Shroud of the Avatar

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I spent a lot of time outdoors the last few weeks, but I did manage to put some time in with the Kickstarter game Shroud of the Avatar.

When my wife learned that Lord British (Richard Garriott), the creator of my favorite game Ultima Online, had a new game coming out she bought me early access for my birthday.

** Best Wife Ever **

That was in March of 2013. Between moving and baby I really haven't had an opportunity to check it out for real until now.

I put in maybe 5 hours of game time so still too early to do any kind of review, but I like what I see for the most part. As the baby tends to sleep better I hope to get additional game time in between all the other tech projects waiting for me.

WeTek OpenELEC

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WeTek

Review - Part 1

I got my WeTek OpenELEC box a few days ago but haven't had a lot of time to test it out.

When you plug it in for the first time a wizard starts and asks a few questions to configure the device.

The first issue that got me is it looks for your network. I knew it had wireless, but none of my access points were showing up. Turns out 'wireless' is disabled from factory. A quick check box fixes it, but you shouldn't have know how to do that outside the wizard.

Once up and running I was very impressed at the interface speed. Keep in mind my previous Kodi hardware was a hacked Apple TV 2 and a 2010 Mac Mini. I am still running the default skin but plan to test some of the more robust options.

What I liked even more is the remote. It is a custom version for OpenELEC and wow is it nice to have dedicated buttons for things like right click menus or even a 'home' button.

The second thing that caused some grief was mapping to my QNAP NAS shares. I don't know a lot about Windows other than it is a necessary evil for me to play games.

My local workgroup name has been TARDIS for years, and all my device names are somehow Dr Who related (actors, companions, etc). For whatever reason, the WeTek would not see this workgroup name.

After various attempts at different configurations I ended up having to set my NAS to 'WORKGROUP' and then all my shares were available. This is something I will revisit.

I let it pull all the meta data for my Movie library. This went MUCH faster then the ATV2, but not quite as fast as the Mac Mini.

I played a few AVI, MP4, and MKV files with no issues. Because the ATV2 is limited to 720p I don't have much content at higher resolutions. I plan to download Big Buck Bunny to test with for my follow-up review.

I like you can turn the device on/off via remote.

My WeTek shipped with OpenELEC 5.1.0 which I can not verify as an official version anywhere. Most forum posts said they were on 5.0.8, so maybe things are being tweaked as product is sent out. I was prompted to upgrade to the latest beta but am going to hold off until final release.

I did not have time to test the tuner, which was my main reason to purchase this device. Live TV and DVR functionality will be the focus of my next post.

Devastator

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For those who don't know, I am a huge Transformers fan, especially G1 stuff.

Transformers Generations series of figures are basically re-imagined figures based on original 80's toys.

Devastator is one of my all time favourites, so I had to own this new 18" model.

He now sits next to my computer, in my basement.

Welcome Back!

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After months of waiting I finally got my new domain.

Those of you who watched the linuxinstall.net podcast know I had a "less than professional" backdrop, basically my basement.

When that project dissolved I thought why not embrace that theme, and thus this site was born.

It took a while to settle on a new blog platform. Friends asked why I didn't use Wordpress again as before. I have no real reason other than it being overly complicated for my needs.

I moved all the old posts over for posterity and took down the old site which will eventually act more as a portal for various family projects.

Things seem to have settled down enough in my personal life that I should have time to post content again on some kind of "regular" interval ... hopefully.

I will continue to customize things here over the next few weeks. Topics may not always be technology related, but are guaranteed to have taken place in Walt's Basement.

Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover

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This was talked about on episode 114 of Linuxinstall.net podcast.

I use my iPad Mini Retina daily, its the perfect “always with me” companion device. One issue I run into is the on screen keyboard takes so much room when working on anything more than typing out a URL. I wasn’t about to carry around a huge bluetooth keyboard/case, let alone pay what most cost.

Last week Amazon had a sale on the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover at 75% off, which was in my impulse purchase range. I am very pleased. The keyboard is almost the same size as the iPad Mini, and just a tad lighter. Logitech claims 3 weeks at 2 hours a day battery life, with USB charging. The iPad Mini docked angle works great on a table but is a little too vertical for other positions.

I have been using Server Auditor as my SSH client. It has a ‘pro’ version, but the free app works very well, displaying even my fancy prompt with ease. Terminal work is so much easier now without the on screen keyboard taking up half the display. I hope note taking at meetings will benefit as well.

Acer C720 Chromebook

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Chromebook

Chrome OS has been something I wanted to play with, so I totally impulse purchased this 2gb/16gb C720 Refurbished unit to give it a try.

Initial impressions are good.

Overall build feels a little cheap, but it was only $150. Screen looks great when directly in front, but starts to wash out if viewed from an angle. Keyboard isn’t the best feel, but I was able to type comfortably after a half hour of use. Multi-gesture touch pad works pretty well. Unit connected to my wi-fi without issue, and took just over an hour to fully charge the battery.

One thing I somehow didn’t realize was the Intel Haswell Processor needs a cooling fan. Mine rattles, and is louder than I would like (but not as loud as say the jet inside of the X100E Thinkpad). Chances are that is why it was returned in the first place, and it didn’t get fixed. I HATE cooling fans.

The unit auto-updated after I logged in with my Gmail account. From what I read, each boot it will check and install updates as needed. All my bookmarks and settings were ready for use since I use Chrome as my desktop browser. The nicest thing so far is your basically instant on, just like a tablet.

I have been trying to use it to test limitations of the OS. Hopefully in a week or so I will report my findings.

Latitude 2120

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I had my eye on this little baby for over 5 months. A colleague used an earlier model to trouble shoot some network issues and I fell in love. It will be mine. Oh yes. It will be mine.

My go-to portable has been a Dell Mini 9 since Christmas of 2008. The low resolution screen, ageing graphics, and slow processor have started to limit usability. Now the 2120 isn’t a speed demon, but it does sport a high resolution touch screen, updated graphics, and double my processing power. All it took was a 35% off coupon to seal the deal.

It shipped with Windows 7 Professional which surprisingly runs pretty well, but I’ll probably load Kubuntu LTS on it. I got a deal on a 64gig SSD the same week so an upgrade is in order. I also found out it will accept my Broadcom HD Video Accelerator. Lastly, the geniuses at Dell Repair managed to screw the keyboard through the power line. Parts are pretty easy to get so for $3 I’ll have that fixed too.

Even though it is half a pound heavier, I think it will make a nice new portable for me. Now to find the perfect bag to carry it in!

Optiplex 760 USFF

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Every day I check multiple web sites for “deals”. I had already spent a lot of money this month on gadgets, so why not go for broke and get one more.

Newegg had advertised a Dell Optiplex 755 refurbished computer for $185. I love this machine, it has been my linux workstation at the office for the last few years. Getting one for home would be great, but how good a deal was this?

A quick search on Ebay proved not that good. However, I did come across a Dell Optiplex 760 USFF for $72 shipped. Now we are talking. It needed a hard drive and ram, both of which I had in my spare parts bin. It has double the processing power of my current machine, and the ultra small form factor was a cosmetic bonus.

BUY NOW

I tried to share my enthusiasm with friends, but they couldn’t understand the value in 3 year old hardware. You can’t buy an equivalent speed CPU for under $50 and I got a whole system for an extra $22! Whatever.

When I get used equipment I like to clean all the sticker goo, fan dust, pop stains, etc to make it look as close to new as possible. Goo Gone is my preferred cleaner, but I couldn’t find it so I used a can of Goof Off instead.

Warning: Goof Off is apparently just turpentine, which ate the paint right off the plastic case. I might be able to live with the big smudge, but if not at least it is under $20 for a new side panel.

So I maxed out the ram at 4GB, added a 1TB 7200 RPM drive, and for the first time in years went with a XFCE Desktop instead of KDE. Most Dell hardware is Ubuntu Certified, so everything was detected without issue. I was right, this box runs great even before any tweaks.

Now the fun of moving all my data over begins.

SurfaceRT

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Last week Microsoft had refurbished Surface RT 32G models with Touch Keyboard for $199 shipped. I had to get one, even though I have zero need for one, as the price was too good to pass up. I should have listened to all the negative reviews, but I am a gadget junky and need help.

Now don’t get me wrong, the hardware is pretty well thought out. Nice clear touch screen, stereo sound, USB/HDMI/SDXC ports, wi-fi/bluetooth, and a keyboard that doesn’t need separate power. The down side here is the OS, and even more so the lack of developer support.

This is marketed as a 32gig device, but there is really only about 13gig free as the OS takes the rest. Luckily ARM applications are small and getting additional storage for media via USB/SD isn’t a problem. Still, I am not sure how Microsoft gets away .. oh right, answered my own question there.

Unlike many reviews, the Tegra 3 processor does not feel sluggish to me. Most of the apps load fast, which leads me to believe the few that do not are slow because of sloppy programming. It is also unfortunate Windows RT does not take full advantage of the chipset, unlike its Android counterparts, or there would be better graphic capabilities.

The big problem? The only good programs for the RT platform are those which come pre-installed. Ok, there might be a half dozen apps I loaded from the store that work well, but everything else is junk that looks thrown together. Even worse, the only programs you can install have to come from the store … well at least without some clever hack.

I am curious to see how the release of Windows 8.1 next month improves the tablet. MS Exchange support will be a nice addition to the existing Word/Excel/PowerPoint suite. Better customization of widgets and the return of a “start” button should help too. Unfortunately, I also read the clever hack might be blocked.

I am going to try and use this at work until then, but unless Microsoft can get people to write more applications, my Nexus 7 has no fear of being replaced.

Chromecast

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At a price of $35 it was hard not to buy one of Google’s latest toys, but including free Netflix for three months made it a no-brainer.

I have been very pleased with my other ‘straight from google’ devices, and the Chromecast is no different. Usability is still hindered by the lack of app support, but I expect that to change once the SDK is released.

Currently both Netflix and You Tube work perfect when launched from my Nexus 4 phone. Until the latest update, using a third party program called Fling would let the Chromecast play any supported video from your PC. Although this no longer works, Google said blocking the video playback was not on purpose. So for now, using your Chrome web browser is the only other way to get content on your TV.

Unfortunately as my Apple TV currently provides the above services, and until the SDK is available to make more apps, the Chromecast is going to patiently sit in the drawer. I have no doubt that it will eventually become my go-to device for TV media playback.

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