You took too long, now your candy's gone. That's what happened. Pakhow!

Friday, March 06


Mobile World Whole Lot Of Nothing Conference 2015

So MWC was just on in Barcelona.  Samsung announced the Galaxy S6, which dropped the very useful replaceable battery, water resistance, and micro SD slot for a shiny case.  And a much higher price.

HTC announced the One M9, an incremental update from its predecessors.  Not worth upgrading if you have the M8, but a very good phone all around.

Sony didn't have any new high-end phone announcements, which is something of a relief because they've been on a crazy 6-month release cycle.  The Z3 and Z3 Compact remain two of the best current Android phones.

But they did have a new tablet - the Z4.  In fact, it's just about the only interesting thing to come out of this year's show.

It's a full-size (10.1") tablet, with a 2560x1600 screen, a Snapdragon 810 CPU (2GHz 64-bit quad-core Arm A57), 3GB RAM, 32GB flash, micro SD slot, plus the usual cameras and sensors and speakers and so on.  And it's waterproof, like all of Sony's Xperia Z models.

And it weighs 389 grams.

To put that in perspective, the 2012 Nexus 7 weighed 340g, with a screen half the size and a quarter the pixel count.  The 2013 model weighs 290g.  The two full-size tablets I own, an iPad 3 and a Nexus 10, weigh 650g and 603g respectively.

It looks really nice.  But I already have two full-size tablets, and instead I constantly use my Nexus 7.  On the other hand, part of the reason I use the Nexus 7 is that it's so much lighter than the big tablets.  The 7 is perfect for reading, checking email, and playing Kairosoft games, but it's too small for reading web sites unless they have a really good small tablet layout.  It's also kind of slow, with its 1.5GHz Snapdragon 600; the Z4 should be 2-3x faster (depending on the benchmark).

The existing Z3 Tablet Compact is also very nice, coming in at 270g for a 30% bigger screen than the Nexus 7, and a 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801.  But it's only available here in Australia with 16GB of storage, and that's completely inadequate.  32GB is just enough; 64GB would be ideal.

(The problem being that Android no longer lets you install apps to the SD card; all apps, and in some cases - Kindle, I'm looking at you - their content has to be on the internal storage.  Well, some versions of some devices running some releases of Android can move some apps to SD card.  Which just makes things worse, frankly.)

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 03:24 PM | No Comments | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Saturday, February 28


Periwinkle And Bistre

The llamas' names are Periwinkle and Bistre.

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When Chrome's Sixty-Four

Well, no crashes in a week.  The problem seems to be isolated to Chrome 40.0.2214.115 32-bit with hardware acceleration enabled, plus something specific about my combination of Windows, my Radeon HD 7950, and its drivers and / or firmware.

This started (near as I can tell) when Chrome updated itself, and stopped when I turned off hardware acceleration.  After updating to 64-bit Chrome and having a couple of days of stable operation, I turned hardware acceleration back on - and I've had another couple of days of stability.

Which is good, because this is my primary machine for work, and I typically have about 15 apps and a total of 100 tabs open at any given time, not to mention a couple of Linux virtual machines each with their own sets of applications.*

Having it crash every day is like trying to build a house when once a day, bam, all your tools and supplies and whatever you were working on in the last hour suddenly scatter themselves all over the lot.  The fact that nothing is broken and you can pick everything up and start again is beside the point; sooner or later you are going to say to hell with this and take up a job farming potatoes.

* That's why I bought a system with 8 cores, 32GB of RAM, and a 960GB SSD.  The Radeon 7950, though, that was for Mass Effect.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 10:51 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Monday, February 23


A Farewell To Chromes?

TL;DR: It seems that some combination of 32-bit Chrome 40.0.2214.115, Chrome's hardware-accelerated rendering, AMD's graphics drivers, and perhaps my early model HD7950 BIOS had my computer crashing constantly last week.  I turned off Chrome's hardware acceleration and installed the 64-bit version, and it seems to be stable now.  Even loading up 16GB worth of tabs (one of the pages of this blog uses 1GB, which is handy to know but painful to trip over) and then closing the whole window at once didn't faze it.

I've been using Kei (my new PC) since January 2 (though the individual components are a lot older than that).  For six weeks it ran fine (ignoring all the reboots for updates), but then last Monday I arrived home from work to find that it had crashed.

Tuesday, it crashed again.
Wednesday it crashed again.
Thursday it didn't crash.
Friday it crashed twice.
Saturday it crashed when I wasn't even using it.
Sunday it crashed.

And so today, before I left for work, I fed it a CD containing Memtest86 and left it to run.

Got home just now, and it had completed 3 test cycles with no errors.  (It takes quite a while to run the full test suite across 32GB of RAM.)

That's a relief.  The predecessor to this computer's predecessor - Haruhi - had memory problems and slowly corrupted the contents of its disks over the course of several months; I ended up having to replace the memory and do a complete reinstall of Windows and every application.  Almost anything is better than faulty memory.

It randomly freezes solid, sometimes leaving half the screen blue.  No BSOD, doesn't reboot, just locks up solid.  At least twice when I was closing tabs in Chrome.

Google Google....

Other people have reported issues with Chrome acceleration on Radeon graphics cards.  I haven't done any hardware changes since I got the darn thing to boot, and I haven't done any software or driver updates recently, but Chrome updates itself all the time.

At least two of the crashes happened when I was interacting with Chrome.  I always have Chrome running; it's my primary browser, and I use it for mail as well.  Closing a tab has two main effects: It frees up a ton of memory (pointing to a possible memory issue) and it clears out a hardware accelerated graphics context.

If the memory is reliable enough to sustain a 12-hour torture test without a single bit out of place (which it should be, of course) then it's extremely unlikely to be the cause of so many crashes.

Which leaves...

Et tu, Chromium?*


You might want to get that looked at...

* Chromium comes from chroma, which is Greek, not Latin, so I have not the faintest clue what declension it is or what form it takes for the vocative case, and more to the point, nor does anyone else.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 09:32 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Sunday, February 22


Best Version Number Ever

I learned something new about USB 3.1 today.

The major points to know about this new version of USB are as follows:
  • It runs at 10Gb per second, up from 5Gb for USB 3.0.
  • It supports a new connector, USB type C, which is compact, reversible and the same on both ends of the cable.
  • It supports as much as 100W of power (5A at 20V) so you can charge not just a phone or tablet, but a good-sized notebook.
  • It's backwards-compatible with all the old versions; at most you'll need an adaptor cable.
  • It can carry video signals like DisplayPort for resolutions up to 8K (7680x4320).
The new point is a little less significant, but still nice.  USB 3.0 uses what is known as 8b/10b encoding.  To send 8 bits of data over the bus, you encode it in a 10-bit pattern.  This is a more sophisticated form of the start bit / stop bit / parity on old serial connections.  But it does mean that 20% of the bandwidth is used up by the encoding.

USB 3.1 supports a much longer and hence more efficient pattern - it encodes 128 bits of data in a 132-bit pattern.  That improves efficiency from 80% to 97%.

In effect, USB 3.0 can transfer 500MB of data per second before protocols and error correction.  USB 3.1 can transfer 1200MB per second.

Which makes it fully twice as fast as SATA 3, and offers a much smaller connector than the hideous SATA Express.  Plus one cable carries both data and power.  Plus it's easy to create a USB hub to get more ports. 

I'd like to see internal drives switch entirely over to USB 3.1, with the exception of PCIe x4 M.2 cards with NVMe.

Video is not as cut-and-dried; USB 3.1 can carry a DisplayPort 1.3 signal, which is the highest-speed consumer video standard - but only over a 1 metre cable, which just isn't enough to be practical.  It can carry DisplayPort 1.2 for 2 metres, but that limits you to "only" 4K@60Hz.  So DisplayPort / Thunderbolt cables still have a role there.

DisplayPort 1.3 has been designed to carry USB 3.0 in addition to video, though, so you still get USB everywhere.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 02:40 PM | No Comments | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Thursday, February 19


Say No To Lenovo

I was thinking of getting a Lenovo notebook before I settled on the LG, since Lenovo and Apple are the only major manufacturers that still offer any build-to-order options in Australia.

Their Australian pricing isn't very good, though, and they're slow to release new models here, so I passed.  And now I'm really glad about that, because they just got caught putting adware with self-signed root certificates on their laptops.

The adware is bad.  The self-signed root certificates are downright criminal.  They mean that unless you install Firefox (which ignores any existing certificates and installs its own) the certificate owner can do...  Basically, whatever the hell they want.  You have no security and no privacy at all.  Even if you trust the companies involved - and they are obviously untrustworthy for doing this in the first place - it leaves you open to a third-party attack.

That's it as far as I'm concerned.  I'll never look at another Lenovo product, never recommend them, and warn people away if they ask.

Their non-excuses and non-apologies just turn it into a black comedy.  It's like being caught substituting ground-up diseased cockroaches for coffee, and putting a stop to the practice until you can find a source of disease-free cockroaches.

Update: The only tiny sliver of protection remaining was that the passphrase for the private key wasn't known.  But that was hours ago, and it's now been found.  Thanks Lenovo!

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 06:30 PM | Comments (4) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Sunday, February 15


Could Be Worse. How? Could Be Raining.

Most people have a story to tell when they find themselves passed out on the bathroom floor in a puddle of their own vomit. Even if they can't remember it.

Me, nope. Dinner at home, listening to Ace of Spades podcast, start to feel really sick, run for bathroom [TMI elided] then the food poisoning (if that's what it was) brings on a migraine as a special guest star and I find I can't stand up any more, or even sit up, and lying down on a floor that I've just thrown up on actually starts to look like a good option.

Then I pass out for a while.

And, in extra bonus this-is-my-life-now news, my neighbours are making so much noise (at some time after 10 at night, and they've been carrying on like this since 8:30 this morning) that they wake me up. Food poisoning, migraine, massive sleep deficit due to recent rush jobs at work, comatose on the bathroom floor, and they wake me up.

No idea what it was.  My first thought was scombroid poisoning, but unless turkey has been reclassified as fish, that's impossible.  Very rapid onset, almost equally rapid recovery.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 12:18 AM | Comments (6) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Monday, February 09


I'm Gonna Sing The Doom Song Now

Google News search for Greece is doomed.


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Saturday, January 24


On Being The Wrong Size

There's a problem with the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies: The scale doesn't make sense.  Little things, like the fact that the town of Dale is about as big as Minas Tirith.  And big things like the dwarves' attempt to drown Smaug in molten gold.

If we assume that the volume of molten gold is about the same as an Olympic swimming pool (and frankly, it looks larger), then we're talking about 2.5 million litres of gold.  That would weigh close to 50 thousand tons - 50 billion grams.  Gold in our world is currently runs about $40 per gram.

That's two trillion dollars worth of gold right there.  And never mind the hoard itself, which is much larger.

It's possible that gold is more common in Middle Earth than on Earth, but that just means it's less valuable, since it has little practical use in a pre-industrial economy.  (It doesn't corrode, which is good, but it's soft and very heavy.)

And the dwarves pay Bard in silver, not in gold, and yet that is enough for him to risk his life to smuggle them into Esgaroth.  Either the values of silver and gold are inverted - in which case the dwarves wouldn't be hoarding gold - or the economy of Middle Earth is bigger than Earth's - which isn't possible; they have nothing we'd even recognise as a city in the modern sense.

Of course, this particular part is Peter Jackson, not Tolkien, and The Hobbit is a children's story (and canonically, is told by Bilbo, who is not an entirely reliable narrator).

Still...  Where is everybody in the Lord of the Rings movies?  The world seems to be utterly depopulated.  It's the movie equivalent of a Bioware game.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 04:48 PM | Comments (8) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Wednesday, January 21


Samsung U28D590D Review

TL;DR: Oh my God, it's full of stars.

Tech Specs

Resolution: 3840x2160
Input: 1 x DisplayPort 1.2, 2 x HDMI 1.4
Output: 1/8" audio jack
Power: External power brick

The Samsung U28D590D is a 1.5th generation 4K monitor.  Early 4K screens were targeted squarely at the professional market, with prices upwards of $3000.  Second generation 4K screens, showing up now, are priced under $1000, still use high-quality IPS panels, but forego some high-end features like colour calibration.

The U28 sits below those, as a high-end consumer model, for consuming rather than producing high-resolution content.  And it's priced appropriately; I paid A$499 for mine on sale; regular online prices range upwards from $549 to $699.

Out of the box it takes a few minutes to attache the stand (you'll need a large-bladed screwdriver, either plus or minus) and get it plugged in. The default settings are retina-searingly bright; I have the brightness and contrast turned down to 60 currently and it's still on the bright side.

This is a subjective review; I have no measurement equipment.  But there are no static colour or brightness inconsistencies significant enough to notice (and there were on my old Dell U2711, a professional monitor), and no visible dead or stuck pixels (though at 4K they might not be easy to find).

Colours are vibrant and text is very sharp.  It's not quite perfect - I'm judging it against my 2560x1600 Nexus 10 - but it's very good indeed.

The stand isn't as solid as it could be, particularly compared to the Dell, which is rock steady.  I'd feel comfortable leaning on the Dell if I needed to climb on the desk to change the light bulb (and have); I'd never do that with this monitor.

This is a TN panel, so there is going to be some colour shift if you view it from an angle.  Good news is that the horizontal viewing angle is as good as any monitor I've seen, including expensive IPS screens.  Bad news is that if you stand up and look down at a 45 degree angle, white turns to blue-grey and other colours take on a distinct blue shift.

Both my desktop with its Radeon 7950 and my notebook with its Intel integrated graphics (Haswell CPU) recognised the monitor immediately and worked flawlessly over HDMI, albeit at 30Hz.    What didn't work so well was connecting my 7950 over DisplayPort.

On one of the two mini-DisplayPort outputs on the card, the display shows graphical glitches on random horizontal bands every 10-30 seconds.  On the other port, the whole screen goes black and then restores itself every 20-60 seconds.

Adjusting the resolution to 2560x1440 stops the problem, but that doesn't look particularly great.  On the HDMI port at 30Hz, the display is rock solid.  I suspect this is an issue with my DisplayPort cable - my card has mini-DP, and the included cable is full-size, so I picked up a mini-DP to DP cable from the corner computer store.  I suspect it might be an older cable only rated for DP 1.1, and so not able to reliably carry the 4K@60Hz signal.  I'll order another cable online and test that again.

Right now I'm running quite happily at 30Hz; you can notice the difference, but for work, watching movies, and light gaming it's not a really problem.

The remaining question is Windows 8's scaling.  It's a bit of a mixed bag.  I'm having more luck (for some reason) on my desktop than on my notebook (a 1080p 13.3" screen, so basically the same DPI as this).  I'll report back on that aspect in a few days.

The on-screen display is driven by a little joystick on the back of the monitor; you can easily reach it from the front - it's just behind the lower right corner.  It works quite well, and has all the usual amenities.  I haven't yet tried features like picture-in-picture or picture-by-picture, but I have little use for them anyway.

Overall, it's a good monitor for its target audience, and at this price, a good buy.  The big selling point is not this monitor in particular but 4K and high-resolution displays generally. : It's like washing the mud off your screen; everything is suddenly so clear.  I'd find it hard to go back, and I've only had it a day.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 11:08 AM | Comments (3) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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