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:

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.