Archive for the ‘Computers’ Category

I guess this is what you get for running Windows on computers that control a lot of money:

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-38063142

Running Windows on ATMs was always an insane decision, but the manager who made it probably retired long ago.

My Windows PC locked up again at the weekend. Followed by another 12+ hour RAID rebuild. So I’m done with it.

I waited for the rebuild, split the mirror, then installed SyncToy, some little Microsoft program that will automatically sync directories, like rsync on Linux, but with a GUI. It has to be run manually (or scheduled to run periodically in the background), but it seems far more robust than Windows RAID. And, even if one disk dies, at least I have a recent backup on the second, rather than an unreadable broken RAID.

I’m just appalled to see that a bloated multi-billion-dollar corporation can’t even get something as simple as RAID mirroring to work competently.

When I ran out of space on the main drive of my Windows video editing machine, I thought it was probably time I should install a RAID to put the video files on, so I wouldn’t lose them if the disk failed. I bought two 4TB drives, set them up as software RAID, and off it went.

Problem is, Windows software RAID is absolutely worthless.

In Linux, if there’s a power failure, or the machine locks up, or something that requires the machine to shut down unexpectedly, the RAID is usually OK. If the OS was actively writing to the disk, it will probably have to resync, but otherwise it’s already synced and continues as normal.

But not in Windows.

Microsoft decided that any kind of unexpected shutdown would make the RAID resync. Doesn’t matter that nothing has written to it for six hours, if it wasn’t cleanly shut down, you’re SOL.

And, no, when it starts resyncing, it won’t remember where it got to last time and continue after you reboot. Every single time you boot with an unsynced RAID, it starts over from scratch, even though it can’t possibly complete unless you’re going to leave the machine on all day.

So, any kind of power outage… and it’s nine hours waiting for the RAID to resync. Any kind of OS lockup… and it’s nine hours waiting for the RAID to resync. Given we don’t have the best power here, and Windows locks up now and again, the RAID in my machine has been unsynced far more often than it’s been synced. I get a power outage on Wednesday, and I have to leave it to the weekend

So that’s it for RAID on Windows. I’m scrapping the whole idea and buying a NAS running a real OS that I can just back everything up to manually.

WTF were Microsoft thinking when they designed this piece of crap?

Finally arrived only a bit over a month late. So far, it looks just like Android 5.1, except for a minimal set of permissions options for each app.

And the apps still seem to ask for just about every permission available.

So, rumour has it that anyone who installed the 5.1.1 update on their Nexus 7 is now unable to install Android 6.0, because Google pushed it without considering that they hadn’t pushed a version of Android 6.0 that was compatible with the updated 5.1.1. Now we have to wait for one that is.

If true… good one, guys. Very smart.

‘Out’ for three weeks… and still no sign of it on my Nexus 7.

Currently getting 400ms ping times to my wi-fi access point, and about 16k/second to my file server over my ‘150Mbps’ wi-fi connection. Plug in an Ethernet cable, and the ping is down to 0.25ms.

Remind me never to buy another laptop with Realtek wi-fi.

Bought one of these to get faster wi-fi, as the ISP wi-fi is only 2.4GHz 54Mbps (and rarely gets close to it). This means I can now use the ISP wi-fi as a ‘guest’ network that can’t access the other computers in the house, while the rest of us connect to the new router.

To avoid problems, I decided to use the same IP subnets on both routers. I assumed the router wouldn’t have any problem handling that, since it does NAT and both subnets are private. Oh, dear.

First time I plugged the Archer C7 into the ISP router, it went and got a DHCP address from the ISP router… and stopped working. No routing, no web page.

Turns out that it can’t handle having both WAN and LAN on overlapping subnets. Worse, when it does that, it resets its own IP address to the default 192.168.0.1, anyone using static IP configuration suddenly finds their gateway has vanished, and anyone trying to connect to the configured IP address finds it’s not there.

But it gets worse. You can’t even disconnect the WAN cable and reboot the router, because it PERMANENTLY changes the IP address back to the default. Before I realized what it was doing, I ended up resetting it to defaults and restoring the configuration backup I’d previously made (you did make a backup, right?)

Other than this peculiarity, which required me to change the IP address of pretty much every device on the LAN, and the fact that it routes private IP addresses in the first place, it seems to be working fine so far.

So, I gave in a while ago, and replaced my Nexus 7 with an iPad Air 2. The Nexus was the second Android tablet, and the fourth Android device in the house, and it was pretty good while I used it. But I finally got fed up with a number of things.

1. Android’s security nightmare. The Nexus isn’t so bad, since Google ship updates themselves, but my Android phone had several security holes, and I’ve no idea which may or may not have been fixed, or which will ever be fixed, since they have to go through the manufacturer and phone company before they get to me. It’s still on Android 5.0, so who knows if there’ll be any more updates or whether it’s just been abandoned.
2. Android permissions. The ‘install or don’t’ permission model is completely and utterly broken, unless your goal is to let apps spy on your users. I’m heartily sick of every piece-of-crap app wanting every permission under the sun. Google even provided a more sensible permission model a few revisions back, then removed it. Maybe the next release will have one, maybe not. Google would rather rewrite the UI than implement one.
3. Rapid obsolescence. The Nexus was still on sale a year ago, and some sites are still selling it today. But seems like Google are going to abandon it with 5.1. Apple keep supporting old hardware until it’s no longer capable of running the latest OS.
4. Performance. The Nexus has several times the RAM and more CPU power than my girlfriend’s old iPad, yet it feels clunky in comparison. Java may have seemed a good idea for supporting lots of different devices, but it comes with some horrible performance problems.
5. Bugs. Some of the apps I use on a regular basis have become less and less usable with new Android releases, and one hasn’t even been updated since February. Those apps work fine on the iPad.
6. Storage. The Nexus has no SD card slot, and Google has made them useless, anyway. The apps I run that use a lot of space refuse to install on an SD card, and some that do allow you to install them there just crash if you try to run them. That’s not a great reason to switch to an iPad, because they don’t support SD cards at all, but I needed a device with more storage, so I’d have bought something else soon anyway.

So, I’ll keep the Nexus as a throwaway device when I’m travelling, when it won’t have anything particularly important on it. But, at home, I’ll be doing most tablety things on the iPad, instead.

Unless Google get their act together soon, they’re going to throw the mid-range of the mobile market to Microsoft, while Apple keep the high end.

How is it that I can install Linux from scratch faster than I can install Windows drivers for a new scanner?

Turned up on my Nexus 7 today. No idea what’s changed, but it was a pretty small update.

Neat video from NVIDIA, showing how they can reproduce some famous Apollo 11 images from first principles with computer models and modern GPU power.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9y_AVYMEUs

Android 5.0.1 just turned up on my Nexus 7. No idea what’s changed, just some bug-fixes, from the look of it.

I did finally get this update on my Nexus 7 a week or two back. Overall, there aren’t that many differences, and it’s still missing real, useful permission controls.

Pros:

Smoother. Kindle app, in particular, doesn’t seem to chug as much when reading books or scrolling through the list of books.

Cons:

Many things now take longer. For example, getting to the settings requires two screen touches instead of one, and logging in requires swiping the screen before you can type the password. The animations are kind of useful, but time consuming.

Ambivalent:

The new look is flatter than the old one. I honestly don’t see why anyone thought it was worth investing all the time to develop, and some apps look much worse with the new look. Seems like change for change’s sake.

So, despite the rumours, seems like Android 5 still isn’t out yet. I’ve been checking the Nexus 7 a couple of times a day, and nothing has shown up. Guess we’ll be waiting a few weeks longer before it’s available to upgrade.

Finally got around to upgrading. So far it works no worse than 16, except my fancy login screen has been replaced with some crappy username/password entry box, and encrypted swap partitions no longer work (apparently the latter is a known bug).

Here’s roughly how I did it:

1. Use the backup tool to save a list of installed applications.
2. Boot up, plug in the USB backup drive and log in to a console terminal.
3. cd /tmp and sudo -i to become root, not in my own home directory.
4. Since I have an encrypted home directory, I now want to unmount /home/emg so nothing can write to the directory while I’m backing it up. So umount /home/emg.
5. Copy /home to the backup drive. This saves an encrypted backup which can be reloaded if everything goes horribly wrong.
6. While doing that, make a list of the partitions on the disk.
7. Unmount the backup drive, unplug it, and reboot on the install disk.
8. Select to install. Select all partitions other than /home, and choose to reformat them and install.
9. Set the hostname and username, and ensure you pick the same password as you had before, so the encrypted home directory will work.
10. Install.
11. Reboot.
12. Edit /etc/fstab to mount the old home partition as /home.
13. Reboot.
14. Log in as yourself, update (in my case, I had to download about 400 upgraded packages) and finish installing the packages you need.
15. Reboot for safety. Job done.

One of the most tedious parts of preparing the paperback print-on-demand version of a book is fixing up the formatting to minimize hyphens, widows and orphans (single lines at the beginning or end of a page), and dangling words on a single line at the end of a paragraph. This is particularly difficult if you’re formatting on the cheap with a word processor rather than a proper page layout tool like InDesign.

Fortunately, LibreOffice includes some useful features which can make your life easier. I would assume other programs like Word will have similar options hidden away in their settings, too.

For example, I added a missing comma to this paragraph which used to be two lines, and it suddenly became three, leaving a dangling word at the end, and creating an orphan where it pushed the final line of the final paragraph on that page onto the next page.

Three-line paragraph

Too many lines

So, how do we fix this? Changing margins would work, but would impact the entire book. Changing font size would work, but would stand out if we reduced it by even half a point. Revising the wording would work, but it’s already about as sparse as it can be.

The answer is in the character formatting:

Width set to 98%

Character format window

The LibreOffice Character Format window has a ‘scale width’ option, which leaves the font height the same, but makes it wider or narrower. If you change this by a few percent, it will change the position of the words, but not be obvious to the reader. In this case, we’re changing it to 98%, for a tiny 2% reduction in character width.

Now only two lines.

Scaled paragraph.

Job done. We’re now back to two lines, and you can’t even see the joins.

Now, let’s look at another option. Instead of scaling the font horizontally, we could scale the entire page vertically.

Here’s the original page, with the evil paragraph which caused all this fuss:

Page with no scaling, and evil paragraph highlighted

Full-size page

So, next, we select all the text on the page, and choose paragraph formatting. If there were some dangling lines at the top of the page where a paragraph was split across a page break, we’d skip them.

Window with line spacing set to 98%

Paragraph Format window

The Paragraph Format window has a line spacing control, which lets you specify spacing as a percentage. In this case, we can set it to 98% to slightly reduce the spacing on this page.

This allows LibreOffice to move the orphan from the next page back to meet the widow on this one:

Page with line spacing scaled to 98%

Modified page

So there’s an alternate way to fix the page, without changing the paragraph. Personally, I prefer the character spacing change as this page will have one more line than the facing page, so the two will seem misaligned. But, it may be useful in some cases where you can’t fix the formatting any other way.

So there I was recently, playing Goat Simulator, as you do during boring phone calls. When I quit, I looked at my Steam library, and noticed this game, Scourge: Outbreak. I didn’t remember buying it, and turns out I didn’t.

A year or three back I got Scourge Project in some kind of Steam sale deal, and I played for five minutes and quit. Turns out that Scourge: Outbreak is a remake of that game, and they gave it free to everyone on Steam who owned the original.

I honestly couldn’t remember anything about that game, so I thought I might as well install it and give it a try.

Start it up. Unskippable ad videos telling me it uses the Unreal engine and other time-wasting crap. Ugh. Why?

Really, just why? A new player starts up your game, excited to try it, and you make them sit through a minute or so of ad videos.

Who, exactly, in the game companies thinks this is a good idea?

Starting a new game gives you a choice between four different characters, and some guff about what each one is best at, but who cares? I picked the girl, because it’s a third-person game, and I’m going to be staring at someone’s butt while playing, so it might as well be hers.

So, on to the cut-scenes. At least they’re skippable, unlike Mass Effect‘s half-hour streams of boredom. Then the optional tutorial, which demonstrates how your character walks miserably slowly on their way to shoot a few things. Which is where you first learn some of the game’s horrible flaws.

The first is that the graphics are pretty dismal, even by console standards. I must admit, I wasn’t expecting much from a free game, but it delivered less. It looks as bad as Mass Effect on a bad day.

It’s another game with a ‘cover’ system requiring you to use special commands to hide behind cover, rather than just, you know, hiding behind cover. Any game that needs a cover system is just admitting that its user interface is horribly broken.

Oh, OK, it’s clearly a console game, so obviously its user interface is horribly broken.

You can only carry two weapons, because allowing you to carry more than two might be too much like fun, and that’s not allowed.

The space bar is used for jump, hide and run, and there’s no discernable way to tell which it’s going to do. The middle mouse button is used for magic shield and magic attack (they don’t call it that, but that’s basically what it is), and there’s no discernable way to tell what it’s going to do. The magic attack is powered by some magic goo that you have to collect, and about two attacks use up all your goo, so what’s the point?

Since it is a multiplayer game at heart, playing single player means you’re lumbered with three artificially stupid team-mates. The tutorial also demonstrates the really limited order system you can use to work around that artificial stupidity, but who wants to be forced to command bots in a shooter game?

There’s a lot of plot twaddle. And more plot twaddle. And something about a meteorite or something. I don’t know, because I was sick of cut-scenes and skipped it all. Not to mention that the horrible flickering in one of the cut-scenes threatened to give me an epilepsy attack. Then more cut-scenes. Then you get to walk slowly to some weird capsule thing. Then there are more cut-scenes.

So, you’re playing some super-elite soldier babe, and the tutorial has introduced you to a number of weapons that you can use, so what do you think it’s going to do now? Yes, you guessed it, it’s going to take all those weapons away from you and leave you with a pistol. Because having the weapons you want to use might be too much like fun.

Since it’s a third-person cover shooter, you spend a lot of time either being shot because you can’t go into cover behind things that are clearly quite suitable as cover, and being shot because you can’t get out of cover mode and move to where you want to move. It’s at least as bad as the awful Mass Effect games, and probably worse.

Oh, yeah, and since it’s a third person game, you also spend a lot of time shooting bullets into the wall right in front of you when you have to shoot around something the game won’t count as cover.

This is followed by walking into an area, being attacked by about a million identical, moronic bad guys, thanking the bad guys for leaving ammunition boxes randomly strewn around, but still running out and having to pick up some random weapon because you can only carry two. Then defend the area for five minutes while a thousand indistinguishable bots run toward you. Then hack a door (translation: hold ‘E’ for a few seconds) before moving onto the next area.

Then there’s a cut-scene where some guy spews some plot-twaddle, and you do the same thing again.

And crates. Did I mention crates? The one surprise in the game was walking into a few areas with crates and thinking ‘ha, there are crates, so clearly I’m going to get attacked and have to take cover’… only to not be attacked. Wow.

I should also mention that the reason you run out of ammunition is because the indistinguishable bad guys take about three thousand hits each to kill. You keep blasting away at them from close range with an assault rifle, and, after you kill half a dozen, no more bullets.

Then there’s lack of a save system. It randomly saves at checkpoints, so, if you get bored and want to quit, be prepared to have to fight through the same mob of identical enemies again to get back to where you were.

I could go on, but I quit before finishing the first level. From the screenshots, it looks like things might get interesting later on, but I couldn’t find the enthusiasm to play through the boring parts to get there.

It’s not an awful game, it didn’t crash, it doesn’t expect you to pay to win, but it’s just mediocre. Everything it does has been done before, and done better.