (512 MB) for my palm pilot. (from Exeltek who appear to be one of the cheapest sources of flash cards and similar in Australia most of the time) The card arrived today, along with a new 9 function usb card reader.

I purchased a usb card reader from Exeltek about a year an a half ago (Transcend brand) and it has never worked properly in Linux (2.4 and 2.6, though I have yet to try 2.6.9 or higher which have a new usb-storage implementation finally). When I purchased that one it was about AUD $70 AFAIR, now the new one I just received was AUD $25. I am pleased to say it works flawlessly, I have tested it with my new MMC card, with the 1 GB CF card from my MP3 player and the 128 MB CF card in my camera. This is all good.

As for the MMC card, I can now use backup to flash software on my palm pilot, and store books and documents and such to read away from a network connection which could be cool. Maybe I should give my old not linux friendly card reader to Brad or Mikal to assist with their scheme to take over the world with more usb gadgets than most usb gadget factories.

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Wed, 05 Jan 2005

No palm backup bad - 16:38
Fuck. I opened my palm (Tungsten E) to add two entries to the calendar so I remember they are on and found it had run out of batteries. The fun bit of course is I have not been making a backup of my palm for the last two months or maybe longer (I can not find where I was storing the backups the last time I did them regularly from a quick look around). In the world of cheap huge flash storage I think one really neat feature would be a snapshot backup onto flash storage in the device.

I suppose if I put a large MMC card in my tungsten there is probably some way to program something that could copy the contents of memory to the card when asked and restore all the databases from that copy on request if you do lose power. I can understand why the main memory in the palm is not flash storage due to the limited write lifetime, I am annoyed that there is no way to back stuff up (or restore it) without plugging the palm into a computer and syncing it. Snapshots of the entire internal memory by date or something would not even use much space on some of the huge cards available these days.

Now I get the fun of tracking down all the contact details and dates and other things I had loaded if I am unable to find my last backups. Even with the latest backups there will be a lot of missing stuff.

Update: I was googling for this sort of thing and found it, CardBackup or SaveBackup. I am buying a copy of one of them and a large mmc card for my palm now.

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Tue, 23 Nov 2004

Failure just outside warranty. - 13:14
The 17" LCD monitor (pdf) on my desk at home didn't work last night, nothing happened when I clicked the on switch. The panel had a 3 year warranty, note the past tense, purchase date was 2001-11-15, 8 days after the warranty expired the monitor stops working. Work purchased this panel fairly early on in our move to LCD everywhere, lets just hope all the LCD's at work do not fail so perfectly just out of warranty <g>.

[/comp/hardware] link

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