Why I Still Use Bluray

Since the launch of the phonograph (and Edison’s wax wheel thingamabob) humankind has enjoyed listening to and eventually watching what was on those different types of media. Some of the most popular media formats in audio include the vinyl record, eight-track, cassette tape and the compact disc.

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On the video side we’ve had a bit of a shorter history. There were many kinds of film formats that were used for personal video camera recording but video as a consumer thing really took off with VHS. Looking back at VHS it amazes me we put up with the less than stellar video quality being put out on those tapes. From that we moved on to DVD and eventually Bluray rose above HD DVD to become the high definition format of choice.

Of course millennials and others would have you believe the only way to watch video nowadays is to pay for a digital download or streaming session. Here’s the thing, while I do see these digital services as useful for renting a video, in most cases they just don’t have the quality.

Most of you reading this probably just took a double-take on that last sentence. Don’t have the quality? Are you mad?

No. No I’m not.

You see, while the videos are far less compressed than they used to be (thankfully to better internet connections now available), a digital download can be decent experience with a relatively sharp picture and good audio. However, more often than not you can see artifacting especially in scenes with a lot of movement. The colour depth tends to be lacking especially in the dark bits of film as well. To me this is incredibly distracting.

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You’re now thinking I must be watching these digital videos on a less than stellar display. Well sometimes I will watch them on my Zowie 24 inch monitors but they actually have pretty good colour depth. Yes you are right, sometimes my monitors will show a lack of depth but my 32 inch Samsung 1080p hdtv has one of the best displays I have ever seen. Digital downloads on my Samsung will show a lack of colour depth as well. Believe me, this is hard to make that television do as I have it dialed in perfectly.

I never have a problem with colour depth with Bluray. When they make the transfers to Bluray the studios or whoever is doing the transferring seem to take better care when they do the compression to 1080p.

Yes it costs more to own a copy of a movie on bluray but here’s the thing. It’s good value. Most Blurays are sold with the Bluray, dvd and a digital download. Pretty good really. What’s a digital copy cost? Well often the same as the Bluray or a bit cheaper. Of course renting is available in digital as well but five to ten dollars to rent every time can add up pretty quickly.

Though I suppose that’s the weakness to my argument now as well. Most millennials see movies and music as disposable now. See the movie once and many don’t care to see it again. But perhaps that’s a deeper flaw in movies being released nowadays. They just aren’t good enough that people want to see them again. That’s a topic for another day.

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Perhaps the greatest reason to buy a physical copy of a movie is that you will always have access to that movie to watch. If you rely on a digital media service like the ones on Xbox One, Playstation 4 or even on Netflix you can never be sure whether you will be able to watch the movie you want when you want to. This is because licenses to these movies, and tv shows for that matter, are always changing and one day the service may offer Back to the Future and the next day they pull it due to not having the rights to stream, rent or sell the movie.

It’s the same reason physical media is still great to have for console gaming. In fact recently one of the best examples of a game being pulled from sales is Alan Wake. This was pulled from Steam recently due to the music licenses in the game expiring making the game ILLEGAL to sell. That is an older game of course being released in the PS3/XBOX 360 days and if you owned it on physical media from those eras you are good to play the game as long as you still have a PS3 or XBOX 360 (not sure if that’s available as an XBOX One backwards compatible title).

So they cost more usually but, in a world where things may not work because of a licensing technicality, owning a visually superior Bluray is really the only way to go.

The Blurays I own will always work. Same with my DVDs (even if their quality is much more questionable).

So the next time you decide you want to watch a movie, consider buying a Bluray. You won’t regret it.

Cars and Tech

I am getting within a year or so of the end of my current vehicle’s car loan coming to an end and getting excited as to what I may buy next. Since I purchase my 2012 Honda Civic Si sedan cars have changed a lot. Well not really physically but the technology inside has made a huge leap forward.

In 2012 it was cutting edge to be able to connect your iPod usb and phone via bluetooth. Oh and the ability to connect to satellite radio was a big option as well. Voice activated controls were still sort of in their infancy, at least at Honda.

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Now they have “infotainment” systems in cars that will allow you to reply to texts and twitter posts by talking back to them. To have a car without bluetooth compatibility is unheard of now even on most base model cars.

Often now what separates different trim levels on vehicles are the technology installed. There are still the traditional differences as access to difference paints (which usually nowadays includes 3 white 3 greys, black and perhaps blue or red), some different wheels and sometimes even a different engine to choose from.

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What’s really interesting is the push towards smaller engines with turbos. In fact one vehicle where this exact thing has happened is the brand new Civic Si. A mainstay of the Civic Si has always been to have a high revving VTEC engine that makes a lot of noise. Now they’ve dropped the awesome 2.4L four cylinder engine from my car for a smaller turbo engine. No more i-VTEC sticker. No more saying “VTEC YO”! A lot of purists that bought the Si are pretty unhappy about this but sadly its a reality of the future.

Smaller engines with turbos are here to stay. Even Ford has moved the might Mustang from a V6 and V8 only affair to a car that sells more four-cylinder turbos that a naturally aspirated car. Really a shame.

But it’s par for the course. As long as the EPA keeps demanding more miles-per-gallon the only thing to do is make engines more efficient.

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Hybrids are a good step in the right direction especially here in Canada. While everyone says electric is the only way to go I don’t see it that way here in Canada. We are rural enough here it makes electric cars less useful. They can be great in the city but their finite range and no easy way to recharge on the road (Ontario still hasn’t installed chargers at their On Route service centres on the 400 and 401 like promised) really makes them less than useful.

The plug-in hybrid is really the best solution right now if one is concerned about economy and are environmentally conscious. You get a long range on batteries to start and then you can rely on a small gas engine to recharge those batteries as you go. Well to be fair only the Chevrolet Volt does it that way at the moment. Typical plug-in hybrids will charge by a small engine while that engine also propels the car giving it a little extra bump in performance.

So now that I’ve gone all over the place with this story where do I go from here?

Fundamentally, I need to choose between technology, environment concerns, and, well, fun.

The only environmentally conscious cars on the market right now is the Tesla Model S and presumably the upcoming Model 3. They both are incredibly quick due to their great all electric powertrains. Sadly those are both really out of my price range. While the Model 3 may be easier to buy in the United States the price commanded by the Canadian dollar kills any chance of buying one of those. Of course the S is even more expensive.

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I am told, but have no personal experience, that the new Chevrolet Volt is actually somewhat dynamic to drive.

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The Prius line from Toyota is a study in how boring can we make getting good gas mileage be?

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There are others like the Nissan Leaf and so on but they all have one thing in common. They all look like crap. Apparently the only way you can join the club of super mileage vehicles you have to buy a car that looks absolutely retarded. Seriously, have you looks at the Toyota Prius? I don’t know how that design got off the drawing board.

I’m afraid the only choice I really have is to go the traditional route. A car with a large block of metal in the front that produces highly controlled explosions and converts them directly into forward motion.

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Which leaves me where I started. Civic Si, with a turbo? Ford Mustang, with a turbo? Sigh… Good thing I still have time.

Canadian Data – WTF?

So as I sit here at a truck-stop in northern Ontario that has no power this morning in a truck that has apparently decided to continuously flush it’s radiator coolant on to the ground (i.e.. broken down) I am reminded again of what it’s like to have no internet. IT SUCKS!

As a technology enthusiast almost everything I do requires an internet connection and when I don’t have a connection it becomes incredibly difficult to do anything I regularly like to do.

Why don’t I just hook up to my phone and use my phone’s data? I’ve hit my data cap, that’s why. We still have these stupid ridiculous data caps for insane amounts of money here in Canada. Right now I pay an EXTRA $100 CAD just to have the “privilege” to use 7GB of “4G” freaking data. 7GB! To put this in to perspective I pay under $100 CAD (can’t remember the exact cost at the moment and I can’t look it up because NO INTERNET – EDIT $62.95 for 60 DOWN 10 UP UNLIMITED) for a 60mbit down and 10mbit up UNLIMITED connection at home.

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The Canadian phone companies still haven’t been given enough of a push to start offering better data plans on their phones for reasonable rates. The CRTC earlier this year managed to do something great for the consumer. Guarantee net neutrality. This means no more offering free data for special services that the big companies like Rogers or Bell get a kickback for. This means all data is treated equal. This should in turn force companies to offer better data plans for better prices but I fear that the Canadian telecommunications companies are so full of themselves greedy that they may let the Canadian public suffer.

And this is exactly what these communications companies want. They want us to be afraid of them. They want us to feel that we owe them something even though we pay them quite well for their services.

A representative at Rogers was one asked if they offered unlimited data what would be the problem? The rep answered that their network wouldn’t be able to handle it. HAH!

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Here’s the thing. If you take that record amount of money you make every quarter and invest it in your network like American communications companies do maybe we’d have a country-wide data network to be proud of.

The best thing that could happen at this point would be for the federal or provincial governments here in Canada to declare the internet a utility. Yes people get scared by this but it’s the only thing that makes sense. Once the phone companies were privatized there was very little done by any of them to improve our nationwide network.

Why in July 2017 do I still have to worry about breaking down in my truck going between Longlac, Ontario and Hearst, Ontario (210km or 126mi) because there is no phone signal? In the summer it’s not as big of an issue but in the winter without heat you can literally freeze to death. At the very least there should be a strong signal along all of our roads no matter what.

If the government was still running things yes it would not be run as efficiently but they would be continuously upgrading our network. Mind you I am not so sure about this today as our current governments only care about social minded things and green initiatives.

It’s a damn shame that instead of being a leader, Canada has dropped back to being a follower again. Don’t get me wrong, there’s lots’s to like about this country but our data infrastructure is the actual pits.

Ebay Deals – Dell PowerEdge 840

I am always scouring Ebay for computer deals that could potentially become projects to play with or to restore and sell. While I don’t get in to really old systems that may require some real work to repair I am willing to take a shot at a system that may or may not be totally complete or being sold as untested.

Before you continue there are a lot of acronyms used in the enterprise industry used in this post. I will have links to Wikipedia where possible so you can read up on these terms as explaining them all here right now would take another few pages of writing. Enjoy!

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My latest rebuild has been what initially looked like an abused and tired old Dell PowerEdge 840 server that was up on Ebay for a price of $9.80 CAD and $30 CAD shipping. Not bad really. This reseller had a bunch of similar systems up at the time and I chose one that looked like it had a tape drive in it. There were only two pictures of the system and no pictures of the inside which can always show a sign of a seller hiding something.

I decided to jump on the system and it arrived a week later from Calgary, Alberta to my humble abode in southwestern Ontario. Of course I received notification that it arrived while I was at work but the good news was I’d have my week off before my sister’s wedding to figure out exactly what the system needed to get up and running.

The seller had noted in the posting that there would be no included hard drives or cords. They also mentioned that the drive caddies would be removed from the four drive SATA/SAS RAID hotswap cage. The question remained of course what WAS included with the system. I expected to see that they had removed the SATA/SAS RAID interface card for the drive cage and perhaps the SCSI card removed from the system that controlled the tape drive.

I received the system in the photo for sure as it was the only one they had with a tape drive. That’s a good start. I opened the tower up and realized the first thing I was going to have to do was remove the dust inside. It was absolutely caked with dust inside but I was able to get it all cleaned up.

I brought it back inside and began to inspect the components remaining with the system. It still had the CPU which was good though I couldn’t confirm it was the correct one until I booted the server up. It had the 4GB of memory that was promised which was good as many of the others were shipping with just 1 or 2GB. It came with a SATA DVD-ROM drive which was interesting to see. I wasn’t expecting it to be just a DVD-ROM. The tape drive was still there and it was indeed still connected to it’s SCSI interface card. There is no front drawer cover on it though and looking online this part is worth a lot of it works. I bet they tested it and it doesn’t. I have no way to test it right now so I removed it from the system. This was the best news though. It came with the SAS/SATA RAID interface card AND the drive cage to go with it. This was great news even though I was initially planning to just use the server’s built in SATA RAID option otherwise. Oh, and for some reason this server had a modem card installed. Weird.

So after inspecting all that it was time to see if she would fire up. I plugged the PowerEdge in to power, plugged in a VGA cable, found an old Acer PS/2 keyboard and a USB mouse to control it and hit the power button. With a loud whine from the fans she came to life. After the fans settled down I got a picture on the screen and saw it going through the BIOS hardware detection process. This took some time as is normal for a server but eventually I got in to the BIOS.

The BIOS confirmed that I was running 4GB of DDR2 667MHz ECC memory (upgradeable to 8GB) and the promised Intel Xeon E3240 Quad Core running at 2.4GHz. I was happy to see this as many of the other servers the seller had were dual cores.

I decided to see if I could boot it to Fedora Linux and went to open the tray for the optical drive but it refused to open. Oh it made the sounds like it wanted to but it just would not do it. Probably needs a new belt but I don’t have any lying around. So I shut down the system and removed the old SATA DVD-ROM drive and installed a LG PATA DVD burner from my stash and hooked it up. Why the switch to PATA? Well number one I have a bunch of these lying around that work great and number two I needed the SATA power and data connector for something else later.

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I powered up the system again and put in the Fedora live DVD. It immediately booted to the DVD, well after I monkeyed around in the BIOS to get the thing to actually boot to DVD. It loaded up Fedora but it performed terribly. I believe this had to do with the Gnome desktop environment that Fedora uses by default. Considering the only graphics chip on this system is an ancient ATI job with access to only 32MB of memory I noted that I could indeed install Fedora but I’d have to install a lighter weight desktop environment for it to run quick enough.

I shut the system back down and began to take note of what I’d need to get the system fully operational again. I set aside a SATA hard drive for the boot/OS drive then looked on Ebay for some hard drives that I could use for the RAID array. I found four 160GB Western Digital SATA hard drives from a seller in Quebec for $30 CAD and from the same seller that I bought the server from I found some drive trays for the hard drives again for $30 CAD.

A week later and all my parts had arrived along with another project system that I will talk to you about down the road. Anyways, I installed the hard drives in to their new homes in the drive cage and booted up the server. The SAS card recognized the drives and I was able to jump into the card’s configuration utility. All drives reported good and I went ahead and created a RAID 10 array giving me a total of 380GB of storage that’s mirrored for data redundancy but also striped for performance. It took about 30 minutes to build the RAID array which wasn’t too bad.

I then went ahead and began the Fedora 25 installation. This took about 45 minutes to complete and about another hour to get another desktop environment installed (I chose MATE as it’s my favourite and doesn’t require a lot of video resources to run well) and the PowerEdge 840 was back up to, what they say in the industry, production ready.

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After various restarts Fedora would no longer boot properly on the Dell. I’ve never seen what was happening before and it seems the internet hadn’t either. The 840 did have a Windows 2008 Server sticker on it so I went ahead and installed Server 2008. It’s running perfectly other than the fact that the system does not support 1080p in Windows. I ordered a nvidia 8300GS and with it installed but the system would not display video. I removed the 8300GS and searched for a proper driver for the onboard ATI graphics. Finding that driver on an obscure tech website I went ahead and installed it. Still no 1080P but it does now display 720p. Interestingly if I remote in to the system it easily runs 1080p in the remote window.

I’m pretty stoked right now as to how well this all went. Currently I am planning to install MySQL on it for kicks and experiment. Yeah, I know that sounds incredibly boring but I want to learn some more about MySQL databases. It will eventually become a file server for the house.

Have you found some interesting tech goodies on Ebay, Kijiji or Craigslist for use in a project? Let me know below. I’d love to hear your experiences.