New Motherboard: ASUS Z97-A (and Ubuntu)

My old desktop was seeing random drive errors on multiple drives, including a drive I only got a few months ago. And since my motherboard was about 5 years old, I decided it was time to replace it.

I asked the KWLUG mailing list if they had any advice on picking motherboards. The consensus seems to be pretty much “it’s still a crapshoot.” But I bit the bullet and reported back:

I bought a motherboard! An ASUS Z97-A

Mostly because I wanted Intel integrated graphics and I’ve got 3 monitors it needs to drive. And I was hoping the mSATA SSD card I got to replace the one in my Dell Mini 9 (that didn’t work) would fit in the m.2 slot. It doesn’t. Oh well.

I wanted to get it all set up while I was off for Canada Day. Except Canada Computers didn’t have any of my preferred CPU options. So I’ll be waiting for that to come in via NewEgg.

I gave myself a budget of about $500 for mobo, CPU and RAM and I’ll end up going over a little bit (mostly tax and shipping), and tried to build the best machine I could for that.

One of the things I did this time that I hadn’t done before was spec out a desktop machine at System76 and used that as a starting point. System76 is more explicit about things like chipsets for desktops than Zareason is. Which would be great, except they’re using the older H87 chipsets.

…Like the latest Ars System Guide Hot Rod But that’s over 6 months old now. And >they’re balancing their budget against having to buy a graphics card, which I don’t want to do.

I still have some unanswered questions about the Z97 chipset. It’s only been out for about a month. So who knows?

My laptop has mostly been my desktop for the last few years. But I want to knock that off because I’ve been developing back and neck problems. My desktop layout is okay ergonomically, at least better than anything I have for the laptop (including and especially my easy chair with a lapdesk, which is comfy, but kind of horrible on the neck). One of the things that’s holding me back is my desktop is 5 years old and was built cheap because I was mostly using it as a server by that point. I really want to make it something I want to use over the laptop (which is a very nice laptop). Which is why I ended up going somewhat upper-mid range.

That’s one of the nice things about building from parts, despite the lack of useful information: This is the 3rd motherboard I’ve put in this case. I replaced the PSU once a couple years ago so it’s quite sufficient to handle the new stuff. I’m keeping my old harddrives. I could keep the graphics card. I’ll need to buy an adapter for the DVD burner (and I’ve yet to decide if I’m going to do that, or buy a new SATA one or just go without). And I can keep my (frankly pretty awesome) monitors. So $500 gets me a kick-ass whole new machine.

Anyway, long story short, I still have a lot of questions about whether this was the best purchase, but I’m hopeful it’s a good one.

Aside: is Canada Computers really the only store in town that keeps desktop CPUs in stock anymore? I couldn’t get into the UW Tech Shop, but since they’re mostly iPads and crap now, I’m not optimistic. Computer XS doesn’t (at least the Waterloo one). Future Shop and Best Buy don’t. I even went into Neutron for the first time in over 15 years. Nope. Nobody.

It… didn’t go as well as I’d hoped:

So, anyway, I got the motherboard, CPU and put it all in my old case.

I booted up and all three monitors came up without any fuss, which has never happened for me. Awesome! This is great!

Then I tried to play game.

Apparently the current snd_intel_hda ALSA drivers don’t like H97 and Z97 chipsets. The sound was staticky, crackly and distorted.

I’ve spent more than a few hours over the last week hunting around for a fix. I installed Windows on a spare harddrive to make sure it wasn’t a hardware problem (for which I needed to spend the $20 to get a new SATA DVD drive so I could run the Windows driver disk to actually get actual video, networking and sound support :P). And I found this thing on the Arch WIki which, while not fixing the problem, did actually make it worse, leading me to conclude there was some sort of sound driver/pulseaudio problem.

Top tip: when trying to sort out sound driver problems for specific hardware the best thing to do is search for the hardware product id (in my case “8ca0″). That’s how I found this:

https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/linux/+bug/1321421

Hurray! The workaround works great and now I’m back in business!

So I got burned by going with the bleeding edge, and I should know better. But, even though the information isn’t widely diseminated yet, there is a fix. And a workaround. I’m sure Ubuntu 14.10 will have no problem with it. It’s not as bad as the bleeding edge was years ago. If the fix was easier to find (and I’m going to work on that), it was easier getting going with Ubuntu than it was with Windows.

Too Close to Call

[election lawn signs]

Sometimes I get excited about elections. I mean, I like talking about policy stuff I’m passionate about and I often find the democratic process invigorating and exciting. Other times, it just fills me with dread.

When last we met, Kitchener—Waterloo was holding a by-election to replace long-standing PC MPP Elizabeth Witmer. The victor in that race was NDP candidate Catherine Fife, which I felt pretty happy with, for reasons you can read about in the aforelinkedto blog post.

Now things are a bit different. The Liberals aren’t being complete jerk-asses. They’ve got a new leader I actually rather like and they’re running on a platform that’s pretty much everything I want them to run on. Even high speed rail between KW and Toronto, which I acknowledge is somewhat implausible, but I’ll take “we’re gonna do it! don’t ask me how” over “it’ll never happen; we hate you.” any day.

The PCs, however, have fallen back on faith-based economics and populist vitriol and stand in opposition to pretty much everything I believe in. They’d cancel Places to Grow and clean energy subsidies. They’d cancel all surface transit projects. They’d cut absolutely everything anyone cares about. Their plan, in a nutshell, seems to be to pour out as much gasoline as they can find, chuck a match and walk away with a smug grin.

I don’t like them very much.

Let’s dive into the candidates Continue reading

Enable Two-Factor Authentication

So everybody’s really excited about Heartbleed and now we’re seeing helpful folks on social media urging all their friends and family to change their passwords.

Leaving aside that your Instagram password is probably one of the least interesting things an attacker might get through Heartbleed, changing your password will only help you until the next time a security breach leaks a (hopefully) hashed password database.

Passwords alone aren’t good enough for security anymore. Fortunately, more and more sites have implemented two-factor authentication or two-step verification.

Continue reading

Ugh, taxes

I need to file for capital gains. Woo, right? Except it’s gains on options I purchased nearly a decade ago. They were about to expire, and they actually weren’t under water, unlike most of my other options, but not by enough to make me think cashing them in was worth the bother. And I thought it might be fun to own some shares.

When the company in question was purchased and I sold the shares, I needed to send in my original stock certificate. I can’t find any other record of actually buying the shares. And I need that so I can figure out the price of the shares at the time so I can file that as a taxable benefit (or something. This stuff puts me over the threshold into more advanced income tax stuff, so they seem less willing to hold my hand through it all).

At least I figured out how much I actually paid for them at the time.

Do you think the CRA would mind a hand-wavey (possibly conservative) estimate? I know about when I would’ve bought, because I know when they would have expired. So that’s something…

At least I’m not working out the country or anything, I suppose.

2013: Year in Review

All in all, I think 2013 was a good year. A stressful year, but a good one. I can’t really talk about the stressful parts, because most of it isn’t really to do with me directly, or I’m not free to disclose publicly. But I feel generally content with things, and I feel like I’m able to deal with problems as they arise. So yeah. Good.

I feel kinda bad for posting a measly eleven blog posts in 2013. But I’m pretty pleased that Bevan and I kept up the Kwartzlab Radio podcast pretty much all year (with breaks for summer and Christmas, but we generally kept to our schedule). And, as always, you can keep up with many of my goings on on Twitter if you’re so inclined. (Or Facebook, if you prefer, which gets sent my tweets as well).

I’m currently basking in the afterglow of my annual NYE party. It was lovely to see everyone, play some games and give them way too much food. And watch Doctor Who. We’ll have to do it again next year.

The next few months are going to be kind of hard on me, but I think I’m up for it. We’ll see. I don’t particularly like making resolutions, so I’ll spare you that. It generally comes down to “be a better human.” And I don’t need a calendar change to tell me that.

I wish you all success in the coming year. Health, wealth and happiness. Here’s to the future.

Reversed Polarity

IMG_3364

Doctor Who conventions are kind of a rare thing around here. I’d been to a couple Who Party Toronto events, including the one a couple weeks ago, but they’re fairly small affairs. When I heard that the people who put on Polaris (see 2008 (2) (3) for comparison) were putting on a Doctor Who convention for the 50th anniversary, I jumped on it.

Well, okay, I waffled for a little bit, but Ellen convinced me I had to go, so I got myself all signed up and decided to go.

I’m not sure what I was expecting. Perhaps something like what I’d heard Gallifrey One is like, though inevitably on a smaller scale. In the end, I had to modify my expectations a bit.

I suppose I should back up a bit. I’ve been finding myself in a not-so-perky-and-energetic mood the last few months. And it’s been a long time since I’ve gone off to a convention alone. When I did, as much as I enjoyed aspects on the con I participated in, I found the overall experience to be pretty depressing. Because I’m not a life-of-the-party, put-myself-out-there, small-talk-and-cocktails kind of guy. I don’t particularly relish meeting celebrities and I don’t really know what to do with my fellow fans unless I’ve already got some sort of personal connection with them. I do, however, like hanging out with friends at these things and discussing and deciding what to do, where to go for lunch and things like that. That’s super-fun. But I didn’t have that here.

So in setting myself up for going to Reversed Polarity, I probably should’ve tried harder to rope some friends into going with me.

But that’s probably why my reaction to the thing seems to be one of disappointment. I mean, intellectually, I know it shouldn’t be. It was a whole weekend of Doctor Who stuff! How cool is that?! But I (somewhat inevitably in retrospect) found myself feeling left out and like I wasn’t fitting in. Which is totally my own fault, really.

After I was able to moderate my expectations, I was able to have a good time in a vaguely detached, doing-my-own-thing kind of way. The panels helped.

Leading up to the con, the programming people announced that there were several “panels in peril.” They included the (one and only) Big Finish panel and the New Adventures panel. There was no way I could let those die! So I signed up. On a whim, I put myself down for panels dedicated to the 6th and 7th Doctors as well.

Being on those panels was pretty much the best thing about the con for me. I love talking about this stuff. And I was able to play off other knowledgeable people as well. They were great. I’ve done the Doctor Who panel at Con-G before, and that was fun, but these were far more likely to have a few hard-core Doctor Who fans around I could nerd out at. Glorious!

Ellen showed up for the main guest talks. She was really excited to see Dick Mills, one of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop engineers, creator of many iconic Doctor Who sound effects and co-”realizer” of the Doctor Who theme. We also appreciated his stories about orgasm guns and rushing off to see a lady about her tits. He’s a lot of fun, really.

Oh, and I should probably mention Peter Davison too. And Graeme Harper and Dan Starkey. I got my Caves of Androzani DVD signed by Peter and Graeme, and got Dick to sign Ellen’s Doctor Who sound effects CD.

Ellen had to leave after the guest talks, though, as the air in that hotel isn’t at all good for her.

I’m going to call the event on the whole a success, even if my mood at the time detracted from it. I’m very, very grateful to the people who put it on and a little sad they didn’t announce a follow-up event for next year. Because it’s the sort of thing that often improves as it matures, and I would’ve liked to see that.

Review: Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue

Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue (The Bern Saga, #1)Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue by Hugh Howey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fast-paced, fun adventure which is made better if you don’t think about it too hard.

The things Molly and Cole get up to are literally incredible and it’s an outright miracle they survived half of them. The prose-style can be a bit breathless and overbearing at times, with chapter cliffhangers amounting to “Or was it???” and “Little did they know they had it all wrong!” I think I would’ve enjoyed a few more chances to catch my breath between impossibly deadly disasters.

I was looking for a fun space adventure, and this book is that, especially if I can keep myself from rolling my eyes long enough to enjoy it.

I might be tempted to recommend it to younger readers who might be more forgiving, but one thing that might temper my recommendation is that Molly and Cole kill an awful lot of people and there don’t seem to be many consequences to that. Maybe it’ll catch up to them in later books, but it’s rather disconcerting and out of character for most YA I’ve read.

Of course it ends on a horrible cliff-hanger. I think I might give the next one a try at some point, but I need a break from this first.

View all my reviews

The 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who

An afternoon with Philip Hinchcliffe

We’re just about a month away from Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary (November 23rd, or “Doctor Who Day,” as I have it in my calendar every year). I’m pretty excited.

This weekend I went to Toronto for Who Party Toronto’s ‘A Day with Philip Hinchcliffe’. It was the first time I’d been to one of their smaller events (I’d been to their larger one-day Who Party conventions a couple times. This was small, intimate and a lot of fun. I ended up buying the special edition of Robots of Death for Mr Hinchcliffe to sign, since I only had the original region 2 DVD (which was the one of the first DVDs they released back in 1998 or something). I’ve got a lot of respect for Philip Hinchcliffe’s era of Doctor Who (essentially Tom Baker’s first 3 years). And had to get in a question about the line he’s producing for Big Finish, coming out next year starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson as Leela, because that’s just awesome.

In a couple week’s I’ll be back in Toronto for Reversed Polarity, a weekend-long convention by the people who did Polaris and Toronto Trek. I always loved Toronto Trek. I went to Toronto Trek III.

Funny story: when I went to Toronto Trek III, I went to the Doctor Who news panel, hosted by DWIN and asked whether the Valeyard would be coming back. Because I thought the whole idea of an evil version of the 12th or 13th Doctor was an awesome idea. I now note that we will have reached the 12th (or possibly 13th) Doctor. Hm…

Anyway, I’ve got a hotel room for Reversed Polarity and everything. And I’ve signed up to do a bunch of panels. Ellen will be joining me on Saturday, but I’m not sure I know anyone else who’s going. But I’ll find out, I guess. I’m looking forward to it. You can probably expect a con report, even though I’ve been bad at doing those lately.

For the actual anniversary itself, I hear they are probably going to be showing the 50th anniversary special in theatres in Canada. I suspect that means Toronto. I was thinking about throwing a party, but as I don’t have cable, I’d have to wait to be able to watch it by other means. Right now my plan is to wait and see what’s showing where.

TIFF 2013

And now, capsule reviews from my day at the Toronto International Film Festival:

A Touch of Sin

The intent of the movie seems to be to take tropes from wuxia films and apply them to the conflicts and problems facing modern-day China: corruption, crime, marital infidelity, directionless youth. A Touch of Sin is an anthology movie: four stories about four people from four Chinese provinces. So you get these stories about four problematic lives with extra added violence.

It didn’t do much for me. It probably would have helped if I had more context about the broad cultural understanding and symbolism around those cultural conflicts. And it didn’t help that it had all the ponderous pacing of a typical East Asian art house film. It wasn’t bad. Just kind of dull.

And oddly inconsistent. I could never get a handle on the structure of it. It’s four separate stories and there’s (nearly) no characters carrying over between them. Sometimes two characters share a scene (like at the end of one character’s story, that character gets off a bus, but the shot lingers on another character we’ve never seen before, then clumsily switching to a new scene featuring them). Other times there’s just an abrupt scene change to new characters. It just left me with the impression that the director didn’t know what he was doing.

The violent bits added a bit of comical levity to the whole thing, which made it a bit more watchable. Hard to say if comical levity was what he was going for, though.

The Wind Rises

Pretty much the reason I picked this day to go to Toronto. I love Hayao Miyazaki. He hasn’t made a movie I haven’t liked. He’s even made a few I’ve profoundly and deeply loved.

This was a movie I liked.

And I liked it quite a bit, despite its flaws.

It’s the story of Jiro Horikoshi, the guy who created the World War II Japanese Zero fighter plane. So it was always going to be a bit problematic. Miyazaki straddles his usual lines of “war is bad” and “airplanes are awesome!” while going to some pains to acknowledge the contradiction in this case. He tries to link Jiro to other famous aeronautical engineers, Giovanni Battista Caproni and Hugo Junkers, who are also depicted as being not entirely onside with their fascist governments (that’s a bit of a real-life understatement for Junkers). Caproni comes to Jiro in dreams (those scenes reminded me a little bit of The Cat Returns), which is a bit odd, but I was happy enough to go along with it.

Speaking of, Jiro’s sister Kayo quite a bit reminded me of Mei in My Neighbour Totoro, even when she’s like in her twenties and a medical intern or something. Still, she’s pretty good at stealing her scenes.

Aside from airplanes, the film centres on the romance between Jiro and Satomi, a girl he helps during an earthquake, and whom he chances to meet again while on a retreat. The whole thing hit me kinda hard, because, you know… resonance. It’s very touching, even if the stoic nature of Japanese romance is a bit brow-furrowing in spots.

The ending is a bit abrupt, but given that this is based on real life, I’m not sure there is a tidy wrapping-up point. You never get to see Jiro actually designing the plane he’s famous for. It ends on a dream with Caproni, skipping over the messy entirety of the war. Which is probably for the best, but it makes it feel less well-constructed than you’d expect from a Miyazaki movie.

Overall, it’s lovely, and it’s Miyazaki and you should see it. It’s a good film, just not a great one. And to give Miyazaki credit, the balance he’s trying to pull off is really hard. It’s not his usual thing, plot- and tone-wise, and I don’t know if he’s entirely successful, but you can tell it’s something he’s passionate about. So I’ll give it to him.

Quick side note: the foley art and sound design is really cool once you figure out what they’re doing.

Also: Jiro is voiced by Hideaki Anno. You know, the Evangelion guy. Weird. He’s pretty good, though.

Asphalt Watches

I hate to break it to you, but you will probably never get to see this movie.

It’s a full-length Canadian animated film by and about a couple guys on a hitchhiking road-trip across the country, starting in BC.

And one gets the feeling various substances were involved in its creation.

I’m not going to say it’s good or anything, because that would be a lie, but bits of it were actually enjoyable. I was a bit worried because the start of the movie is way weird and makes almost no sense, with talking puddles of oil and songs about boiled hotdogs, but it does settle down a bit and you can tell they actually get better at the whole animating and storytelling thing as the movie goes on. Characters start to have character and bits of it are funny.

So good on ‘em.

I just wish they’d gotten to Ontario in the movie. The movie ends somewhere in Saskatchewan, probably because they hit their two-hour runtime and decided it was as good a place as any to stop. But I was sad I didn’t get to see any places I’ve actually been.

R100

I love Midnight Madness.

R100 is the story of a mild-mannered salaryman with a penchant for violent S&M play. He sighs up for an S&M service where scantily clad women will show up unannounced and beat him mercilessly for his enjoyment. But things get a little out of hand, as one might expect.

It’s also a film within a film, and the title refers to the Japanese rating the film’s supposed 100-year-old director thinks it should have. Because this shit messed up, yo.

It’s weird. And fun. The film’s actual director, Hitoshi Matsumoto (or “Matchan”) is a very strange man. This is his (I think) 3rd movie I’ve seen at TIFF, and each one is weirdly twisted. This one is no different. Just when you think it might get kind of horrible, it totally stops taking itself seriously and you just enjoy the whole ludicrous ride.

Side note: how many weird-movie-directing middle-aged comedy dudes have screaming fangirls? I wouldn’t have thought any, but apparently there’s at least one.