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Tech Adventures: Thunderbolt 3 External Graphics

Our desktops at home, Alexstrasza and Keristrasza, have seen little use  in the past years. Firstly, because the room they’re in got messed up by our cats. Secondly, because we’ve primarily moved to mobile and console gaming. Lastly, because lounging on a sofa or bed is much more comfortable than sitting in an IKEA work chair. 😛

Seeing how we prefer working on laptops instead of desktops nowadays, I shifted our future PC landscape plan to replace the obsolete PCs with laptops and some accessories to help them out. One of these accessories is an external Thunderbolt 3 GPU enclosure, to give our slim laptops a boost when playing games or rendering video. Essentially, I wanted to have a single portable device that I’ll bring to work and everywhere, while having the ability to hook it up at home and play AAA games on it.

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Travel Time: Niseko March 2017

 

 

Amongst the sea of cooking posts, comes a single travel/videography post. 😀

This was our 3rd time in Annupuri, Niseko. The first two times, weather wasn’t great, despite being closer to the peak periods. This time, I’d say the weather was perfect. 🙂 We hit our usual makan spots, and tried some new ones. Went all the way to Hirafu to try out Bang Bang, one of the best izakayas around. Hideo-san helped us make a reservation for dinner at Sobadokoro Rakuichi, but the boss lady lost our reservation so we got turned away. Needless to say, Hideo-san was pissed, and our eagerness to try the place has dropped quite a bit, so we might not bother trying to dine there ever again (in Hideo-san’s words, “never again”). On the flipside, we got to try Taj Mahal, which is an Indian restaurant close by. It can actually give our local Indian restaurants here a run for their money. We also managed a trip to Milk Kobo, which is a milk farm serving fresh milk products! Soft serve cone on a hot sunny winter day is the best!

As always, dining with Hideo-san at the villa causes us to meletop every- single- time. Please do not ask how many KGs we gained. 😛 In addition to the shabu-shabu or sukiyaki, he’d ply us with clams, scallops, kinki fish, yanagi no mai or yellow rockfish, sashimi, hairy crabs, rice. We always feel bad not being able to finish the food, but seriously-lah, Hideo-san! You know from our last visit we can’t each much. =.= Anyway, he pleasantly surprised us with a nice balcony BBQ for lunch on our last day, which was cold but awesome!

The video above is my first foray into video capture and editing with my new drone and action cam, so please forgive the rough edges. I’m quite proud of it though, and glad that I finally got around to doing it after so many months. I think I rely too much on the FDR-X3000’s optical stabilization though, as can be seen from the not so steady footage. Proper frame rate selection needs to improve too, as mixing 24fps and 60fps videos prolly isn’t a good idea. Post-processing was done with Davinci Resolve Lite, and in lazy mode: trim according to music and auto color the flat drone footage. Might try straight up 4K next time; thought the 60Mbps limit on the Mavic wouldn’t look nice, but Youtube seems to compress videos up to that level anyways.

Also, I crashed my drone on the 5th day. Yep, totally pilot error. Was trying out the POI function to do an orbit around the villa, but I didn’t check for clearance so it crashed into a low tree. Fortunately, it fell into soft ungroomed snow, so besides losing two propellers and introducing some looseness in the gimbal mount, it came back relatively unscathed.

Anyway, looking forward to our next trip back to this place. Love it!

The terrible HDMI circuit

(Had this drafted months ago, but thought it would be pointless. Recently though, my sound bar / AVR somehow reset all its settings and I had to figure out how the wiring goes again. After sorting everything out, I thought I should make a record just in case I forget again :P)

#Start of First Draft

Recently acquired a new TV to replace the 9 year old Sammie. Full HD and 3D goodness, finally!

With every new purchase however, there would be some work involved. All those cables on the existing devices will need to be rerouted or removed. And you need to figure out the limitations with the various equipment to try to get the most out of them without having to spend even more money upgrading them.

So TV arrived the same day of purchase (thanks Sony!), and first thing to do was to move the HDMI inputs from the switch onto the TV. We wouldn’t want to lose any resolution or colour along the way. Also had to buy a digital optical cable to route audio from the TV to the AVR (just a sound bar).

Tested the gaming consoles, and Astro, and so far so good. But wait, we’re not getting complete audio from the HTPC. One whole night of troubleshooting revealed that I couldn’t passthrough DTS audio to the TV, because the TV can only send out Dolby Digital through its optical output. The workaround for this was to get another digital optical cable so that I can connect my HDMI switch (which supports ARC) directly to the AVR. The HTPC then connects to the switch as an input, and the output goes to the TV. The TV will then send back the audio signal to the switch via ARC, and this gets routed over to the AVR via optical cable. Sounds convoluted doesn’t it? Surprisingly, the TV supports DTS via ARC, but not via optical. On the other hand, it might just be the audio feed directly from the HTPC to the AVR. I had spent another night trying to figure this part out, cuz it wouldn’t work for some reason.

#End of First Draft

So here we are in 2015 to continue this post. ARC is the feature that’s working here because the only input connections that the AVR are getting are digital optical ones.

Another use for the switcher is to route the legacy devices to the TV via HDMI. This part gets kind of interesting. The DVD player and PS2 do not have HDMI outputs, so they were originally connected to the AVR via RCA or Coaxial inputs. Now that the AVR no longer outputs HDMI to the TV, I connected it to the HDMI Switch instead. So whenever I need to use the DVD player or the PS2, which I rarely do, I just had to switch inputs on the Switch.

Then, somewhere along the way, we decided to try making the HTPC into a karaoke player. For karaoke, we need to use a separate karaoke amp and speakers instead of the AVR. We originally used this karaoke audio system separately using a laptop connected via a stereo jack, and ran Karafun on the laptop for song queuing and Windows Search for the library. Now that we wanted to connect to it via the NUC, which only supports HDMI or DisplayPort, we needed to somehow convert the HDMI audio to RCA. So we had to buy a HDMI splitter that had RCA output for this.

The problem with this HDMI-to-RCA splitter is that its HDMI output would sometimes turn off for some reason. Maybe it’s a limitation of the device itself, so I went out and bought another HDMI splitter so that the original HDMI output can be split off cleanly before heading to the HDMI-to-RCA splitter. In the end, we have 2 HDMI devices between the HTPC and the AVR/karaoke amp.

Home Theater Diagram 2014

 

Everything’s all dandy now, except that XBMC can’t seem to handle the karaoke queueing very well. But that’s a different post for a different day.

PowerUp 3.0 – First Flight Attempt

So this thing arrived in the mail a week ago, something I backed on Kickstarter cuz it looks fun. It took a while for me to start playing with it, but I finally got around today.

Well, actually I tried last weekend, but I couldn’t get the thing to pair with my phone.

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PS3 Media Server on Synology 411j revisited

Previously I wrote about installing this awesome media server onto a Synology NAS here. However this guide referred to another guide on a different site which subsequently went down, and I couldn’t find a copy of it anywhere else.

So here’s an attempt to rebuild the guide to include the missing steps. Since I’ll just be copying and pasting from the original forum discussion, there might still be errors. If you encounter any, let me know in the comments and we’ll see how we can get it corrected. As always, follow these steps at your own risk. This “worked” when my DSM was 4.0-2197; I cannot guarantee that these steps will work any more (or work at all).

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XBMC on the Intel NUC (D54250WYKH)

I’ve always wanted a proper HTPC, but so far it’s just been off-the-shelf media streamers for me. 1st it was the AC Ryan PlayOn HD, 2nd was the Xtreamer Sidewinder 3, but they were limited with their inability to display Hi10p videos (10bit color-coded videos usually used for anime), and proper SSA subtitles (also used in anime for animated/colorful subtitles).

Now that Intel came up with these NUC thingies, I thought it was about time to start tinkering. There wasn’t any stock available for the D54250WYK at Low Yat when I dropped by, so I had to make do with the D54250WYKH, the version with the 2.5″ drive slot. Threw in 8GB of RAM and a 1TB drive on there. A little excessive, but I have big plans for this thing. 🙂

In order to get XBMC onto this machine, I thought of putting on a proper Ubuntu installation on there, then loading XBMC on top of it. I had almost no problems installing Ubuntu 13.10 via USB thumb drive, until I reached the end. I couldn’t boot into the installed operating system, due to some files that the NUC was expecting that were in the wrong place. A firmware upgrade to version 24 fixed that (I didn’t upgrade to 25, as there were reports of issues booting from USB3.0).

At this point I’ll also have to mention that I have not been able to access the BIOS since bringing the NUC home (it tested fine at the shop). I don’t know if it’s due to my HDMI setup (it goes through a splitter to get the the AVR) or something else. There were times that I couldn’t get video, but I think that is also due to the HDMI stuff (a power cycle of the AVR and/or TV seemed to fix it).

Once Ubuntu (desktop) was up and running OK, I immediately installed XBMC (Frodo) on it through apt-get. I ran it manually, and liked how it looked, but… I couldn’t play any of the movies I tried. XBMC would just crash to the desktop each time I loaded a movie. It seemed like it might be an issue with the audio, so I tried tinkering around with the settings, but I wasn’t able to get it work. Seemed like I couldn’t get 5.1 sound via HDMI too, so I messed around with pulseaudio settings too, but alas to no favorable result.

So I ditched that setup. Looked online and tried to do a minimal Ubuntu install instead. This makes more sense since I plan to run the NUC as mainly a server, with only a frontend to serve XBMC. I downloaded the mini version of 12.10 (decided to downgrade from 13.10, since HDMI issues were not experienced by me alone (should’ve read that before I started, but oh well)) and stuck that onto a thumb drive. The NUC would boot it, but it couldn’t recognize the NUC’s network adapter, which was needed to download some installation files. Scratch that, went with the 13.04 minimal version instead. Install went somewhat well: there were no errors or anything, but the downloads were sooo slow. It pretty much took an entire night. And the end result? It wouldn’t boot either. Bleh.

So last resort, was for me to use the XMBCbuntu distribution. XBMC and Ubuntu together in one shot. Went for Ubuntu 14.04 and the XBMC Gotham beta straight up. Installed like a charm. And the rest is pretty much history (macam cerita kawin pulak).

Well not quite. By default, RSS feeds are turned on by default, and this causes a massive drain on CPU time (about 50%; any scrolly text on XBMC seems to do this). Gotta turn it off to let it idle comfortably at 2-3% (and even that feels kinda high).

Back from the dead (yet again)?

Hello again after so many years (just one actually). This blog has been here and there, up and down, and generally unreliable due to other priorities having taken up my time. Firstly, a summary of related events:

  1. The website server was moved onto spot pricing. Yay cheap, but what I didn’t realise was that the latest server snapshot is not saved when the price exceeds the maximum set. So I had posts that were published and then disappeared. And since the spot price kept spiking, the server also kept shutting down. This was some time after my last existing post.
  2. Amazon started charging for the Broadway Academy store instance, so this had to be shut down too. This was in December.
  3. Diablo III happened. Many loots.
  4. After very long consideration, I bought a new Haswell i5 Intel NUC. Last week. 😀
    PC in a box, the Intel NUC.

    PC in a box, the Intel NUC.

    Such a tiny thing as a PC. Love it. Threw in 8GB of RAM and a terabyte drive in there for good measure. Migrated the blog over to nginx and php5-fpm. Also running XBMC for my media centre, and the ol’ minecraft server is up and running again. Next to do would be to migrate the BA store front, then shut down my presence on AWS permanently.

  5. Heartbleed happened. Patched everything up.

Will try to post more in the upcoming months. Stay tuned.

Still connected.

When you want something done, you gotta do it yourself.

When you still want to build a website over your holiday.

Greetings from Phuket! Tis officially the first day of our vacation here and we’re totally taking it easy by lazing around the pool/beach. While last year we spent most of the time reading and sleeping, this time I have my laptop along for the possible office emergency (hope they don’t call *crosses fingers*).

So here I am, as long as I can stand the screen glare, updating my WordPress JetPack settings (we have Publicize now!), and building an event registration site for our upcoming musical.

Yes, we’re in a musical. Don’t ask me how, but it’s been an enjoyable experience getting ready for the show. If you’re free on the 2nd or 3rd of March, 2013, please come and support us! Link to the Facebook event here. We’re doing RENT in Concert. RENT is a rock musical set in NY city about a group of poor artists trying to get by under the weight of HIV/AIDS. It’s pretty awesome for a musical. We’ve got profanity, homeless people, gay people, lesbians (one of which is played by my wife), drug dealers. I think the younger group would love it. 🙂

Going back to the event registration site, I’m now looking at possible plugins that allow payment via PayPal (that seems to be the only option readily available). The two that I’ve found, Event Planner and Event Registration, both have free integration to PayPal but Planner doesn’t seem to have MYR listed as a currency, so we’re left with Registration. If that doesn’t work, then I’ll have to temporarily shut this site down and run Magento or Spree which should have everything we need. We’ll see how it goes.

Anyway, it’s getting a little hot. Time for a dip in the pool.

bangsar.net now on Amazon

Due to the inability of the Synology 411j NAS to host this wordpress site, we’ve finally moved to Amazon’s EC2 service. This is Amazon’s cloud service with its micro instance starting at USD15 a month if you run it 24/7.

Yes, USD15 is a little pricey for just a private wordpress blog, but Amazon allows new users to try it for free for a year. And since they have a data centre in Singapore, I thought why not?

The migration was simple enough. First step was to set up the EC2 instance, so we used one free preconfigured image by BitNami. Picked it up on the AWS Marketplace, then it’s up and running in no time.

Second step was migrating the entries over from the old blog. WordPress has a built in Import & Export feature so all the posts, including attachments, were migrated over effortlessly. Though I just realized we’re missing the posts from our guest bloggers; not sure when this happened, but it’s the same as the old site so it must’ve gotten deleted or transferred to another user during previous migrations.

Next was to point the site address from the old site to the new. The DNS server will continue running on the NAS, so it was just a matter of changing the CNAME entry from our current dynamic DNS to the Amazon one. There was a mention somewhere online that the Amazon hostname will change if the instance is restarted, so we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

After that, WordPress was running off the /wordpress subdirectory, so we needed to SSH into the instance and setup redirection from the root directory. A quick uncomment in /opt/bitnami/apps/wordpress/conf/httpd.conf and it happens, but permalinks are still pointing to the /wordpress subdirectory so I’m going to have to figure out how to work that with redirection.

As you may be able to tell, the server is running zippy as ever. Will just need to keep a reminder to move the blog again to a paid local web host before the AWS Free Tier expires. 😛

Installing Playstation Media Server (PMS) on a Synology NAS (411j)

So I’ve recently acquired a Synology DS411j, which I hoped would have flawless built-in DLNA compatibility with my PS3. I should’ve known it was too much to ask for proper transcoding.

There’ve been plenty of discussion regarding how to get the PS3 media server, something I’ve been using on my Windows PC, installed on a Synology NAS. The most complete guide I’ve found is here on Mark in the Dark. I followed it, but I had to do a few things differently and additionally to get it to work proper.

In the end, transcoding was horrifyingly slow on the 411j’s processor. I could barely get the first frames off a 720p movie. But for those who have more powerful units and would like to try anyway, here are the modifications to the original guide. Props to Mark and synops for the original guide. My DSM version is 4.0-2197.

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