Saturday, July 21, 2007

VGA PDA - My Optimum Setup

I recently decided that I needed a replacement for my busted Toshiba e400 that got eaten by the concrete drop-monster. I loved my e400 for how unbelievably tiny it was. While it was the smallest and most PADD-like PDA I could find. It was the BEST device I have ever found for reading e-books. The midnight blue finish on it was also very nice and, uh, not silver like every other damn PDA on the market.

One of the major drawbacks that I found with it was the lack of any connectivity. I did add a SDIO WiFi card to my e400, that lasted about a week before it just died. Too small and delicate for my meat-hooks. The e400 was also a bit slow, too slow for divx video.

So I started shopping around, looking for a e400 sized powerhouse. Liking the Toshiba styling I pretty much started looking for something from them. The one that stood out the most was the e800.

The specs are still very formidable even though the e800 has been out a while. With a 4" screen it's the largest available. VGA 480x640 resolution is awesome on this super sharp bright screen.
* Installed RAM
* 128 MB
* Installed ROM
* 64 MB Flash

* Processor
* Intel 400 MHzXScale PXA263

* Microphone
* Speaker(s)
* Voice recording capability

* Display type
* 4 in TFT active matrix
* Color support
* 16-bit (64K colors)
* Max resolution
* 480 x 600
* 2 MB ATI Graphics Accelerator

Expansion / Connectivity
* IrDA, Bluetooth 1.2
* USB Host Support
* 1 CompactFlash Card Type I/II
The Toshiba e800 fetches about $450 on the web these days, so I thought I was just going to have to hit another e400 and not have video/wireless goodness.

Ahh, eBay.

I found one on the eBay-be for only $202 with TWO extra batteries, the USB Host housing, a hardshell aluminum case and a 512MB CF card.

Now I knew this thing would be broken when I got it, and it was. Somehow the previous owner managed to futz up the ROM and the battery contacts. Having the battery hard reset the machine randomly would make me want to chuck something out on eBay cheap too.

Lucky for me I have a pencil with an eraser and a web connection to flash the ROM back to Windows Mobile 2003 SE. Viola! Working PDA.

The absolute necessary software for the e800!

Lets start with drivers.

Video Drivers

From what I read there are ATI drivers for Windows 2003 SE that make this thing go way fast. These were very much fun to find since 20,000 people talked about it and all that info is old an no longer valid on the web. The file is buried in a CAB update for another product. You have to extract 0ace_ddi.012 and rename it to ace_ddi.dll. Then copy that into the \Windows folder of your e800 via ActiveSync or it will not work. This will give a big performance boost for video.

This thing is just a regular PDA until you get it switched into itty-bitty text hi-resolution mode. By default applications need to know about the extended resolution and they never do. The OS gets around this by doing quad-pixeling. Which is just using 4 pixels as one. WASTE! To make this go away and use all your pixels you need OzVGA. OzVGA lets you switch the device into 480x600 and actually use all those pixels.

USB Mass Storage Drivers

This is a major pain on the web. There are billions of posts on millions of blogs and forums about the Deje drivers, some wanker made drivers for USB Drives and charged $15 a pop for anyone to get his software, then the dude sold them to Anypak who resold them with a USB enclosure, but has since gone out of business.

NONE OF THE DRIVERS ON ANY SITE WORK! They are all dead links and BS from more than a year ago!

It took me a while but I found a Windows Mobile 2003 SE compatible driver on ROTAC's site buried in the downloads for a CF USB adapter they make.

Now for some apps that you will love to get.

Netfront Browser, kinda spendy but AWESOME for small screen devices. The Netfront browser allows you to set an arbitrary screen size and right/left scroll. Netfront also lets you do a graphics based zoom out. On the e800 at 50% the screen is actually 800x600 and still readable.

CorePlayer Video player, plays just about everything I have in digital media. Great optimization, can play at 640x480 quite well at 400MHz.

PocketMusic MP3 Player supports playlists and allows SORTING, I wonder why Windows Media Player can't let me sort by filename.

PocketPutty Windows Mobile version of the great putty ssh software. Wanna see me fix a webserver that gets 8 MILLION hits from my car at a gas station over my bluetooth cellphone and PDA?

MobiPocker Reader Ebook reader, supports many formats, dictionary and annotation support, does auto-scrolling, has features that I love, like a full screen mode with no margins, more text on screen please, my PDA has a bezel that works for margins.

Foxit Reader Because my 3 GHz PC can hardly run Adobe's bloatware.

Unfortunately the e800 is a big boy. The main reason I wanted another PDA was for an ebook reader and the e800 just doesn't fit in a pocket well. I will use the e800 as a car PC, maybe even get a GPS receiver for it, since it does everything and an external USB drive will give me my whole music selection in my car as well as a movie player.

If you see me on ebay bidding on an e400 just let me have it!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

HTPC Media Center for $60

Been a couple of months since I posted a new blog on Fun Finds. Well I'm back and I got a new little old gem that does an absolutely great job.

I run was running an external hard drive DiVX player to run my LCD in my bedroom. It worked like a charm, played just about everything I play over my network, but I have to load media manually. If I want the next season of Quantum Leap in my room, I have to pull it out of the rack, slot it, and copy it all onto my little 30gb 2.5" drive.

Pain in the butt. I love my living room setup. I use a modded Xbox running xbmc (best software ever) to play all my media on my 55" TV and runs my 5.1 digital stereo. I wanted to be able to do this in my room, but my xbox is LOUD. It's louder than my PC when it's running it's drives and the fan.

Guess what I did?

If you guessed go take a nap, you're right, but after that I went back down to ye olde state surplus and shopped around. They were having a clearing house clearing sale, also known as "as cheap as you can haggle us down to" sale.

Big change from every other day.

I looked around, I know I can play divx5 on a PIII 800 without post processing. So I needed something about like that.

I found a pretty little FlexATX from Gateway in a low profile case. Only a Celeron 900, and it only has 256mb of RAM, but for $20 what can you really ask for?

Anyone can find machines like this on eBay for less than $50 shipped. I very much like being able to plug them in and make sure they work.

I also picked up a few cables and some Intel EtherExpress Pro 10/100's still in the plastic cases for $2. Now these are great cards!

Getting this little guy home I pulled out my super duper XP all in one version install disk that has Tablet PC and Media Center Edition on it. I had to gank a DVD drive, but I have a burner in an external enclosure that I just don't screw back together anymore just for this purpose.

Media Center has higher hardware requirements than other editions of Windows XP. MCE 2005 requires at least a 1.6 GHz (or equivalent) processor, DirectX 9.0 hardware-accelerated GPU (ATI Radeon 9 series or nVidia GeForce 5 series or higher), and 256 MB of System RAM. Some functionality, such as Media Center Extender support, use of multiple tuners, or HDTV playback/recording carries higher system requirements.

It installed just fine on a Celeron 900 w 384MB RAM, it even ran after complaining that my video system wasn't supported. I could do mp3's and view my shares. No go on video. I was a sad puppy.

So I tried my true software goal, Media Portal. Media portal is a Windows port of the software I use on my xbox, and basically what I wanted was a quieter xbox in my room.

Download, install. Looks like crap! It works though. After browsing though the MP forums I found out that the software really needs DirectX 9c's composting features to really shine.

Time to find a cheap old card. I used up all my PCI video cards recently, kind of a long story, and I think some of them ended up being returned to Wal-Mart in the wrong box.

Don't ask.

I needed something low profile too, I've ran into this problem before. You can put regular cards in these low profile cases, but then you can't get the stupid lid back on! So I called around for something half height. I came up with a GeForce MX440 w 64 MB RAM that a local store had in a box as a test card that they would part with for $40. Yeah, that's twice as much as I paid for the computer, but if you gotta, you gotta.

I think the idea that $40 would buy a bottle of whiskey and some peach schnapps for royal peach shooters, but I got those anyway!

It was then time to jury rig this bad boy together. Unlike the card in the pic above the one I got had a heatsink with a spinny noisemaker fan on it. So I pulled that off, and rubber banded a wonderfully huge thermaltake copper block from a CPU heatsink that I never used.

So now I have a PIII Celeron w 900 MHz of raw computing muscle, 384 MB memory and a circa 2004 GPU all for $60. Guess what? If you're not planning on doing any TV recording on an XP Media Center Edition PC you don't need anywhere NEAR the specs they post. This thing runs MCE like it's nothing. Smooth transitions, video is clear as it is on anything that plays DiVX I have ever seen.

I like Media Portal much better though. It's got the same interface, heck, even the same skin, as my Xbox Media Center. Project Mayhem III may just be the best GUI in the world for this.

Never be afraid to test out old machines to see if you can get some function out of them. If you're doing something simple, you can often get away with something very cheap. You can easily find a 64MB Nvidia GPU for less than $20 online, and a CPU up to 2GHz for about $50.

Just make sure you hide the cables under the carpet!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

fusesmb howto

fusesmb is a userspace application that allows you to mount your whole CIFS/SMB based network neighborhood to your filesystem.

This little app solves a whole bunch of headaches that I've had for a long time with KDE applications. Almost none of them support streaming from network locations, so while you can get to the files with smb://server/share/superkewlsong.mp3 you can't play it in your application from there. KDE will download the whole thing to a cache, which it then leaves on your hard drive, and play it locally.

This really sucks for divx video files of about a gig each, so to take the burden off of KDE, since it can't seem to pipe file data via it's network stuff, I use fusesmb.

To install it in FC6 you
localhost ~]$ sudo yum -y install fuse-smb
This installs the software, then you have to edit the file ~/.smb/fusesmb.conf to add your username/password and tell it to show hidden shares or ignore specific servers.

localhost ~]$ nano ~/.smb/fusesmb.conf

The website documentation for fusesmb is really skimpy, but you can get a sample config from man fusesmb.conf which is pretty easy to manage

; Global settings

; Default username and password

; List hidden shares

; Connection timeout in seconds
timeout = 10

;Interval for updating new shares in minutes
interval = 10

; Section for servers and/or workgroups to ignore

; Share-specific settings

; Server-specific settings

Once you've configured that, you got a good shot that your shares will all show up. My setup, of course, didn't work out of the box.

The file ~/.fusesmb.cache would never pickup my XP machine with my music collection on it. It would find all the other shares on my network fine, and if I used the credentials in the fusesmb.conf file to smbbrowse to it I had no problems.

I manually added it to the flat file that has the shares in it of ~/.fusesmb.cache and it would work for a few minutes then disappear!

After some trial and error I found out that fusesmb.cache is not just a file with a plain text list of shares on your network neighborhood, it's also an application that runs and rescans that file every 10 minutes.

So I ran the fusesmb.cache with a -h to see if it took some arguments or something and it actually started spewing some information.

Server: : Share: IPC$ : Workgroup: WAG3SLAV3
Kinit failed: Cannot resolve network address for KDC in requested realm

Fusesmb tries to auth against kerberos and will fail if your linux machine isn't a member machine of the domain. Fortunately with the - tag the fusesmb.cache application will find all your hosts. Must be a timeout thing.

localhost ~]$ fusesmb.cache --

To workaround this rename /usr/bin/fusesmb.cache to /usr/bin/fusesmb.cache.back after it populates the text file ~/.fusesmb.cache

localhost ~]$ fusesmb.cache -- && sudo mv /usr/bin/fusesmb.cache /usr/sbin/fusesmb.cache.back
Just be sure to run fusesmb.cache.back -- if you make a new share on your network because it won't be picked up until you do.
localhost ~]$ /usr/bin/fusesmb.cache.back --

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Adventures from State Surplus - Dell PowerEdge 6400/700 Part 2

Okay, so me and metaframe stop off at the gas station for a four pack of Jones Cherry soda and get started.

I lugged the monster up the four steps into my house, then needed a break from all that lifting and carrying, so I had my soda. I've been lazy for a long time, and just looking at that bad boy in the rack I knew I needed to plan my next break carefully.

But I digress....

Back from tangent A.

Once I got a monitor and keyboard hooked up I booted into the Perc RAID controller, since I've used Dell Poweredges before, and this is the thing that you change after you have the OS installed and it eats your discs and you have to take another break after chucking something across the room, and I didn't want to do that.

Turns out the labels on the two SCSI drives was right, tiny little 33GB drives. Oh well. I need space more than I care about backing up that little spec of data so I break the RAID1 mirror they were in and start installing Fedora Core 6.

After about 20 minutes, I find out that the kernel dev guys have STOPPED supporting the Perc controller in this thing! WTF! Great, now I need to run a 2.6.2 kernel, or do a backported kernel driver module.

Well, I was going to have this thing be a vmware linux with a Windows 2k3 server virtual machine, I'll just do a 2k3 server with a linux vm instead.

Zip bang, or maybe install disc and watch status crawl for two hours, and I'm rocking in 2k3. I don't even have to install network drivers, it "just works".


Now what to do with this thing.... It's big enough to be a coffee table, but it's a bit to high for that, to low for and end table. It doesn't match the 10" subwoofer box that's the headboard on my bed, and it's WAY too noisy for that.

I think I'll stick it on the base of the stairs to my attic. Yeah, that's great, I just need to pick the lock every time I want to put a disk in the drive.

What fun!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Adventures from State Surplus - Dell PowerEdge 6400/700 Part 1

Last summer I dropped down to State Surplus to look for some good deals on "gently used" PC hardware. Apparently the state of ND decided to upgrade an entire data center and replace all their Dell PowerEdge servers that had gotten a bit old. There were racks and racks of svelte looking black hardware.

These servers all looked really nice, some had dual power supplies, some had tons of drive bays. I started eyeballing the minimal labeling on the chassis tops of the servers and came across some PowerEdge 6400s that looked pretty good. One of them had a nice big sticker on it that said METAFRAME, which I thought was pretty techie sounding and it endeared it to me right away. Kinda like that look puppies give you at the pet store. I don't think any other servers came with a Name, by Goo Goo Dolls.

I took it over the their test table, and let me tell you it was a bit of a workout. This thing weighs in at 110lbs spec and it had two SCSI drives and the full load of processors and RAM installed. I bet it wasn't more than 150lbs but it felt like 200!

I got it onto the table and had to head back to their cable section for another power cord. This thing has three power supplies and can run on any two of them. It also has a sweet 8 bay RAID setup on the front that looked promising.

I powered the thing up and it sounded much less like the Dell jet engines I've installed in enclosed racks for some of my customers. Those things would about blow me out of my chair during installation. I guess that's why people use enclosed racks tho. The 6400 ran at about 1/10th that noise.

Boots up fine, counts out 2GB of RAM and Four PIII Xeon 700 procs. "This will make a nice vmware server, matey!" I thought to myself. Sometimes I like to talk like a pirate, and sometimes I talk like a pirate to myself too... I know I'm crazy but September 19th is my favorite day of the year.

The tag on the 6400 says $180 and I only have about $200 on me. These guys don't take credit cards and I don't really want to run back to an ATM and then come back here so I just leave the server on the bench.

So I'm talking to the manager, not like a pirate. I know I'm nuts and I'm thinking of a little haggle. Normal people never want to give crazies a good deal. I've also got a KVM that does USB and audio that I recognized because I had bought an identical model at Staples a few weeks back. I paid $80 for it and was going to return it, since the one here was only $10. I can't seem to get out of here without a $25 22" CRT so I had one of those on the bench too.

The guy starts to check me out when the power goes out.

That's right, power failure right there in the surplus center. Luckily I got the manager right there in front of me checking me out and he starts using a solar calculator, which dies in about ten key presses without overhead lights, and then switches to carbon and cellulose.

We laughed a bit about how the paper and pencils still work w/o power when I asked him what kind of a deal he can give me on the PowerEdge server. He shot right back "Make an offer." I looked into my wallet then and fingered the $20's, remember that I'm hungry and lunch needs to be paid for, and said "$180 for this stuff and the server."


So I rolled the monitor into the backseat and muscled the monster server machine into the front seat of my 3000GT as a passenger for the trip back to my torture center, er home network...

more to come in part II.

Porter's got a hard case!

I'm sure you all remember how porter got all linuxified a while back. I forgot to mention that the little warrior also has some hard core, well at least heavy cardboard, armor to keep him and his gear safe from getting punted across the coffee shop by my big clumsy feet.

I can't stand soft cases for laptops. Sure they last a long time and you can jam them fuller than a soccer mom's purse, but the I'd rather have a broken case and a working laptop than a case that's fine and a broken screen on my laptop. Hard cases also tend to be lighter so they're not a Burden in My Hand, by Soundgarden.

This thing is perfect! It fits the Solo 200STM with no goofy straps to adjust the case size at all, leaving just enough room for a finger on both front corners. Now this case might look just a bit familiar to some of you happy Wal-Mart shoppers. That's because this is NOT a laptop case. What I did was take porter to local retail chains and compare his size to the DVD/CD and other case systems they had. I started out with this one from Best Buy which is a case for the Nintendo DS and a bunch of accessories.

I was quite disappointed with this full aluminum case ended up being 1/32" to small to fit porter. It turned out for the best tho, because the DS kit only had about 1/2" of headroom. The Vaultz one I found at Wal-Mart that fits with about 1/32" EXTRA on each side, is quite a bit thicker leaving about 2 & 1/2" headroom and a net pouch in the lid.

Here's what you'd need to do to convert the Vaultz into a perfect Gateway Solo case.
1. Remove the sleeves from the ring binder.
2. Take a drill or sharp (soon to be duller, I'm such a hick) screwdriver and drill out the rivets.
3. Remove the entire metal assembly that holds the rings for the binder in place.
4. Use about 8" of Velcro strapping as a hinge lock. Use the hard plastic part. (The hinge lock hard to see in my photo there, it's on the right hand side and slips beside the case and under the laptop and under the PC Cards on the top. I got it almost in 2D mode look for the little black line.)
5. Take whatever other Velcro stuff you can find to make pouches or separate the webbing on the "top" part of the case.
I ended up with this. Notice that the power cable and an extra CAT5e fit just fine in the netting once I split it into two sections with a Velcro thing I pulled out of my Glock 23 kit, and I have room for my Schrade Multi-tool and a packet of PC Cards. One's a USB2.0 Adapter, there's a SD MMC card, a super compatible PrismII based card and another 10/100 NIC. I use alot of this stuff in other machines on the job.

There's also enough room under the base of the machine for a couple of the pages from the DVD/CD binder so I can have 16 or so DVD's in the case for LiveCD's or utilities on the job.

I've taken this case out on many jobs and to local businesses. I either work or write a bit out in public and this case gets just as many comments as the tiny laptop does. People wonder why I need to have my music with me, or "What's in the Magic Box?" I just pop it open and show them that I got my whole computer in there. They just can't believe it, to them a laptop "bag" should be about three times as big.

Not only is it super stylin' it was also cheap. Compare with these other cases that don't have the perfect fit and cost $50+. I think that I got the winner right here.

Never be afraid to take a few minutes and find new uses for the cheaper stuff that store sell. Other laptops would fit into other cases and portable systems for toting your Wii or PS3 around. Bring your laptop down to the store and see what it fits in, get a case that is unique and suprise people when you pull your road warrior out rather than a CD or PSP.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Adventures from State Surplus - Compaq IPaq C500

On yet another trip to ye olde State Surplus Property of ND I found a rack full of these IPaqPC's. Little PIII C500 500's w 256MB of RAM. These should make very nice media center machines.

But as usual there's a reason they're only $25. They don't have any removable media in them whatsoever, and won't boot from USB. I have a bunch of laptop DVD drives in a box on my back porch, but NOO! The CD bay they sport is a Compaq mainstay. Proprietary all the way. No one else on the planet would use a laptop removable drive bay slide-in system on a desktop PC based on a Firewire port replicator for the Armada line. But this is what they did.

Don't get me wrong, for $25 I guess this is about what you're gonna get. I just can't imagine anyone paying the $1100 these things must have cost back in 2002.

So I started trying to figure out how to take this sucker apart. Nope, can't do it without some special Compaq lug spacer plastic popper dohickey. I got the Compaq center pin torx kit for all the other crap they sell, but this thing is a beast! Oh well, plastic is as plastic does. "SNAP!" Wow, look at the guts.

Insert random DIMM here, look for cables there...

Luckily a standard IDE interface chip is cheaper than a locked out single so after slapping a two port IDE cable into this thing I can hang a standard DVD drive out the side to do a software load.

Windows XP Pro. It took it ok, I had another 256MB PC133 DIMM that I stuck into the other slot and XP does just fine with that much RAM.

$30 for a 21" CRT and $4 worth of keyboards and mice later I'm watching a DVD over the network in vlc. Smoothness.

After about a week of running in the basement for my basement dweller dude as a media center he FINALLY got around to installing three root kits and fifteen spyware programs. I told him pr0n would burn out the monitor, but he has no faith in me! Firefox with noscript wasn't even enough to save him!
I decided that I wasn't going to re-install this thing every week so basement dude can wack it to whatever so I roll out my buddy Fedora Core 6. I had installed this on my laptop porter a few weeks back and it liked that machine. There's no reason it won't work on this odd shaped box.

Running the install was fast and easy, every little thing that the machine comes with came right up in Linux. Unfortunately he also like to show off his I'm too sexy! by Right Said Fred on his webcam.

Of course, it's the only one that FC6 doesn't support out of the box. It's a SPCA50X based device, so I have to download an after market rpm that has it for the same minor number of the kernel. Copy to the correct location, depmod -a and a modprobe spca50x...

Viola! Look at that guy's nose hairs!

Now it's a amarok sporting, divx playing, kopete chatting, speed demon.

Well speed demon compared to how slow it was in XP Pro. Even with the eye candy on it's much more responsive, and the aforementioned fusesmb let's me just drop the whole network into a file system so he just has to remember what the share names are.