Tuesday, September 28, 2010

WARNING!! Dangerous Temperatures.

I feel like such a nOOb. Ok, I am such a nOOb. Especially with hardware. Sure I know what the difference between a GPU and a CPU is and how to put RAM in my MOBO. meh...

When it comes to cooling, I'm a fail at it. My PC is HOT! And no it isn't such a great PC, I mean my CPU usually runs at 45-50 C on a cool day. Now it's summer it nearly gets to 60. Ouch! My ATi HD4870 runs between 70 and 80. So sad...

I've never changed my cooling system. Always stuck with stop, because so far that's kept me going. Since my latest computer I've constantly been thinking about getting a Thermalright heatsink for my processor and graphics card. The problem is that I never really had too much money, and thought it wasn't really worth it... until today.

Some month or two ago a friend of mine's computer just stopped working, and today he gave me his processor to test (just in case maybe his motherboard was at fault, not his processor). It's a Core 2 Quad Q6600, which for me was a nice "upgrade" I was hoping to have for maybe a few days. Sure the processor works fine, but having swapped it out a little too hastily, I made a fatal mistake. (well, almost fatal)

For those of you who don't know, there is some substance between your processor and it's cooler. That stuff is called thermal paste. What it's made of, I have no clue, but it doesn't matter because it's absolutely necessary (Just don't brush your teeth with it). If you put a heatsink or some other kind of cooler on your processor, graphics card, northgate, or any other chip that gets hot, there has to be some thermal paste in between the surfaces. Without it, the cooler is a big piece of metal with a fan on it, blowing air and dust all over the place (i.e. not useful).

Silly me: when I swapped the processors, I neglected the whole thermal paste thing and just popped off my cooler, stuck in the new CPU, and popped the cooler back on. Simple right? Wrong! After switching my PC on with the new Core 2 Quad installed, I watched as the temperature slowly increased... 53... 66... 75... 89... oh crap that ain't right!

I'm glad I switched it off before it frizzed (My friend would have literally killed me if I returned him a dead processor).

So, if you're getting a new cooler or a new processor, always remember your thermal paste! :)

P.S. If you're getting a new cooler, always... I repeat always buy Thermalright. Nothing else. And while you're about, grab yourself some Arctic Cooling thermal paste. You can't go wrong.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dualscreen FAIL!

I have finally given up on my dual-screen attempts until further notice.

The reason for this is not a software issue, but a hardware issue. No, my graphics card hasn't blown up or anything like that. What I failed to mention in my previous post about dual screening, is that the LG I had on the left did not have DVI. Who in their right mind would leave out DVI on a fullHD monitor? What were you thinking, Goldstar? And yes, that's what the monitor was identified as when I looked in the display settings.... Goldstar...

The biggest beef I had with LG's VGA-only screen is that it causes confusion in dual screening because my Samsung (the screen on the right) is plugged in with DVI. In Windows 7, there is no problem here because Windows "magically" sorts out all the confusion. Ubuntu, on the other hand, with the proprietary ATi Drivers, could not seem to understand what the heck was going on! I screwed around with it for about half and hour until I gave up.

The confusion: ATi's drivers was adamant that the LG was on the right... no matter how many times I told it that it was on the left. I even swapped the plugs at the back of my PC and they were still swapped around. Secondly, the LG would only accept sizes up to 1600x1200, which is not it's native resolution. In fact, FullHD wasn't on the list at all! If I changed any setting, wither it would screw up X and make it unusable, or it would tell me to reboot. After rebooting, however, the problems started from square one again, namely the monitors being swapped around all the time!

In the end I ripped out the LG in anger and threw it across the room, vowing never to buy LG ever again! Not actually, but I was very angry at both ATi, for their lack of consideration of Linux users, and LG, for their ignorant negligence. Do the world a favour LG, go back to making washing machines!

So, to summarize, if you're looking to do any kind of dual-screening, make sure both your screens use DVI inputs*, otherwise you are going to find yourself in some serious trouble. Even better, both your screens could be the exact same model, could you imagine that!?

See my previous post about dual-screens.

*You could also have them both use VGA inputs, but who in their right mind... ?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


The Desktop Background, artwork behind your windows, something you see when nothing is running, a cool look so people say "that's cool" when they see your PC idle... whatever it is to you.

It has been 35 years since the first "Wallpaper" came out. Introduced by Xerox as a way to distinguish the desktop from window interiors on a black-and-white monitor. Below is the first wallpaper in the world, first appearing on Xerox's experimental "Officetalk" system.

Apple followed soon after with a denser pattern, made possible by their non-interlaced monitor, which wouldn't have worked on the Officetalk.

The term wallpaper is more appropriate for the original tiled backgrounds that older operating systems. Windows had, up until 98 and ME, an extremely simple and primitive pattern editor, which allowed the user to make a two-colour, 8x8 tiled wallpaper.

These days, wallpapers have been appropriately renamed to "Desktop Background" or "Desktop Picture" on Windows and Mac OS X respectively. No longer a boring repetitive tiled pattern, the modern desktop has become a canvas for digital art.

deviantART has a section dedicated to wallpapers. But what makes a wallpaper different to all the other art on DA? Wouldn't it be easier to just post wallpapers in the appropriate categories along with all the other art?

A couple of things answer these questions. Firstly, and most obvious, is the size. Computer screens are typically a 16:10 or 16:9 aspect ratio, which means the wallpaper artist must create his art accordingly. Sure you could find any picture off DA, resize it, and set it as your desktop wallpaper, ignoring any loss of quality or the possibility of a missing part of the scene. Wallpapers on DA usually come between 1440x900 and 1920x1200, as well as zip files containing a range of sizes so you can choose one that corresponds to your screen.

The second thing that sets wallpaper art apart from other art is a little tricky. I might be wrong here, as this is my own opinion, but wallpapers usually have a different design approach than non-wallpaper art. Most wallpaper art is digital, and are drawn specifically with the desktop in mind, and not as a print to be framed an hung on a wall. Photographic wallpapers also have differences to other photographs, and in my experience are heavily edited to be made sharper, more vibrant, and completely void of any noise.

Another question I would like to ask (and this is open for readers to comment on) is this: What makes a good wallpaper? What I mean is, something that a user will often see while working on their computer that will affect his/her moods in some way or another to increase productivity and overall happiness while working. What kind of design is best in situations such as these? Does it differ from person to person, depending on the task at hand? Does changing the wallpaper change mood and productivity in some way? I'd like some feedback on this.

There are also other forms of desktop backgrounds, which take things further from the original analogy of the "wallpaper". Animated backgrounds, interactive backgrounds, video backgrounds, as well as some other cool things like EarthDesk. I question whether these are a waste of system resources or not. I guess if you have the extra power, you may as well spice up your desktop in such a way, otherwise it's really not necessary.

A lot of people set their background to photos they have taken themselves, sometimes of family. On the other hand, you could just completely ditch the background and have a solid colour. One of the things that annoy me intensely is how some people incorrectly refer to their wallpaper as the "screensaver", especially common when talking about their cellphone background. AARRRGG!!

I could still rant on pointlessly about wallpapers, but this is what it boils down to:
What makes a good wallpaper? Why?

Oh and one last thing, the most infamous wallpaper known to man:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dual-screen Gaming Not Much Fun Without Three Screens

Ever played a game with more that one screen?

It's a very expensive thing to do, mostly because you have to pay twice or three times as much on screens. I have two 23" FullHD displays and I'm quite happy with, depite their individual problems (One has no DVI and the other suffers from extreme backlight bleeding and a dead pixel) as well as the problems involved in dual screening them (The one is an LG and the other is a Samsung, go figure).

The first time I ever played a game with two screens was Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun. I had an old GeForce 6600, with nVidia's horizontal and virtical spanning. This useful feature turns all your attached screens into one big one, allowing some programs to maximize across all of them. Tiberian Sun was one of those games with an ini file you could play around with. It was easy to change the width and height of the screen to anything you could imagine. e.g. 2560x1024. I only had CRT screens back then so my head hurt a lot having to look at two of them.

In my opinion, the kind of games that benefit most from multiple displays are strategy games. The extended view of the battlefield makes a huge difference. Older games such as Age of Empires and Command & Conquer had fixed 2D pictures so that the higher the resolution, the smaller the pictures on the screen, and the more of the battlefield you could see, so the poor guy with the crappy computer (yeah, one which could only run AoE at 640x480!?) or only one small screen, had a disadvantage. Most of the new 3D games don't allow this sort of exploitation, as a change in res just means more pixels for the same-sized object.

Supreme Commander, my second dual-screen gaming experience. Now this game is serious about it's dual-screening capabilities. It uses any other display connected to the computer to display an extra view of the battlefield. That plus the ability to partition screens allows incredible control over what's going on. Also an extreme advantage over the guy with the 15" CRT in the corner over there, who probably couldn't afford a good enough graphics card to run the game smoothly at even 800x600. lol. A good thing about this game's dual-screen capability is that it does not rely on ATi's Hydravision or nVidia's H-Span, so I don't have to use funny tricks to get it to work. Bottom line here is that Gas Powered Games really hit the spot with this one! If you have two screens you should definitely try it!

Burnout Paradise interested me in it's option in the configuration screen allowing up to three displays. In excitement I hooked up my other screen and selected "2" to see what it looked like. I was disappointed at what I saw. All it did was make one super-wise view and squish it into only one screen. It dawned on me that it required nVidia's horizontal spanning , which my new HD4000 did not have (damn you ATi!). So I checked it out on my friend's computer and it didn't look all that great anyway, so no real loss.

Determined to get horizontal spanning on my computer I Googled all over the place and found some interesting piece of software called SoftTH (Software Triple Head) which sort-of does the same thing a Matrox TripleHead2Go does but for free (instead of R3000+). What is boils down to is that I can do what nVidia can do, but with my ATi. Sure it has a few problems, but it works great! The latest 2.0.1 Alpha version is the one you should use, all the 1.x ones are old. Get it here.

Below are some of my experiences (And yes the saturation is higher on the left monitor, I only discovered after I took these screenies that it had been changed in CCC \) :

Burnout Paradise. My first run with SoftTH gave me what I thought would happen, a car cut in half in the middle.

But after changing the configuration to use 2 displays I got it right. As you can see it's no fun unless you have three.

Counterstrike was a funny one. Look where the crosshair is!

It obviously was not designed to be played this wide...

HAWX would have cut the plane in half but I had to see what it would look like...

...but all I got was... nothing... :(

Ok so SoftTH is still in Alpha so you can't expect everything to work as planned. But it's some really awesome software and it allows for some pretty wicked screen setups:

Render resolution is 5888x2100!
I wish that was my desktop, except for that little screen at the top, it looks a bit weird.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Inception, Part Two

Things haven't gone quite as I had planned, so we're not going to the next level "literally" yet like I promised, so for now I'll give you a little insight of what I've been up to along the lines of the Inception project.

Today I'm exploring what Linux distros work well in Virtualbox. So far, as we've seen, Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx works great, Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meercat works, but with only partial interoperability with the host OS, due to it's new X version 1.9. Virtualbox's Guest Additions only supports version 1.8 so far.

I decided to try Fedora 14 Alpha, but to my dismay the live CD wouldn't boot at all. I checked online for solutions but unfortunately there is no support for alpha and beta guest operating systems in VirtualBox, which is sad for Maverick also.

Fedora 13 installed and booted fine, which is a huge step further than what I got with Fedora 14. Unfortunately I couldn't get the Guest Additions to install, no matter what I tried. I installed all the headers, necessary building dependencies and stuff, downloaded a kernel source RPM (which didn't quite install properly) but alas nothing helped. All I had was the default crappy cursor integration that Lucid also had when I first booted it up.

N.B. The default crappy cursor integration feels funny and does not hide the cursor when you leave the machine's window, whereas VirtualBox's Guest Additions' cursor integration hides the cursor, and feels exactly the same as the host's cursor.

I haven't used OpenSUSE for years, so I wasn't surprised that I was surprised by the GUI changes made since then. But what made me most excited was that OpenSUSE comes with full VirtualBox Guest Additions out of the box! Woot! Now I don't have to worry about THAT anymore! I ran the live CD and the first thing I noticed was the smoother mouse integration, then the windows had shadows, went transparent, wobbled, and then I dragged off the edge of the screen and the desktop cube went crazy. I guess the Compiz guys didn't take VirtualBox into consideration...

And now for our special guest for today, lets have a round of applause for Microsoft Virtual PC 2007! Yes I know it sucks compared to VirtualBox, and it eats my computer's resources, but it still kinda works. I only ever use it for running Windows 98 for occasional compatibility reasons, which are few, and because VirtualBox doesn't support Windows 98 (Did Sun perhaps think it was too old?). I decided to pull this old relic out of the closet and install Fedora 13 on it (Previously I did try 14 but it failed even more than on VirtualBox). To my surprise everything went fine, it works quite smoothly, and it connects to the internet. Now I just have to install the VM Additions (if they even work) which I will do another time.

Lucid and OpenSUSE Updating next to each other. Don't they look cute together!

All three running quite happily together. Purple, Blue, and Green:

So here's the summary:
Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx: Works Great
Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meercat: Works, but with limited Guest Additions support (No 3D Acceleration or Automatic Screen Resizing)
Fedora 13: Works, but couldn't get Guest Additions to work
Fedora 14 Alpha: Couldn't even install it
OpenSUSE 11.3: Works fantastically, Guest Additions worked immediately out of the box
Fedora 13 on Microsoft Virtual PC 2007: lol

Thanks for reading.
Have a look at Part One of my Inception project.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Why you shouldn't trust some internet pc part suppliers

Well, long ago when I still played games on my parents computer, I had saved up enough money to buy myself a PC. It would have very reasonable part: AMD Phenom II X 2 550 Black Edition (unlocked) 3.1 GHz, ASUS M3N 78-VM motherboard and a Nvidia GeForce 9600 GSO. I drove to the outlet and when I got home, I connected all the parts and turned it on. YAY! It works, but wait there was no image, help me.

I then went to another friends house and placed my chip in their motherboard, nothing. The chip was fried but there was still a warranty, I returned the computer. A few days later hey sent me an email, they claim it's working, thank goodness. Arrived back home didn't switch on, this conflict went on for a few days, maybe even 2 weeks. I got very impatient, they then replaced my chip for the upgrade, AMD Phenom II X2 555 3.2 GHz, it worked! I was exceptionally happy that I didn't have to deal with the those guys but to ruin everything my friend was working on the PC (he fixes them and is very knowledgeable with the subject) and fried the motherboard by touching the wrong pins.

He offered to buy me a new motherboard, and I anyway needed more RAM and a better power supply. We disagreed to buying from that shop, we tried prophecy shop, the shipping for the parts cost me nothing. They delivered after two days and the help from the members was incredible. I just wish that all internet computer suppliers were like that.

Inception, Part One

This idea I am about to share with you now is inspired by the movie Inception. I love that movie! It's really thought out well, and the concept is so cool and mind-boggling.

Similar to the dream concept in Inception, there is something called "lucid dreaming". A lucid dream, in simplest terms, is a dream in which one is aware that one is dreaming. My friend found that on wikipedia. Now here's the cool part: Ubuntu's latest stable version is called Lucid Lynx. How cool is that!? So that's the OS I decided to use for this project. Another cool thing that makes Lucid lucid, is that it knows it's running in a Virtual Machine. This is evident in the fact that it provides mouse cursor integration out-of-the-box. Cool, right?

So I begin. The Lucid installation went on smoothly, it installs just like it would in reality. This means it takes just as long, if not longer... It sits at 79% for like half an hour on my machine, and then crawls along from about 86%, mainly because it needs to download packages off the internet, and I have a crap slow internet!

It took a while (maybe an hour or so) but now I've arrived to my new Lucid desktop, running normally. I'm glad I haven't come across any hiccups so far, but to my dismay it did not come with all the guest additions installed like I thought, only mouse cursor support is default. Oh well, that's not a huge problem, I'll just install the guest additions myself.

I'm installing them using apt-get instead of the ISO provided with Virtualbox. I'm hoping this is a better way. It sure is easier to install and uninstall, but it means I still have to download the whole thing which is a pain on my internet connection. I had to wait at least half an hour for 8 minutes O_o (Maybe there's some kind of time difference between the Host and the Guest OS here... 15 minutes = 1 hour?).

So it finally finished downloading and it gives me this fail message. After Restarting I got no additions. So all that downloading and waiting hours (or minutes?) was fruitless. Oh well it's not a train-smash, I'll just revert to using good old VBoxGuestAdditions.iso and see if I get any luck with that.

Well would you look at that? It worked! Now I've got all the juicy features of the guest additions. I guess there's nothing wrong with the ISO after all. I've got it working in seamless mode and all the other juicy features. Yay!

So that's it for now. This is part one of my Inception project. Stay tuned for the next installment where we will take it to the next level (literally)
Head on to Part Two of the Inception Project

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Jailbreak! :)

I jailbroke an iPhone the other day.

A friend of mine just got his iPhone 3G fixed, and he wanted to me to jailbreak it for him. I've never done it before but I was confident I could do it. After many hours of reading discouraging reviews about people's iPhones going blank and never switching on, I decided to do it anyway.

Redsn0w seemed a good choice, it seemed relatively simple: plug in your iPhone, click a few buttons, wait a while, and viola! I downloaded redsn0w 0.9.2 because I think that was the most stable version. I wanted to use 0.9.5 and install iOS 4.1 beta but I thought I'd rather stick with something simpler. Besides, I couldn't find a place to download the exact iOS I needed. So I decided to go with downloading plain ol' 3.1.2 ipsw.

I thought I had to use iTunes 9 to do all of this but it turns out iTunes 10 still does the trick, despite it's disgusting new icon (bleh!). I was afraid that Apple disabled shift-clicking on the update button but I was relieved to see I could still load a downloaded ipsw.

Redsn0w is quite simple really. Load the ipsw, then it processes it. Plug in the iPhone, switch it off, click a button, hold down some buttons to get into some DFU mode or something, let it do it's thing, then after a painstaking length of time the jailbroken iPhone will now be ready to play around with :)

On the topic of Cydia, the little app that comes with jailbreaking an iPhone, we didn't seem to get it going correctly. Damn thing couldn't download half the stuff. I guess the repositories are down? Deprecated? On strike? Eaten? I don't know. Too lazy to find out at the moment but maybe some day I'll check it out.

Note to all people new to jailbreaking: be patient, and try not to throw your iPhone at your computer screen.

I should be studying now, but thanks for reading. Happy jailbreaking! :)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Telescopes at their best

Recently my friend and I have found great interest in telescopes. These devices are amazing, from viewing the moon to outer galaxies that you would think the Hubble Telescope would only find. While browsing on the Meade telescope site, I came across a telescope that costs $15 000 and no that's not in zim $. here's the beast (Meade LX200-ACF 16 inch Aperture)

Optical Design:
Advanced Coma Free

Clear Aperture:
406.4mm (16")

Focal Length Focal Ratio:
4064mm f/10

Maximum Practical Visual Power:
950X (16")

Telescope Mounting:
Heavy-duty fork type; double-tine

Primary Mirror Lock:
Included (progressive tension) All models

Zero Image-Shift Microfocuser:
included (4-speed)

Series 5000 26mm 5-Element Plossl

8 x 50mm

GPS, True-level and North sensors:
Included (16-channel GPS receiver) All models

Pointing Precision, High Precision Mode:
1-arc min. All models

Autostar® II Hand Controller:
Included (147,541 object database) All models

Batteries (user-supplied):

Battery Life (approx.):

Slew Speed:
RA and Dec: 0.01x to 1.0x sidereal, variable in 0.01x increments; 2x, 8x, 16x, 64x, 128x sidereal; 1°/sec. to 8°/sec., variable in 0.1° increments. All models

Tracking Rates:
Sidereal, lunar, or custom-selected from 2000 incremental rates All models

Primary, Secondary Mirrors:
Pyrex® glass grade-A,

Correcting Plate/Lens:
Water white glass

Total Net Telescope Weight:
318 lbs. (with Field Tripod)

Telescope Shipping Weight (approx.):
360 lbs.

Field Tripod Height all models:
40" to 50" variable



Friday, September 3, 2010

Tech Support

I had a very productive day today. Not only did I get stuff done, I had fun doing it. Most of the time I hate computers because of their tendencies to fail, so I enjoy dismembering them into a pile of separate electronic guts.

Taking apart a laptop is so much fun! If you manage not to break anything, that is. My friend's Acer Travelmate took a knock a while ago and finally gave into constantly being beaten on a day-to-day basis. Plugged in the charger and nothing happened. No light, nothing. I absolutely hate when stuff just stops working and I have no idea what went wrong. Fortunately there was a telltale chunk missing from the case where the AC plug is. Now we know where the problem is, all we need is "what" and "how".

The problem we had with getting to the AC power socket in this thing was that we ended up literally dismantling every component inside the laptop. After much unscrewing and unnecessary brute force (which may have resulted in a few missing pieces of plastic, thanks to me) we had separated it into seven significant figures: chassis, cover, keyboard, motherboard, hard drive, optical drive, and screen.

The problem was evident once we noticed a tiny piece of metal fall out of the laptop half way through unscrewing the chassis. It so happened it was the pin from inside the AC power socket! Encouraging news for us that the problem was only a misplaced piece of metal about a centimeter long, but we still had to take everything apart. Sigh...

When we finally got to the socket, all we had to do was put the pin back in. I set it in place, plugged it in and kazam! A nice shock and a spark and nothing happened. I thought I had blown the motherboard. Nevertheless I realized my mistake and placed the pin the right way around. All very well, I slotted in the battery and inserted the AC Power cable and, w00t! Lo and behold the long-awaited orange "charging" light lit up. Great work now I stuck a piece of stickytape to keep the pin in place and put everything back together :)

Reassembling the laptop was quicker than taking it apart, I don't know why. Once every component was plugged in there were five little screws left over. oops...

The scary thing was that it didn't appear to switch on when I pushed the power button. Don;t you hate feeling when you spend half your morning fixing something only to find you made it worse? Turns out there was a broken screw just under the little circuit board on which the power button is situated. It seems I fixed one problem and introduced another one. Thankfully the new problem doesn't stop the laptop from being useful. All it needs is a push down in the right place and the power button will function.

Problem is now that if the screen switches off after a few minutes you can't tell if the laptop is on or not because the power light is also attached to this slightly misplaced board. Oh well, at least I moved the problem to a more accessible location.
It was fun, too! I feel like taking apart my dad's netbook just to see what it looks like. lol

Thursday, September 2, 2010


I don't know how people start blogs, but here we are. Baksteen Brick Broadcasting. It's a totally random name. I know, right? Anyways I'm not going to just yammer on about how awesome I think this blog is (because right now it actually isn't awesome) and share a few cool things.

So I have this "Spotting Scope" which is more of a whale-watcher than a telescope. But nevertheless Jonno and I set it up on my roof one Tuesday night and gazed at the night sky. Wow! Despite using a completely not-for-astronomy telescope (which is made by Sansui of all people) we managed to see a crescent Venus, an orangey Mars, and even the rings of Saturn. What was even more awesome was seeing not only Jupiter, but Callisto, Ganymede and Io as well. I even managed to catch a glimpse of one of the darker rings of Jupiter, and what may have been Europa (or my imagination).

We're planning on getting an actual telescope soon so we can maybe spot some nebulae as well some more awesome views of the planets.

As for this blog? We'll probably be writing mainly about Astronomy, Computers, Gaming, Cycling, and the odd stuff we find lying around.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The start of a homely site, one brick at a time

This will be our first post, for everyone's information, this blog contains all the subjects that you enjoy reading about. Have Fun