Monthly Archives: June 2007

nVidia 8800GTS fix for ffdshow, CCCP, or DefilerPak diagonal blocking issue

Repeating this here because it might help anyone with a recent nVidia card running XviD video:

There’s a diagonal blocking/lag issue with the nVidia 8800-series cards when playing video using the commonly used Combined Community Codec Pack. To fix this, click Start / All Programs / Combined Community Codec Pack / FFDShow Video Decoder Configuration. (If you don’t have CCCP installed, double-click the black and white ffdshow icon in your system tray when playing an XviD video.)

Scroll down to the bottom of the left panel and choose Output, then check “YV12″ under Planar YUV. Click OK, restart your video and any blocking issues should be resolved. Here’s the finished dialog:

FFDShow YV12 Configuration

Original solution from the CCCP forums, but we all know how short-lived those can be.

Windows Home Server makes me want to forgive Microsoft for Vista

I’ve moaned and whined about the half-baked operating system Microsoft imbued upon the world earlier this year, and how its only real significant plus, for me, is the upgraded edition of Media Center. For the record, MCE has always seemed like beta software to me, and there’s no exception with Vista’s edition. About once a day on the media center box, Data Execution Prevention kicks in and restarts the Media Center shell. It takes about five seconds to do, but it’s distinctively pre-release candidate material.

I was about to do my usual round of reinstallations when I noticed that Windows Home Server had gone into RC1 stage (effectively, a usable beta from Microsoft.) It’s heavily based on Windows Server 2003, which I use as my primary OS at work. I read some details about WHS on Something Awful’s SH/SC forum, and decided to give it a go.

Drive spanning? Works.
Automatic backup of other PC’s? Works.
Seems to work with all my stuff? Yep.

I guess I’ll see how it performs under load in the next few days, then…

Networking adventures and roadmaps with a new TekSavvy DSL account

I figured that it might be a good idea to draw up a network diagram of my home setup in preparation for a DSL installation later this week. Since about January, I’ve been investigating alternate internet service providers, since there’s no way I can afford having a slow or disconnected Internet line. If Rogers decides to implement bandwidth throttling or caps, I want to make sure there’s a backup connection in case the 8Mbit Extreme line gets pulled or shaped.

I signed up for the 5MBit unlimited DSL package from TekSavvy; they’ve been getting incredibly good reviews on BroadbandReports (DSLReports) and they have technicians active in the forums all the time. I also decided to go with a guaranteed static IP address for the line, since they specifically don’t block any ports.

DSL Network Upgrade Diagram

Todd Holmdahl weasels about the Xbox 360 failure rate

From Xbox-Scene: Dean Takahashi interviewed Todd Holmdahl about alleged Xbox 360 failure rates. Holmdahl is the “corporate vice president of Gaming and Xbox Products Group”, and effectively has NOTHING meaningful to answer during the interview. He also fails to answer questions that have even already been answered in public. The issue at hand is the “three red lights of death”, in which the Xbox 360 console indicates a hardware failure with three red LED’s.

In my personal opinion, his answers constitute possibly the weakest excuse ever for a press interview. Larry Hryb (Major Nelson), Andre Vrignaud (Ozymandias) and Dave Weller (Let’s Kill Dave) far outdo this guy in being open with the public.

Let’s get this clear: I’ve personally gone through two Xbox 360 consoles and am on my third model. Both have experienced disk reading issues, owing to their substandard internal DVD drives. I have owned five original Xbox consoles in total, and of those, only one failed out of the box after a bad Xbox Live update. The only reason I’m calling Holmdahl out on this is because Microsoft has a great chance of winning the next-generation console wars, and to be hamstrung by quality control problems is something they can’t afford.

Here’s my interpretation of Todd’s answers to some of Dean’s questions; I’m skipping the ones that are just corporate rehashing of “customer happiness” crap.

Q: What is the post-mortem on Xbox 360 manufacturing? How has it turned out for you?

A: Like any other post mortem, there are some things you would have done differently that you learned and that you incorporate back into your processes. Overall, it was really smoothe compared to the complexity of the product we were building.

This is the standard excuse from a Microsoft PR standpoint with respect to the machine itself. You can’t find an interview online where the complexity of the machine isn’t mentioned. We have an appeal to novelty: because the Xbox 360 is a new console, it must be comparatively better, and comparatively more complex to manufacture.

Q: The ramp of the Xbox 360 compared to the original Xbox. Was it similar or different?

A: Having lived through both of those, I remember both very well. Both were very complex products. State of the art technology. They were relatively similar in the ramp complexity and ramp speed. Exciting stuff. You and I had a conversation about this around November, 2005.

The ramp of the original Xbox wasn’t plagued by memory shortages. It’s also not really appropriate to compare the two situations as the Xbox 360 effectively had a world launch, whereas the original Xbox started out production in North America based from a single Flextronics factory in Mexico. The Xbox 360 used Wistron (who now no longer have the contract, even at a 10% revenue loss), Flextronics and Celestica.

Q: I’m sure you’ve seen some of these complaints that we’ve written about from the guy who went through seven machines. There are a lot of people posting on the blog saying they still have problems. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that the quality of the Xbox 360 isn’t there. How can you paint the bigger picture for me there?

A: We’re very proud of the box. We think the vast majority of people are having just a great experience. You look at the number of games they are buying, the number of accessories they are buying, the Live attach. They love the box. They continue to buy the box. That said, we take any customer issue very seriously. We continue to look into these things very deeply. You have seen we have made some changes to our customer service policy.

Initially at the console launch, I’d heard rumors that Sony was flooding the Internet with fakeposts and trolls about Xbox 360 failure rates. I’d believe this, and it wouldn’t necessarily have to be company-sanctioned; after all, the fanboy wars between the PlayStation and Xbox camps have made utter drivel out of either company’s official forums.

There’s no excuse for people on, say, Something Awful, to risk a ban and $10 by fakeposting about console failures at this point in 2007. The official Xbox 360 thread in the Games forum has a running commentary of people going “well, mine died today.” I think the real bigger picture stems from a lack of time-sensitive stress testing, and there are already enough consoles out in the market that a motherboard revision at this time wouldn’t make sense.

(As an aside: The Xbox 360 is well overdue for a new motherboard anyway, but it likely won’t become public knowledge until the rumored 65nm chips begin shipping. It’s likely part of Microsoft’s profitability plan that yearly motherboard revisions wouldn’t make sense for this generation of consoles. Xblade, Tuscany and Barcelona are all codenames for various editions of the Xbox’s original board; in the Xbox modification scene, the boards are known by revision numbers such as 1.0 through 1.6b.)

Q: I’ve heard varying accounts of what is considered a normal return rate. Some people say that 2 percent is normal. Sometimes 3 percent to 5 percent is considered normal. Back to that question, can you address whether you are within those rates or within a normal rate.

A: We don’t disclose the actual number.

Q: Normal compared to the Xbox?

A: We don’t comment on that.

We know the alleged percentage is at least 3% and possibly as high as 5%:

“Microsoft has said that Xbox 360 return rates are within the normal 3 percent to 5 percent average for consumer electronics products. With 1.75 million consoles sold as of March 31, that means at least 50,000 consumers have had problems.”

Q: You guys did get rid of Wistron. Was that related to product quality?

A: We didn’t get rid of Wistron. It was a voluntary decision between the two of us. We try to run as efficient as possible. With our supply base the way it is now, two high quality contract manufacturers satisfy our needs.

Guys, it was a mutual breakup that was totally mutual, nobody dumped anyone. We both decided we’d start seeing other people mutually and it was so mutual that we’re still good friends. Really.

Q: If you take the main chips from 90nm to 65nm, do you get accompanying benefits in the rest of the system? Does the board itself get smaller?

A: That’s a really good point, Dean. When you do these designs, you’re looking at the CPU or the GPU, or just one specific internal component, as we continue to look through it, we look at it as a complete system. We make sure the components work with the system, delivers the right levels of performance, and operates at the right voltage to perform at the levels we want it to perform at.

Any CS or engineering student knows the potential heat reduction and decrease in power consumption that’s achieved from going from 90nm to 65nm. There are easy, non-confidential benefits that could have been discussed. Todd is walking a fine line and essentially saying “Buy an Xbox 360 now, it’ll be JUST AS GOOD as when we eventually cost reduce our components and make it run cooler.” That’s a HUGE decision for some customers.

Q: There was a surge of supplies in the spring of 2006. Did that mark any particular advance in manufacturing? Was that Celestica coming online?

A: We hold as confidential our production ramp. It’s not something we talk about.

It wasn’t so confidential when you announced it in March 2006.

Of all the comments this guy’s made, this one irks me to an incredible degree. Microsoft trumpeted around Celestica coming online to every major Xbox fansite out there, since people were screaming for the Xbox 360 to show up in the retail channel. This isn’t so much a corporate weasel as a flat out lie; Todd’s trying not to get tripped up so much that he’s not even releasing information that’s already commonly public knowledge.

I know this post seems somewhat irrational, but I’m a big fan of Dean Takahashi’s work, and to see him completely denied by a VP is a bit ludicrous. He’ll get the information anyways.

What is this Facebook applications nonsense?

Over the past few days I’ve seen a plethora of really inane applications on my Facebook news feed. At this point, I primarily use the site for stalking other people, since I get any relevant status updates and private messages sent over to my cell phone.

Seriously, though, “Glitter Text”? “X Me”? These sorts of items encourage banal, MySpace-esque pages cluttered with about fifty extra boxes, causing extra page load time and bandwidth usage. If you don’t believe me about these particular items, check their comment pages out in the application directory. You’ll see the worst CAPS LOCK IS CRUISE CONTROL FOR COOL, nd txtspeak lyk dis offenders this side of NewsCorp’s abortion of a social portal.

(Keep in mind that the following screenshot is from “Honesty Box”, an application that specifically allows anonymous commenting on your profile.)

Honesty Box Comments

That’s by far not the worst of it. The “X Me” application, a utility that lets you supplement the standard “poke” action with custom text, immediately attracted people who thought adding ‘fuck’ would be just an EXCELLENT idea. Never mind the fact that your profile is public, says you’re 12 and go to middle school; “FUCK” would be just a great idea and hilarious.

Christ almighty.

People wonder why pedophiles are having an easier time of it these days.

What’s more, is when I go to block these applications from appearing, I get the message that “This will not prevent you from seeing application if other people have it installed.” What a pathetic cop-out; I don’t want your 96Kbps Fergie MP3′s even beginning to think about loading on my box.

Anyone with me on this?

Safari 3 and OS X Leopard, with some new hardware too

Apple’s huge WWDC was today, and the Steve Jobs speech, while devoid of any new hardware, was fairly interesting in that it heralded the announcements of two huge features for OS X 10.5.

A new Desktop was nice to see, considering Apple’s effectively had the same Desktop UI since OS X 10.0. The improvements to the Dock look pretty interesting, although I’m unsure if I like the “curved” Stacks feature so far.

The new Finder, though, is a welcome item. There are a few minor performance problems with the current iteration browsing network drives and navigating folders. Ideally this will be fixed with the new sidebar implementation.

I also had the chance to try out the Safari 3 beta on my PC today. The download size was decently small, and it seems to use a similar amount of RAM to Firefox. The page rendering speed, though, is like Apple claimed – blisteringly fast. Memory usage always seems to be a problem with several of the “OS X on Windows” applications, but as long as the program doesn’t persistently chew up more over time, I’d rather have snappy performance when the browser is the active window at the expense of some system resources.

Speaking of RAM, I’ve already hit the hardware limit for my MacBook of 2GB, and I’m eyeing the new Santa Rosa-based MacBook Pro systems because they can go up to 4GB. I’ve also hit the 2GB sweet spot for my main PC workstation, and while I’d love to go to 4GB and see what happens for performance, Windows is only going to allocate 3.5GB of that at most. My typical usage is generally under 1GB, but I haven’t been firing up Eclipse on my home system lately.

I also installed the newest iteration of the WRT54G (revision 8.0) since my existing WRT54GS v1.1 decided to drop a port. When Linksys routers lose a LAN port, generally it means that their time routing packets is over with. The new model has less onboard memory and apparently is less tolerant of third-party firmware, but the official stuff seems to do 90% of what I want. The LED blink rate is also slightly faster. I’ll have to run a few further tests with BitTorrent and some other network intensive applications and compare performance.

As a result of the new router, I’m going to try and get my FTP and HTTP servers up and running again. It’s useful to point people to e98.homeip.net/files in case there’s an image, MP3 file or ZIP archive needing to be transferred without incurring the wrath of MSN/Windows Live Messenger’s god-awful file transfer system.

I also intend to write a post sometime this week about my new consulting venture with Dave and Warren called EdgeLink Consulting. We’re just in the initial stages of setting things up, but basically it’ll give any computer repairs I do more of an official standing.

In any event, rebooting for Safari 3 on the Mac… why is this needed on the Mac and not on the PC?

Developers, developers

There’s been a lot of whinging and amateur-lawyering over the past few days (including a massive dupe on Slashdot), about a controversy surrounding an app called TestDriven.NET. As far as I understand the situation, the primary developer is currently in a whine-fest with some people from Microsoft about licensing for a Visual Studio 2005 Express add-in. Basically, you can’t extend Express without a mad UI hack, and according to Microsoft, said extensions violate Express Edition’s license.

This sort of patent, licensing or “you’re violating the product’s ethos” crap irks me in a different way. At work, I have nearly free reign to develop applications in whatever language I feel like. As long as it suits the business case, I could crank out Java, Python, VB6 – most of the existing stuff I’m updating is a combination of Visual Basic 2005 and VBA automation. I use all of the languages in VS2005, as well as some optional components (managing an SQL Server 2005 installation is somewhat interesting.)

As part of an organization, generally “getting a license” is preferred to snagging some copy of an application off BitTorrent. ;) At IBM, the software requisition process could take a week or two to get rolling, unless your manager put a “please expedite this” note along with it. With the license, you’d have to renew it after a certain period of time – although I was probably subject to this more than most people, since I’d request six months for each term, and end up needing to extend that three times over the course of my time there. Aside from that, I can recall a certain internally licensed program had to be updated with a license file nearly every two weeks.

My current experiences have been the opposite. Most software is available on the public network share, and it’s an average time of one day between my request for a program and its receipt.

The crux of all this is that if I wanted Visual Studio 2005 Team Suite, SQL Server 2005, whatever the newest Exchange Server is, and any other ridiculously expensive application (for an individual, at least) and asked for it tomorrow, I’d likely have it by Friday. So why, instead of using Windows Server 2003, IIS 6.0 with ASP.NET 2.0, and Visual Studio Expression Web Designer, would I pick up a copy of Eclipse 3.2 with the PHP Development Tools extensions and crank away on my latest project with that?

Partially because I know PHP very well and am aware of its idiosyncracies and language features.

Partially because this Microsoft nonsense has left me wondering where the hell I stand using Express editions of their products.

Partially because Eclipse actively encourages UI extensions – in fact, you can’t even really consider Eclipse an IDE first of all, because it’s more of a Java UI framework.

Formal unit testing is not something I’ve done much of in my line of work. I’ve written and executed testcases, and contributed code/XML/documentation to fix deficiencies in said testcases. But when I move into needing formal testing, I don’t want to be beholden to someone’s mad licensing whims.

I’ve said my piece, in any event.