The Behemoth has arisen

It’s been an interesting weekend, and it’s been a geeky weekend. It started on Friday with my new PC locking up a few times, and blue screening. It had been working nicely all week, and then starts playing up all of a sudden on Friday.

So Saturday morning I get up and can’t turn it on, until I power off the PSU. Then once it got past POST it wouldn’t boot into windows. Grrrr.

Finally after trying an Ubuntu LiveCD and checking that the drives were ok etc. I tried it one last time before an O/S reinstall and hey presto! It boots again.

So I copy off my data, just to be on the safe side, and then I decide to reformat and reinstall anyway. I did the same to the mediacenter pc as well, because that got an upgrade to 64bit :)

Then I spent the rest of the day attempting to install vista or windows 7 on the new pc. Either it would fail and reboot during the installation, or would install, then crash, or install and crash during first boot, or many other combinations. Needless to say, starting to get annoyed, very annoyed.

I got the media center pc up and running again (and finally got the dual boot vista 64 and windows 7 64 bit going) and started reading up on cpu voltages, temps, base clock frequencies and multipliers, with a thought that maybe the new 975 cpu wasn’t being supplied enough volts by the motherboard as standard. Had a play with the overclocking settings, but still not booting.

Finally thought it might be some dodgy ram, so spent a couple of hours stress testing it with memtest86+, no errors.

As a last resort I took out all the components I could, just to see if I could install the o/s with bare minimum. As it happens, that wasn’t much, 1 SATA drive, and 2x2GB memory sticks, and the pcie soundcard.

Surprisingly it booted and installed ok, so I started adding bits back in one by one to see if I could find the culprit. However, I couldn’t get it to fail. So then thought maybe the ram wasn’t seated properly (or had become unseated) and started setting everything back up, then went to bed.

Sunday morning, and it’s still crashing, although not as much. I don’t really know what could be causing it, but have been reading about a few tools. I had stressed the memory yesterday and couldn’t get it to fail, so I thought I should check the CPU. So I downloaded a copy of LinX which is a CPU stress tool, along with CPU-Z and Everest (so I could monitor core temps and voltages)

I set LinX going and all 8 threads (4 cores with HyperThreading) went up to 100% cpu usage, and the core temps started going up from 40 odd degrees to about 70-75 degrees c which I thought was a little warm.

Unplug everything time, and then I gave it time to cool off before removing the cpu heatsink and fan, it’s a huge Zalman thing. I checked the thermal compound and the CPU and it all looked fine. However just to be on the safe side I cleaned both the cpu and the heatsink and re-applied more thermal compound, a lot more :)

I took the opportunity to take a few shots of the beast whilst it was out and in pieces, forgot when I was building it last week.

Connect it all back up, boot up first time, nice :) Start running the stress tests again, idle core temps around 35 degrees, and running a LinX test using all system ram the temps never got over 65 degrees C. So it looks like that was the issue.

Since then I have set the memory speed to 1800Mhz (rather than the default 1333Mhz) and it’s running nice and stable, I couldn’t even get Windows 7 to do a Windows Experience Assessment with the memory on that setting before.

Fingers crossed it seems to have sorted out all the instability issues I was having, and also my netgear router hasn’t b0rked itself since either, which it seemed to have been doing regularly since I got the new PC. I wonder if the crashes were spannering the network cards in the pc and causing some traffic that the router couldn’t handle… we’ll see anyway.

So after planning a weekend of using the PC to finish off some stuff for work, play with Visual Studio 2010 and of course a go on WoW, I end up re-installing and messing with OC settings etc. It’s Sunday evening and my pc is almost back to normal now.

The lesson learned here though is that every time I build a pc now I will be using the set of stress tools to check memory, cpu, etc. to make sure that it has been built properly.

Here’s a couple of shots of the behemoth :)

 

The Behemoth

The case is massive, only just fits under the table!

The Behemoth

 

The Behemoth

There are it's innards, with a case this big there is plenty of room. You can see the Zalman CPU cooler, the red fins on the Dominator memory. Very happy with the case, it’s also ready for liquid cooling, the reservoir pipes have ready made holes in the chassis (at the top of the pic)

Luminous Opera House

There have been posters around Sydney for an event ‘curated’ by Brian Eno called Luminous. Wasn’t sure what it was about too much, it mentioned a few bands, the only one of which I had heard of was Ladytron, and then only because of Weebl & Bob’s creator rehashing one of their vids.

However it started on Tuesday, and one of the attractions is that they have lit up the Opera House and the MCA with images, for the next 3 weeks, so I went out with the tripod and camera last night to take a few shots.

It was impressive, the side nearest the Harbour Bridge had a video projection, so each image slowly morphed into the next. I am not sure what the other side looks like, but I will have a wander over to Lady Macquarie’s Chair at some point before it ends and see what they are projecting on that side.

It was a bit windy so a lot of the long exposure shots came out blurry, but I think I got a few good ones…

Luminous Opera House

Luminous Opera House

Luminous Opera House

This last one I was stood directly under the projector which is in the Overseas Passenger building.

As always, click the images for more on my Flickr site.

New PC arrived

Last Thursday the parts for my new Behemoth of a PC arrived and I spent a few hours that night building it.

The CoolerMaster Cosmos S full tower case is massive, and has 3 fans mounted in the case and a massive fan on the side door. It has some cool features though, it’s all tool-less, so real easy to get into, and install any new cards or devices. There is a set of ports at the front on the top, 4 USB, fire wire and eSata ports, and headphones and mic of course. Another good thing is that the labels are backlit, so you can see them in the dark.

I also got an Asus Rampage II Extreme motherboard, socket LGA1366 ready for my Intel i7 975 Extreme processor, and it has some nice features too. There is an LCD poster that shows the BIOS post messages when its booting, so no listening out for case speaker beeps, and all the mobo ports are lit with an OLED display, so you can see what port is what when you are lying on the floor under the desk trying to plug something in.

In went a couple of SSD drives, 6GB of 2Ghz dominator memory, and to keep the cpu cool a massive zalman heatsink and fan.

Graphics is provided by a Gigabyte GTX-295 geforce card.

When it came time for the big switch on it’s always a nerve wracking experience… will it power up at all, will there be issues? Well I did cheat a bit and power up the mobo, cpu, gfx card and 1 stick of memory before I put it all in the case just to see if it would boot, so I had a good idea it would all work.

And it did, the fans burst into life, there was a glow from inside the case, and the whole of Sydney’s lights dimmed as it sucked all the power from the grid :)

Then it was onto installing Windows 7 and getting things up and running.

It’s been running for over a week now, and I am well happy with it. It is lightning fast, it hooks up to my HP MediaSmart home server seamlessly, and Windows 7 RC 1 (as the only o/s on the machine at the moment) really is good too, 64 bit version and all my apps are working fine. I am getting a windows experience rating of 6.3, although everything is at 7.6 and 7.7 other than the gfx, which I haven’t enabled SLI mode yet, as I like twin view on my 2 widescreen LCD displays :)

Next on the list to install is Visual Studio 2010 beta 1… we’ll see how that goes!

Outlook and IMAP

Well after an evening and a morning of using IMAP in Outlook 2007 I got sick of it and have gone back to POP3.

If you set up an IMAP account it forces you to use a new set of folders for the mail, which I can understand as it is syncing with the server and any other devices that are using IMAP, however its just too annoying, for a few reasons:

1) The default for everything else is still the main set of folders, so you can’t get rid of them, and it won’t let you create special folder types in the IMAP folders, so you can’t move all your other stuff over, like contacts, calendar, tasks etc.

2) When you delete things it just marks them to be deleted, you have to go and purge the folder for them to actually be deleted, although I have found a setting that will auto purge the folder when you change to a different folder, so that’s not so bad

3) I can’t seem to find a way to make the folder collections order the way I want them, I want the folder collection with my actual email inbox (the imap one, not the one that is still hanging around from my old pop account) at the top. I had to resort to renaming my PST file with a ‘Z’ in front to get it to stay at the bottom

So I’ve gone back to good old POP3, set the account to leave the messages on the server for 10 days or if I delete them, and then left the iPhone connecting using IMAP, and that seems to work fine. I can see the mails on the iPhone, after outlook has picked them up from the server.

Well that worked…

I’ve been busy geeking out today, scanning in my old uni final year project report that I found in my boxes of stuff. Managed to get the auto document feeder to work so I didn’t need to do it page by page. I decided to keep the free printer that came with the laptop, and I have to say it does seem to work ok. Although by free they actually mean $180 if you want a refund for your malfunctioning laptop!

Also I ended up rebuilding my whole blog site, as there seemed to be some strange things going on, which I think may have been some sort of hack. A few of the blog php files had got ‘corrupted’ and according to the net it can be used by spammers to get access to your blog for spamming purposes. I wondered why I had a heap of random users sign up with odd email addresses that didn’t match their names!

So they have all been deleted and all the folders and files have been chmod’d to hopefully stop it happening again.

Email got a going over too… changed from gmail to my hosting account, using secure IMAP and secure SMTP, and configured up both outlook and my iPhone, and that’s all working sweet now.

I also changed back from WoWMatrix to the Curse client today for my World of Warcraft addons… it seems Curse and WoWInterface have blocked WoWMatrix from downloading from their site because it is ‘stealing bandwidth’. Pfft, not showing their banner ads is more like it. So now I have had to go back to the curse client, which seemed flaky when I was using it before (which was why I changed to WoWMatrix because it is a single exe that just works and gets it right every time) So we’ll see how it goes with CC, hopefully they have improved it.

Over and out…

The laptop saga

One thing is for sure, I won't be buying anything from Dell again. Almost a year ago I ordered one of their XPS gaming laptops, and after the poor sales service I got from Rock before I left the UK, this order went like clockwork, and the laptop arrived within a few days of ordering.

The laptop itself was great, dual SSD drives, twin 8800M GTX graphics cards in SLI, 17" full HD screen, it was blisteringly fast. If only it had stayed that way...

Less than 6 months had passed of owning it when I came to turn it on one day and it wouldn't power up. There is a little blue light on the PSU brick and that light went off when I plugged in the cable to the laptop. This fact led the tech support people at the call center to believe that the motherboard had blown. 3 engineer visits later and 3 new motherboards and other parts, the on-site engineers couldn't get the machine to power on. So it was shipped to the Dell repair center, who also couldn't diagnose what the problem was, so Dell offered me a replacement machine, but without extending the warranty. I accepted this, the replacement arrived swiftly and all was back working again. All told I'd been without a machine for over a month, and it had prompted me to buy and build a media center pc, to use whilst I was without the laptop, and also to use after that for playing my media on. Really glad I have that machine now. :) I chalked up the failure of the laptop to a 'one-off' and got on with using it. The people at Dell tech support couldn't tell me why it had failed, or what had caused it, and how I could stop it from happening again though.

So, fast forward a few months (less than 6 again) and exactly the same thing happens to this replacement machine. Won't boot, blue light in PSU goes off when the PSU is connected. Same process again, I wait in 3 times for the on-site engineers to come and not fix it, then Dell tech support tell me that they are going to send the machine to their repair center for a thorough diagnostic test. I had had enough by this time, this obviously isn't a 'one-off' issue, and I am more inclined to think that there is some sort of design flaw with the machine. So I tell them I want a refund. The replacement machine failed on March 3rd, and I am now posting this entry on May 7th, the day that the refund cash has finally arrived in my bank account.

The time and effort I have had to put in to get my money back has been unbelievable. The tech support and customer care (which surely is a joke, as it's definitely not what they are doing) departments don't seem to communicate with each other, and they never call you back. I was told that I had a refund agreed by tech support, and that it would be up to 14 days before customer care would get in touch to confirm the refund. I heard nothing. I called customer care (who only work 9am - 5pm), they looked at my case, spoke to tech support, then told me someone from tech support would call me back before 5pm that day. Didn't happen. (No surprise really) I called tech support after 5pm, only to be told that the refund had been rejected, by customer care. I wasn't best pleased. 1) They didn't tell me this when I spoke to customer care, just fobbed me off by telling me someone would call back. So I can't call them back till the next day as it was after 5pm, and 2) they didn't call to tell me when they had rejected the refund. Customer care... really?

So now started a big set of calls between tech support and customer care, one guy I spoke to in customer care to tell me the reasons why the refund had been rejected came out with some crazy excuses:

1) I have already accepted a replacement, so that means I can't have a refund. WTF? I only accepted a replacement because their hardware failed in the first place

2) I have owned the laptop for over a year, again this was not true, and if I was to be picky, i have owned 2 laptops for less than a year, neither of which actually worked for more than 4 or 5 months.

What also got me riled was when I asked to speak to his manager, intending to go up the chain until I could speak to someone who had the authority to not spout their processes at me, he refused, telling me that his boss wouldn't be able to do anything about it, and it was a tech support issue and I should talk to them. (Strangely, it was tech support that agreed to the refund in the first place, so I couldn't see what talking to them would achieve) I was going around in circles, it was costing me time and money to sit on the phone to these idiots, not to mention getting more and more pissed off. At one point tech support even wanted to give me a refund, but to subtract a 20% restocking fee. 20%! WTF? I asked them what they were going to do with the faulty laptop when they got it back, how they were going to 're-stock' it? It didn't take them long to stop asking me about that

So that evening I wrote an email to Michael Dell, which Dave had suggested I do a while ago. I found his email address on the net, from a few articles that suggested that he didn't actually read mails sent to this address but they went to a global escalation team. I explained the situation, and that I wanted a refund. I didn't expect anything to come of it.

A couple of weeks later, I was just gearing up to try and arrange for tech support and customer care to call me on a conference call so I could speak to the jokers all at the same time, rather than going from one to another (I was even trying to find people that worked for Dell that were in Australia rather than talking to the people in the call center which is in Malaysia, found a few on linked in, and other sites like that) when I got a mail from someone else at Dell, this time from the escalation team, saying that they had read my email to the CEO and that they understood my issues and had got a full refund agreed with the tech support director. Result! Although I wasn't holding my breath at this point. It seemed to move along fairly quickly after that, they arranged to collect the faulty laptop and a week or so later the money was in my account.

So there is my experience with Dell, the customer service is shocking, and it takes an email to the CEO before anything is done. However I am impressed that the mail to the CEO did make things happen.

And having said all that, we use dell equipment at work and not had any problems with them, although I suspect there may have been an issue with the design of their top of the range gaming laptop, rather than the more common, run-of-the-mill machines. Still, I ain't gonna be a customer with them again. I'm back to buying components and building my own, at least if something breaks then I can replace that part individually.

Windows 7

Just spent some time today installing the beta of Windows 7, 64 bit version and I have to say it's gone pretty smoothly. I've got most of the apps installed that I used in 32bit Vista, just waiting for VS2008 SP1 to finish. It'll be interesting to see how long it is before I find a bug, or something that I can't do, due to a missing driver or something.

I am getting to like it already though!

It's been a while...

Yeah, I haven't posted for quite a while, I've been busy doing... well, stuff that isn't that interesting I guess :)

Mostly been hanging around for the last couple of months making sure I was available for recruitment agencies just in case they had any interviews for me, as I started looking for work at the end of Jan. The big news is I went for an interview with a company last Weds and they offered me the job on Thursday, and I started work there this Monday, so I have finally (after just over a year) got back into working life.

The company is cool, they have web based document and project management systems aimed at the construction industry and they are looking to build a mobile version of their apps, which is where I come in, so I'm back writing code for windows mobile, and possibly iPhone (in objective c) and maybe even Java... which will be cool. Their offices are in St Leonards, which is about 20 mins from my place on the train, which isn't too much of a hardship each day. The tricky thing has been getting up early, its even been dark when I have been getting up, you can tell we are getting into winter, although the clocks change this weekend so that should mean it's light a bit earlier I think.

In other news it's Easter next weekend, and I'm entertaining :) The whole family Parkin are taking a road trip from Melbourne for a few days here in Sydney, I'm looking forward to that, we've got plans to go to the zoo and the Blue Mountains and a few other things. So my camera will be getting some use, and hopefully some snaps and a few more blog posts!

Over and out!

Tilt Shift Pictures

Thanks to a link in the b3ta newsletter this week I've found a site that allows you to apply processing to an image to make it look like you have used a tilt shift lens to take the shot.

There have been quite a few images posted on b3ta that use this technique (although I think it was mainly done with photoshop, rather than with expensive tilt shift lenses) and they make the image look like it's a photo of a miniature version of the subject. Here's a Wiki entry on tilt shift.

I've been messing around with images to see what they look like after putting them through the web site, it's pretty cool.

Here's a before and after of Bronte Beach when Sculptures By The Sea was on:

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="425" caption="Bronte Beach before tilt shift"]Bronte Beach before tilt shift[/caption]

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="425" caption="Bronte Beach after tilt shift"][/caption]

Here's a photo of some boats on Sorrento beach down near where James & Amelia live:

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="425" caption="Boats on Sorrento beach before tilt shift"][/caption]

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="425" caption="Boats on Sorrento beach after tilt shift"]Boats on Sorrento beach after tilt shift[/caption]

Also a while ago (the thing that started to get me interested in tilt shift) someone sent around this video that someone made of a monster truck rally taken with a tilt shift lens, makes all the trucks look like toys :)