Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Skiing. What's that All About?

And so begins a new chapter of relatively expensive geekery.

I have been lucky enough to have been invited along on a ski holiday with some family members who have been buggering off to Canada on a regular basis.

Having never skiied before, I felt it was important to learn as much as I can about the equipment needed, what to buy and what not to buy, how skiing works and, most importantly, how to have a good time.

Now, I've seen moving pictures on the television of people hurtling down very cold looking mountains at breakneck speed, people breaking their necks and people standing around in the cold, having a good time and watching other people breaking their necks. I've also seen pictures of my family larking about in the snow and looking relatively comfortable.

I larked about in the snow once (not too much of that in London) and I got very wet and very cold, very quickly. It wasn't fun.

So, it made sense to do a little research into how I could have fun, too. Thinking logically, this means keeping warm and dry. And it turns out, keeping warm and dry whilst up a mountain in sub-zero temperatures is fairly easy, if a little expensive.

The first thing that came to mind was that I would need a jacket. I thought buying a suitable jacket would be easy.  So, I joined a forum (well, what did you expect) and then started googling.

I was so, so wrong.

I swear, the first jacket, on the first website I looked at, cost nearly six hundred pounds!
There is no need for this sort of silliness.
Taking a look round the discount sites eased my heart rate somewhat and it appears that a great many skiers buy end of line or last season's gear as it tends to be a great deal cheaper.
I saw jackets for thirty quid in TK Maxx near where I live, but as soon as I touched them, I knew they were not going to suit my needs.  They do get decent stuff in, so it's always worth popping in to see what's new.
It turns out there are different types of jackets, too.  Heavily insulated, lightly insulated and non-insulated, which is called a shell jacket.

Underneath your jacket, you will need to wear things (layers) that will help to keep you warm.
More on that when I buy some.

Keep in mind that not all brands are equal, as I have discovered.  To be on the safe side, I tended to look at well known outdoor brands.  The North Face, Helly Hansen, Oakley, Salomon and a lesser well known brand, Trespass.

There are those that would argue what I was doing was wrong, but, hey-ho.
You pays your money, you takes your choice.

So, what did I look for in a jacket?

A jacket needs to be waterproof.
Yes, it's a case of stating the bleedin' obvious.  When you're surrounded by snow and it could rain at any time, you need to be protected.  It would follow, therefore that almost all the jackets I looked at were waterproof.

Strictly speaking they should be called water resistant, but that's a whole other argument.

There are many different materials available with different levels of water resistance.
The industry standard for measuring the fabric's water resistance is to place a column of water on the fabric and increase the length of the column of water, increasing the water pressure to find the point at which the water starts to permeate the fabric.
The column of water is then measured in millimetres to give the fabric's water resistance rating.
For example, a jacket may have a 14000mm rating whilst another may have a 5000mm rating.
The higher the number, the better the water resistancy of the material.

It's also worth noting that the seams of the jacket (where the stitching is) need to be sealed. This is done with a resin or glue.
So, a "fully seam sealed"  jacket is better than a "critically seam sealed" one.

Easy, no?

Then it turns out that the jacket needs to be able to breathe.  WTF?
This is because when you sweat, the moisture produced evaporates. But if you don't allow the moisture to escape, you will get wet. A bit like a sauna. I had a coat once that used to keep me really warm, until I started to sweat. Because the moisture couldn't escape, it made the inside of the coat wet, which then made me cold.

Silly, really.

I'm still not sure how breathability is measured, and there is no agreement on how it should be measured, so as long as it says breathable on it, it will probably do the job.

Here's a quote from Ski Adventure Guide :

How do we measure breathability?
This is a little more difficult than measuring waterproofness.
All the countries cannot agree on standard methodology.
Three tests being utilized are;
a/ upright cup test-measures water or vapour transmission
b/ inverted cup test-measures amount of water absorbed by the fabric
c/ sweating hot plate-measure moisture loss due to heat application, similar to our skin heating up to influence rate of evaporation of vapour.
One outcome is a mathematical figure which tells us how many grams of water vapour have diffused,or passed through a 1m2 of fabric in the time of 24 hours .
In other words how much in this case vapour will pass through a section of a fabric in 24 hours. This figure is quoted as, for example, 10,000 gm / m2/ 24hrs.
For recreational use, choose fabrics with minimum breathability as shown above. Be mindful however,that a breathable waterproof jacket which has a very high waterproof rating of 20 plus, or even 45, being usually triple layered ,will not attain a very high breathability, usually less than 12,000 gm / m2 / 24hrs.
Another outcome of performing the above testing ,is the RET figure (resistance of evaporation of a textile).
This figure is quoted as ie RET= 60. Since we measure resistance, the less resistance we have the better. So RET = 60 has better breathibility than RET =90.

Clear as mud.
Or maybe I'm just not very bright.
It certainly doesn't help that different brands use different ways of telling us how breathable their jackets are.

Many of them look like an accident in a paint factory.
Seriously, what are these people taking?
I've seen what could only be described as multi-coloured abominations.
I have no no doubt that the ability to be spotted from the air when trapped on a mountain will appeal to some, but I wanted something a little less garish.
Luckily there are some plain ones, which is good, because I intend to wear mine down the pub and on the high street.

The jacket will have any number of extras built in.
Pockets seem to be a popular extra.  You can have a goggle pocket, an audio pocket, a utility pocket, a lift pass pocket, a GPS pocket, a secret pocket, inside pockets, outside pockets, zipped pockets, big pockets, small pockets, fleece lined pockets, Polly Pocket and a Pocky pocket.

I may have made that last one up.

A snow skirt seems to be a popular one, too.  It sits inside the waist of the jacket and you do it up.  It stops snow from going up your jacket, which can only be a good thing.  Some are removable, too.  Which is nice.

Hoods are good, too.  They go over your head.  Some of these are removable as well.
Not the heads, the hoods.

Vents are also a good one to look for.  If you begin to get a bit too warm, these can be opened to help regulate the temperature inside the jacket.

Stretch panels, articulated sleeves, pant connector systems, wrist gaiters... the list goes on and on.

Choosing my jacket.
I read endless forum posts and blogs and adverts, trawled through countless pages on seemingly endless online ski stores and, when I had screwed my head back on, it boiled down to this:

The jacket needed to have a decent water resistance rating.  I wanted a minimum of 10000mm.
It had to at least say it was breathable.  I guessed if it was a reputable brand with a decent water resistance rating, it's breathability would be acceptable.
It needed to have a fair amount of insulation, two or more pockets, a removable hood and a snow skirt.
It had to be fairly plain, preferably black.
It had to cost less than £200.

Going shopping.
As well as trawling the internet, I went to Covent Garden and visited the Trespass store along with the Snow & Rock store and The North Face store.  Here I discovered that some staff are very knowledgeable and some aren't.  I also discovered that I would need a small size, which was helpful as I was sure I would end up buying online.  The difference between brands is difficult to work out, but at least I got a good idea of how my jacket should feel.  Not too tight, not too baggy, warm but not overly so and overall, some just felt better than others.
The tickets attached to them extolled all sorts of virtues on the the jackets, many of which seemed superfluous so I learned to look at just the water resistance number and then try it on.

In all honesty, the only thing I came away with was a headache.  But I now knew what size to buy.

And then I went to John Lewis and...


The Helly Hansen Brevent jacket.  It costs £190 and it does exactly what I wanted it do.

It's water resistance rating is 17000mm and fully sealed seams so it should keep me nice and dry, whatever the weather.
Breathability is rated at 12000g, but I have to admit that the number here doesn't really mean much to me.  This is all provided by a Helly Tech Performance layer.

It's insulated.  According to the Helly Hansen website, it has "insulated two layer construction".
The site also speaks about "Warmcore by PrimaLoft" which is a water resistant thermal material.
Either way, after adding a layer or two underneath, I know this will keep me warm.
Vents under the armpits will help to regulate the temperature if I get too warm.

Pockets!  The waist pockets, where you would normally put your hands, are nice and big and have a fleece lining.  There's a chest pocket with a sort of seal over the zip to stop the elements getting in.  A pocket on the left sleeve below the elbow for your lift pass. I've never even seen a lift pass so I don't know how much use this will be.  Inside the jacket on the right, A rather large, zipped pocket, marked "Utility Pocket" and another smaller one on the left, marked "Comms Pocket".  No Pocky pocket, though.

There's a snow skirt which buttons up out of the way when not in use and a hood which is removable.  The hood has a sort of stiffened panel at the front.  I'm sure this is useful.

Adjustable cuffs also feature and a good job too, as these cuffs are as wide as Gandalf's sleeves.  Should be good for getting gloves on, though.

Black is what I wanted and black is what I got.  The photo above makes it look like a very dark grey, but it is black.

And there you have it!
It wasn't an easy choice, but I got what I wanted.  Whether or not it's what I needed is another matter and I will only find this out come February.

Next, I will be mostly looking at trousers... and installing the new Linux Mint "Lisa" when it arrives.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

EeePC 1005HA + Snow Leopard 10.6.3 = MacEee

Why did I install OS X Snow Leopard on my trusty 1005HA?

Good question.

The answer is (naturally) because I could. It certainly wasn't because I had a need for it, Ubuntu does everything I need, but I really wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I've never used Apple's OS before and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to have a nose round.

How did I do it?

First things first (as opposed to first things last):
You will need an external CD/DVD drive.
You will also need a copy of iATKOS_S3_version2.iso. Google it.
And, finally,the files IO82011.Family.kext.zip and KextHelperb7.zip. These two are available in plenty of places, but I have them on my SkyDrive for convenience.

Lets go!

1. First, get the two .zip files and put them on a flash drive or SDHC card.

2. Download the .iso file. Now, I already own a retail version of OSX Snow Leopard but it's a nightmare to get working. The iAtkos version includes the drivers needed for this to work.

3. Burn the .iso to a DVD. I recommend burning it at a slow speed as burning at faster speeds often causes issues.

4. If you haven't already done so, back up any files you may require later.

5. Shut down the EeePC and attach the external CD/DVD drive. Turn on the CD/DVD drive and insert the DVD that you burned. Now boot the EeePC and hit the F2 when you see the grey Asus splash screen to go into the BIOS.

6. Once in the BIOS, go along to the 'Advanced' tab and then down to 'IDE Configuration'.

7. Your 'ATA/IDE Configuration' needs to be set to 'Enhanced' and underneath that, 'Configure SATA' should be set to 'AHCI'.

8. Once done, hit Esc, go along to the 'Exit' tab and 'Exit & Save changes'.

9. When the grey Asus splash screen appears tap the ESC key. the boot menu will appear. Choose your CD/DVD drive.

10. You should see the Apple logo appear shortly. Give it some time to do it's stuff.

11. When the desktop welcome screen appears, click next. At the top of the screen is a menu. Go to Utilities and select click on Disk utilities.

12. Choose your drive on the left hand side (it will probably be called 'untitled'). Now hit the erase button again and choose 'Mac OS Extended Journaled' as the format and hit erase. Wait for it to finish, it should only take 30 seconds at the most. When it's done, close the window.

13. Click continue until you reach the screen where you are asked to select the disk to install to. Select the disk.
You need to click the customize button before we go any further.

14. Tick the options below and do not untick anything that is already ticked. So, to reiterate, you should only add ticks, not remove any. Got that?


32BITS 32bit







GMA950 27AE



15. Once you are done, go back and check your ticking. Once you are sure you got it right click 'OK'. Now you can hit the 'Install' button. Installation seems to take forever. Move the cursor occassionally to stop the computer from dozing off.

16. Once it's finished it will reboot.

17. Let the computer boot into it's new OS. This will take forever, but it's only this boot that will take this long.

18. You'll know it's getting there when you hear a cover of 'Staying Alive' from Saturday Night Fever. Be patient, the desktop will appear shortly. You will now be asked for your keyboard setup, personal details and a password.

19. Now before you start messing with stuff, insert the flash drive or SDHC card with the .zip files on it. The drive will appear on the desktop. Drag the .zip files onto the desktop.

20. Double click the files to unzip them. Double click on the Kext Helper and then drag the kext file into the Kext Helper window. Enter your password and click 'Easy Install'.

21. Once finished, reboot. If you get a message saying Kext Helper isn't responding, force it to quit. It will take an age for reboot to happen. It will look as if it's just hung, but leave it alone. It WILL reboot eventually. So just wait.

22. Upon reboot, wireless should now be working. If not, try the Kext Helper again and reboot. This took me several attempts on one install but it usually works first time.

And that's it!

Now, the dock at the bottom can be a little intrusive on the EeePC's small screen, so click on the Apple logo (top left) > Dock, and click on Turn Hiding On. You could also move the dock to the left side if you feel that way.
You may have noticed that the touchpad tap-to-click doesn't work and there's no scrolling either. I did attempt to fix this by using a Kext I found somewhere on the net, but it royally screwed up the desktop and I had to reinstall.
The only Fn buttons that seem to work are the brightness buttons.
You may also notice that there are updates available. Do not install the Mac OSX Update Combined. I did, which required another reinstallation. The other updates were fine, though.
The Photo Booth app, while being enormous fun, is a little too big for the screen and I'm yet to find a way dealing with that.
What, no office app? Get Libre Office for that. I got Gimp and Chrome, too.

Overall, it's stable, is fairly nippy on the netbook and it looks nice.

What's not to like about it? Plenty. But I'm not going into that as it's largely subjective.

But popular as Apple stuff is, I'm not planning to switch to it. I just don't like it enough. It's too bloody nice.
After all, I'm the bloke who uses Linux, owns an unpopular phone, is planning to switch to another unpopular phone and encodes all his music in the FLAC format.

So, in conclusion: Boring.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Rotating Video

The missus just took some video footage of me cleaning the windows. I don't know why. Maybe she's secretly entered me for a George Formby look-a-like competition. I wouldn't put it past her...

Anyway, it was shot with the camera (a Sony Cybershot) held sideways so the resulting video, an .mpg file, was the wrong way round.
She wanted to rotate the video and opened it in PiTiVi in the hope that it would do it for her.
But it wouldn't.

So, after a little bit of searching I found this command, which will do it for you. You will need mencoder installed... Just change the INPUT.AVI bit to the name and extension of your file.

mencoder -vf rotate=1 -o OUTPUT.AVI -oac copy -ovc lavc INPUT.AVI

Kudos to the chap who posted it originally, a Mr Jose Catre-Vandis, no less!

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Ubuntu 10.10 on the HP Pavilion DV6-3131SA

I got my new laptop yesterday from the nation's favourite retailer, John Lewis. It set me back £649 and this is what I got for my money:

Processor: 2.1 GHz AMD Phenom II Triple-Core Processor N830 (Level 2 cache 1.5 MB)

RAM: 4GB DDR3 (2 x 2048 MB) Upgradeable to 8GB DDR3

Graphics: ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650 Graphics (switchable) with up to 2685MB total graphics memory with 1 GB DDR3 dedicated

Display: 15.6" High Definition LED BrightView Display (1366 x 768)

HDD: 500GB SATA 7200 rpm

Optical Drive: Blu-Ray ROM with Lightscribe SuperMulti DVD±R/RW Dual Layer

Network Card: Integrated 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet LAN

Wireless connectivity: WLAN 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth

Sound: Altec Lansing speakers (Dolby Advanced Audio)

Keyboard & Pointing Device: Full size island-style keyboard & HP Clickpad supporting Multi-Touch gestures with On/Off button

Card Reader: 5-in-1 Digital Media Reader

External Ports: Ethernet, VGA, Headphones, Microphone-in, 3 USB 2.0, eSATA + USB port

Webcam: VGA HP TrueVision

And it comes with Windows 7. Which isn't a bad thing, but it ain't for me.

Here's how it looks:

It has a nice lid with an engraved pattern and a little HP logo which lights up:

The engraving is continued across the front where you will also find the power button and the fingerprint scanner There were three stickers on the right which I promptly removed. I'll get rid of the one on the left as soon as I can:

Ports on the left side from left to right are VGA, Ethernet, HDMI, E-SATA (which doubles as a USB 2.0), USB 2.0, Mic, Headphones, Card Reader:

Ports on the right side from left to right are, USB 2.0, Optical Drive, USB 2.0, AC Power Socket. There are also three LEDs here for Power On, HD Activity and Battery Charging:

Now, I should point out that this wasn't my first choice. I originally bought an Acer 5745 (i5 Processor), but having got it home and installed Ubuntu 10.10, it turned out that while the onboard HD graphics were available to me, the 1GB graphics card would probably never be available to use. This is because it uses Nvidia's Optimus Technology to switch the graphics cards and that can only be done using Windows 7. No, you can't use Vista or XP and it appears that no Linux distro will do it either.

So, how's Ubuntu 10.10?
Windows 7 never saw the light of day on this machine. I hooked up the AC power, inserted my Ubuntu 10.10 USB stick, powered up, hit ESC after the HP splash screen and chose to boot from USB.
Once it was up and running, I hit the installation icon. I chose to use the entire disk when asked.
When it was all done, I rebooted and inserted my Ethernet cable.
Then I opened Synaptic, reloaded and applied all updates. Then I installed the Broadcom and ATI restricted drivers and rebooted again.

At this point I discovered that the right-click on the touchpad didn't work. Luckily, a workaround was found for this issue. It's not very elegant and there's no multitouch but it restores the right-click, which is what I wanted.

And this is the only time I've had to use the command line during this install.

What's working? And just as importantly, what isn't?

External display ports work (connected via HDMI and VGA to TV).
Ethernet works (connected to router).
USB ports work correctly (tested with external HDD).
Display is at the correct resolution and sound via internal speakers work. Headphones also work.
The optical drive works (ripped a CD with RhythmBox), as does the eject button.
The card reader works (tested with an 8Gb SD).
Webcam and built in microphone work (tested with Skype).
Bluetooth also works (transferred a file from my Nokia N900).
Keys for display brightness (up and down), volume (up, down and mute) work.
Keys for Play/Pause, Next track, Previous track and Stop all work with RhythmBox.
On the left hand side of the keyboard, the Calculator key starts the calculator, the Email key starts Evolution and the Key with a globe on it (I assume this is supposed to launch the web browser) starts Nautilus. The other two keys don't appear to do anything.
Suspend on closing the lid works and it will come back correctly and connect to the wireless network correctly.

The key for toggling wireless connectivity sort of works. It will correctly toggle Bluetooth On/Off (the Bluetooth icon disappears and comes back) but it doesn't actually switch the wireless card off. It just disconnects/reconnects to the access point.

The fingerprint scanner doesn't appear to work, but I haven't researched how to get get it working, if it does at all.

The graphics card can be configured with the ATI Catalyst Control Centre which you can find under System > Preferences. I'm not too hot on this subject, so further testing will be needed.

With the patch applied, updates applied and restricted drivers installed, it was time to set up Ubuntu the way I like it.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

New Bag Alert!!

Today I took delivery of my new laptop bag.

And I love it!

It's got more pockets than you could shake a stick at, it's got two (TWO!) Ubuntu things on it, three of the zip pulls have the Circle Of Friends logo on them, it's got a handle and a shoulder strap and it's black and everything!

And now I need to get a laptop for it...

Anyway, you can get one from the Canonical Store if you so wish. It's not the cheapest laptop bag on the market, but it is made by the good people at Ogio and, by purchasing from the Canonical Store, helps to support the Ubuntu foundation. And considering how much I've taken from them over the last six years it only seems right to give a little back.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Installing Linux Mint On A Dell Inspiron 2200

Lately, I've read forum posts and blog comments from people who are still convinced that installing Linux involves messing around with the command line at every turn, that dependency hell when installing software will ruin your Linux experience and that wireless just doesn't work.
They also say that Linux is not ready for the desktop.

This, my friends, is bollocks.

We have a temporary house guest staying at the moment and when she described her laptop, a Dell Inspiron 2200, as ancient, that it had been dropped on a number of occassions and takes forever to do anything, I offered to take a look. She also described herself as technically retarded. I was pretty sure I could fix the laptop, but not so sure about fixing her technical retardation.

So I connected it to the mains (the battery is completely shot) fired it up and once it had passed the Dell splash screen it started to boot WinXP. And then it promptly gave me the BSOD.
I tried booting to its last known good configuration, safe graphics mode, safe mode without graphics etc. but to no avail.
I booted Linux Mint from a USB stick and had a look at the hard drive using gParted. Checking the drive threw up an error and it wouldn't fix it.
I searched for and tried a number of solutions, but it just wasn't having it.
Sian, for that is her name, mentioned buying a Macbook to replace this machine (an excellent choice), but I was determined that this laptop wouldn't go to the local recycling facility without a fight and suggested that she let me install Linux Mint 10.

So, in went the Mint Linux live USB alongside an ethernet connection, I double clicked the installer, answered a few simple questions and within half an hour it was done. Rebooting, installing all the latest updates and rebooting again brought me to the desktop.

Then something popped up suggesting a driver for the wireless card. I chose to install the driver, the wireless card sprang to life and I was able to connect to my WPA2 encrypted network.

Then it turns out that Sian has been using a mobile broadband package on the Three network using a Huawei E220 dongle/modem. Having plugged one if these into my Ubuntu box, I know that it works out of the box. But, it turns out that this isn't the case with Mint 10. Which is odd.
Anyway, the solution to this was to boot with the dongle/modem inserted. You can then unplug it and plug it back in and it will still be picked up until you close down the computer, when it must be booted with it inserted again for it to work. Not great, but it works.

She asked for Picasa to be added and it was just a case of opening the Software Manager, searching for Picasa and hitting Add. I also added the Frozen Bubble game. Everyone likes Frozen Bubble.

After I had finished doing everthing, I closed the machine down and handed it to Sian.
She almost instinctively knew where to find everything, it connected automatically to my wireless network and within a couple of minutes she was surfing, exploring the menu and asking if Adobe Acrobat Reader was available. I explained that it really wasn't needed and when she clicked on a .pdf file it would just open in a reader. And it did.

And she is a very happy bunny.

She is no more technically aware than she was when she ran Windows, but she's a lot happier.
Not once has the command line been called upon, the wireless works, her mobile broadband works and installing software is easier than it is with Windows. She may well still get a Macbook, though, if only to give this design nightmare from Dell to someone else.

It doesn't exactly fly when running two or more programs, it's a relatively slow processor and it could use some more ram, but for web browsing and media playback, it works just fine.

So, if you're a first time user and would like to experience the incredibly easy to install (and use) Linux Mint 10, click here and get the full featured DVD edition :)