Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Transcoding DVD to AVI on my Ubuntu box

I have a Sumvision media streamer, and have been transcoding all my DVD's to AVI so I can use them on the streamer. I have been using DVD::Rip which seems to do a great job, with the underlying Transcode app doing most of the hard work. However, I had done a load when I found that that on lots of the results the sound was out of sync. Now I need to try with transcode options -M [0..4] to see which gives the best result on a subset of the frames (i.e -M 2) before I code the entire movie. It's a pain, but not found another way of doing it yet.

Another pain is that for some reason I cannot encode to H.264 so am having to use mpeg, which means the files are quite a bit bigger than they need to be.

Mame on Ubuntu 10.10 (Meerkat)

Well, I recently took the plunge and upgraded to Ubuntu 10.10 (Maverick Meerkat). The upgrade to 10.04 had been slightly problematical as the wireless networking stopped (see a previous post), so was hoping for a better experience this time.

And so far its been pretty good with one exception. Mame stopped working. Now previously I had been using SDL Mame as this was the only one I found that displayed correctly, although sound wasn't working. Now, using the GMAMEUI it wasn't running the executable as all, with an odd byte order error.

Turns out (I think) that SDL mame has been merged with normal Mame, so by uninstalling SDL, ensuring basic Mame was installed, and pointing GMAMEUI to the Mame executable, it all started working. And I do mean ALL - the sounds as well. Hurrah!

The only other issue with 10.10 I have found is that F-Spot Import seems to be very very slow. Will post when I figure that one out.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Sumvision Cyclone MKV

I've wanted to try out some sort of media streaming for a while. My television has a USB socket, and will play music or show slideshows, but no video. My DVD player on the TV upstairs has a USB socket and will play back HD files, but not all of them - it fails on DivX5.

What I really wanted was some sort of cheap box that could wirelessly stream media from my Linux box to a TV.

So, some searching later, and I purchased a Sumvision cyclone MKV streamer - the one without the internal harddisk. About £65 or so from Ebuyer. Also went for the USB wireless N adapter to go with it at about £15. This device can play back almost anything up to 1080P via the HDMI connector - although the cable is NOT supplied which is a bit cheap.

First thoughts are how tiny it is. Not much bigger than my hand. Plenty of connectors on the back and side, but I just needed power, somewhere to plug the adapter and the HDMI. The picture quality of the GUI on my 1080P is really good, and playing back HD video from the SD card adapter showed the playback quality was also very good.

The wireless network was easy to set up and worked first time - my network is G so not getting the benefit of the N adapter though. Running MediaTomb on my Linux box and I could stream files easily over UPNP. The main problem was that ISO images would not run - they gave an invalid file error. This I think is down to network speed. Running them from SD card worked fine, but over the network they bombed. Probably the streamer needed to download a lot of the ISO before it could run it, and it timed out before it could load enough. I have now directly connected the box to my router as they are only 1m apart, to reduce the wireless traffic, but won't have that option when I put another of these boxes upstairs

So, my initial plan of using ISO images failed at the first hurdle, but I think this may be a good thing. Instead I have been slowly ripping my DVD collection and transcoding to MPEG4 instead of leaving as ISO. This means I am going to use up a LOT less disk space but I lose the DVD menus - and to be honest not so worried about those anyway.

I'd prefer in fact to transcode to H264, but so far have not persuaded my Ubuntu box to do that. I'm using DVD::Rip which works really well, but I get an error on h264 encoding. I have some ideas what the problem may be so will write them up if successful fixed.

So in precis, the streamer works fine (although it does run very very hot) when wirelessly connected as long as you don't use ISO images. It's easy to just select what you want to watch from a list on the screen rather than digging through a cupboard of DVD's

Transcoding the DVD's is going to take ages though - two weeks and I have only done the children's DVD's so far! Still, as long as my backups work, I won't have to do it all again!

Monday, 5 July 2010

Brabantia - more good customer service

We have had a Brabantia 30l flip top bin for about 8 years, and a few weeks ago, a tab of plastic broke off, meaning the lid no longer stayed closed. The other half had read somewhere that Brabantia bins had a good customer service department, so she emailed, and received a post tag to send it back to them. The other day a replacement arrived, slightly redesigned (the plastic tab is much stronger!), free of charge.

So, an 8 year old bin, still having parts replaced under guarantee, with no questions asked. Now that IS good customer service, but given the high price of these bins, I guess you get what you pay for.

Well done Brabantia.

Weak interior fan in my Honda Civic

Since the air con has failed on the Civic (repaired once, failed again after only a couple of months), I rely on the fan especially in the hot weather we are having, but, to be honest, the fan power really is rubbish. I have been wondering whether something is blocked somewhere, because I was sure it has been better in the past.

Then it occurred to me that there must be a pollen/cabin filter somewhere in the car, and since I have never changed it, it may be a bit old. So, a quick net search showed that its easy to check - you unclip the two side of the glove box and fold it down, there is a small clip holding on the front panel of the filter box, and you then have access to the two filters.

Pulling out the first filter showed straight away what the problem was - it was absolutely crammed with crap. It took considerable knocking against a hard surface to dislodge most of the leaves, bugs etc. Getting out the second filter (side by side with the first) means moving it to the side so it comes out of the same slot, and again, it was completely and utterly choked with debris. Again, some time spent knocking out it, and replacing, and all of a sudden the fan blows a gale!!

I have ordered two new filters (£10 from Euro car parts, free delivery), as even though most of the large debris has been cleaned out, it's still fairly clogged with fine particles that are not going anywhere, so hopefully it will get even better!

EDIT : Have now replaced the filters , the picture above shows the old ones, and the fan is now goes up to 11! £10 well spent!

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Ubuntu Lucid Lynx and my Bluenext wireless adapter

Update : I can get round the issue by using static IP address - i.e. bypassing the DHCP as this appears to be where the problem lies. Just turn off DCHP by selecting manual in the IPV4 settings, give yourself an IP address (make sure it doesn't conflict with what the router may assign to others on the network - you'll need to do this on the router), set the gateway (usually the internal network address of the router for example), and the DNS servers - which could be the router and your ISP DNS server. I didn't set anything for search domains.

Qualcast Suffolk Punch mower - review

I've been thinking for some time that I need a good mower that leave a constant cut height and decent stripes on the lawn. The sit on I have is great for long grass, but is terrible for getting a decent finish.

The recent death (and non-availability of the required spare part) of my scarifier made be think of a cylinder mower with a changeable cassette system so I can also use it as a scarifier

So, with that in mind I decided on a Suffolk Punch 17sk from Qualcast (I think also re-branded by Atco and Bosch - although Qualcast and Atco seem to be owned by Bosch so not surprised).

A search of the net found me a good price on the mower plus the scarifier cartridge from Alton Garden Centre - £50 cheaper than anywhere else with free next day delivery which really was next day - very impressed.

I unpacked the box and was also pleased to find they had thrown in the required engine oil, as it comes dry.

So, unpacked, assembled, and filled with oil in about 15 minutes. The very first pull on the recoil started of the Kawasaki 3hp engine, and it fired and ran instantly - also very impressive. The engine appears very similar to the Honda GX series, so hopefully will be just as reliable. It is very quiet in use, and doesn't appears to be really straining at all when cutting.

Anyway, long story short, the mower does everything it says on the tin - lovely stripped grass and all equal height. I also tried the scarifier cassette - changing this involves undoing a few allen head bolts, sliding the blades out and the scarifier in, and doing the bolts back up - about 5 minutes. Again, the scarifier works really well, although it exhibits the same issue as my previous scarifier - the bucket fills up very quickly as the thatch and moss is so 'fluffy'.

So, in précis - very pleased. Will report back on long term reliability - only had it a day!

Friday, 11 June 2010

Ubuntu Lucid Lynx (10.02)

Since I bought a new PC I've not had any of the problems with upgrading Ubuntu that I had with the previous box (with its very old Nvidia graphics card). However, the recent upgrade to Lucid has shown up an obscure fault. Although he rest of the system is brilliant given its cost (i.e. nothing), my wireless adapter is misbehaving, which it didn't do on earlier versions. On boot, it simply doesn't start up the connection, well, actually it does, but then drops it again. The adapter is a BlueNext USB wireless thingy. There is a bug already flagged in the Ubuntu reporting system for this one so I am not the only one.

The only workaround so far found is to plug in a different adapter (A 3COM one from other half's PC), and get the link working, then plug in the Bluenext, which will also start working, then unplug the 3COM, and the Bluenext keeps working. Most odd.

Ubuntu bug report here..

Lights buzzer on my Honda Civic

The buzzer that sounds when you leave the car and have left the lights on has not been working on my 02 plate Honda Civic for at least a year. I've tried to find the buzzer on the circuit diagrams I have on CD, but to no avail, and was reminded that I really must do something about it after finding a flat battery one morning a couple of days ago.

A quick Google didn't show up much information on how to replace/find/diagnose the buzzer, but one webpage said that sometimes the drivers door switch can fail. So this morning I took a look. First indication of a fault was that the drivers side courtesy light doesn't come on when the door is opened - even after a year, I hadn't noticed this - no idea why. This is a smoking gun pointing at the switch in the door, so after pulling off a cover from the screw, I removed the switch from the door jamb. There was obviously a problem, because the switch itself wasn't firmly attached to the rubberised carrier, so I reattached it, with a satisfying click, remounted the switch in the door, and the interior light came on. Hurrah. Tried the lights with the door open - and the buzzer noise filled the air like a Beethoven concert. Well, perhaps not that good, but satisfying nevertheless! Although the swtich was still working, because it had come lose from its carrier, it wasn't earthing to the chassis, which was requried as it there was only a single power wire to the switch and no return except via the chassis.

So, a year or more of occasional flat batteries was fixed by three minutes work with a screwdriver.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Boss guitar pedal spares - Good Story!

Many years ago I bought a second hand Boss guitar pedal from a friend - at the time it had a broken potentiometer and missing knob, so didn't cost a whole lot. It's a Boss MZ-2 Digital Metalizer - nice pedal. Anyway, after at least ten years I thought I should at least attempt to sort it out, so to get a basic price I decided to phone Roland, who make Boss kit, to find out what they charged for the spares. I intended to get a basic price, then source the parts myself to get the price down, as was expecting the prices from Roland to be typical of manufacturer spares - i.e. over the top.

To my complete amazement, the price for the new pot and knob, INCLUDING postage was just over £5. I nearly bit their hand off! Amazing that in 2010, I could buy spares for a pedal that went out of production in 1991, and at a sensible price.

It took about 15 minutes to open the pedal, de-solder the old pot and solder in the new one, and the icing on the cake was that it actually worked afterwards!

Thanks Roland - Well done! You have at least one very happy customer!

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Granville Heavy Duty Rust Cure

I have had some of this is the garage for a while and never really got round to using it. However, I recently had to clean up the steel wheel hubs on my car trailer ready for new tyres, and the inner of a couple were really rusty. After wire brushing the majority of rust off, I painted the hubs with this rust cure and have been pleasantly surprised by the results. It's a sort of thin white cream prior to application, then after a few minutes drying any remaining rust goes black, and the surface is also waterproofed. The wheels look very good, and it can be primed and overpainted if necessary.

I only have a small pot of the stuff, and it was £7.50 or something, but a little really does go a long way. I'm impressed.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Getting data off old hard disks

After my old PC popped its clogs, I needed to recover some data from the HD's that were in it. I was originally thinking of getting some sort of caddy, but then found this...


This thing is great. I plugged in the drive, powered up, plugged in the USB and hey presto - instant disk based gratification! Data transfer was pretty quick (>10MB/s) too. No faffing around mounting in a caddy, just plug it in and go. Fantastic.

Haven't tried it with DVDROM/CDROM/RW drives yet, but no reasons to think it won't work.

It supports 3.5" and 2.5" IDE, and also SATA.

Not bad for £12.35!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Acer Revo 3600

Just bought one of these for my father who's aging PC is starting to suffer. I've been quite impressed so far. Went for the Linux based one as only £149 with 1GB and 160GB HD, but have immediately installed Ubuntu Linux (9.1 Karmic Koala) instead. - the installed Linux is a bit pants.

The Atom 230 processor uses hyperthreading, so appears as two cores to Ubuntu. I installed an extra 2GB RAM in addition to the 1GB it came with - not sure how necessary that will be. Getting the case open was a pain, but there are YouTube videos to show you how to do it. (and it probably invalidates the guarantee). Probably best to use some sort of plastic blade rather than a flat screwdriver as you can scratch the case quite easily!

The Ubuntu install went completely without a hitch - it found the wireless h/w without any problems. I needed to run the Hardware Drivers menu option to get it to install the Nvidia drivers, and the final result looks pretty good! Using the Nvidia drivers reduced the load on the processor considerably when doing anything graphicy.For example, the System monitor CPU load reduced from 15% to 4% or less.

Haven't tried the HDMI out yet - might be worth a go on our 1080P telly just to see how good it is. Also untried is the audio.

The thing itself is tiny, I bought a USB DVDRW drive to go with it (it has no optical drive), and the drive is bigger than the Revo! Using the drive made installing the new OS very easy, but you can also install from a USB stick, so getting the drive isn't vital.

Quite impressed so far. Will report back on my fathers experiences as he starts to use it!

I also bought a new PC at the same time - a cheap Acer Linux desktop (Athlon 215x2, 4GB RAM, 1TB disk, DVDRW, GeForce 9200, £289)- as my ancient Athlon XP2000 has finally given up the ghost. Power supply failed and appears to have taken the mobo with it. New PC came with a dodgy version of Linux, so installed Ubuntu on this too. Again, very pleased with the result so far. Appears considerably faster than the old one!

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

New Wii Games

Well, Christmas (and a preceding child's birthday) produced a few more games for the Wii. First out of the box was Cars - Race'O'Rama. It's OK, but graphics are a bit flakey. Consiudering its a gmae for young children, its a right pain getting it all set up ready for them to use. Second was F1 2009 - this is a great game. Really good graphics (for the Wii), and the controller work really well. Two player mode is great fun. really difficult on the more advanced settings too.

Finally, and best, is Wii Sports Resort. Love this one. The Wii Motion plus seems to work well, much more accurate. Not tried everything yet, but enjoy (as do the boys and other half!) the free flight mode in the seaplane, just looking around for stuff. Great fun, and a well produced game overall.

Also got a couple of second hand games last November - Twilight Princess and Prince of Persia. However, time has been limited so not much to report on those! Second hand prices on Ebay are pretty good for Wii games, especially the less wwell known ones. Just have to watch out for scratched disks!