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My New Work-From-Home Setup (Changed This Easter/Sunday)

Video download link | md5sum c505208eed2e0bfab27707477560abd2
My New Home Setup
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

THE video above is a new and very quick run-through, showing the changes made over the weekend and why I keep tweaking these things. In a nutshell, if you spend a lot of time in front of a computer, then investing a little time every week or every month optimising it for ever-changing workflows is worth the investment. Adding additional hardware is also more economic if you value time. Machines can be made or configured to automate/simplify many things.

What Bad BT Engineering Looks Like

Previously in this mini-series: Part I, Part II

A few months ago BT broke my home network, using an automatic update that took over a month to correct/undo. I reported the issue to BT (over the telephone, so that took quite a while!), but they did nothing about it. They didn’t even get back to me. No follow-up. It was at that point that I considered just moving to a custom Free software router instead of these unpredictable BT hubs, which change all the time without users’ consent (remote updates). I wrote about this at the time; it was a breaking point.

Today I looked a little closer at the internals of the BT Hub, a “smart” (read: spy) one nonetheless, and decided to share something that might amuse geeks.

BT told me that they do not support OpenWRT in any way. Yet worse, one BT person told me I’d need to change to a new hub (for fibre-optics, the new modem notwithstanding), whereas another person from BT said the exact opposite. The person from Openreach, who had an appointment (in-person meeting) said it would not be necessary but regardless, I’ve decided to just keep the hub settings backup up (in case a restore is needed). It can otherwise take hours to reconfigure again (from memory/scratch).

So I’ve just made a full backup of BT Hub settings. This is what the corresponding section looks like:


When you press backup it should generate a .conf file but it is all garbled and messy when I tried it. Maybe to protect passwords? But who from? The person who made such a backup and knows those details regardless? Anyway, I’ve blurred some contents just in case something meaningful can be derived from them (the image below). Amazing:


Either way, this looks like awful engineering/design. The file is an unreadable mess. 4KB with something like pure binary (I did this twice just in case, but the same file was regenerated, not by mistake). No XML, no flat file with a setting per line.

Whose idea was this?

HP Chromebook 14 Keyboard and Other Low-Quality HP Equipment

WHO thought that a hardware company like HP cannot make a well-working low-budget laptop? Despite positive reviews, only 6 months after buying HP Chromebook 14 an entire section of keys stopped working or works intermittently (intermediately causing huge nuisance!), making it almost impossible to type sentences. This is the hallmark of bad connections/wiring — the hallmark of cheaply-made keyboards with lousy components (my Palm PDA keyboard only had this kind of issue more than a decade after I had started using it). HP’s hardware quality control surely is lacking, or maybe HP puts its brand on poorly made hardware put together by low-paid labour with cheap/shoddy components (which would cost a lot in the long term, if a buyer falls into it).

According to numerous responses in this first thread I found (didn’t search for any particular brand, but HP Chromebook 14 gets mentioned a lot), quite a lot of people experience the exact same hardware fault (same keys too) in months-old HP Chromebook 14. Rubbish quality seems to be the culprit. This sure sounds like a manufacturing issue that is systemic. Nothing gets spilled and the keyboards are treated gently. It’s just poor quality build and maybe — however sadly — this is where HP is heading. That’s s shame because a lot of computer equipment in our house is HP-branded (keyboards, mice, printer, tablet, laptops). We bought “HP” we because we though it would assure reliability. Only 2 weeks ago my HP laptop charger just popped and burned (smoke, no fire), necessitating an expensive replacement because HP has some kind of proprietary (hard to find) connector.

I have lost trust and am losing respect for HP.

If You Are Not a Large-scale Privacy Violator, Then Seagate Does Not Care About You


MY endless Seagate nightmare began last September, just under a month before my Maplin warranty for the Seagate drive (3 terabyte of storage) ended and over a year before my Seagate ‘warranty’ (2 years) ended. I went a long way to Maplin (where I had purchased the drive) only to be told that I should contact Seagate directly. Their Web site was hard to use, handling RMA was hard (I am not an idiot when it comes to user interfaces), and the instructions they provided (far too long) were self-contradictory (not just ambiguous but self-contradictory). If I criticised them publicly, then Segates’s PR account would jump in and try to appease. Words do little to improve things. Then they wanted me to volunteer to improve their manuals.

What was wrong with the drive was physical errors. I did not drop the drive, it did not get wet, and it was not mishandled as far I can tell. Files would vanish, the drive would not get mounted sometimes, and the kernel would panic a lot. It was useless. It became totally unreliable. In an attempt to salvage what I still could I quickly bought another 3 terabyte backup drive (foolishly I paid Seagate again) and spent weeks copying — manually (due to errors) — a lot of files over from the faulty drive to the new one. The new drive cost me about 100 pounds (150 US dollars) and days of my life. It also cost me in lost (permanently) data, but hey, drives do have faults sometimes, right? Sure, it happens, but what happens when a company like Seagate sends you another faulty drive to replace a faulty drive?

So many days and even weeks (dozens of hours of work) later I wrestled my way through Seagate’s bizarre and complicated RMA process, having to print all sorts of papers and ship at my own expense the faulty drive which was still under warranty. What did I get a week or so later? A well-packaged “refurbished” drive. I regret not tossing it right in the bin when I got it. That pile of garbage was just a faulty drive spun off as “new” (or “refurbished” as Seagate likes to call faulty old drives). I spent a huge amount of time replacing (swapping) one broken product with another. To make things worse, I did it at my own expense and Seagate’s support people are hardly even replying. I spent hours yet again trying to get justice in this case, and by justice I don’t just mean explaining to people what a horrible company Seagate is and why it deserves no business. True justice would be compensation for all these hours that I spent working with these faulty drives, never mind that data I lost in the process. There is no excuse for sending faulty drives out to people. It can drive them nuts. It ruined a whole day of mine, including my appetite.

A lot of people may not realise this, but the California-based company Seagate makes a lot of money helping the criminals at the NSA and its equivalents (global espionage). Seagate helps entities which unquestionably break the law store innocent people’s personal data, and probably shipping to them (not just to private companies) drives which actually work and last, ensuring that those who have no rights to that data get to keep it for good, whereas people like myself lose personal data (not to mention vastly reduced productivity), simply because Seagate ships faulty drives and hardly bothers fixing what’s unjust. This post need not delve much into the relationship between Seagate and the NSA (see for instance “SEAGATE SECURE SELF-ENCRYPTING LAPTOP HARD DRIVES EARN NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY QUALIFICATIONS FOR NATIONAL SECURITY SYSTEMS”); the point is, for regular clients that don’t purchase drives by the millions (to illegally copy citizens’ personal data from around the world) Seagate is just an arrogant, heavyweight beast. It helps those in power hoard data about us, while hardly helping us — mere mortals — keep our own data safe.

I could go on and specify just how much data and what type of data I lost (measuring the damage and the time would be in the thousands of dollars). I could specify the tests I performed and explain where and how time was wasted. But even the writing of this rant, almost 5 months after this whole Seagate nightmare began, would add up to the pain and anger. I tried to be patient with Seagate. I did not disparage them (using facts) until months later and this is my first blog post on the subject.

Seagate deserves no more purchases. It’s not because its hard drives become faulty. It’s because when they do get faulty (and are still under warranty) Seagate would continue to do damage (or damage control) and patronise/ignore those who are not big clients like the NSA.

Seagate is a malicious company. Boycott its products. If not for the NSA connection, then for bad quality, bad customer support, preinstalling Microsoft patent trap on all hardware, etc.

Microsoft USB Webcam+Microphone: Piece of Rubbish


Microsoft and microphone may sound alike, but they are a very bad combination. A lot of people truly get the feeling that if they pay more for something, then it must actually be better. It’s a perception artifact. Maybe people may even convince themselves that they made a smart purchase by psychologically adapting and insisting that if something is from a known brand, then it is fundamentally better.

Microsoft is an example of a company which makes products that are neither perceived as high quality nor are they of high quality. This morning I wasted two or so hours trying some microphones and one of them was from Microsoft, whose device was too sensitive and low quality. These devices are expensive even though they are made by the same sweat shops for roughly the same price as those cheaply-made microphones which work a lot better.

The Microsoft device in question has far too much background noise, which makes it unusable for recording purposes. Why do some people buy this type of stuff (this one was borrowed just for testing)?

Using Mandriva Linux 2008.1 with 2 GB of RAM (Highmem)

I’ve just had quite an ordeal getting my GNU/Linux installation to utilise all my RAM. It’s the first time that I’ve had such a problem and I went for the hard solution rather than the simple one (GUI-based), which would have worked fine. For the record, here’s the process of troubleshooting (publicly logged in the Phoronix channel).

<schestowitz> I have a quick h/w question. Is there any reason why on a dual-core system with 2GB of RAM only 1GB should be reported as visible?
<starkmjolk> schestowitz: not that I’m aware of.
<starkmjolk> schestowitz: is 2GB visible in the BIOS?
<schestowitz> Oh, I’d have to reboot to check this.
<schestowitz> starkmjolk: I’m underutilising. My BIOS shows 2 GB but this system only picks up 1 GB (Mandriva 2008.1 32-bit on an AMD 64-capable).
<redeeman> does it show 1024 or 8xx ?
<starkmjolk> schestowitz: what’s the first number of “free -m” in a terminal?
<schestowitz> Mem: 884 874 9 0 20 338
<redeeman> you are missing highmem
<redeeman> in the kernel
<uncle_fungus> looks like you’re running a lowmem kernel
<uncle_fungus> darn, beat me to it
<schestowitz> Never compiled one before.
<redeeman> weird that mandriva would disable highmem
<redeeman> especially in these days
<redeeman> but i guess they figure people are gonna use 64bit
<schestowitz> Yes, indeed. 2 GB is quite standard.
<redeeman> what cpu is it?
<redeeman> anyway, you should get 64bit
<uncle_fungus> you’ve got the 586 kernel installed.
<schestowitz> Amd Athlon X2 5000
<uncle_fungus> install the equivalent without 586 in the name
<schestowitz> Having already set it all up, I’d be reluctant to mess with the kernel.
<uncle_fungus> kernel-desktop- will do you just fine
<redeeman> you are going to get updates to the kernel eventualy
<redeeman> +l
<schestowitz> It might break something, no?
<uncle_fungus> no
<redeeman> well it can break stuff naturally, but the chances are very slim
<redeeman> and you can always just go back
<redeeman> if it does not work
<schestowitz> Hmmm… assuming I have prior experience building it from source and replacing, no?
<schestowitz> Thanks for the help BTW.
<uncle_fungus> go into rpmdrake and select the kernel-desktop-latest package
<uncle_fungus> and disable the kernel-desktop586-latest package
<schestowitz> Oooo, lots of options there… under ‘kernel-desktop-latest’
<uncle_fungus> the regular one will do
<uncle_fungus> to start with
<uncle_fungus> it should have as the version
<schestowitz> OK, I’m selecting and adding kernel-desktop-latest
<schestowitz> To satisfy dependencies, the following package(s) also need to be installed: kernel-desktop-
<uncle_fungus> yup
<schestowitz> The following 2 packages are going to be installed: – kernel-desktop-
<schestowitz> – kernel-desktop-latest-
<uncle_fungus> yea, one’s the kernel, one’s a meta package that will auto-pull the latest available
<schestowitz> Ok, I trust you on this. :-)
<schestowitz> OK. It’s done. Anything I should do next?
<uncle_fungus> reboot and select your new kernel ;)
<uncle_fungus> if it doesn’t work, reboot and use the old one again
<schestowitz> How would I select the old one? Which one should I try to choose?\
<uncle_fungus> it’ll appear in your boot menu
<schestowitz> Okay, so I’ll try the one without 585 in the name, right?
<uncle_fungus> yup
<schestowitz> Thanks a lot! Hopefully I’ll be back. :-)


<schestowitz> uncle_fungus: uncle. Dude. You almost killed me.
<uncle_fungus> huh?
<uncle_fungus> i did wonder why you were offline so long
<schestowitz> :-) Here I am 3 hours later with yet another new distro. :)
<schestowitz> Don’t worry.
<schestowitz> The good news is that I have all 2 gigs now and it’s back to normal. All kernels including the old one went bananas.
<schestowitz> :-)
<schestowitz> Just for details (Michael has this documented, so…)
<uncle_fungus> oh? bananas how?
<schestowitz> After updating the kernel the graphics driver went boom ( :-) ) and I could barely give text input except for in tty1
<uncle_fungus> ah, yes, thats a bit of stupidity in the mandriva update system
<schestowitz> It seems as though the Mandriva conrol centre (MCC it’s called?) had a better procedure for fecthing new kernels with drivers embedded in them.
<schestowitz> uncle_fungus: I agree. I wasn’t faulting you.
<schestowitz> Anyway, I have another new partition (Kubuntu is what I’ve had burned).
<uncle_fungus> depends what drivers you need. The fglrx installer in mandriva is hopeless in my experience. I just do everything manually
<schestowitz> Perhaps more interestingly, Manbo came up in the package management.
<schestowitz> And I’m sensitive to this because Turbolinux swaps code with Microsoft and gets to see their source code.
<schestowitz> That patent deal and Manbo have always been a bit of a mystery, particularly their legal effect. PJ gave up on Mandriva because of it and I debated with Peter Brown of the FSF at the time. No answers. Anyway, Manbo is already *ahem* alive.
<schestowitz> BTW, I’d use the free driver, but michaellarabel insisted that dual-head needs the blob.

Hard Drives Become Hard Sellers

Cell processorHitachi seems to be having some financial trouble, but might this also indicate that we’re approaching the end of hard drives (as we know them)?

Hitachi Ltd., Japan’s biggest electronics conglomerate, plans to exit the business of making small hard disk drives as demand shifts to flash memory chips, the Nikkei business daily reported on Sunday.

How about that penny-sized 16 GB memory chip from Intel? It is even smaller than those SD cards which were able to contain 4GB about 2-3 years ago. It’s quite amazing. “All human knowledge in a matchbox” prophecies are drawn nearer.

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Original styles created by Ian Main (all acknowledgements) • PHP scripts and styles later modified by Roy Schestowitz • Help yourself to a GPL'd copy
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