Dell – Please don’t waste my life

This morning a drive failed in a customers Poweredge 2950.

Openmanage reports it as failed, it has an orange light on the caddy, its a failed disk, nuff said.

For the record its a 160Gig Sata 7200 drive worth 2/3 of  naff all.

Phone Dell, all ready with disk in hand, service tag. After 20 minutes on hold I get an engineer who wants me to put it back in the server to gather him some diagnostic logs and waste more of my life in him not believing me.

I say I have no intention of wasting more of my life to appease him, and please send me a new disk, now.

He takes my details and tells me someone will call me back.


Ubuntu 10.x, NVidia HDMI Audio Out

I recently finally managed to get my mits on the Lenovo Q150, the idea to use it as media PC.

Obviously I wanted to run a breed of Linux on it, so that I could run XBMC on it quickly, and have now fast access to my NAS using NFS.

I decided to run with Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx).

Loose Lynx installed onto the Q150 with no probs and everything worked perfectly except I couldn’t get any audio out via HDMI, very frustrating.

A quick Google and it seems a lot of people have had the same problem. I read everything on the subject and there are various answers and workarounds, but no-one appears to have got to the nub of the problem.

Anyway heres how I solved it (in the end!).

The first problem is that the version of Alsa drivers that ship with Loose Lynx don’t see the NVidia HDMI Audio only the onboard Intel card.

You can see this with:

jack@media-3:~$ aplay -l
**** List of PLAYBACK Hardware Devices ****
card 0: Intel [HDA Intel], device 0: ALC662 rev1 Analog [ALC662 rev1 Analog]
 Subdevices: 1/1
 Subdevice #0: subdevice #0
card 0: Intel [HDA Intel], device 1: ALC662 rev1 Digital [ALC662 rev1 Digital]
 Subdevices: 1/1
 Subdevice #0: subdevice #0
card 1: NVidia [HDA NVidia], device 3: NVIDIA HDMI [NVIDIA HDMI]
 Subdevices: 1/1
 Subdevice #0: subdevice #0
card 1: NVidia [HDA NVidia], device 7: NVIDIA HDMI [NVIDIA HDMI]
 Subdevices: 1/1
 Subdevice #0: subdevice #0
card 1: NVidia [HDA NVidia], device 8: NVIDIA HDMI [NVIDIA HDMI]
 Subdevices: 1/1
 Subdevice #0: subdevice #0
card 1: NVidia [HDA NVidia], device 9: NVIDIA HDMI [NVIDIA HDMI]
 Subdevices: 0/1
 Subdevice #0: subdevice #0

If you haven’t got at least Alsa 1.0.23, you won’t see the NVidia [HDA NVidia] devices.

There are two solutions to this:

  1. Upgrade your version of Alsa to at least 1.0.23, this guide here will show you how.
  2. Take a chance on the new version of Ubuntu 10.10 – Maverick Meerkat. You can read how to here.

Personally I upgraded my Alsa under Licky Lynx, then later upgraded to Masterbating Meerkat Alpha 3 – and have had no issues.

The next problem you may face is that no matter what combination of options you select on the audio control panel, you still can’t get any sound, which is a touch frustrating.

You will notice that aplay -l, shows 4 sub devices, the first thing you need to ensure is that none of the 4 devices are muted, you can do this using alsamixer (where the number after c is the card number of the NVidia audio shown by aplay -l):

jack@media-3:~$ alsamixer -c1

You should see the 4 devices (S/PDIF, S/PDIF1, S/PDIF2, S/PDIF3), make sure they are all unmuted (press m to unmute a given device), unmuted devices show as ‘oo’ rather than ‘MM’.

Next you need to identify which of the 4 sub devices is actually chucking audio out of the HDMI (I have no idea why there are 4 sub devices and only one works).

I did this from the shell using mplayer to specifically select each device in turn, my sub devices were 1.3, 1.7, 1.8 and 1.9 (which corresponds to the output on aplay -l).

mplayer -ao alsa:device=hw=1.3 test.mp3
mplayer -ao alsa:device=hw=1.7 test.mp3
mplayer -ao alsa:device=hw=1.8 test.mp3
mplayer -ao alsa:device=hw=1.9 test.mp3

Obviously substitute the test.mp3 for something thats available  on your system. mplayer in all cases will appear to be playing the track, however only one sub device will actually make any sound. In my case this was 1.9.

You can at this point manually force most applications to output to device 1.9.

However the best answer is to encourage pulseaudio to use 1.9 by default, so:

jack@media-3:/$ sudo nano /etc/pulse/

About half way down you should find where you can change the default device whatever works for you:

load-module module-alsa-sink device=hw:1,9

Save that and reboot.

You may still have to play with sound preferences a bit, confusingly you need to set the output to High Definition Audio Controller not High Definition Audio Controller Digital Stereo (HDMI).


NVidia 3D Vision and Alienware AW2310T

These days its hard to find new toys that appear on the market that are truly different and not just another phone, digital camera, etc.

When I first heard about the NVidia 3D Vision I wanted one immediately but I was put off by the fact the 120Hz 3D ready monitors available at the time wouldn’t do 1920×1080, I wanted a Samsung monitor ideally as my existing Samsung T240 was great (albeit not 3D compatible), unfortunately there were no signs of a 1920×1080 Samsung (They only do the 22″ SM2233RZ 1680×1050), so when the Alienware appeared I just couldn’t wait any longer.

To my delight Alienware is owned by Dell, with whom we have a trade account, a quick email my Dell account manager revealed that Dell can indeed supply Alienware direct and at trade, without wanting to reveal my levels of trade discount with Dell and I can say it was well worth the effort going this route rather than retail!!

The 3D Vision kit is very well presented and good quality kit and you really feel you are getting value for money (I picked mine up from Amazon for £119.95).

For the record my PC is:

So its not shy 🙂

I upgraded NVidia drivers to the latest and installed the 1.20 version of the 3D Vision drivers, and I was good to go.

Setup was remarkably easy.

Obviously the first game I charged into was World of Warcraft, unfortunately initial results were frankly very disappointing.

I spent some time fiddling with the depth controls and got something passable but I still had lots of problems with things appearing at the wrong depth, so for example while most of the WOW UI would appear in front of the action, random elements would appear somewhere between the UI and the action, particularly buffs and auras in the top right, which couldn’t make up their mind where to be!

This confused my poor brain considerably, it just couldn’t cope with things that should be at the same depth being at different depths.

I was about to give it all up as just not a great technology, when while browsing some forums, a couple of people mentioned that make sure you install the proper Alienware drivers for the monitor, I hadn’t done this because:

  1. Windows 7 identified the monitor out of the box.
  2. Since when did changing monitor drivers affect anything!!

How wrong was I! I installed the proper monitor drivers and now pretty much everything works perfectly.

So just for the record:

Install the proper Alienware AW2310T drivers!!

World of Warcraft is now simply stunning, your character looks like an action figure sitting there either deep ‘inside’ your screen or if you zoom in floating in front of it, particularly when flying, seeing is believing.

The other tip is that ideally you want to turn the Hardware Cursor/Pointer off. Basically with this on the pointer appears to sit right in front of everything else which can again confuse your brain, in WoW turning this off means the pointer renders at the same depth as whatever you are pointing at which is a lot better. Unfortunately some games just don’t have this option – such as Red Alert 3, which looks great in 3D except the hardware pointer confuses the head and makes it tricky to click on something directly.

You will read on some forums about the 120Hz 3D monitors having a grey band at the top and bottom of the screen. I can confirm that when you have an entirely black screen, you can pick out a 1cm slightly less black strip at the top and bottom of the screen, however its really marginal and you would have to be pretty anal to be that upset about it.

All in all for the money the NVidia 3D Vision and Alienware AW2310T solution is brilliant and I would heartily recommend it to anyone, 3D is definitely the way forward.

IPhone vs Blackberry

Next time you find yourself in the pub arguing whether the iPhone or crackberry is better, here is the win…

iPhone users with unlimited text packages… Simply send all texts to the crackberry user one letter at a time i.e. ‘H E L L O’ – the iPhone user can fire off texts in this format nearly as quick as a normal text – the crackberry unfortunately is rendered useless until all the texts are received!

Monday Night Experiment…

Monday nights are boring, very boring.

We got talking about a possible invention, which lead us to do an experiment, our apparatus for the experiment were:

1) A Tupperware tub (approx 3 litres)
2) 3 tealights
3) a sheet of tinfoil
4) a lighter

The experiment was simple, how long will 3 tealights burn for in an airtight Tupperware box.

Two questions:

1) How long did our 3 tealights last?
2) What were trying to invent?

The winner gets a mince pie with cognac and cream.

Regent Street Apple Store – Fail

Today I was in London with my shiny new iPhone (and I have to say it’s awesome).

As it’s an iPhone though I obviously have to carry a charger with me at all times. Unfortunately my charger failed on the train down to London, I thought no worries I will pop to the Regent Street Apple Store, I need a few bits and bobs anyway, I am sure they will just replace my charger!

FAIL! Do you have a receipt sir? No but it’s an orange iPhone thus only a week old. We need to book you an appointment with an iPod genius to assist you.

I am in London I have to be somewhere in 10 minutes and my iPhone is flat, can you not just plug it inand confirm I am right and replace it.

Sorry sir that’s not the process.

Is the least path of resistance to just buy a new one?

Yes sir!

Apple – you owe me £21 – the iPhone is still awesome though 🙂

Politicians – When will we learn to pay them properly??

The whole debate about politicians pay and expenses has raged on and on and been right old farce.

I think the point everyone has missed is that we clearly aren’t paying them enough! The government is effectively the biggest company we have in the UK with the biggest budgets ultimately spending our money.

Yet we entrust it to be managed at the top by a bunch of people who we only deem worth £60K per annum. This is rediculous, and frankly frightening, you will struggle in the commercial world these days to get a decent project manager for £60K let alone someone you could put in charge of a budget of billions.  No wonder they are all trying to squeeze the system where they can and the country is a shambles.

The bigger issue though is that we aren’t attracting the best and bright to the job, instead of attracting the best brains from business, science and the arts to government, we end up getting a bunch of idiots who can do no better (well judging by the desire to generate more cash if they could get a better job they would).

We need people running the country who are really bright, know how to make rational decisions and test theories scientifically rather than riding on the wave of public popularity.

Unfortunately none of the suitable candidates are interested in the job because they are off elsewhere earning proper money.