The Advisory Boar
Hassath's birthday present this year was an
(with 8GB of Kingston DDR3L RAM and a 250GB Samsung SSD 750 Evo) to
stand in at home for her ageing Thinkpad X131E.
It took some time for the machine to reach our remote mountain abode,
but we have it working nicely after spending a few hours wrestling with
it. Here's a quick summary of our experience
wasn't really useful).
Hassath loves her old Samsung SyncMaster 172s monitor (1024x768, VGA)
and resists the idea of a new wide-format monitor. Getting the NUC to
work properly with this display took the most time (but none of it was
the display's fault).
We connected the monitor to the NUC's VGA port and were greeted with a
"Video mode not supported" error on the monitor. The debian installer's
text-mode display worked fine after boot, but we couldn't see any of the
UEFI setup menus. Fortunately, we were able to sidestep the problem by
using an HDMI→VGA adapter that we had ordered “just in case”. Using the
HDMI output resolved the display problems with the UEFI menus.
After we installed Debian (8.1 from a USB stick created from the DVD
image), X wouldn't start. The intel driver didn't work, and Xorg fell
back to the VESA driver, and
died while trying to set the video mode.
(Also, virtual terminals didn't work at all until we added an xorg.conf
snippet to force the resolution to 1024x768.) It didn't work even with
the DVI-D input (via another “just in case” HDMI→DVI-D cable) on my
We stumbled around for a while, but we eventually got it working. The
key was to apt-get dist-upgrade against jessie-backports to install a
new kernel and drivers (e.g., libdrm-intel1). We also updated the BIOS
from revision 0054 to
but I am not sure that this was necessary, or even helpful. Xorg works
with the new kernel and Intel driver. We didn't bother to check if the
VESA driver would also work if we forced its use.
(Aside: we had no UEFI boot-related problems at all. We didn't even need
to try the legacy boot option, either for the installation from the USB
stick or to boot the installed system.)
Everything else worked
The Ethernet controller is a Realtek RTL8168h, which works out of the
box with the r8169 driver. Installing the firmware-realtek package got
rid of an “unable to load firmware patch” message, but the adapter
worked fine without it.
The wireless controller is an
Intel dual band wireless-AC 3165,
which required the new kernel from backports (4.8, though 4.2+ should
have worked from what we read) and the firmware-iwlwifi package to be
installed. It worked fine thereafter.
The audio controller is an Intel "Braswell" 2284, which works out of the
box with the snd_hda_intel driver. Audio output goes simultaneously to
the headphone connector on the front panel and the glowing red S/PDIF
plus headphone connector on the back. We did not try S/PDIF audio (no
cable, no devices) or HDMI audio (no audio port on the HDMI→VGA
adapter) or recording (no mic—or at least, no mic on my desk).
The Intel Bluetooth 4.0 controller (8087:0a2a) works out of the box with
the btusb driver. We were able to pair with an Android phone and a
Bluetooth speaker. We were not able to play audio to the speaker, but
that is probably not a problem with the NUC, because we didn't manage to
get it working with any of our other machines either.
We didn't try the SDXC card slot or the infrared sensor.
Update (2017-01-18): The SDXC card slot works fine. I used it to
write a Raspbian image.
A friend had a domain registered at 123-Reg that he no longer wanted. It
was coming up for renewal later this month, and he offered to transfer
it to me. The domain was not locked, so I asked him for an auth code,
and immediately submitted a request to transfer it to
my preferred registrar.
The transfer failed, and Namecheap sent me mail saying the domain was
locked. I checked, and it was. It had also already been transferred to
another sponsoring registrar (Mesh Digital, the company that owns both
123-Reg and Domainmonster). My friend contacted support to unlock the
domain, but by then of course the domain had entered the sixty-day
period during which it could not be transferred again. I was forced to
pay the renewal fee to them, and will now have to retry the transfer
after the embargo expires.
I suppose I could think of benign explanations for the above if I tried,
but I'm not feeling especially charitable about it.
I got my dad a
Lenovo Yoga 300
a few days ago, and installed Debian 8 on his old Ideapad S206 before
giving it to Ammu, who has been using my old (and increasingly broken)
for months now.
The Linux Laptop Wiki has a page about the
the quick summary is that everything works with only a little tweaking.
Wifi worked out of the box with brcmsmac. Bluetooth worked fine after
installing the firmware-atheros package. Sound input and output worked
fine out of the box. The hotkeys to change the volume (and brightness,
etc.) also worked. I didn't try the card reader or the webcam.
I didn't bother with the fglrx video drivers, but I had to install
firmware-linux-nonfree to enable KMS (kernel mode setting) to get
suspend/resume to work properly. (Hibernation worked fine anyway.)
This is a sleek and light machine, quite a step up from the earlier
Ideapad models I've used. The screen is a bit shiny, but stops short of
being annoying. The keypad is unfortunately very jittery—unless you are
very deliberate about tapping-to-click, you'll most likely just move the
pointer a bit rather than clicking. This was my father's biggest problem
with the machine (and it wasn't just a matter of acceleration settings).
But it's working nicely otherwise, and I hope Ammu gets some good use
out of it.
A friend sent me a pair of
“bench stones”. These are steel plates surfaced with diamond
particles—an alternative to old-fashioned oilstones for sharpening steel
cutting edges. I have been using them for several months now, and they
have lived up to their reputation as being fast, durable, and
convenient. I am very happy with them.
I have the D6CX and D6EF, each of which has two continuous sharpening
surfaces measuring 150mm*50mm (6"*2"). The D6CX has extra-coarse (220
grit) and coarse (325 grit) sides, while the D6EF has fine (600) and
extra-fine (1200) sides.
I have used them to sharpen kitchen knives, sharpen and flatten the back
of a very hard plane iron, restore the badly-damaged cutting edges of
some old chisels that belonged to my grandfather, and hone some new
Narex chisels and other assorted tools. I follow more or less the same
process shown in this video by
The DMT plates are fast and a pleasure to work with. Flattening large
steel surfaces does take a half-hour or so of extra-coarse rubbing (mind
your knuckles don't scrape the plate! I learned this the hard way), but
that isn't a task I would even attempt on my old Norton oilstone. Tuning
up a blunted (not damaged) edge takes a couple of minutes at most, while
restoring a nicked edge might take ten.
I use the plates with a bit of water sprayed from an old bottle of glass
cleaner, and wipe them down afterwards with an old shirt. They are easy
to maintain (but the coarse grits must be cleaned gently, because they
will happily shred cloth), and do not need to be flattened periodically
the way an oilstone might. The fine surface developed a few tiny black
spots on the very first use, but extensive use thereafter has not made
them any larger or more numerous. (DMT is reputed to have good customer
support, but they didn't respond to my question about the black spots.)
(I also have the
stand. The rubber feet do keep it from moving, and the clearance makes
it easy to flip the plates over. It works fine, but I could easily do
I like sharpening things, but I am not obsessive about it. I have not
tried to measure how flat the surface actually is, nor have I looked at
the sharpened edges under a microscope. The plates are flat enough, and
the edges sharp enough for me; and it doesn't take too long to get them
DMT manufactures a great variety of these plates: larger and smaller
sizes, coarser and finer grits, single- and double-sided, or with
“interrupted” surfaces that reduce the buildup of swarf (abraded steel
particles that must be cleaned away). I might try a single-sided 8"*3"
continuous surface plate someday—it should make it a little easier to
sharpen my larger knives.
Two years ago, I bought a pair of
Alpen Wings 8x42 ED
binoculars. These are one of the least expensive mid-range birding
binoculars, but a big step up from my earlier
Nikon Trailblazer 8x42 at
three times the price.
Even so, I didn't expect them to be so much better than
anything I had used before. The view is addictively bright and clear,
and I use the 2.5m close-focus capabilities much more than I thought I
would. The build quality is excellent, the adjustments are smooth and
precise, and these binoculars feel reassuringly solid in the hand. The
hard carrying case is also welcome.
On paper, the specifications are very similar to the Trailblazer: same
magnification, similar field of view, waterproof and fogproof, slightly
less eye relief, a bit smaller but a few grams heavier. I expected only
a modest improvement in optics and better build quality, but they're in
an altogether different league. Two years later, I'm still as happy and
impressed with them as I was in the first five minutes.
(I also use an Alpen spotting scope, which I will review someday;
suffice it to say that Alpen optics deserve their excellent reputation.)
Hassath and I bought a Renault Duster AWD one year ago. This is our
We live in a remote mountain area in Uttarakhand, and regularly use the
Duster on rocks, mud, dirt tracks, and bad roads, and in heavy rain and
snow; but we've also driven thousands of kilometres on good highways and
expressways. We don't do any "hard core" off-roading, but the jeep track
down to our house can be negotiated only by 4WD vehicles. We've had the
car full of luggage, and we've had it full of people. Here's what we've
learned in the past year.
The Duster AWD suits our needs well, and we are happy that we bought it.
I say this right at the beginning because I don't want the criticism in
the rest of this review to dilute the message: this is a capable car
that serves us well in demanding conditions, and we look forward to
using it for many years.
My mother has been using my old Lexmark printer for many years, but it
is no longer possible to find toner cartridges for it (which is such a
shame, because it's a good printer). When the last cartridge became so
flaky that she could no longer print her tickets, she asked me to find
a new printer for her.
I thought about a cheap Samsung ML-16xx laser printer, but my recent
experience with SPL led me to
settle on the
instead. This printer ticks many of my boxes: it has Ethernet support,
automatic duplex printing (surprising, for a relatively inexpensive
printer), and a proper output tray. The downside is that it supports
only PCL6, not PostScript.
It was easy to set up the printer under Ubuntu 11.10. I chose the
generic PCL6 printer driver, and everything just worked. Delightful.
(Brother's web site does have some CUPS drivers for Linux, but I did
not bother to try them out.)
Not surprisingly, the printed output looks fine too.
I've been on the lookout for a
ever since I read
glowing review in early 2011. It was not available in Nehru Place
for several months, and I'd almost forgotten about it when I happened to
find it on Flipkart some weeks
ago. I ordered one, and have been reasonably happy with it. Here are a
The first thing I noticed was the weight. I've become so used to holding
my 1.2kg Ideapad that the extra 300g of the X120E startled me. But I got
used to it quickly. The six-cell battery and slightly higher resolution
screen (1366x768 vs 1024x600) are both pleasant upgrades, as are the
much faster processor and the extra 1Gb of RAM.
The chiclet keyboard is nice, but the spacebar refused to cooperate
until I trained my thumbs to press down very deliberately. The
trackpoint/touchpad combination does its best to make everyone happy,
but it takes up space and the touchpad buttons on the outer edge of the
chassis are very easy to press inadvertently if you use the machine on,
say, a lap. Another annoyance is the lack of an LED to indicate that the
machine is charging (there's only a power-on LED and a suspend LED).
The machine is listed on Flipkart as having FreeDOS installed. In fact,
it ships with an empty hard disk. Ubuntu 11.10 installed easily, and all
the hardware worked fine with no fuss (wireless card, audio, Bluetooth,
etc.). I was prepared for some pain, but there wasn't any.
On the whole, this is a nice little machine, and I'm glad I got one.
I have lived without a printer or scanner for many years, but the number
of things I need to print and scan has grown to the point where going to
the market each time is painful. I am a firm believer in buying printers
with PostScript and network support, but our needs are modest and do not
justify spending enough to get a "real" printer. So I resigned myself to
paying extra in terms of dealing with CUPS.
I found two or three MFPs that suited my budget on
but was unable to find anything about Linux support for those models.
Eventually, I chose the smallest one, the
SCX-3201G, based on some positive reports about the SCX-3200 series.
Fortunately, it was easy to make it work. Thanks to tweedledee's
Samsung Unified Linux Driver
Repository and the odd
post, I installed the PPD file and the SPL filter under Ubuntu
11.04. Printing with CUPS and scanning with SANE both work fine now.
The printer itself works all right. You can tell it's meant for low
volumes. There's no output tray—it just spits paper out from the front,
and there's a non-zero risk that it'll get sucked back into the input
tray below. I would have been happier with a "real" printer, but this
one works well enough that I'm glad to have it anyway.
Update: I'm glad I don't need to print photographs. Libreoffice
and the GIMP print fine, but output is very dark and the quality is a
bit disappointing even at 1200dpi. The fault may lie with the printer,
the driver, or GIMP—or a combination thereof. The GNOME image viewer
causes the printer to spit out several mostly-empty pages with a few
control characters. I assume some CUPS incantation is needed, but I'm
happy to ignore the problem entirely. Text and line-art print fine.
Update: Sometimes, printing a PDF will also print many pages of
garbage. Most of the time, printing it a second time will work fine, but
some files always result in garbage. Unfortunately, I have not found any
way to predict when it might happen. I blame the interaction between
CUPS and Samsung's SPL filter. I have set "LogLevel debug" in
cupsd.conf, and will keep an eye on the logs.
<subliminal>Life is short. Get a printer with PostScript and
I traded in my 2005 Maruti Swift VXi for a 2011 Swift ZXi a month ago.
There are some things about the new car that are nicer—the rear wipers
and alloy wheels are especially welcome, and the height-adjustable seat
belts are a nice touch. Mostly, though, this car is just the same as the
The only dramatic change is the new K-series engine, which is supposed
to be lighter, and have better fuel efficiency and lower emissions. Its
1197cc capacity is slightly less than the old engine, but the peak power
and torque figures (85PS@6000rpm and 113Nm@4500rpm) are quite similar.
The engines perform very differently, however, as I have learned over
nearly two thousand kilometres of driving in varied conditions. (It's
too early to say anything about fuel efficiency, though.)
(Aside: the official Maruti Swift
web site—which should have been able to give me the specifications
for engines both old and new—has been given over to a stupid "hold your
breath" splash page for the new Swift to be introduced later this year.)
The new engine is louder and higher-pitched (annoyingly so) with the
throttle open. The power curve has been shifted to the left, resulting
in noticeably more low-end torque (which makes city and hill driving
easier). The disappointing corollary is that highway performance is
compromised by the loss of power at the high end.
Given a good road, my old car seemed eager to go up to 140kmph, and it
accelerated nicely past 100kmph even in fifth gear. The new car begins
to feel reluctant at 100kmph, and needs a lot of coaxing to move up to
120kmph. I had to keep shifting down to fourth or even third gear while
overtaking cars on the highway. The old car also felt perfectly stable
at 120kmph, while the new one feels a tiny bit flaky beyond that speed.
I know that conditions in India are rarely such that one can drive at
120kmph for any length of time, and one can take advantage of extra
low-end torque more often, but I can't help feeling a bit disappointed.
I wanted a Swift, dammit, not a semi-laden swallow!
Update 2012: The problems went away when I switched from the
stock JK Vectra 185/70 tires to Yokohama A-Drive tires of the same size.
The car handled better, felt so much more stable at highway speeds, and
were noticeably quieter. I guess the stock tires (which were all right
for the LXi) just didn't suit the slightly heavier ZXi.