Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Albo's Book Club: Ready Player One!

I've droned on and on about my commuting woes.  It's not that I'm complaining though...it's afforded me the opportunity to listen to many audio books that I otherwise might not have had time to read.  I've decided to make mention of some of my recent favorites on PungentChicken.com to hopefully turn other people on to them.

It's rare to see books that meld modern pop-culture with a great narrative without falling into cliche.  The test is always whether or not the story seems contrived. I found a book recently that brings together a lot of nerdy memories from the 1980's (ostensibly I'm a child of the 80's...though I more fairly recall the 90's) with a classic zero-to-hero story.  It's hallmarks include virtual reality, Ultraman, Dungeons & Dragons-like games and my faves.... Mechagodzilla!

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is a story that pulls it all off nicely .  It follows a kid that unwittingly becomes the hero of a story he never meant to be a part of.  He struggles to meet his daily goal of survival, only to end up going on the journey of a lifetime.  He's accompanied by an assortment of characters that he's never met in real life..only through a virtual world (the Oasis) that everyone is addicted to.  The real world is falling apart, but one can be anything in the Oasis.

I'm not going to blow up the plot-line, but do your self a favor and check out this book for a fun read.  It's Ender's Game meets Lord of the Rings meets a plate of bacon!!

Two Wings Up!!!

Ernest Cline...your rock!  Drop me a line.

Ready Player One 

P.S. Extra points for the audiobook.  It's expertly narrated by none other than Wil Wheaton. 

Return of the Pungent Chicken Podcast - Episode 3: A New Dope

Episode 3: A New Dope

Monday, October 21, 2013

...does not compute! (Part Three)

As i mentioned in my previous post, Valhalla suffered some teething problems.  Having solved those, it gave us an opportunity to "finish" the work in The Shire.  My ongoing missions will to a0 utilize this space to the fullest extent possible and b) keep it as neat as possible.  The latter will be mad easier by Valhalla.  This is quite easily the fastest, quietest and most advanced PC I've made for myself.  I've hooked it all up to a 27" Samsung LED monitor as well as an AOC USB3.0 Display Link monitor to extend the desktop.  The result is impressive.

Without further ado.....The Shire:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

...does not compute! (Part Two)

For the first two days, the system ran flawlessly, but yesterday I made note of Windows 8's version of the Blue Screen of Death.  It seemed to start when I installed a number of programs en-batch via Ninite, but became more frequent once I installed the latest AMD Catalyst Suite for the HD7850.  The error message seemed to center around a memory management issue.  I had wondered if there was a hardware problem with the motherboard or perhaps one or more RAM module, but further research led me to believe the stated timing specs for the ram were not jiving with what the motherboard was auto-detecting.

I had some time to investigate the issue last night and so booting into the BIOS confirmed my hypothesis.  I manually adjusted the timing values and increased the supplied voltage from 1.50v to 1.55v for good measure.  A small increase of voltage to the CPU and Front Side Bus also helped insure that the vital parts of the machine got enough juice to do whatever it is they do. The tweaks in the BIOS allowed me to finally have a stable system with no BSOD's after 3 hours of break-in testing.  I did, however, find that my aforementioned water cooling setup works well without it's fan in all but extreme usage cases.  With all eight cores of the FX-8320 running above 75% efficiency, the core temp jumped from 35C all the way up to 70C (Ouch!!).  Not acceptable!   I'll be rerouting the hoses for the Water Cooler and mounting the fan to the radiator tonight to provide the additional cooling that it needs.  I may actually experiment with a dual fan setup with one fan attached to the "front" of the radiator to draw air into it's core and one fan on the opposite side to help expedite the exit of the air.

Pictures to follow in Part Three....

...ok.... here are some teaser pics:

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

...does not compute! (Part One)


I'm a geek...or a nerd...no..not a nerd.  Well... maybe a nerd.


I play hard ball when it comes to technology.  I wouldn't say that I'm an early adopter, but I do get my hands dirty with custom built PC's when the need for a new system arises.  I've reached one of those periods now.  As mentioned in a recent post, we've remodeled one of our spare bedrooms into an office space (known as "The Shire").  I fully intend to make good use of this space with many of the projects I have going currently. To that end I decided to build a new PC with a mixture of old and new components.  In an effort to chronicle the build, I've decided to post the meat & potatoes here (parts list in your parlance).

Project: Valhalla  (Yes....it's true.  I endow my PC's with Norse nomenclature (ie. Odin, Thor and Yggdrasil).  My Wifi Network's SSID is Asgard.  I know.  I'm a dork.)

Case: Silverstone FT03S - I chose this case for three reasons 1) It's smallish form factor.  Most PC cases are a traditional tower design, however this one is slimmer 2) Aesthetics.  This case is beautiful.  It's constructed mostly from aluminum with with a few plastic bits. 3) Cooling.  The interior design has two overriding themes.  Organization and Airflow.  These two concepts go hand in hand and I WILL get into the details later.

CPU:  AMD FX-8320 - 8-Cores of 3.5ghz goodness!  Do I really need to say more.  I've had Intel processors in my last few workhorses, but this time I was looking for "bang-for-the-buck".  This guy provides it in spades.  The multi-core setup will help with video encodes (which I do a lot of) and any other application where multi-threading is enabled.

CPU Cooler: Corsair H60 Water Cooler.  This is my fist foray into liquid cooling and all I can say is WoW!  I don't have empirical data about CPU temps at idle or under load, but I CAN say that the radiator and CPU cooling block both get barely warm with the processor converting an AVI file into an MP4.  ....and that's without the radiator having it's cooling fan attached directly to it.

Motherboard:  Gigabyte GA-78LMT-USB3 Micro-ATX.  Not the latest or greatest, but it was the only one that fit the criteria I was looking for.  USB 3.0 ports, AMD FX-XXXX CPU support and four DDR3 Slot allowing up to 32GB of RAM...which brings me to my next point.

RAMPatriot Intel Extreme Master DDR3-1866.  Four 8GB sticks bringing the total to 32GB. CAS Latency = 10 and Timing =10-11-10-30

Hard Drives:  For now...two will have to do.  I've got two 256gb Crucial M4 SSD's running in Raid 0 via the motherboard's onboard Raid Controller.  Speed is not an issue.  I will be scavenging an old 1 Terabyte Western Digital  Caviar Black drive for mass storage, but it's not a priority.

Video Card:  This was a nearly impossible choice.  There is a huge selection of GPU's to consider, but in the end I wanted to keep it all in the AMD family.  I settled on a great deal I found on an XFX HD7850 with 2GB GDDR5 RAM.  It should be more than adequate for all my uses (spreadsheets...word docs...minecraft  ;-P...).

Power Supply:  I settled in on a Silverstone 600 watt power supply.  I could have gone in many directions with this choice, but this PSU had a good price, ratings and reputation.

Thus far, I have assembled the rig with no problem.  I do need an additional 3.5" to 2.5" drive bay adapter to properly mount one of the SSD's, but functionally...it is sound.  I installed Windows 8 Professional via a USB thumb drive with nary a problem, but had to resort to using a small USB wifi network adapter to grant internet/network access.  The Shire's Ethernet wiring is present, but not jacked on the modem side in our Tech-Closet.  I'll likely be working on that over the coming days, but first Valhalla has a few growing pains that need addressing....

To be continued in Part Two.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

...welcome back

No..I'm not watching reruns of Welcome back Kotter.  Are there still reruns of Welcome back Kotter?  I haven't seen mention of that show in maybeeeeee.. 5 years?

No...No.. this post is to announce something far grander.  I am...jumping out of Apple's crockpot and back into Androids cold metallic embrace . Way...back...when, I used to use Android devices and I enjoyed them,  but somewhere along the way, style became more important than substance.  I guess I just wanted to be one of the cool kids with just the right G.I.Joe to give validity to my status.  Having gone through an iPhone 4, 4S and an iPhone 5 as well as three iPads, I can confidently say that I have tried embracing the dark side and it no longer fascinates me.

I call it the dark side, because of it's limiting nature. The standard iPhone user has no problem with the iOS "ecosystem" (I don't like that term, by the way.  It's too....blah...but it is the industry standard, so I digress), but there are some of us that feel far too constrained by the limitations in these devices.

  • Screen size...with the competition building various sizes of devices that fill almost every niche, Apple's decision to simply add a cheaper option made of plastic (iPhone 5C) instead of adding a larger option to capture the market segment that is held almost exclusively by buyers of the Galaxy S4 and/or Galaxy Note leaves one scratching their head.  I understand the need or desire to capture the base market segment, but there is a wide swath of people that pine for a larger screen.  Note...I said larger, not longer.  My thumb was comfortably able to reach the top of the 4/4S screen without feeling encumbered.

  • Expandability.. I understand the concept of planned obsolescence.  Whether it be an iPhone 4 coming to a crawl after a recent OS update or simply a user running out of space because any app "worth-a-damn" is just too dang big, the nature of Apple's business model requires more frequent "Upgrades" than one should have to.  To be forced to buy a new iPhone should the need arise to expand storage because I love the image quality of the iPhone 5 camera and therefore take a massive amount of pictures is simply ludicrous in this day and age of rock bottom flash memory prices.  A 64gb microSD card costs about $20...you do the math. 

  • iTunes.. Simply put...it's a dog.  ...and not the cute kind that just wants to cuddle and kiss and follow you around in hopes that a Chicken McNugget will spontaneously fall out of your arse. It's the kind of dog that chews on everything in the house and takes a wizz on your computer, eating up valuable resources and leaves other types nuggets all over the place.  In all seriousness...the piece of software (POS)  is poorly written and badly implemented in the Windows environment.  ...and this boy ain't going Mac...he likes to build his own PC's...but that's another story.   Android requires no Ball-and-Chain to a desktop client.  It's all in the CLOUD, baby!...and not in the iCloud (Apple's half-assed implementation of cloud storage).   Do yourself a favor and open DropBox and Bitcasa accounts.
To get familiar with the Android farm, I dug up an old Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 that I had sitting in my storage closet.  This thing is now a couple years old with specs that are outclassed by today's flock of tablets, but it's current enough to run Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean). To those of you unfamiliar with the process involved with gaining full control over an Android device's settings and appearance, it'called "rooting". A rooted device can be overclocked to increase processor speed, underclocked to decrease the same (to say...save battery life), or simply updated with custom ROMs (builds of the Android OS) that allow different features and nuanced aesthetic modifications. On occasion, you'll find ROMs that allow the installation of newer versions of the OS on older devices, breathing fresh life (though oft short-lived) into their aged bones. 

I directed myself over to XDA-Developers.com (a fantastic repository of all things Android) and started searching the Developer section for my GT2, which is a 7" model (GT-P3113).

XDA-Developers Page for the GT2 7"

I settled in on a custom ROM built by a group know as SlimROMs called Slim Bean-P31xx that is based off of Jelly Bean.

Slim Bean

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I purchased my GT2 pre-rooted.  The previous owner had done the "hard" part and installed a recovery console (ClockworkMod and installed a different ROM based off of an older version of Android.  I did not deem it necessary to update to a newer version of the recovery console, but I did download the Slim-Bean ROM to a microSD card to flash onto the GT2. I powered down the tablet, installed the uSD card and booted into recovery by simultaneously pressing the "power" button and "volume up" button.  I then navigated through the menu to instruct the console to flash from the uSD card (manually selecting the correct file).  A few minutes later, I had a fully updated and functional Jelly Bean tablet.  I'm still experimenting with features, but I'm happy with the upgrade:

Stay tuned for updates when my Galaxy Note II phone comes in.  I'm going to go all "War Games" with that thing!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Mettle Man..

...Gods versus Men.

...Hide! Hide! The Martian's are coming!!

Every author needs a place to work.  A refuge.  A quiet place to put thought to paper...or finger to keyboard, as it would be in this case.  I've had a small desk in a small room for some time.  I called it an office, but it's really a small guest room on the ground level of our home.  That room will eventually be converted into a guest room as would be appropriate for any well-equipped suburban dwelling.  My beautiful wife and I spent this weekend refitting one of our spare bedrooms for office duty.  We stripped it bare and painted it Behr Shire Green. I built a new desk that would allow me to have the type of work space I need for my many misadventures and interests.  The components consist of a PRĂ„GEL light oak colored kitchen counter top (8 feet in length!!!) and five SJUNNE nickel-plated legs.  This room is now known as "The Shire" in homage to John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, the famous philologist (and of course because of the color we chose for it).

I've only begun furnishing it with my requisite accoutrements, but here's a teaser pic (I'll add more...and better...pictures once I've reached a presentable state).  Take note..that's a 17" laptop on the table!