Archive for the 'life' Category

My latest venture

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

I have started a new project, in the same vein as my driver guide. I’m collecting service manuals of every laptop computer I can find and hosting them on a new page here:

These files contain parts lists for each model, and how to disassemble them, down to the LCD screen and the motherboard. As a repair aid, they are invaluable, as they can easily halve the time it takes to replace a keyboard, and attempting a motherboard swap without one is a risky, unreliable procedure.

The manuals are often difficult to find, though; very few manufacturers actually publish them for the general public, and I strongly applaud and recommend those that do. Those that don’t, on the other hand, only make it more difficult to repair their laptop computers, which reflects badly on them as companies who care more about their sales than their support.

I invite everybody to have a look, email people the link, digg it, tweet it, whatever. The more people who see it and know it exists, the more will (hopefully) help me expand and improve it over time.

MMS/PXT on Exetel with Vodafone

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

This has been bugging me forever. I pay Exetel for my mobile service, and have never managed to get MMSes to work. Sending or receiving.

Vodafone (who Exetel resell) have a page that sends their MMS/GPRS/etc settings to your phone. I’d tried this a few times, and while the settings for net browsing worked fine, nothing I did ever made MMS work.

I finally got around to looking for a solid fix for this, and found a post on Exetel’s forums suggesting I go to my phone manufacturer’s support site, and get them to send me MMS settings.

I have no idea why this should work – Sony-Ericsson are many many steps more removed from my problem than Vodafone is – but it did work. Apparently S-E’s Vodafone settings work, while Vodafone’s Vodafone settings don’t.

Go on, try it. It worked for my K850i, it worked for that guy’s Motorola.

You think BIOS beep codes are hell? Try understanding the incomprehensibly wide array of settings required to make a mobile phone talk properly to its network. I hate phones.

informing your decisions

Sunday, May 31st, 2009


I’m pretty sure it’s Flash. Then again, I’ve never heard of this publisher, so what am I to do?


Don’t ask Officeworks for a better deal. You’ll throw them into an infinite loop.


In retrospect, I probably should have called that phone number. It was funnier not to, though.

Two times two is five

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

In fixing a computer, you must narrow the problem down to being one of two types: hardware and software.

A software problem is a genuine bug in a program, where clicking something ordinary produces an unexpected and often inexplicable result, like incorrect output or a funny error message and a crash. These problems are often fixed by updating the software to a newer version, or replacing it with something equivalent.

A hardware problem is a faulty video card, or a failing hard drive, which often mainfest themselves in software-problem-like ways (programs glitch or crash) as far as the user is concerned, but are part of an overall pattern that can point to hardware. A dying hard drive can cause a computer to run slowly, programs to crash on startup, Windows not to start up at all.

It’s important to differentiate between the two, and recognise that one may look like the other. One can also cause the other; bad memory can corrupt data to the point where Windows doesn’t start, and you’ll still have to reinstall after replacing the faulty RAM.

There are also, I’ve come to realise, two types of computer users.

The first type will say they know just enough about computers to get themselves into trouble. They are often wrong about this, and their computers will be clean as a whistle, with very few desktop icons, they’ll know how to email spreadsheets to people, they’ll ask intelligent questions (and be honest about the dumb ones) and they’ll eagerly listen to every word you say with deep fascination and concentration. These are my favourite customers.

The second type are more than happy to admit they tinker with their PCs, often without knowing what’s happening or how it can affect things. Then, when they show you the computer you built them and it’s got scratches and cat hair all over it, they’ll arrogantly accuse you of selling them a useless antivirus program and that they clearly have a massive infestation of some sort. Then you’ll discover they’ve moved the folders for those apps out of C:\Program Files\ and into C:\Documents and Settings\Greg\Desktop\Spies and Nasties\, and argue til they’re blue in the face it’s not their fault Spybot doesn’t load anymore.

This second category of user brings me to my point: There’s a terrifying, third kind of computer problem you can encounter. Console modders will be familiar with the concept of a semi-bricked device – not quite a dead write-off, not quite alive enough to be usable, hovering between this world and that in a curious limbo state.

They don’t sleep, they don’t communicate, they walk aimlessly forever unless you cut their heads off, and they can’t be brought back. I’m talking about zombies. There’s nothing you can do except to step back, nuke from orbit, and start all over again.

One lady dropped her computer about a foot onto a concrete floor. No cracks in the case, no cracks in the motherboard, no bad sectors on the hard drive, nothing verifiably wrong with it, but it… ran… slowly. Installing XP would take three hours. It’d take minutes to get to the desktop. Everything would work, but at a snail’s pace. We sold her a new computer.

One old guy did something to Device Manager or the drivers, and his computer wouldn’t recognise PS/2 mice. USB mice were fine, PS/2 keyboards were fine, but that PS/2 mouse was an unknown device and nothing could ever be made of it. There was no fix – this was not a problem that sensible, normal people have with their computers, so nobody had ever written a fix for it. We reinstalled Windows and told him not to do it again.

Another guy ordered a computer with four gigs of RAM last week – specifically, two twinpacks of 1GB DDR2 made by G-skill. Because the days of random memory incompatibilities are long over, we agreed, and he brought it back a week later because it bluescreened five times a day and it was essentially unusable. We narrowed it down to the RAM, and G-skill told us we should’ve bought a 2x2GB kit instead of using four 1GB sticks to ensure compatibility. We put the Gskill RAM into other computers separately (they work fine when there’s not four of them together) and sold the guy RAM of a less-picky brand.

When a printer’s quick setup guide tells you not to plug the printer into the computer until you’ve installed the software and it instructs you to do so, do what it bloody well says, because if you plug the printer in first and Windows starts in with the “oh crap, where’s the software for this thing?” dance, you’ll need someone with a steady hand, deep knowledge of Windows, and a twinkle of danger in their eye to make things right afterward. I don’t know how anybody can be proud to sell a consumer-targeted inkjet made by HP, because troubleshooting those things is like trying to debate philosophy while being repeatedly hit in the face with an angry wombat.

I went on the internet, and I found this.

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

While researching gamepads for an upcoming project (stay tuned!), I found myself time and time again ogling the Xbox 360 controller.


There are few consumer devices available that look half as good as this. The console itself looks like a large print book that’s gone through the wash, but I like the pad. The current version is compatible with Windows PCs, and if I was a fan of ANY game that played better with a pad than with a keyboard and mouse, I would’ve bought one and written a drooly review of it long ago.

Anyway, I also found this.

XBox 360 controller with Chatpad.

This isn’t some bizarre photoshop job like all those iPhone Nano hopefuls. It’s a real product; that keyboard is the XBox 360 Chatpad, and it comes in a “Messenger Kit” with a talky headset. It just plugs into the bottom of your 360 pad, has backlit keys, and is meant for chatting with your chums via XBox Live.

I couldn’t give two hoots about XBox Live, though My first thought was actually “that would make the best media PC controller ever.”


This is Logitech’s diNovo Mini, a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse (that circle on the right is a trackpad) intended for media PC use. I own one, and slightly flawed as it is, it’s the best media PC controller ever.

It is also AU$190. Which, if you’re not familiar with money, is a lot for a glorified remote control with buttons that make your teevee do stuff. You need all those buttons for a media PC, though; play/pause/volume isn’t enough, because you sometimes have to type stuff as well.

It’s better than a fullsize keyboard, and better than not having a separate mouse, and that makes it vastly better than Microsoft’s Wireless Entertainment Desktop 7000, which goes for about the same price as the diNovo.

The XBox 360 wireless controller and chatpad, in contrast, could be had on eBay for about $120 all up. If Microsoft allowed the chatpad to be used on PCs, they’d basically be shooting themselves in the foot that props up the wireless desktop kits.

Microsoft aren’t the boss of everyone, though. While it’s not meant to work on PCs, it can be made to do so with some serious mucking about.

Come on, internet. Just one awesome super-fiddly platformer game, and I can buy one and retire the diNovo to Linux box duties.

They don’t want my Australian money.

Monday, April 6th, 2009

So I decided to finally bite the bullet, and actually pay for some music.

Back in 2005 or thereabouts, I wrote on another blog somewhere I wouldn’t do so unless I could give some website a very small amount of money for some very high quality, DRM-free mp3s. I had no intention of being forced to change how I listen to my music just for the privilege of paying for it, and I still don’t.

It’s 2009, though, and the internet’s all growed up. We don’t have to go to Russia to buy mp3s anymore.

The very first shop-like Google hit for the album I want – unexpectedly, it’s Divenire by Ludovico Einaudi – is Amazon’s MP3 store. You can get it from for US$8.99, or for £7.99 – AU$12.55 or AU$16.66, take your pick.

Except my carefully converted Australian prices are utterly irrelevant – I’m not allowed to buy from either site, because their Digital Content providers refused them the right to export outside the US or UK respectively. Seriously, what they’ve done is copy and paste identical text to the local subsidiary’s T&Cs of each approved region, job done, let’s go home and watch something patriotic on teevee.

This is stupid. I have money. They have a completely automated online shop. I want to give their automated online shop my money in return for their music, and they won’t because of… moo?

A friend reminded me the iTunes Music Store now features DRM-free MP3s, which would be the ultimate solution…….. if I still used an iPod at all. The iTunes software for 64-bit Windows is a 70.4MB download; this is a drop in the ocean compared to how much music the average blogger torrents, but it also comes with Quicktime and tries to talk you into Safari and wants to steal file associations from Winamp and nags me to death with fifty unnecessary tray icons and popups and have you considered buying yourself a new iPod Shuffle, they come in dark grey now?

Why no, no I hadn’t. And never will. My Cybershot mobile phone already makes me a corporate whore sellout extroadinaire, I’m not very interested in cramming a separate PMP with fewer features into my minimalist pocket ensemble.

Um anyway, back to Einaudi – Googling his name in Australia produces no dice, the only results are people who want to sell me his sheet music (relative value and merit of making the mp3s myself, I leave open for debate), and Sanity who want to sell me CDs. I had to go to his website to find someone who’ll let me buy mp3s instead, and their two suggestions are these guys who also can’t sell outside the UK, and iTunes again.

I caved into something for the second time tonight and installed iTunes. Which confidently informs me Divenire will cost me $16.99. And I have to sign up for an account before I can pay for it. And give them my birthdate and stuff.

And you know what? I’m not going to do it. I’m going to dig right back in, and wait for a website that’ll let me pay for the music I’d like to buy. Russia’s no longer a mandatory visit, but I’d still have to leave my hemisphere to get what I want.

Thanks for nothing, interblag.

we wanna know.. who you are

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009


The Who are, in fact, utterly awesome live. I’m glad I got to see Roger and Pete perform at least once in my life.

Even the vending machines got into it:


my faux pas for 2009

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Last night my peer group gathered its computers together with the intention of playing LAN games all night. We got distracted by the prospect of overclocking our PCs, brought on partly by my new CPU cooler, and instead spent much of the night fiddling with our front side buses and benchmarking the results.

(Just to brag: my E6600, at 2.4ghz stock, makes it at least to 3.3ghz just by raising the FSB. No voltage adjustments, and it never went above 50 degrees playing Crysis. My 3dmark06 score rose from 11000 something to 15306.)

Then we burned a bit of fuel testing a friend’s new car sound system as we ambled cruised hooned to Sydney and back to fetch Krispy Kremes with which to celebrate.

It’s 2PM the following day, March the 29th, and I’ve only just realised something: We accidentally spent the entirety of Earth Hour overclocking our gaming PCs. With the lights on.

So sorry. People do.

some things i scraped off the interweb this week

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

First up, “Extreme Sheep LED Art”.

You herd me.

There’s a ton of skepticism in the comments about how real that could be. I’m inclined to think a) it’s worth watching for the hilarious concept alone, b) the fireworks at the end are thoroughly believable. Enjoy it either way.

Next, something serious, but just as breathtaking:

There’s some kind of trick photography going on – a weird lens here, some time-lapse there – but my brain can’t make heads or tails of it. It thinks it’s watching some stop-motion thing with teeny tiny scale models.

Somehow, though, the big boats still look big. Which leads me to…


Yeah. That’ll about do it.

I discovered Dark Roasted Blend dot com last night. It’s full of crazy awesome things like that.


And this. This is obviously a drawing or something, but seriously. If I was a supervillain, this would be my primary base of operations. In the sky. With cannons.

Honourable mention, of course, to the Blue Marlin.


It’s a barge. It sinks itself, swims underneath other boats, re-surfaces, and then carries said other boats around.

Like, for instance, that destroyer. Or an oil rig.

That’s about exhausted my quota of awesome for the week. Tune in next week, for more of whatever I happen to dig up in my travels.

Solved: Billion 7300a not forwarding port 80

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

It’s weird. I have ports 80, 2120 and 2121 forwarded to my Linux box via my Billion 7300a modem. The latter two (picked for random things because they’re cool numbers) work fine; requests to port 80 just stop dead at the modem and time out.

Everything’s forwarded correctly, my ISP doesn’t force me to opt-in to opening port 80, my DDNS URL resolves correctly to my home address, but nobody comes to the door when you knock.

Actually, it’s the modem hiding behind the door, and it’s got no intention of answering. The modem’s webconfig runs on port 80 as well, although yes it’s only available on the local network, not from outside.

According to this, you have to change the port the webconfig is running on – despite it not responding to hails from outside my network anyway – before forwards to another machine on port 80 will work at all.


It’s not just the 7300a that does this – I mentioned it to a friend, and he said his 5100c did exactly the same thing.

My next modem, when it comes time to replace this one, won’t be another Billion. My quest for the perfect modem continues.