Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Synology Rackstations and Diskstations are dying due to a bug in Intel Atom C20xx CPUs - Is yours next?

For the low-down on this, see the Register article here.

Though The Register mentioned Synology, they did not mention that large numbers of Rackstation and Diskstation NAS devices of every type have used the affected Atom chips. 

The DS1815+ is certainly getting attention, but my own RP2416RP+ - something that I would hope qualified at a mid-upper-end model, at least when I purchased it - is similarly affected.  Lower-end model owners have also reported issues.  And at this point there is no reason to think that every Intel Atom C20xx device is not affected.

(And here I was mulling over the idea of retiring my old server, since my Rackstation has been doing so well.  Good thing electricity rates are cheap enough that it wasn't worth turning off the old kit.)

So far Synology has not released any statement regarding the issue or what steps, if any, they are going to take to correct it.  They are probably still trying to figure out how to minimize the impact to their bottom line.

It does have to be said that this is hardly Synology's fault - they trusted Intel, and Intel let them down - hard.  Having lived through two such scenarios already myself, I do have some sympathy for them.

However, that is not any argument for saying that Synology customers should bear the cost of this.  I had to live through a nightmare scenario of having defective firmware in my server hard drives (all 16 of them) and am most definitely not happy about having my new 'n shiny "upgraded" server revealed to be a time bomb.

Accordingly, I personally encourage every 'Station owner that has a valid warranty to submit a support ticket at this link, and push for a full and complete replacement of their affected unit(s).

Monday, December 26, 2016

Recovering and repairing MP4 files from a Samsung Galaxy Tab

So the mother-in-law somehow deletes a bunch of MP4 files off her tablet.  It's a Samsung Galaxy something-or-other.  I don't care about it so I don't know.

I tried three recovery programs:
Recuva
Undelete360
Wise Data Recovery

All of them pulled about the same reports and same files.   I only attempted JPG recovery with Recuva, though both of the others offered.  I also tried Pandora, but it did not appear to support MP4 files.

Of the three, Undelete360 appeared to pull 1 or 2 more workable MP4 files.  The rest were identified MP4s, but were corrupt, and not playable on VLC or Media Player.

I then tried the File Repair utility, which claimed there was nothing to repair.  Low marks here since it did not repair a single MP4 out of 20 attempts.

After some research I tried the Grau GmbH Video Repair Utility.  It worked and repaired all of the MP4 files.  Unfortunately the demo only repairs half the file and 99 euro is too expensive for bad holiday videos.

(I know there is a trick to get around this, but honestly I'm too lazy to bother.  These were not my files and they were not worth 99 Euros.  The 29 Euro option only fixes 5 files.)

Regardless, Grau was the only utility that worked.  File Repair did nothing and online converters wanted $49/video for a repair.

So, if you are in a pinch and it's worth 99 Euro, go ahead and buy Grau.  Or don't and try the free demo to see if it WILL work, then buy it if it is worth it.  It worked for me.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Computer becomes almost - but not completely - unresponsive at the same time each week

Problem:  PC becomes virtually unresponsive at about the same time each week.  You can move the mouse fine, and possibly Alt-Tab around a bit.  Doing anything else results in a hang that lasts 5-15 minutes, at which point the PC will "unfreeze" for 10-15 seconds, then go back to being unresponsive.

Debugging is almost impossible since the computer only works for a few seconds every 5-10 minutes.  Meaning you cannot realistically look at Task Manager or any other program to identify the offending process.  This particular bug can take hours or days to sort out, 15 seconds at a time.

What you can do:

1.  Set the following programs running while the computer is still responsive:

-  Windows Task Manager (Ctrl-Shift-Esc)
-  Resource Monitor (run "resmon.exe")
Process Explorer

Also:


 -  Set Task Manager to "Processes" and "Show processes for all users".

-  Set all programs to order processes by CPU time

If you can, set these up so they're always visible on a second/third monitor.  Alternatively, set them up on another desktop (i.e. Dexpot).

By running these proactively, you will at least have the chance to identify the program/process that's gone crazy.  Even if the PC hangs, the last good updates to these programs should tell you which process is taking all of your CPU time; all you have to do is make/keep them visible, which should not take too long.

Regardless, as the problem is (approximately) a weekly occurrence, you want to look for something that is scheduled to run weekly.

Possible solutions:

1.  Antivirus scans are typically set to run weekly.  Try disabling the antivirus scanning temporarily.

2.  Windows Update is broken and is hanging while searching for an update.  In this case, one of the scvhost.exe processes will be taking a lot of CPU.

Conventional wisdom has it that most of these hangs are the results of an scvhost.exe process that hosts Windows Update process wuauserv.  The cause is a borked / broken Windows update, leading to a situation where the wuauserv ends up constantly searching for updates, hogging the CPU in the process.

This manifests as wuauserv taking excessive CPU time.  This is visible in Resource Monitor if you select the right scvhost.exe (there are normally several) or Process Explorer.  In Task Manager you will only see one of the scvhost.exe instances taking CPU, but you can't tell which underlying process is actually the culprit.

As Windows 7 is end-of-life and is unlikely to get any future updates, simply turning off the Windows Update service in Control Panel should solve any issues with wuauserv.exe.  For other problems, you may have to kill the underlying offending routine, figure out what it was trying to do, and disable that feature/program permanently.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Windows 7 Resource Monitor Maximum Frequency

I've had to pore through a lot of gobbledygook as to what the "Maximum Frequency" number really means in the Windows 7 Resource Monitor.

What is means is:  How fast your CPU is physically clocking, compared to how fast it could be clocking.

What it does not mean is:
-  How much load your CPU is actually experiencing.  This is shown by "CPU Usage".
-  How much load your CPU has been experiencing, i.e. a historical or "peak hold" value.  This is not displayed in Resource Monitor.

This figure might be less than 100% if the system is dynamically changing CPU frequency to save power.  So Maximum frequency might be more or less than 100%, depending on how your system behaves and how much power it is trying to save.  This is expected behavior.

Examples:

-  For a desktop, maximum frequency might stay at 100% permanently.  This is because the system has no need to reduce CPU frequency to save power.  

-  For an overclocked" processor, the value might be more than 100%.  This is because the CPU can run faster than the "normal frequency.

-  For laptops and desktops with power-saving modes enabled, max frequency may be less than 100% and may skip around.  The computer does this automatically to save energy.  It will rise to 100% when the CPU has real work to do.

-  For laptops or desktops with some kind of heatsink or heat-dissipation problem, maximum frequency might stick low, not vary much (if at all) and/or never reach at or near 100%.  This is because the CPU is automatically reducing its own frequency to keep itself from self-destructing.

So:

-  If your CPU maximum frequency is at 100% or more, you're fine.
-  If your CPU maximum frequency is less than 100% but is skipping around, you're fine.
-  If your CPU maximum frequency is stuck very low, you are not fine.  First thing to check is your CPU heatsinking arrangements to make sure it is not burning up.

Note:  Unexplained random hangs are also a symptom of a hot CPU.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Suggestions for a useful motorcycle tool kit

@#$%# Firefox just ate my post.  Here we go again:

Like most motorcycles, my (used) bike came with a toolkit.  However, experience showed it was not that useful.  I did not find a lot of help out there with respect to tool kits specific to motorcycles, so here's what I've ended up with.

The most common problem I had with the bike was a dead battery.  This has only happened a few times in ten years, but does require the seat to be removed for a jump.  Oddly, the factory toolkit does not include the right tools for this.

Here is the stock tool kit.  Obviously some of these might prove useful if you were doing certain types of work.  I would say that if you're in such a situation, you're probably screwed, since you ain't going to be going anywhere soon, but you never know.



I have a tough time seeing how many of these are even vaguely useful for my motorcycle.  The big wrenches, OK - though if you're needing to remove a major bolt, you are (again) probably screwed - but I do not see how the pliers or box-end wrenches are useful since you can't access most of the fasteners with them.  You certainly cannot get to the seat fasteners with the provided wrenches.

The tools I use most on the bike are a ratchet handle and sockets, and the kit does not come with either.  It also does not come with any hex keys or bits, which are necessary to remove panels from the bike (not that I want to do major repairs in the field, but being able to remove and discard wrecked panels is a benefit.).  So I wanted to add them.

The ratchet handle proved the most problematic.  Most are $30 and up and are not small enough to stow in the bike.  Eventually I re-discovered a small mini handle I'd seen before, on eBay for about $2.  This was the right size, price point and durability for what I needed - the seat bolts are not high-torque bolts, obviously.

Here's the finished add-on kit:



Most of these I had just lying around; the rest were on eBay for next to nothing.  I think the long extension was the most costly, but I needed the extensions to get the seat off the bike.

I could also have done away with the screwdriver handle, but I had an extra one and it was not too large for my purposes.  Also, if the ratchet or screwdriver break, the other tool acts as a backup.

I could also make do with 2 of the sockets and 2-3 of the hex bits.  But they are all small so why not include all. I mostly threw them in on the very off chance that I might end up fixing somebody elses' bike.

The bits were small enough, in fact, to fit into a little mini Altoids tin, which helps keep them organized.  (Not the standard size tin, the mini one):






The resulting package was about the same size as the stock toolkit, but hopefully more useful:




And it tucks away nicely next to the stock toolkit in the little storage compartment on my bike:




Both kits fit so I keep them both, rather than replacing the old kit with the new kit.  I also keep other items like zip ties, a small roll of duct tape, a couple of light sticks and a flashlight elsewhere in that same compartment.

I tested the toolkit and was able to get the seat off the bike with little trouble, as well as work on most of the obvious fasteners and adjustments.  So I guess it will work well enough in a pinch, which is the point.

You will note I did not include a multi-tool.  IMHO having the discrete tools I need obviates the need for a multi-tool, so keeping one will not add value, but you could easily toss one in in an attempt to cover all bases.

However, a "good" multi-tool will cost multiples of what it costs to assemble a kit similar to mine - $100-$150 for a "good" multi-tool vs. about $20 for all of the individual tools, which are arguably more useful.  Also, most multi-tools will still not get the seat off my bike, which was my most important goal.  (Supplanting a bit-capable multi-tool with additional bits just adds to the cost.)

I carry a few little tools with me all the time anyway, and for long trips I keep a Leatherman in my riding suit pocket.  Not because I needed one, but because I have one, so why not.  But I don't think I would go out of my way to buy a multi-tool for the bike since most will not include adequate sockets, bits or such for working on that vehicle.

Update 2016-12:  Canadian Tire was selling stubby ratchet handles and stubby interchangeable-bit screwdrivers for $3 over Christmas.  As these are cheap, small, and reasonably durable, either or both of these would be a good addition or substitution tool for what I have above.  The drivers are about half-size - not full-size, nor a true stubby - and should be just about right.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Why does everything suck - Index card edition

It seems the general deterioration of everything into general junk has eroded even the paper industry beyond all hope.  As Chris Norstrom aptly puts it here, there is, in fact, a conspiracy - one is intended to prevent righteous and right-minded people from buying good, old-fashioned 3x5 index cards that don't suck.

Basically, nobody seems to product index cards made of card stock any more.  Which is the stupidest thing I've ever heard of.

Index cards are supposed to be made of 110 lb. card stock.  That's why it's called CARD STOCK, y'know?

But even index cards are no longer made with card stock any more; it seems that, at best, you might be able to find 70-80 lb. weight cards nowadays.  (Some seem as thin as 40 lb, or about twice the thickness of regular printer paper.)

Nothing available anywhere is 110 lb anymore, it seems - read the Amazon reviews for proof.

Solutions:

-  You can buy them from Chris above - I'm not a relation or anything, and don't care except kudos to him for offering a fix.  Would be reasonably priced if we were not in different countries.  Or:

-  You can go to a Staples Copy & Print Centre, buy 250 sheets of 110 lb. card stock for $20, and have them cut it any size you want for $6.  It'll take a couple of days, but it is machine cut with a laser and should look perfect.  Plus, you can get any size you like!

[Update:  OK, Staples lied.  It was $15 for the cutting, plus tax, or about $17 total. So they're expensive cards, but still possible.]

Either way, you can do whatever you want after.  Punch 'em, smurf 'em (yes, real thing), throw them in your printer and print 'em up, whatever.

I intend to create a little desk reference using these, some cut-down Levenger Circa covers and some of the Circa disks for binding.  I could not find what I wanted in a resortable notebook (of course), and then I found I couldn't even create an index card notebook (of course!).

Until I figured out how to make the cards, that is. Which leaves me feeling a bit like those people who make everything "from scratch".  Next I'll be reduced to cutting my own trees in order to make 110 lb cardstock in the first damn place because that'll be the next thing to go.

Tip:  You can cut standard Levenger notebook covers to size using a regular rotary paper cutter - as long as it is sharp.  Just don't press too hard and do multiple passes until it cuts through.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Wall-mounting Caseta Pico remotes without any damage

So I purchased a wall-mount kit for a Caseta remote control, to see how it works.  It was almost what I expected.

The wall mount itself is just a little clear bracket.  The Pico snaps in.





It did not come with the Claro plate adapter (I thought it would).  It turns out the plate adapter comes with the Claro wall plate itself.  Which makes sense once you realize all the Claro devices would use the same adapter plate.



Of course, you don't see this in the store.  All you see is this.  So you won't realize the adapter plate is in there.



So together they make a complete mounting solution for either surface-mounting or box-mounting a Pico remote.



Lutron wants you to screw the mount into the wall.  I prefer to use Command strips.  Fortunately there are two handy areas to put Command strips that won't push the mount off of the wall:




Cover up with the adapter plate and you won't even see them.



It does take quite a bit of doing to remove the wall plate from the bracket, so I guess there is a risk I might tear the strips off the wall.  I'll just have to be careful, and/or figure out how to reduce the retention force of the Claro plate on the adapter plate.

Lest anyone thinks I'm too picky, I mounted the Anywhere Switch with Command strips years ago.  Good thing too - now I can get rid of it easily without worrying about leftover holes.

Also know that the dimmer kit itself has a Claro plate and adapter in it.  If you don't plan to use these on the switch itself, you can scavenge them to use with the remote wall-mount kit.