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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

DLink Wireless Routers - Disable QOS for Reliability Issues

     I've personally owned a few DLink Wireless routers in my time and generally speaking they are fairly good and reliable for the most part. My current router is a DLink 655 Extreme N class router that I bought a couple years ago now. From the moment I set it up it was reliable and fast. I really liked it and would still recommend it for most people in their homes today.

     The problem began about a year down the road as I began adding more and more simultaneous Wireless devices. What I began seeing was frequent disconnects of Wirelessly connected devices and more and more reboots of the router This got progressively worse and would peak whenever the downloading of Torrents was added to the workload on the router. Dialing down the Torrents only helped minimally.

     After a considerable amount of research and playing with various settings on the Router, without success, I came across a forum post in a DLink support forum that sounded very similar to my problem. The post was specifically regarding Torrent traffic but deals with a much more generalized problem that DLink Routers have. The suggestion was to disable the QOS services on the Router which is enabled by default on the 655 as well as many DLink models. QOS stands for Quality of Service and it functions to try and prioritize different traffic types in order of importance. For example, XBox traffic, Streaming media, and general Web Traffic are all different types of traffic that it analyzes and sets different priorities to. This actually is a good thing when there isn't too much traffic being processed through the Router. The problem is when the Router has too much traffic to analyze it can't keep up and literally the CPU of the Router maxes out causing performance issues and reboots. This ironically is the exact opposite of what the QOS service is supposed to do.

      By Disabling the QOS service engine it no longer attempts to analyze every packet going through the router and the performance and reliability issues are solved. Shown below is where the setting can be found on a DLink 655.

 Deselect "Enable QOS Engine" under the QOS Engine Setup heading.

     That's all there is to it.

     Since then all my traffic works including Torrents, XBox and Streaming media without performance issues or reliability problems. If you don't have a lot of devices connected then you most likely wont see an issue but if you have 3 or more Wireless devices connected and you are beginning to see problems this should fix it up. This is specific to the DLink 655 Extreme Wireless N Router but will also be applicable to almost any DLink router or in theory would potentially be applicable to any manufacturer's router. 

If this tip helped you let me know, leave a comment.

Monday, September 27, 2010

XRandR - Desktop Scaling for Ubuntu

     I picked up an HP Mini 210 Netbook over the summer and installed the full Ubuntu 10.04 desktop on it Dual Booting Windows 7. The result was, in a word, "Awesome". I absolutely love it but as time went on I found that the 1024x600 screen resolution was not usable with all applications in some situations. For example, Evolution's Preferences window refused to size properly with scrolling bars on the side, so all of the options were not accessible. I searched and searched for a resolution but nothing was obvious until I came across the utility XRandR.

     XRandR is a utility for resizing and setting characteristics for displays in Linux, in this case Ubuntu. What I found was that this could be used with the "panning" option to set Virtual Desktop sizes on the attached display. To do this, first I needed to open a Terminal window and enter "xrandr" which is the built in utility with Ubuntu. After pressing Enter I saw something like this:

@ubuntumini:~$ xrandr
Screen 0: minimum 320 x 200, current 1024 x 600, maximum 4096 x 4096
VGA1 disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)
LVDS1 connected 1024x600+0+0 (normal left inverted right x axis y axis) 222mm x 125mm
   1024x600       60.0*+
   800x600        60.3 
   640x480        59.9 

     What this shows is the capabilities of your attached Displays. Screen 0 shows the current capabilities of the PC both minimums, maximums and current. I had no external displays attached so the connector VGA1 shows disconnected. The three resolutions listed below LVDS1 shows the physical resolutions that the display is capable of. In my case the builtin screen is called LVDS1. This is important to remember as you need to name this Display when making changes with XRandR and your Display may have a different name. The important "number" here is the maximum. This shows that the largest Display size you can set is 4096x4096, huge. For my needs I just wanted to increase the Desktop slightly within standard resolutions to 1280x720.

      Once you have the Display name and the minimums and maximums you can enter the following at a terminal command line.

xrandr --fb 1280x720 --output LVDS1 --panning 1280x720

     What this says is set the resolution to 1280x720 on display LVDS1 enable panning at 1280x720. The panning enables the oversized desktop. You can enter any resolutions here that you would like to experiment with, however I would stick with standard monitor resolutions or you could experience unexpected results. BTW, it needs to be said at this point that if you play with these settings and mess up your display, I am not responsible. These settings have worked as shown perfectly for me but your mileage may vary.

      For me, this solved my problem with Evolution and all other applications experiencing the same issues. When I opened Evolution's Preference's it now displayed correctly with all Option settings reachable through scrolling. To set the desktop back I used the following which resets it back to my original settings.

xrandr --fb 1024x600 --output LVDS1 --panning 1024x600

     In my case this is exactly what I wanted. To be able to change the resolution on demand between oversized "panning" and the standard desktop resolution. To make it even simpler I've created a quick launcher for the command in Cairo's GL Dock so I don't even have to enter it in a terminal. Easy Peasy.

     This can be set permanently as the default desktop preference several different ways but that wasn't what I was looking for and will have to be something for a future discussion.

    If you found this tip useful, let me know, leave a comment.

Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

NetFlix Comes to Canada

     Well, Netflix has finally come to Canada. I have been really excited and have been waiting patiently for it's debut for some time now. So yesterday I got my first taste of the new service. I signed up just before noon yesterday and started streaming movies within minutes. The signup process is pretty simple and you can breeze through it in a few minutes. You'll get a 30 day free trial with a monthly fee of $7.99 / month after that. No commitments, no long term contracts, cancel at any time. Cancel before your 30 days are up and you won't be charged at all, however you do need a credit card for the initial signup process.

     The service itself was a little a slow. I believe this was due to the sudden rush of people signing up at the same time and partly due to the Horrible internet connection at work. That being said my first streamed movie "Erik the Viking" went smoothly and worked as I would expect albeit with a video quality appropriate for the bad internet speeds. In browsing around I didn't find too much content that was even close to new or good but I figured I just must be missing something and would dive in when I got home that night.

     After dinner and the kids were in bed I got a chance to really test drive the service. On my home 3mb DSL connection response times were acceptable and the streaming was almost instant on in most cases. I tested the High Definition video by watching "Teen Wolf" on my Media PC hooked up to my HDTV Flat panel @720P resolution. The video was crisp and clear and streamed in HD without any problems across my G Class Wireless network. Technically the service provides what it promises SD and HD Instant On Streaming Video with good quality across home Broadband internet connections. That's the good, and it was very good at it in my opinion.

     Later on I settled in for a full watch (1hour 38 minutes) of a classic Tom Baker Doctor Who episode from 1975 (The Ark in Space). The video had no hiccups or interruptions and performed flawlessly, but you might notice a pattern developing here. While it was very cool to see this episode again after so many years I couldn't actually find anything new here. The actual content to choose from was difficult to navigate and extremely sparse. There were no recent release movies. Period. Nothing. The TV episodes/collections were interesting but the content available to Canadians was pitiful compared to our American cousins. Three TV series I looked for that I knew were on Netflix were the New Doctor Who, Torchwood and the original Twighlight Zone. These were some of the primary reasons I wanted Netflix because I knew these were there. I had to search to find them but they did come up, although they very politely told me that "This video is not Available for you" but perhaps you would like to see "Killer Clowns from Outerspace". Um... no. I was speechless. Everything I wanted to see was either "Unavailable" to me or was something I already owned on DVD. Hugely Disappointing.

     I have to say, I haven't been this disappointed since Season 3 of Heroes. It would be a great service if it was free, as it is for the next 30 days, but for any monthly subscription rate, even $7.99 / month, it just doesn't seem worth it. Any media service has to have content that people actually want to see, even free services, if they hope to continue operations. Unfortunately Netflix Canada is seriously lacking in Content at the moment. Until they address that, I can't recommend the service at all. I'll monitor it for a while longer, after all it's only Day 2 of it's existence and if it improves I'll have a follow up down the road. For now, Try it out for 30 days but ask yourself, is this content worth any dollars per month at the moment?

BTW, Almost forgot, this is a Windows / Mac only service. No Linux support possible without Emulation for Windows. Another disappointment.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pirates of the Revolution - Ben Franklin

     First of all this entire post was inspired by an article at ArsTechnica called "Benjamin Franklin, the First IP Pirate". I really recommend reading this article, it was fascinating.

     Being a student of history and a Tech geek, I have always been fascinated by Benjamin Franklin. Franklin was truly an inspiring individual and it was for more than just being a randy old bugger. He was the pre-eminent inventor of his time and one of the great thinkers of all time. What I didn't know was that he was such a supporter of what we would call "Open Source" today.

     Current copyright laws are so messed up and protectionist it would be laughable were it not true. Knowledge is the key to humanity's future and Franklin apparently knew this even back then. The idea of Intellectual Property just doesn't work over extended periods. Or to clarify, Intellectual Property as it is today inhibits free thought and creativity by restricting access to information. It exists simply to create wealth for those that control it and those that control it in many cases aren't even the ones that created it.  In reading the article I almost get the impression that Franklin may have viewed Intellectual Property as being "Regal", which is something the founding fathers would have found very distasteful at the time. The idea of bestowing inheritable IP rights in perpetuity does not benefit society in anyway.

     I've long felt that "we" as a society need to do more to benefit mankind, to help each other to be better people. That's what drew me to Linux and Open Source projects in the first place. The idea that these people were giving back for the benefit of everyone is something truly special in today's world. It sounds like Benjamin Franklin would have fit in very well in the Open Source communities of today.

     So, I've said enough.
     I'm getting down from my soap box.

     Go to Ars Technica and read this article and if you like what you see look into the book by Lewis Hyde called Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership. It sounds like it should be a fascinating read.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Rock Band 3 - Preview Thoughts

     Well Rock Band 3 is coming out soon and everyday we find out more and more about the new Pro Mode. What is Pro Mode you ask? Well Pro Mode will allow Keyboard, Drums and Guitar to come as close as possible to performing like real Musical  Instruments. There is a catch though. You'll need all new Controllers or at least add-ons for your existing controllers. This will cost. All the peripherals will be sold separately from Mad Catz as well as a Bundle available that includes the Game and Wireless Keyboard controller.

     Mad Catz press release has indicated that the Pro Guitar will retail for $149us, the Keyboard for $79us, and the Cymbals for $39us. The Keyboard Bundle is slated at $129us. 

     Now the controllers themselves do sound interesting. The Drums add on will feature a set of 3 cymbals that act independently from the Drum pads. On the game they are represented by a round cymbal character on the fret board instead of the rectangular symbols to differentiate. There will also be the option to use a Double Kick pedal in game as well. The Guitar has 6 strings and buttons for every position on the physical Fret Board. In the game this is represented by a new "Wave" system that looks like it will take some getting used to. The Keyboard resembles a KeyTar with I believe 10 keys for playing. You can also purchase separately a stand to lay the Keyboard flat.

      Adding Cymbals to the Drums was the biggest complaint I heard from real musicians that attempted to play the game as well as many non musicians so adding actual Cymbals to the Drums should make it feel much more realistic. Additionally adding the capability of Dual Kick pedal action will make some of the more difficult songs a bit easier to play without Breaking your pedal.

      I'm really not sure about the guitar. While adding 6 strings to pick and a button press for each position on the Fret board sounds interesting in theory, I don't know how realistic it will feel without the feedback you get from physically sliding your fingers across the strings. I'll have to see how much I like it when it comes out.

     The Keytar might be fun to play but how realistic it will be compared to playing a real keyboard is questionable. I have to admit while it may be interesting and fun to play, adding keyboards to the Rock Band lineup is not something that really interests me too much. Again if you play piano/keyboard it may be just the thing that was missing from the game for you, for me, I could take it or leave. I'll reserve judgment on it until I've actually played. It could be really fun on Boston's song Foreplay/Longtime though.

      The game itself promises the usual lineup of classics and new hits from the history of Rock. If you already own a copy of Rock Band 1 or 2 and aren't interested in Keyboard or Pro-Mode then you can always just pick up a copy of the game itself to use with you're existing controllers. However, I think the real fun here might lie in the Pro-Modes because other than that, if you played Rock Band before then there is nothing new here.

     There is one more thing to mention as I dig my way through the Giant Pile of Controllers laying strewn across my living room. How Many Controllers can you actually have and still Live in your house or apartment? Not only are the cost of these devices prohibitive but where oh where can you store them when not in use.

      My house now looks like a Recording Studio with all the Fake and Real musical instruments laying around. Anybody need a set a phony Drums or a couple of Fake Guitars? Help!!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Gaming: Remembering The Dreamcast

     I've been gaming for a long time.

     A very, very long time.

     My first video game system was Pong on a Black & White TV. It was Black & White because that's all we had in the house. Colour was too new and expensive. It had 4 paddle controllers, a light gun and was a blast, literally.

     Several Years later, my world exploded when the Atari 2600 was released. Suddenly the games I was playing in the local Arcade were on my home TV. Colour now. I was absolutely hooked. Now sure, they didn't exactly look like the games in the arcade. More like big slow moving blocks but it was addictive and awesome.

     A few years later I was introduced to something called a VIC 20 which the following year became a Commodore 64 with floppy disk drive for Christmas. Now we were really talking Gaming. Sure it was my first introduction to a home computer and I could type letters and learned basic programming with it but for me it's primary purpose was Video Games. Don't tell my Mom she thought it was for school. The Sprite based graphics that it produced were amazing looking and the machine was rarely turned off.

     After the Commodore which amazingly I used all through University to write papers with, I played some friends NES, SNES and Genesis systems. Sonic and Mario ruled, but I never owned one of the consoles. In 1992 I bought my first PC for an outrageously expensive cost and proceeded to use it to learn everything I could about the hardware but also for Video Gaming. For the next 8 years I was a dedicated PC gamer, Wolfenstien 3D, DOOM, Quake and every EA Sports title ruled my world.

     Then in 1999 I started hearing about this thing called The Dreamcast, remember the ads "It's Thinking". I was impressed, I'd played some Playstation 1 and Nintendo 64 thanks to my future Brother in Law, and it was cool but it didn't compare to the PC, although to be fair many hours were wasted playing Golden Eye multiplayer in the basement. When I started seeing the Dreamcast though I was impressed. Most people remember the Dreamcast for being the First of the Next Generation Console systems. It had terrific 3D accelerated graphics, full rich CD quality sound, real movie quality in game video playback, vmu memory units for game saves, 4 player controllers, and a builtin 56k modem for online gaming, and, eventually, web browsing. All this was ground breaking in 1999 and unheard of on a console. You have to remember here that Xbox, Playstation 2 and Gamecube were still years away.

     This was the system that got me off of PC gaming and back to consoles. There were truly some great games on here, everyone remembers Sonic Adventure 1 and 2, and has at least heard of the legend of Shenmue, but there are some real treasures on this system that get overlooked. Metropolis Street Racer is a fantastic Racing Game that never seems to get remembered as the real beginning of the Project Gotham series. The game that really stands out for me though was Skies of Arcadia. This is truly a unique and fun RPG that had great graphics and a compelling story. If you haven't heard of it, check it out. It was truly a gem for the Dreamcast.

     Over 10 years ago now I bought my Dreamcast. I've still got it downstairs and power it up once in a while. A testament to the longevity of the hardware. Since then I've had Xbox and 360 and Wii but the Dreamcast will always hold a special place in my heart as the system that made Console gaming fun again.

     What's your favourite memory of the Dreamcast or any other system?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Windows 7 Virtual Box 100% CPU Issue

     I've been researching an Issue that I've encountered running VirtualBox 3.2.8 in Windows 7. It may very well occur in other versions of Windows and VirtualBox but I have not tested them for the issue. What I'm encountering is the VirtualBox process on the host pegs at 100%, freezing the Guest OS permanently. The only out is to Power off the guest and restart. This only appears to happen when running 2 Virtual Guests at the same time.

     After suffering through many restarts I found in a few forum posts around the web, some hints that VirtualBox was having issues with Windows Prefetch and Superfetch. Prefetch/Superfetch are services that "Preload" portions of frequently used applications into Memory prior to your clicking the shortcut to start them. It analyzes you're computer usage and creates a record establishing the most frequently used components. These are then automatically loaded into memory in advance speeding up the load times of your applications. It actually is pretty slick and is the primary reason why Windows 7 feels faster and more responsive than previous versions of Windows. Microsoft has made great improvements to the algorithms that make up Prefetch/Superfetch for Windows 7.

     What these forum threads suggested was that the VirtualBox disk I/O to the virtual hard drive files was getting intercepted by Prefetch/Superfetch and creating a hang situation trying to read/write to the virual hard drive files. The fix suggested was to simply turn off Prefetch/Superfetch in the Registry. There are utilities out there that can do this for you but I personally haven't tested them. In order to do this you will need to make modifications to your Registry.

     At this point I will give a warning. Your Registry is your Main Database of all settings in Windows. Making incorrect modifications to it can seriously screw up you computer so always make a backup of your Registry before making changes. I repeat, backup, backup, backup. As well I personally take no responsibility if you attempt to make this change and mess up your PC.

     Well, now that being said here is what has worked for me.

To Disable Prefetch/Superfetch go to your Start button and in the Search box type "Regedit".

Go to:  HKey_Local_Machine/System/CurrentControlSet/Control/Session Manager/Memory Management/PrefetchParameters

Modify the KeyWord EnablePrefetcher and EnableSuperFetch as seen below:

                                  Click to Enlarge.

You can enter the values below as you would like.

0 = Disabled
1 = Application Only Enabled
2 = Boot Only Enabled
3 = All Enabled

I've chosen to keep the Boot Prefetch settings to help the Boot times so the example above shows the values = 2.

You can now close Regedit.

I'd recommend Rebooting your PC at this point to get a clean start.

    After this was applied, VirtualBox would still use 100% resources at times but has always returned control to the Virtual Guest OS.

Freezing has been eliminated.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Preload Speeds up Linux Application Loading

     Linux is a terrific operating system. It is as lightweight as you want or as bloated as you want, but by default most distributions come very lightweight and let you decide what to do. A great add on for Linux desktops is to install the Preload application to your install. In Ubuntu the easiest way to do this is simply from the Software Centre.

     But I'm getting ahead of myself. What does Preload do? Well Preload tracks what programs you run on your desktop most frequently and preloads the important parts into your spare memory before you actually click on it to run. With Preload running the application will load from Memory instead of the Hard Drive speeding application start up times. This won't affect boot load times but does a good job of speeding up the responsiveness of using your desktop applications.

    It is similar to what Microsoft has done with Pre-Fetch and Super-Fetch but unlike Microsoft Linux distributions give you the choice of whether you want to use it or not. Choice is always better.

    Now, how do you install it? Well my current favourite distribution is Ubuntu so we'll focus on how it's done there, which is also incredibly easy. Simply go to and open the Ubuntu Software Centre.

In the Search Box type in preload as shown below:

      I already have the app installed so my button shows "Remove", your's should show "Install" if you don't already have it. Simply click "Install", enter your Sudo credentials if prompted and the app will install and be running.

     From that point forward it will begin monitoring what you run most frequently and in the future it will improve the load times of these applications by preloading them into memory before you use it. Pretty nice.

     One of the good things about this on Linux is that since Linux has a very small Memory usage footprint to begin with, most people will have loads of memory to spare, even on Netbooks, so it won't significantly impact performance in any other way.

Very, Very Nice.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Microsoft's Dilemma

     Microsoft began this journey ironically with the advent of Product Activation. What journey is that, you might ask? Well, I would answer, the journey to extinction on the home desktop. And you might respond with, Apple's market share hasn't grown that much to worry the Software giant. To which I'd respond it's not Apple they should be worried about, it's Linux. When MS implemented Activation on the XP Desktop they unwittingly started the ball rolling on change. Not a change in revenue like they expected but a change in the OS of the Desktop PC market. Through their essential monopoly and strong arm tactics of the PC resellers they've managed to hang on to their market share for now, but in trying to squeeze every cent they can out of the consumer they have unwittingly opened the door to Linux which is, Free. The lack of cost involved with Linux is the key factor here.

     Over the past few years a very smart group of people have worked diligently on improving the ease of use of the product. My introduction to Linux began with Fedora 5, and let me tell you things have come a long way. With the latest release of Ubuntu 10.04, Linux has reached a level on the home desktop that it can compete and win against both Microsoft and Apple. If you haven't tried it yet I highly recommend giving it a go. A real problem for Microsoft is that Apple really isn't threatened by Linux. Apple Fanbois are brainwashed into believing that no price is too great for technology that in some respects isn't up to the levels found in the PC world from either Microsoft or Linux. That market segment will never change and will eternally remain a source of revenue for Apple. The rest of the home computer world is a little more fiscally concerned and they buy Microsoft. Now if the Linux community can offer a competitive product to Microsoft and it has No Cost, well the math is simple. Linux will devour Microsoft's market share once people realize what is going on.

     Microsoft compounded their own situation by creating the Xbox. With the Xbox there is no longer a need to use your PC as a gaming device. If you don't need Microsoft Windows for gaming and you don't need Windows to surf the web, get email and use an Office productivity suite, then what do you need Windows for? Linux surfs the web, gets email and has an excellent full Office productivity suite that is free. When you add up the cost for the privilege of running Windows on your PC then suddenly there is no Value to it. Linux, Ubuntu in particular should be gobbling up that Microsoft market share as we speak, but alas it is not. Linux has problems of it's own. Not technical problems but organizational problems. Since there is no central structure behind Linux and there is not a gigantic revenue stream generated by a free product, it becomes a very difficult task to get the word out that it even exists. Against the combined Marketing juggernauts of Microsoft and Apple the voice of Linux gets drowned out. However given enough time, the little mouse that is Linux will roar.

     Like a snowball rolling downhill, it has started small but made huge gains particularly in the last couple of years. Given where Linux has come from without any real financial backing, and where it is today, in another 5 years Microsoft may have to ask itself, Do we Open source the Windows home desktop or abandon the home market all together? It is an interesting dilemma that they have brought on themselves. What do you think?

Things moving Fast

Well things are moving fast. The blog is beginning to look better. There will be further changes coming to the look and feel in the near future. Watch out for the first real article coming soon. Thanks for stopping by.

All Right - Let's get this party started! :-)

Hello there. This Site is still under construction but I expect to see big things in the very near future. Thanks For Stopping By!