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Tuesday, 12 December 2017 Dereel Images for 12 December 2017
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Zerene stacker on FreeBSD
Topic: photography, technology Link here

I have already established that Zerene will install on FreeBSD. But will it run? In principle if a program that runs on Linux installs on FreeBSD, it will run too. So I tried it out, in the process tripping over a few nits. Yes, it runs, loads files, displays them. But then I got an unexpected surprise while trying to stack them:

 
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That's more than just an adaptation issue. Something to do with locking? It could be complicated. A good thing I don't have to rely on the functionality.


New Hugin
Topic: photography, technology Link here

A new beta version of Hugin is out. Built it today, and it just worked, once I rebuilt the pkg-plist file (a good thing we have make makelist).


A new TV
Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

My TV has been giving me problems: from time to time, when I turn it on, it runs for a minute or so and then hangs hard, requiring a physical power off to continue. But today, even that didn't help, and to watch the news in the afternoon I put a normal computer monitor in its place.

What do I do now? I bought this TV 4½ years ago, my first ever digital TV. And like the three projectors before it, I really only need it as a monitor: the interface to real TVs was just too fiddly. It has a 58" 1920x1080 (“Full HD”) display, and I was estimating that it would last 4 years, by which time 3840x2160 (“UHD”) would be the norm. So it more or less fulfilled my expectations.

So what do I do now? ALDI had a 65" 3840x2160 model on offer 3 months ago, and there's a very good chance that a new one will be along soon. But what do we do in the meantime? Yvonne made it clear that she didn't want to use a 22" monitor for any length of time. And maybe more mainstream TVs would be more reliable.

Off to Staticice to see what was on offer. After the normal cheap accessories, found this one:

$438.73 45-304-026 Ergotron Interactive Arm Vhd For TV 30 - 60" 15KG - 31KG Polishe...

But that's just an arm! The real TVs started with:

That's $200 more than the ALDI 65" model. But it's a smart TV, which might be worth something, and it's available in stock at The Good Guys in Ballarat. Further investigation showed that there are really only two relatively cheap models available: this one, and a Hisense 65N7 for $1,295 (“recommended retail price $3499”). That was in stock at the Good Guys too, but it has a proprietary operating system, while the TCL uses Android. And yes, just about all TVs now are 3840x2160.

Off to Ballarat to take a look, and in the end decided for the TCL exactly for that reason. While there, picked up a plank to put it on. The old TV had a traditional middle stand, which fitted on top of the cabinet:


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But the newer TVs have two stands, one at each end, and in this case wider than the cabinet, something that I hadn't anticipated when I ordered it. So for the time being the TV is mounted on the plank:


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I suppose the ultimate solution will be to mount it on the wall.

Arrived back home at 17:50 or so. How long does it take to install a TV? First we had to move the old TV out of the way. Then unpack the TV. How do you lift it out of the package? The instructions were as unhelpful as ever, but then I discovered that after removing the tapes, the bottom just fell out. And this TV is so much lighter that I was able to lift it into place by myself.

Plug in. Initially just power and HDMI cable. One of these days I'll set up TV reception, but for the time being it's just a glorified monitor.

The power cable was the first issue. The power points are to the left of the TV, and the power cable is connected on the right. And it's approximately the width of the TV. Clever thinking there. Still, within 30 minutes of getting home, I had it ready for setup:


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OK, why not? How did it connect? Via Bluetooth? The phone display suggested that it was using a WLAN connection:


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But that normally requires authentication, and it didn't ask for any. Possibly it tried first and found it didn't need to ask for it.

OK, what now?


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Copy all my phone data to the TV? My GPS apps? OI.Share? Of course not! And my accounts? What kind of security is that? OK, say no.

But I can't. It doesn't give me a choice. So I stopped the app, getting a typically precise error message:


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Continuing wasn't much more help. I was still given a Mafia-style choice:


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Dammit, I want a TV, not a contract signing away my rights! In the end I had to accept the second one just to continue, but I'm not happy. I'd see that as a valid reason to return the item.

Next, I had to give the machine a name. It suggested TV. OK, that makes sense. Let's keep it. Ah, no, that was just a suggestion. You have to enter a name with a toy simulated keyboard, and tell the device where it is located.


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Finally negotiated that, and then it wanted to “install” channels. I don't have an antenna cable connected, and for tonight I just wanted to watch pre-recorded programmes. Skip? First I need to get there; somehow the screen navigation was just plain bizarre, and first I had to go through the “Type” field. Then “Skip” and... back to naming the bloody machine with the toy keyboard!


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Somehow I managed it. It seemed to take forever, but in fact it was only 12 minutes. That's still a lot compared to 30 for the physical actions of removing old TV, and unpacking, positioning and cabling the new one.

Next, connect teevee to it. Total failure! Looking at /var/log/Xorg.0.log, I saw:

[    17.242] (--) NVIDIA(GPU-0): CRT-0: disconnected
[    17.242] (--) NVIDIA(GPU-0): CRT-0: 400.0 MHz maximum pixel clock
[    17.242] (--) NVIDIA(GPU-0):
[    17.243] (--) NVIDIA(GPU-0): DFP-0: disconnected
[    17.243] (--) NVIDIA(GPU-0): DFP-0: Internal TMDS
[    17.243] (--) NVIDIA(GPU-0): DFP-0: 330.0 MHz maximum pixel clock
[    17.243] (--) NVIDIA(GPU-0):
[    17.244] (--) NVIDIA(GPU-0): DFP-1: disconnected
[    17.244] (--) NVIDIA(GPU-0): DFP-1: Internal TMDS
[    17.244] (--) NVIDIA(GPU-0): DFP-1: 165.0 MHz maximum pixel clock
[    17.244] (--) NVIDIA(GPU-0):
[    17.244] (EE) NVIDIA(0): Failed to assign any connected display devices to X screen 0.
[    17.244] (EE) NVIDIA(0):     Set AllowEmptyInitialConfiguration if you want the server
[    17.244] (EE) NVIDIA(0):     to start anyway
[    17.244] (EE) NVIDIA(0): Failing initialization of X screen 0

Nothing connected? How can that be? Dragged out a second HDMI cable and connected it to the old 22" monitor. No problem. Disconnected the cable from the monitor and plugged it in to the TV (HDMI 2 input). Works, at 1920x1080. OK, that's enough for today.

Watched TV, in the process noting a considerable difference in colour. The greens look much better, and the yellows look really bad. But there are all sorts of things that I can tweak.

Just before going to bed, started X again to see if I could get some response from the TV. This time it was found:

[    17.890] (--) NVIDIA(GPU-0): Tech Concepts TCL SMART TV (DFP-1): connected
[    17.890] (--) NVIDIA(GPU-0): Tech Concepts TCL SMART TV (DFP-1): Internal TMDS
[    17.890] (--) NVIDIA(GPU-0): Tech Concepts TCL SMART TV (DFP-1): 340.0 MHz maximum pixel clock
[    17.890] (--) NVIDIA(GPU-0):
[    17.890] (**) NVIDIA(GPU-0): Mode Validation Overrides for Tech Concepts TCL SMART TV
[    17.890] (**) NVIDIA(GPU-0):     (DFP-1):
[    17.890] (**) NVIDIA(GPU-0):     NoMaxPClkCheck
[    17.895] (WW) NVIDIA(0): No valid modes for "DFP-1:960x540"; removing.
[    17.895] (WW) NVIDIA(0): No valid modes for "DFP-1:640x360"; removing.
[    17.895] (II) NVIDIA(0): Validated MetaModes:
[    17.895] (II) NVIDIA(0):     "DFP-1:1920x1080"
[    17.895] (II) NVIDIA(0):     "DFP-1:1280x720"
[    17.895] (II) NVIDIA(0): Virtual screen size determined to be 1920 x 1080

That raises a number of questions: why didn't it work before? Cable problem? Input jack dependency? And why is it only running at 1920×1080? Because of my X config? All stuff for another day.

In the interim, it's worth noting some things:


Why Android TV?
Topic: multimedia, opinion Link here

In the end, I'm left wondering whether I made the right choice with an Android TV. Do I really need it? It makes Android phones look good. Of course, there are many things that could really be useful. First, let's consider what they offer:

Now, what would I like? The TV contains a computer. Theoretically it could replace teevee, the computer that I use to drive the TV display. Can it in practice? I fear not. Firstly it would need a keyboard and mouse, and the ability to run real programs and not apps. Can I set up NFS on it? Then I could access files directly on another computer—if I can get software to display from a file, either the supplied software or some app. And running a web browser is becoming more and more complicated nowadays without having to submit to deliberately castrated platforms. In particular the requirement to accept license conditions annoys me greatly.


My own devices
Topic: language Link here

In passing, I think I am developing an aversion to overuse of the term “device”, though I use it above. Current technology seems to be stretching an already well-worn word. The OED has no less than 12 main meanings, not including this current meaning, but including

3. a. Will, pleasure, inclination, fancy, desire. In earlier use chiefly in phr. at one's (own) device; later only in pl.; now only in phr. left to one's own devices, etc., where it is associated with sense 6.

6. Something devised or contrived for bringing about some end or result; an arrangement, plan, scheme, project, contrivance; an ingenious or clever expedient; often one of an underhand or evil character; a plot, stratagem, trick.

7. a. concr. The result of contriving; something devised or framed by art or inventive power; an invention, contrivance; esp. a mechanical contrivance (usually of a simple character) for some particular purpose.

c. Orig., a detonating mechanism for an explosive; in extended use, any explosive or incendiary apparatus; spec. a nuclear bomb (in full, and more usually, nuclear device).

In a fictional work: a character, event, narrative technique, etc., used in order to bring about a desired effect or to advance the plot. Frequently with distinguishing word, as literary device, narrative device, plot device, etc.

Apart from the over-use, the term is imprecise. It includes computers, phones, cameras, TVs, watches and presumably other things as well. Is it really necessary to use it when a more specific term would do better?


Wednesday, 13 December 2017 Dereel Images for 13 December 2017
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Bloody power outage!
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Another power outage today, this time planned by Powercor. At least it meant that I was able to prepare for it, but at 4 hours, 17 minutes I'm left wondering if they really had to make it that long. If they had to reimburse customers anyway, based on the length of the outage, I'm sure they'd find a way to restore power sooner.


Bloody connectors!, part 1
Topic: technology Link here

Took advantage of the power outage to finally install the new 4 TB disk drive in eureka. The good news is that the reboot worked with no trouble. Services that still require manual start are:

Yes, there are probably ways to get them started automatically, but that would require thinking, and there are some non-obvious issues involved, like loading ssh keys.

But when I took a look at the disk, there was something strange:

=== root@eureka (/dev/pts/3) ~ 7 -> gpart show ada3
=>        34  7814037101  ada3  GPT  (3.6T)
          34           6        - free -  (3.0K)
          40  7814037088     1  freebsd-ufs  (3.6T)
  7814037128           7        - free -  (3.5K)

Huh? Why did it show a freebsd-ufs partition? It took a while to realize that I had found an unused disk in the machine. And comparing the number of disks connected, one was missing. A mount confirmed that yes, indeed, /dev/ada3p1 was a valid FreeBSD file system. So where was the new disk?

Powered down again. Cable problems? The machine already had 5 disk power connectors, and I had to use an existing Y cable for the new disk's power. Could it be that there was something wrong with it? Pulled the power connector from the old ada3, squeezed the disk into position and... destroyed the connector. I didn't realize how flimsy they are. Damn!

So now I have only 4 power connectors, just enough to run the 4 existing disks. I can get a new cable, or find a way to install the disk from another machine. I think I'll take the latter course.


Bloody connectors!, part 2
Topic: multimedia Link here

Back to looking at the new TV. Started teevee up, and it ran fine on HDMI input 2. Plugged in to HDMI 1. Yes, fine. OK, let's use the correct cable. No go.

That cable worked fine on the old TV. Why not here? Are there some compatibility issues? The new TV uses the latest HDMI spec (which? why should that be in the specs?), and potentially the cable is down-rev. But I wouldn't have expected that to be an issue. Or did I somehow damage it in the installation process? In any case, it looks like a replacement is due the next time that ALDI has them on special.


Bloody connectors!, part 3
Topic: multimedia Link here

Next, connect up an antenna cable and scan for channels. First problem was: where do I find the channel scan function? The method in the instruction manual didn't work: the menu item (Channel/Channel scan) was missing. The way I found was to try to select a “channel” with the channel down/up switch (which, irritatingly, moves in the opposite direction from other multimedia equipment I have seen). Then I got the install screen that I had seen yesterday:


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Scan everything. Nothing found! Another cable problem? Connected up the radio tuner, and that worked fine. Swap cables? In the process discovered that there was some connection problem with the radio, and I had to wobble the cable to get a good connection.

Much cursing and swearing later, I finally connected the TV almost directly to the antenna socked (via the absolutely necessary amplifier adapter), and I was able to scan. So somewhere, probably with the powered 4-way splitter or one of the stupid adapters needed to connect normal cables, there's a problem. Mañana o pasado mañana.


Configuring new TV
Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

OK, let's configure the new TV. Where's the configuration menu? There seem to be four different ways to access parts of the configuration. The (grey) “equivalence” key on the right and the star in the middle here give different menus, the program selector on the right will bring up a (different) menu if it can't find any channels, and the “home” key at bottom left adds things like network configuration if you scroll down far enough:

 
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The network configuration is almost useful, if you ignore things like this:


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And I can add a static address if I want, and if I can bear the interface (admire the overlapping text):


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I also discovered a “clean up” function which discovered lots of garbage on an almost new system, and required three cycles to finally clear it all away:


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More Android TV language
Topic: language Link here

More Andrenglish (or is that Andrish?) from today's menus:

Connection to internet successed

Network normal!

Your TV has been a long time no check up


What use smart TVs?
Topic: multimedia, opinion Link here

In principle, it makes a lot of sense to have a TV with computer functions. And maybe Android is the right choice. Or is it?

One of the biggest issues with Android and similar systems is that it is designed for mobile telephones and other very small devices. There's no place for a keyboard, and the alternatives are poor at best. In general, I find that Android and iOS vie for the worst ever user interface. On the other hand, I really can't see a general alternative for mobile phones, except for “well don't do that, then”. So I barely use them.

Things are different with a 60" TV. My new TV is the largest display device I have ever owned, and it comes close to having the resolution of all four of my desktop monitors put together. It's clearly not mobile. And compared to a mobile phone, you're normally not in direct contact with it, so even the appalling touch screen keyboard functionality isn't available. Instead there's this monstrosity, which makes even touch screen keyboards look good:


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But why? This TV includes a real computer. The specifications say that it's a Quad Core. Quad Core what? Who knows? Who cares? It's Quad Core. And it has all sorts of interfaces: USB, HDMI, Bluetooth, 802.11, Ethernet. So why use this stupid keyboard interface? It can't be the size. A long time ago Chris Bahlo lent me a Bluetooth keyboard that we never got to work. It's not even as long as the remote control:


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Will it work with the TV? One of the configuration menus (the one at the bottom of the Home icon) allows pairing Bluetooth devices. Problem: I've never been able to get this device to pair. When I turn the thing on, the LED lights up for a second or two. But then? Nothing.

What's the model number? What's the name? It's on the space key:

 
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I read ΓΛΡΟΟ, or GLROO in Roman characters. But no, we're in the 21st century now, nobody knows Greek any more. It's really a mutilated RAPOO. And they have engraved the model number in the metal on the back in about 4 point text that you can only read in the right light:


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BT confused me for a while, but it seems that means Bluetooth. The model number is E-6500. OK, let's look for a manual. Nope, no manual, but there's a FAQ, which doesn't mention the E-6500, clearly last year's model. After only a few mouse clicks, I'm at Keyboards/Bluetooth Keyboard, which tells me (or asks me) “How to pair to the bluetooth keyboard?”:

  1. Turn on the keyboard, the red LED will go on for 3 seconds then off.;
  2. Press the connect button, the red LED begins to blink waiting for the connection.
  3. Follow the steps on your iPad or other device to complete the connection.

OK, I'm stuck at step 2. Where's the Connect button? Does it have some other name? Why isn't there a picture? I spent 5 minutes trying to second-guess what symbol might represent the Connect button, without success.

If Glroo can't help, how about YouTube?

And how about that, at 2:52 into the clip I find:


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The Connect button has been obscured by a conformity label! Now isn't that clever!


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After that, of course, I was able to pair the keyboard.


Smart TV: why?
Topic: multimedia, opinion Link here

So now I have a smart TV with a Quad Core and and Android operating system and multiple network connections. What can I do with it? Even with a keyboard, the interface is painful to navigate. Where's a web browser? I frequently use one to check on things while watching TV. Maybe I can install one from the toyshop, but the fact that there isn't one by default should serve as a warning. Probably it's a consequence of the appalling user interface. Who wants to browse with a toy toy (no typo) keyboard? I've been using X for nearly 30 years, and even when I started, using computers with only a fraction of the processing power or resolution of this one, the user interface was an order of magnitude better than what I can see.

Still, give it a chance. The Home icon gives me all sorts of icons: Netflix and Stan., both of whom want money from me. One that claims not to is Spotify, which claims to give me millions of songs to match my tastes.

OK, sign up. Even with the Bluetooth keyboard, it's a pain, so I did most of it via the X interface. $0.99 for 3 months? Oh, just joking, there's a free service. So I did that, logged in, got a transient message saying I wasn't registered, and then a list of icons reminiscent of Microsoft “Windows” 10. Finally I found classical music. Classifications? No, just more icons. Finally, for the fun of it, I tried Dvořák 9:


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And how about that, I got some of the symphony—the finale only.

Somehow it seems that all these services offer the absolute minimum. What am I missing? This stuff is making fortunes for people, and I still can't find any use for it. Maybe things will change if I can find something useful in Netflix or Stan., but I'm not holding my breath. So far I can't see anything that comes even close to my current environment based on FreeBSD and X.


Vultures available!
Topic: technology Link here

Two weeks ago I tried to set up a server with Vultr, only to be told that there were none available at my chosen location (Frankfurt/Main). So I put myself on a ”please notify” list. But the following day I discovered that they were available after all, and set up a machine quite rapidly.

But vultrs don't forget, it seems. Today I received an email:

Date: Tue, 12 Dec 2017 17:35:23 -0500 (EST)
From: support@vultr.com
To: groggyhimself@lemis.com
Subject: Vultr.com - Deploy in Frankfurt!

Vultr.com has added additional capacity in our Frankfurt location!

Launch your high performance instance today by going to:

https://my.vultr.com/deploy/


Bloody connectors!, part 4
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Connecting the TV to the network involved adding a switch in the lounge room:


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That went easily enough, but later I discovered that copying image files from eureka went at a snail's pace. A quick examination with netstat -biIem0 1 confirmed. Here first with the switch connected, then disconnected and teevee connected directly to the wall socket:


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The fourth column is the number of bytes input per second. At first it doesn't look much different, but in fact it's an order of magnitude. With the switch it's round 11.5 MB/s, without it it's round 108 MB/s.

Why? This isn't the only switch in the circuit. There's one in my office and one in the pantry, both more professional units than this one. Is it the number of switches, or the quality of this particular one? I'd guess the latter. In any case, I don't really need the switch. The TV has a WLAN interface as well, and it doesn't seem that there's much use for the connectivity in any case.


This page contains (roughly) yesterday's and today's entries. I have a horror of reverse chronological documents, so all my diary entries are chronological. This page normally contains the last two days, but if I fall behind it may contain more. You can find older entries in the archive. Note that I often update a diary entry a day or two after I write it.     Do you have a comment about something I have written? This is a diary, not a “blog”, and there is deliberately no provision for directly adding comments. But I welcome feedback and try to reply to all messages I receive. See the diary overview for more details. If you do send me a message relating to something I have written, please indicate whether you'd prefer me not to mention your name. Otherwise I'll assume that it's OK to do so.


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