Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Mediagate MG-35 heaven?



I bought myself another new toy (!!). This time it's called a Freecom MG-35 but in reality it's a re-badged Mediagate MG-35 from a Korean source. Why did I buy this? Well it's a networked media player which means it can play the media I have stored on my NAS, my Linkstation. So, put simply, I can watch video or listen to MP3s while my PC is saving electricity being switched to standby or off.

There are plenty of networked media players out there (I actually use an Xbox with XboxMediaCenter installed) so why this one? Well I have looked at many in recent days and will advise you if considering one to Google them extensively. Ebay is a source of NMPs but the ones I saw listed almost all seemed to have buggy firmware (according to net reports). The MG35 also has it's bugs but the clincher here (apart from price!!) was that there is an established hacking community on Yahoo Groups. The group have modified firmware to add a few features like AC3 playback (always handy for those Xvid/AC3 dvdrips) and to improve the interface with better looking "skins".

So, I plugged the thing in and it found my network straight away. I set up the interface as I wanted and then navigated to my AVIs and played them without any issues. Superb. Next to upgrade the firmware to a modded one, simply browse the network to the latest stock firmware, select the file and the box knows that it's a firmware file and flashes it for you. Next flash the modded firmware and you are done. There is also a wireless MG-35 for those who like freedom from network cables.

One final comment. The MG35 supports playback from a locally fitted hard disk (IDE) or via network. I am a silence-freak so don't want to listen to whining hard disks. With no hard disk and no fan, the MG-35 is totally silent and therefore ideal for bedroom use. Pity mine is downstairs now!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Wot no Zonbu?

I've sold my Zonbu. A bit strange to only have it a few weeks but my needs have changed. I still think the Zonbu is a great PC and a great concept - green computing.

I had considered the Zonbu originally to become my download box, allowing it to download all day to either an external USB drive, an attached 2.5inch drive or to a NAS. Anyway, astute readers (are there any?) might have noticed my success with the Buffalo Linkstation NAS box which is now acting as my download box using Hellanzb for usenet downloads. The only other role the Zonbu could have fulfilled would have been to act as a video player but it's probably expensive to do that so the Zonbu is going. The Linkstation still fulfills my Green computing needs!

What will be the video player? Well, a Freecom MG-35.



That's another entry though when I have updated that with "modded" firmware! What fun - boy toys!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Leaves on the Line



I'm wondering if this is just a peculiarly British problem or something the world over? Anyway, in the UK every autumn (that's "fall" for the Yanks) we have the commuting world grind to a halt with the excuse from the train companies of "leaves on the line" or "the wrong kind of leaves on the line". This only came about in the last 10 years or so but now it has suddenly got so bad (if you believe the BS we are fed) that we have "Leaf Fall Timetables" where trains are timetabled to run late. If you ask me this is just another excuse for the crap rail services we have in the country.

Where I live we have a small local railway close by and not only has the Leaf Fall timetable led to earlier starting and later finishing trains (less sleep for the Mrs) but it also means we have a Leaf Cleaning train that runs after the normal trains have finished. This is some mighty behemoth that at night is barely lit and looks a little like a huge steam breathing dragon. It blasts (very noisily) the tracks clean and goes quite slowly once and down the line. We had just about got used to this (which finishes only an hour after the last train) when this week it got worse. The bloody Leaf Cleaner came at 3.30am the night before last and 1:10am last night. How are we expected to get some sleep?

I can picture me either planting some explosive on the Leaf Cleaner or sabotaging the line to prevent any trains running. Bring back British Rail I say because even they could run a better rail service than the shambles we have now.

[The image is a fair likeness of the Dragon of the Rails]

Thursday, November 15, 2007

OMG I am a Nintendo Fanboy!



Well, this was a shock to admit this to myself. Having spent years scoffing at Ninty fanboys and my son in particular I have slowly come to this moment where I have realised I am a Ninty Fanboy.



I did own a SNES some while back but probably mainly because there were devices like the Wildcard where you could backup games to floppy disk and play them without cartridges. But I soon got bored and sold the SNES and Wildcard - there was just so much Streetfighter 2 you could play.



I easily resisted the N64 although my son had one to play the Pokemon games. His arrived after the console was officially "dead" so wasn't expensive. Sure, Goldeneye was impressive but I easily resisted.



Gamecube? Well, I laughed at that from my Xbox heights. I did relent and get a PS2 for the family to use Eyetoy and Dancemat games mainly. Again, my son got a Cube later than most (just as it was dying) but it didn't grab me. He was still on his Pokemon Colosseum games at this time. I did notice that there were a few of the more mainstream games out on the GC though.



And Wii. Well by now I had to admit that Nintendo had something special out and the social gaming that Wii Sports brings looked rather fun. The most beloved in a moment of pure genius produced one for me at Xmas 06 and we all agreed it was the best surprise present ever. Much fun and several Wii Sports-related injuries later it's still a revolutionary console. Sure, the graphics are not "Next Gen" like the Xbox360 and PS3 but graphics don't make the game, the gameplay does. The Wii also made me look hard at the Cube's back catalogue and generally if the game was good it got a Cube release too, bar the few "exclusives" like Halo and Project Gotham or God of War.

And I haven't even touched on handhelds and how Ninty owns that market. Maybe another time? Feel free to disagree with my views.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Amithlon again




Well, after much searching I believe I have found the perfect Amithlon motherboard. It's the Asus KV-81. So why is it perfect? Well, all the devices onboard are supported (which is always good) and it's microATX (which is better, means nice small cases are an option) but it's also just about the only board with gigabit ethernet that is supported by Amithlon (using the VIA Velocity chipset). The downsides for me are that I have a nice PCI-E graphics card and this board only takes AGP cards (so anyone wanna swap for a 7600GT?) and this is a Socket754 board and I have Socket939 chips. I managed to pick up a cheap Sempron 2600+ and have an Athlon 3000+ also cheap that is on the way. Now I have to sell the old S939 kit!

Anyway, a few install experiences. I had some issues with the partitioning of the hard disk. You can only have 4 Primary partitions which basically meant XP, Amithlon Kernel/Boot partition and the "Amiga hard disk" partition. I didn't manage to squeeze a Mac OSX partition in this time. My little advice I can offer is that if you want to have additional NTFS partitions for XP that you create them at the start when installing XP (which you do before Amithlon), make them logical and not primary partitions and use a partition package like Acronis Disk Director to move the partitions to the end of the physical hard disk layout. Then create your Kernel and Amiga partitions using XFDisk in the resulting space in the middle. If not then things look to be confused as XFDisk thinks your Kernel/Amithlon partition is your D or E drive!

One final tip. After configuration, boot from the Amithlon CD, not from HD. Then "install" the Amiga hard disk and WB3.9 from your Amithlon CD and then and ONLY then boot from the "Amiga hard disk".

My Amithlon boots using the old kernels, not the Gary Colville versions. Need to tweak the setup. Anyone care to offer some advice or help?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Saving the Planet

The Linkstation hacking is going rather well.

So far I have upgraded the hard disk to a larger one, re-sizing the partitions so that I have extra space to install all the goodies that I am adding to it. Then I opened the firmware up on the box ("hacked it") and installed a few Linux goodies to make life easier. I tweaked the box to enable it to act as a web server for a personal web page which isn't written yet but you can get the empty site at www.strontiumdog.co.uk. I wonder if you know what that website might be about? The last improvement for me is the best. I installed a usenet downloading package that downloads files from the internet, checks and unpacks them, all whilst the PC is switched off. Now if you think that a Linkstation uses 15W power and a PC normally around 175W, the saving in electricity pays for the Linkstation and upgraded hard disk in about a year. I have to do my bit to save the planet don't I.

The thing is so good that I wonder what my Zonbu will do!

A full how-to for installing the usenet downloader is available at the Linkstation wiki at NAS-Central here.

Next is a web interface for remote control of the usenet package and perhaps a Bit torrent client.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

X-Amiga


What fortuitous timing. There was me ranting about Windows yesterday and saying how Linux and Amiga were cool and along it comes. This is a project I've been tracking for a while, basically an installer for a very small Linux boot system that loads E-UAE (the Linux Amiga emulator). Loads fast and avoids bloating! Sounds like a pro-biotic yoghurt eh?

More info and the downloads can be found here

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

I Hate MS Windows!


Well, sort of.

Windows is one of those necessary evils or so many will tell you. I find it a bloated operating system, it takes too much space, too much memory and therefore is inefficient. It comes with "eye candy" to make it look pretty but that doesn't change what it really is.

So what can we do? Well, there are many alternatives:

1) Linux - this is very much a realistic choice. I really doubt there is much reason for people to use Windows if it wasn't for the fact they had it pre-loaded on their PC or they found it easy to pirate. Try a Linux install like Ubuntu and you get all the Office applications, internet browsers and whatever you could want. My Linkstation is running Linux and can do an awful lot and similarly with the Zonbu! You can even try Linux using "Live CDs" where you keep your existing OS but boot Linux from the CD and can test and play with it before deciding if you want to install it.

2) Mac OSX - well I cannot claim to be taken with this but pretty much the same applies as for Linux. Less users though so less people writing for it. Interestingly if you like to try new stuff, you can install this on your PC to make what is called a Hackintosh (not Macintosh or Mac)

3) Amiga OS - well not really an alternative but you could have Amithlon running a fast non Microsoft system. Amithlon can run with very little else on your system bar a small FAT32 partition. Less software around for it too. Same applies to an AmigaOS clone called MorphOS.

4) Hyperspace - just publicised. This aims to save on the loading times associated with booting a Windows PC. More info here

Friday, November 2, 2007

Amiga



I've owned and used a fair few computers in my time from tape based TRS80s at school (and they were cutting edge) to the modern PCs we use today. The one computer that evokes most affection (yes, affection) and nostalgia is the Commodore Amiga. Now if you have just said "what's that?" then you should wash your mouth out with soapy water.

Linkage!

If you were an Amiga user in the late 80s and through the 90s you might be interested in emulations. Finally modern PCs have got sufficiently powerful to run an accurate emulation of the Amiga. Most people will be using a Windows PC and running WinUAE (the Windows Uxxx Amiga Emulator). WinUAE is a fine piece of software and can be configured to emulate most Amigas, even the later AGA chipset models. But for real emulation speed and features, nothing comes close to Amithlon. What Amithlon does is makes all the modern facilities of the PC available to the Amiga emulation - that means fast graphics, better sound, ethernet networking. You really get a powerful modern Amiga.

Unfortunately due to legal shenanigans Amithlon is no longer sold but copies are still traded on places like eBay. To run Amithlon you need compatible hardware - generally AMD and VIA kit works well (more info via the links). I spent quite some time hunting down the "perfect" motherboard, Abit's KV-81, which is fully supported and allows superfast gigabit networking. The Amithlon machine is set to dual boot - you can select your superfast Amithlon-based Amiga or (yuk) Windows XP.

Amithlon info can be found here

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Kittens!


We have two of them and they are, of course, adorable. These are the latest in a line of Burmese cats I have owned and these two are very different from the others.

Zaphod is a Chocolate boy and very small. I would not expect him to ever look like an adult cat but he's still cute and has a stubby face. He is, at the current time, rather strangely the "top cat" and he is quite aggressive with his brother, growling over possession of the sacred toy, the shaped pipe cleaner which looks, to a kitten, rather like a spider of sorts.

Aslan is a Lilac boy, quite chunky and muscular but is #2 cat. He is by all definitions of a Burmese and by those of The Sun newspaper, "a stunner". He has a lovely colour and shape. He's also very dippy and prone to losing the plot and staring at the ceiling as though he is having hallucinations. We think he is "touched" and a "special needs kitty".

Anyway, I'll post some pics later. Remind me to post some more in three months or so or late December because by then the poor boys will no longer be "whole". I hesitate to use the word "chop" in case they are internet-savvy kittens and read this!

[Update - Still haven't got pix sorted but dug out this one of my kittens' mum, brother and uncle]