Pluto Flyby

Posted on July 14th, 2015 in Life by andrija

It’s great to be living in the time when all planets have been visited for the first time in history. Pluto ends this story.pluto-new-horizons-up-close

Cherry and plum blossoms in bloom

Posted on April 5th, 2014 in Vancouver by andrija

Rare cherries are in now bloom along their more numerous cousins. These spire cherries (just a guess) are near London Drugs on Kingsway. There’s more at Kingsway and Rupert. I am always surprised they don’t get mentioned in Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival (though I haven’t looked too hard).






The more popular cultivar at Metrotown was in good shape last week.

Metrotown cherries

Metrotown cherries

And in Melbourne park near Joyce station where there are at least 3 if not 4 different types of cherries – Shirotae, Tai Haku, Akebono at least – there is some cherry action as well.

Akebono in Melbourne park

Akebono in Melbourne park


Deleting files on Windows that have names which are too long

Posted on February 6th, 2014 in Hardware & Software by andrija

Did you try to make a backup of your Steam games and ended up with a folder which name is so long that windows is unable to do anything with it? You can’t go into the folder, you can’t delete it or do pretty much anything with it? It turns out that Steam likes to do this if you select too “many” games to back up at the same time. A rather nasty bug. There’s a way to delete it without having to boot Linux or use non-free tools.

Open command line, go to the folder containing the file with the too-long filename and type dir /x. This will list directory content along with short filename versions. E.g. here is one of the lines this command might output:

08/05/2013  12:31 PM            80,216 QUICKT~2.EXE QuickTimeInstallerAdmin.exe

People who used DOS or older Windows will recognize this as the “good old” 8.3 filename format. The full file name is QuickTimeInstallerAdmin.exe and its short name is  QUICKT~2.EXE . Now simply type something like del quickt~2.exe and your file will be deleted. If it was a directory – which will be the case if you did a Steam backup – then type rmdir /s quickt~2.exe instead.

How to update Nexus 7 to Android 4.4 KitKat

Posted on November 16th, 2013 in Hardware & Software by andrija

Google apparently isn’t capable of letting everyone get their updates at the same time. Or even in the same week. Whatever their excuse (they do have one but I don’t buy it), there is a way to update manually. It isn’t easy, of course.

First you need to download and install the Android Development Tools SDK. Then you need to put your Nexus 7 (or whatever you have) into developer mode by tapping the build number in “about tablet” screen 7 times. Then reenter the settings menu and you will have new item “developer…” someething. In there, enable USB debugging. Then you need to connect the tablet to the PC, open a command prompt where you installed (or rather, unzipped) the SDK, go to the platform-tools folder and then run “adb devices”. You should get the “list of devices attached” and one more row with the serial number and name of your device. Of course, good luck having that happen. You may need to install drivers, which is a royal pain on Windows (but requires no effort on MAC or Linux). Some people have developed a separate universal driver (more like, a hack) which you can find here. I can’t vouch for its safety. Why can’t Google provide drivers for their own devices, at least, is beyond me. UPDATE: Google does seem to provide drivers but they aren’t automatically installed (plug and play my ass). You need to do the “classic” Windows driver experience which is going to devices screen (the old style one, not the new one) and find your device which should be having an exclamation mark.  Then, choose to manually install driver (which you can then select from the list). Find more on pdanet (google for it, I guess). Anyhow, once that is installed, plug in your Nexus 7 again and it will prompt you (on the tablet) to allow PC to connect in debug mode. Now try “adb devices” again and it should work.

Next, you should backup your tablet. See here. In short, use “adb backup –all –f backup.ab” where backup.ab is the name you wish to give to your backup.

And finally, download the 4.4 update from Google, for your specific device, in this case Nexus 7. Make sure to download OTA update, which is a signed zip file, not the commonly shown .tgz file – smartasses from internet cannot be bothered to explain this and Google cannot be bothered to show links to those either. Then, follow this guide. It should preserve your data but in case it doesn’t, you can use “adb restore backup.ab” to restore your tablet.

All in all, certainly a whole evening effort to get this done. Google really sucks at this.

Game reviewers used to be so much better

Posted on December 20th, 2011 in Video Games by andrija

I keep saying it to my friends but now I have a vindication. The old editor in chief of Gamespot back in its heyday when it was the ultimate authority on gaming (along with PC gamer but also for consoles) – Greg Kasavin – appears to have successfully transitioned into a designer / writer role in actual game making industry. Bastion, the game he was involved in, is excellent. It has all the right ingredients, the gameplay is just right, it flows well, the variety of gameplay and upgrades is well done, difficulty is well balanced, and some small things that mean a lot to real gamers but often get lost in the shuffle are there as well (hello Game Plus). You could almost say it has a design by committee because it looks like it goes after just about every item on the checklist – except that the finished product actually works like that. Yes, people like these were doing game reviews back then – which is why the reviews were good and well valued, why Gamespot Game of the Year awards were something to eagerly anticipate and why you could take the scores “to the bank”. Today’s reviewers – well, let’s just say they have no idea what a good game is.

I suppose the quality of today’s reviewers goes hand in hand with quality of the websites in general. As in, they’re measured on quantity, not quality and are expected to obey the guidelines where advertisers are more important than honesty. Or even worse, page hits are more important than honesty – every bad game getting a middling review is far preferable to good games which don’t drive the site’s revenue getting bad reviews just to get more hits. It is not surprising that anyone who’s any good would want to go do something else. So the people that actually end up doing reviews often aren’t suited for the job.

FOV in games–why do some people get sick

Posted on December 19th, 2011 in Hardware & Software,Video Games by andrija

There’s an excellent video here that explains why do some games makes you feel sick (nauseated, dizzy or worse) while others don’t. If the screen you’re playing on doesn’t fit into your cone of vision so some of it end up in the peripheral vision, then your brain isn’t going to like it. Some people never have a problem but quite a few does.  Most often this happens in PC games as the monitors are ever larger yet stay at the same distance from our eyes. So, demand FOV control in your games – or play them from farther away. Another good reason to sit back and play with a controller, even on a PC.

Netbeans Tools –> Options Dialog Does not Show

Posted on October 14th, 2010 in Hardware & Software by andrija

I just had a very annoying issue – in my Netbeans 6.9 I was unable to open – or as it turns out, see the “options” window which is under the Tools menu and is obviously quite important. Not much info on the web so I am posting my solution here. If you delete the file (should be the only one in that directory) that is found in .netbeans/6.9/config/Preferences/org/netbeans/modules/options (and this is in your user home directory) and restart the Netbeans, you should be able to see Options menu again.

Turns out it somehow sets the window position outside the desktop space. My guess is this happens with dual monitor setup when one of the monitors is disconnected. Just a hunch but it would make sense.

A Major Fire in the Neighbourhood

Posted on December 28th, 2009 in Vancouver by andrija

I looked through the window to see what’s up with so many sirens. And indeed something is up. The smoke was black and there was lots of it. I am not sure where exactly it was, looks like Kingsway and Rupert, somewhere behind the hotel.


UPDATE: apparently this was a two-alarm fire (really?! but look at all that smoke!) at Big O Tires, an automotive repair centre. That makes sense, the black smoke could be from tires. And now, an hour later, not a whiff of smoke is coming so I guess it wasn’t as bad as it can get.

USB External Drive Freezing and Stuttering on AMD 785G in Windows 7

Posted on December 24th, 2009 in Hardware & Software by andrija

The other big problem I was having with my new PC is actually much worse than the first one (eSATA hotplug issue). Unlike that one, here I have no idea what was causing the problem. Basically, every time you plug in an external USB drive, no matter which one, the results are unpredictable. It may work for a while but try to copy a file to or from it and after some time it would freeze. Not just slow down or temporarily stop while cache is being drained, but freeze for several minutes. The PC itself would still run although if you tried to force the copy to stop it might just stop working as well.

Now this was really serious: since I wasn’t able to use eSATA effectively I needed to rely on USB for backups – and I wasn’t able to! So I tried to work around this and bought an enclosure with both USB and Firewire. Guess what, the Firewire was even slower! I can’t recall if it was showing the same symptom – I think so but I am not sure – yet the result was just as bad.

This is where firmware flash comes in, as I was sure there was some sort of interrupt sharing problem and those are usually solved by firmware flash. But for the longest time I wasn’t aware there was a new firmware. At any rate, eventually my Corsair Xtreme 64G drive died and things got put into motion…

But the problem remained after clean install, firmware flash and setting of drives to AHCI. So in the moment of desperation I decided to replace the cable. At that point, I also realized USB cable was plugged into a hub. I am pretty sure I tested this both with and without hub and it never worked well. Yet now after replacing cable and plugging the drive straight into a motherboard USB port, drive was finally working correctly! It took me months to sort this out! And I am not sure is it a combination of issues or a single issue – I believe it must be a combination since I’d imagine I used a few different cables plugged into various ports during all these months. I just took a five to go back to my desk and plug in the “old” cable and – guess what, it’s still working. It does appear to be a bit slower – say 25MB/s compared to 27MB/s – but this may well be a statistics fluke. So, the hub connection then? No matter, I guess for now it appears to work so I’ll keep it plugged in and don’t mess with it.

Unresponsive SATA Hot Plugin with Windows 7 on AMD 785G PC

Posted on December 24th, 2009 in Hardware & Software by andrija

I have had serious issues with hard drives on my main PC for months now. First was the issue when using hard drive dock. The way it worked on my old PC was like this: with the dock turned off and eSATA cable plugged into it and the PC, you plug the hard drive into it and then turn on the power to the dock. PC should automatically recognize it – and it would, on my “old” Intel P35 motherboard. Not on my “new” AMD 785G motherboard with Phenom II 955. Well, I wasn’t expecting it anyway seeing as I was running my SATA ports in “Native IDE” mode.  The idea here was that since I was using an SSD drive (plus a regular HDD) I needed to run it as “native” in order to get TRIM instruction to work. TRIM support is what you need in order to prevent SSD performance deteriorating over time; if you don’t know why and how, hit Anandtech’s legendary article on the subject.

Anyway I wasn’t really able to use external dock to a great extent or, frankly, at all. A drive would only get recognized if it was plugged in and turned on before the PC itself was turned on. There was a trick one could use, where if the PC was sleeping you would be able to do the deed. Since sleep/wake cycle is much faster than a full shutdown/restart, this wasn’t too awful. But you couldn’t remove the drive while PC was running either – unpredictable results would occur. And often I’d either forget to put it to sleep or would have a reason to not want to put the PC to sleep (ongoing download, music conversion or whatever). So this was a big pain.

Due to my SSD dying recently, I had to reinstall Windows so I took the opportunity to set BIOS to AHCI. Unfortunately it didn’t go as smooth as it should have. I first tried to restore drive from a 10-days old full image and while that worked (more or less), the system would only boot if the drive was set to native IDE; set it to AHCI and poof, blue screen during boot. I thought this was because I replaced SSD with a HDD but no. I got Intel’s SSD and restored image to it, and the result was the same.

I decided to update BIOS. For some reason I thought there was no BIOS updates for my Gigabyte motherboard but lo and behold, they were all the way up to F5 while mine was still the original F1. I had big hopes because I had big problems (in addition to this hotplug, I had major dropout issues with USB, Firewire and keyboard not being recognized at boot time, all addressed in upcoming posts). AHCI looked much nicer – and faster – in BIOS this time ‘round but it was still giving me the blue screen.

So I did a full reinstall from scratch, using AHCI and F5 BIOS. Yay, it worked. Of course, I had a blank slate of a system. But to add insult to injury my eSATA was still not working!

Now I was getting nervous. I knew I probably needed to install chipset drivers but I was avoiding it because unlike AHCI I was definitely sure that only the virgin Microsoft SATA drivers supported TRIM. If I install AMD drivers, no more TRIM. Right?

Well it turns out my brand new Intel SSD did not come with firmware supporting TRIM anyway! What the?! The thing was delayed for months because of that and now that it’s finally back in stock, it’s still using old firmware? I had to deal with this as well, now. Funny enough, flashing Intel SSD firmware involves booting off a CD into a custom DOS-like OS. And it didn’t recognize my SSD until I reverted BIOS to “Native IDE”. Anyway, I flashed it, turned AHCI on again and it booted up fine. At least some good luck, I’d have hated it to end up with a wiped drive or much worse, a RMA-ready one.

trim is a go

Once in the Windows 7, I ran the CrystalDiskInfo and it was showing TRIM as supported (before firmware update, it didn’t – that’s how I knew something was up). Now does this mean TRIM is supported by the drive or that it’s supported by the whole chain (OS, drivers, drive)? I do not know, but after finally installing chipset AHCI driver (available from Gigabyte or AMD itself), it was still showing TRIM as supported. I’ll take my chances for now as the worst that can happen is that the drive gets slower over time (and there’s a lower boundary of how slow it can get so it’s not a disaster by any means).

And on the plus side, after installing AHCI chipset drivers, hotplug of eSATA drives is  working like in good old times! Plug in, turn on – it’s recognized in seconds after spin-up. Turn it off, OS recognizes the fact and removes it from the drive list cleanly.

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