Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Been a while...

It has been far too long since my last post so I thought I would get back into the swing of things with an update on my Linux trials & tribulations.

Moved to 11.04 (Natty Narwhal) a couple of months back, not because I had to as 10.10 was working just fine but I am a geek and I just had to see what Unity was all about.

Huge mistake.

I should know by now to leave well enough alone and should have probably just fired up a VM to give it a go but instead upgraded my day-to-day netbook (Asus 1201n) on a whim.

Ubuntu has been my go-to distro for a while now, I use a few other distros in VMs for software testing etc. but since 9.04 Ubuntu has been stable and the software repos for Debian/Ubuntu are just chock-full of goodies not to mention just add a PPA when needed for bleeding edge software but since 10.10 I think Cononical has gone in a very strange direction.

This is not an "I Hate Unity!" rant I promise, to be honest Unity is fine with a few tweaks, this is a "WTF are you doing to this distro!" rant.

So what exactly is my problem with Ubuntu? I can't quite put my finger on it except to say that I have no interest in a beta quality OS! Unity is fine but why do I have to create custom launchers for some applications and not others? Why leave the Gnome menu editor around when it has no effect except in Gnome fall-back mode? Why is the activation of the launcher by moving the mouse to the left of the screen so inconsistent and for that matter why can't I move the bloody thing to the top, right or bottom of the screen? And the problems extend to driver support in the current kernel, wireless drivers that worked fine no longer function and dmesg gets spammed like crazy with odd driver messages which to this day I can't identify as anything other than annoying.

With this said I took the dive and decided to give my old friend Red Hat a try. Well since I last used it as a full -time distro it is now called Fedora and is in it's 15th iteration (Really? Sounds like number hopping to me), comes OOTB with Gnome 3 and Gnome Shell and guess what? It's really no better. I hate yum, the GUI update application never works (and I mean NEVER) and Gnome is as flaky as Unity (although slightly better polished).

Mint? Noooooooooo!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Gnome vs. Ubuntu

Just a quick one for all you Ubuntu (with Gnome, not Kubuntu etc.) folks out there...

If you have a strange problem with your Theme and Nautilus reverting to some basic GTK theme seemingly at random, good luck!

Seems neither group is taking ownership for the issue and from the threads on the Ubuntu forums and Launchpad bug thread it is hitting quite a few people (me included).

Ubuntu Forum thread

Launchpad bug

Shopping for a new distro as I have to tell you since 9.04 I have just spent WAY too much time writing scripts and editing conf files when I should be working or playing.

I don't miss Slackware, nor the days of tarball installs, nor do I miss compiling my own kernel to add support for a sound card but I am finding myself longing for the days when I just installed my shit and it worked. Most of this is my fault (please see rant on software updates) because I have become very complacent with checking what is on the update list before clicking "Install Updates", but I have to hope this ends somewhere.

Note to all software devs who may read this: Bugs happen, code well, debug often and patch ONLY WHEN NECESSARY! Internet patching == idle hands... Keep em busy folks!

Viva Linux!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mede8er MED500X Quick and Dirty

Well it's been a while since my last rant and I thought I would herald my return to this blog with a quick review of a little media player I picked up over the holidays. So without further ado I bring you the "Mede8er MED500X"...

First things first, this product is manufactured by Sanji Electronics (Pty) Ltd in South Africa (my current home) and is based on the Realtek RTD1073DD/RTD1073DD+ chipset (new models have the + version) as are many of the current crop of HD media player on the market (AC Ryan etc.) with the alternative being the Western Digital products which use a Sigma Designes chipset (Sigma 865x in the case of the WD Live Plus). Sanji have done a bit of work in terms of the Realtek SDK and created a customized interface for their product with extensive use of the Mede8er logo etc. I could have gone for the other player as they are all available in SA but I am one of those folks who is all about giving the local vendor some love so I went for this bad-boy.

Here is my first digression, what the hell were they thinking with the name? Don't get me wrong, in a world full of silly tech names (if I see one more product with an "X" or an "i" in its name I might lose it) but seriously "Mede8er"? Ugh.

End of digression.

So what what about the product? Well in a few words "it plays all your shit". Yep, all of it. I won't go into the full list of features but if you have a media format (pictures, music or video) this thing will probably play it without hassle.

If you have ever delved into the World of HTPC you are probably familiar with the "CODEC Wars" (not to be confused with the Clone Wars, although technically similar) and you have probably found yourself struggling with Divx/Xvid/VC-1/AVC/H.264 not to mention AVI/WMV/MKV and of course OGG/MP3/AC3 (If I have lost you then please stop reading, put in a DVD and carry on) as the number of CODECS and possible video/audio combinations are daunting at best and can lead to frustration with installing and tearing out software on your HTPC or just sitting there crying while your wife or child stares at you with contempt as all they wanted to do was watch a movie, not you with a keyboard.

This being said you need to keep in mind that this product covers a huge number of formats and as such you may run into some obscure video file you downloaded off the Interweb which may cause your device to take a big dump, but I fully expect this in the current climate of "free for all" and to be honest most of the content I play is from my own ripped collection as opposed to the myriad of torrents available in the ether. Please don't think I am being pious here, if you read my previous post on Internet Providers in SA you'll see my dilemma with bandwidth, trust me given the opportunity I would probably have a more eclectic collection of media.

Well the simple solution is get a Mede8er (or a WD Live or an AC Ryan) they all do the same basic thing and they do it pretty well. The only issue I have encountered so far is compressed headers on MKV files which although a part of the specification since inception has only recently been added to the tools folks are using for  media creation (as default in most cases), Sanji is expected to include support in the next version of the firmware but for me the fix was to go back to my old encoding tools and simply "fix" the media I had already encoded. Other than this one issue the thing plays MKV with H.264/VC-1 etc. WMV, Divx and Xvid and all without a hickup. Works great on HD media over HDMI with Audio pass-through supported (NOT uncompressed before you ask, but the DD+ chipset apparently does) and with a built-in hard drive (optional), USB, NAS and UPNP support it's pretty swanky plus it passes the "WAF Factor" with flying colours.

Now the bad...

Support although good is still in a bit of a shambles, if you look at the forums you'll see that there are a number of features supported by other players with the same chipeset that are simply not there:

  • No YouTube (not a biggie for me)
  • Internet Radio is spotty (again, not a biggie for me)
  • Absolutely no "jukebox" support, so while you can load up some cool backgrounds using YAMJ, ThumbGen or TVIXIE they are "STATIC" meaning you can see some info on the rating, genre, synopsis and stars, you cannot actually DO anything with this data, it is burned into an "about.jpg" and is just there to look good. 
The last "issue" is the latest firmware. Up until the current 3.0.4/5 they were moving along quite well with additional support, bug fixes etc. but when it came to the "Big Release" 4.0 things have stalled, and stalled HARD. Still waiting, thinking they may have bit off a bit too much for this one but time will tell.

So there you have it, MED500X is pretty sweet for playing your flicks and TV shows or listening to your music or checking out the vacay photos with friends (you know who you are!). In my case it is reserved for the bedroom (not like that!), the HTPC just does way more in the living room and with the Mede8er connected via UPNP I can just watch the same media that is on the HTPC without re-copying everything.

If you live in the EU or SA and want a quick and dirty, Sanji just released another whole line of media players (including the updated MED500X) so check em out!

Details on the Mede8er (Still hate the name, what about SanjiN8er? Nope still sucks):
Mede8er Website
Mede8er Forums

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The state of IT

I wonder if I am in the wrong business or if the problems with IT and IT support exist in other businesses?

When I got started in technology it was by pure "fluke", I was in school to eventually pursue medicine and was heavily engaged in Science as a whole, Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Math and to "free" myself a bit from the required course-work I took a class called "Algorithms". Well hell, I loved it! I decided to take a course in C Programming and before I knew it I was a Computer Science major (thank goodness credits transferred!) and that as they say is history.

To get my first job in IT had to go through several "Tech" interviews which involved everything from converting Decimal numbers to Hexadecimal, Octal and Binary, analyzing some CShell scripts for optimization and describing and building a circuit using Logic Gates. Keep in mind this was for a Sys Admin gig working with HP-UX and Sybase SQL Server...

Well times have changed!

I now manage and work with people who "point-click" their way through an IT career, these folks have no formal IT education, they take an MCSE course, pass a couple of MCP classes and off into the wild!

It's a brave New World full of IT professionals who just barely pass the minimum requirement for basic IT support and I will not even bore you with my past experience in Software Development using off-shore teams. My interviewing process now involves even less "tech" than it used to (or I would never hire anyone) instead I find myself asking leading questions about support issues just hoping the candidate will be able to show some basic troubleshooting skills (you flip the light switch and no light comes on, what do you do next?).

With this is mind, it just makes me paranoid the next time I go to the Doctor.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Showing off

Couple of quick screens to show why I love the Linux...

Sure you can get similar results in Windows, but not if you want it stable! And yes, yes, OSX comes with some candy but again, you are only allowed to customize to the extent Apple will allow.

PS: This is Cairo-Dock (http://www.glx-dock.org/) and the Chrome icon is home-brew :-)

End of brag. Carry on...

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Toshiba Stor.e TV Review

Short and sweet: Sucks.

Long and boring, supports "basic" video, audio and photo content including Divx/Xvid (720x576 max resolution), MPEG2 (VOB etc.) and some other useless formats. MP3, WMA etc. without DRM (no complaints there) and JPG, PNG etc. on the image side.

Interface is the bare minimum, you have the standard "Videos", "Music" and "Photos" sections as well as USB for external devices you may connect to it, you cannot search for ANYTHING and all are listed in alphabetical order. If this was 1998 and this was a 40GB Hard Disk I would say "Brilliant" but a TB worth of flicks, tunes and pics and it's simply a mess... Advice is come up with a good filing structure and stick to it.

Format support for video is pretty terrible, yeah it plays Divx and Xvid, but that is just soooo 90s! How about some h/x264 support? And even container support, no MKV? AVI really? I am not expecting HD format support on a $100 device but no support for h264 means that I have to re-encode all of my Handbrake DVD rips to Xvid as opposed to just copying them from my media center and that is crap.

Ok well I could almost forgive the support limitations if I could change the damn aspect ratio! See the problem is that the thing expects all video to be formatted in 4:3 (or 1:33 or something close to it) with zero support for anything else. Considering the thing supports 720p/1080i upscale over HDMI I can't be the only person in the world who expects their 16:9 content to not stretch vertically! Total Shite.

Last point is support. Toshiba has yet to release a single firmware update or answer the paltry 2-3 comments on the support site regarding this product (forget searching the web for support, as no one is stupid enough to have purchased this product... well almost).


Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Note to LG, please update your website. The BE08UL20 DOES NOT SUPPORT HD-DVD!