Mod your MS Sidewinder Steering Wheel Pedals (2)

Following on from my steering wheel pedals article part 1, I will now explain the modification to my steering wheel pedals in more detail…

My version of this hack is fundamentally Rabid Stew’s version 1, replacing the metal posts with a switch, but additionally I disconnect any link to the Z axis whilst in “mod” mode.

As I am in the UK, I procured my components from Maplin Electronics, but I am sure you can find equivalents in your location quite easily.  Other than the wire, which was the most basic equipment wire I could find, I used a 4 pole dual throw toggle switch – 4PDT which provides 4 inputs with the ability to switch between 2 different outputs.  When I was originally working out the details, I felt it only needed a 3 pole dual throw switch, but couldn’t find one easily – however, I am glad I went with the 4PDT as it has also allowed me to turn off the Z axis when not in use. Continue reading Mod your MS Sidewinder Steering Wheel Pedals (2)

Mod your MS Sidewinder Steering Wheel Pedals (1)

Having recently found an odd interest in Farming Simulator 15 (actually it started with Farming Simulator 2013), I remembered I had an old Microsoft Sidewinder Force-feedback steering wheel and pedals stashed somewhere in my loft, and so thought it would be a good idea to bring them out of hibernation and see how they worked on my PC now.

Bear in mind this is a very old wheel, and I really had no hope that there would be any drivers to make it work on the latest OS (Windows 10), added to that many nay-Sayers on numerous forums who were saying no drivers existed – I actually got it to work without too much hassle…. well, almost. Continue reading Mod your MS Sidewinder Steering Wheel Pedals (1)

Leaning Towards Linux…

I don’t know what has come over me… I’ve started on a rollercoaster ride into a wild world of Linux desktops… and of course the main problem I’ve discovered, is that of choice! There are far too many distros to choose from!!

I have a few requirements that need to be met – not very difficult, but nonetheless tricky in some instances – these requirements are:

  • Need to be able to install on my Dell Vostro 3550 Laptop as a secondary OS (I’m using EasyBCD for boot management)
  • Connect to my networked Canon MF4270 to print, and scan via USB
  • Install/use Evernote (perhaps via Everpad or Nixnote if necessary)
  • Ability to mount ISO files as virtual CD/DVD drive
  • Install some specific (basic) Windows Apps through Wine
  • Easily connect to my Windows/Samba shares (and save shortcuts/mapped drives)
  • Connect to Dropbox/ownCloud etc.

So, I’m definitely not going to try and actually review any of the distros I’ve tried, but I will list here those I have used, and my overall feeling for them.

Redhat Enterprise Linux 5 – this is via work, and in general the build we have is very useable, although I and others definitely have issues trying to use a Plantronics Blackwire C710 headset with it. (although this does seem to be a general Linux/C710 compatability problem)

ElementaryOS – I have to say this was the first “beautiful” Linux distro I really came across, fast booting, very fluid, and very much resembling Mac OSX.

Linux Mint 14 Cinnamon (it’s now on 16) – again, very nice looking, quick booting, I particularly like the “Void” theme – very clean and monochromatic.

Ubuntu – Installed and running on my second (older) laptop, haven’t had much time to play, but want to look into the Everpad integration, particularly in terms of searching individual notes some more…

Zorin – Super easy to use, can be made to look like Windows XP or Windows 7, very nice Wine support making it extremely easy to run Windows Apps (Others before this might be good too, I just didn’t try out Wine on them).

PC-BSD – Somewhere around here I did a very brief test of PC-BSD, but for me, my laptop (in terms of hardware/compatibility), and the need for stuff to just “work”… I moved on…

SolydK – Nice, but I had trouble mounting ISOs to be able to install apps in Wine… I probably could have solved it with enough time, but for me nowadays, time is a premium…

Therefore I have currently returned to Zorin, but that doesn’t prevent me playing with others… and in fact to make this simpler, I have actually added a third partition to my drive so I can carry on testing without affecting either my Windows 8 or Zorin installs…. more fun to come..


Huawei E3231 Dongle

Huawei E3231 HSDPA DongleHuawei E3231 Dongle from 3

I have just recently purchased this for a project where it was not possible to install wired broadband, particularly as the project is of such short duration (3-4 weeks), so I needed to investigate options for 3G broadband with a reasonable data cost/renewal… from all of the providers I looked at, Three appears to have the best offering for my needs.

I actually don’t intend to use the dongle itself for the project, as we already have a 3G router that the SIM will be inserted into to share the data allowance among a couple of users, however, during the testing of the SIM, and working out the process to purchase more data* (if necessary), I needed to connect the dongle directly to the PC.

It has been some time since I last used a 3G dongle (well over a year), and things have certainly changed…. gone is the requirement to install a lot of software to a) make the dongle visible to the operating system, and then b) to manage the connection itself… instead this lovely little dongle acts as a USB network adapter, is detected right away, and then any further configuration is done through a web interface – wonderful.

What makes this even better for me, is that I am currently going through a phase of testing some Linux distros as a potential for a full OS replacement (although to be honest, my links with Windows won’t be severed that easily), I am currently trying Elementary OS (more on that later) and this little dongle just plugged in and worked first time!!!!!

Very nice!


* I have previously found that to top-up data allowance with some dongles/providers that I needed to have the SIM in the dongle itself, as it would not let me top-up whilst using the 3G router… that may well have changed now…

Screening for problems

Just a brief update on the monitor situation, it’s been some days now since I shared my viewpoint on quality and expectations of replacement equipment with AOC warranty repairs…

I’m not entirely sure my concerns have been heard, but it does appear that another monitor is now winging it’s way to me across the channel as today I received notification of my RMA (it’s a new number), and UPS (the shipping company) have now collected it from AOC.

I appreciate the sending of another replacement unit (I actually hope it’s my original unit but with a repaired HDMI port as I requested), but it would have been nice to have an actual acknowledgement of my concerns – let’s see what arrives….

It goes without saying that I will certainly be screening for problems when the unit arrives, and will continue to monitor the situation closely (ta-dum tish!).

Monitor the situation…

Visual Display Unit

AOC i2353Fh MonitorI like monitors – VDUs, screens, the ‘telly bit – call them what you will, they are useful things, they let you work with a computer and you can accomplish all sorts of things – edit your favourite photos, watch the latest blockbuster movie, or even play games… you can do that other stuff too, that other thing that pays the bills – ah yes, work!

Except, I keep getting distracted now, by my monitor 🙁

I don’t buy monitors very often, even less so nowadays as all my computers tend to be laptops, but when I do, I am very careful about the price which I am prepared to pay and the quality/features that come with that device.

Generally, the monitors I have bought (going back to my original 286) have been AOC. I like them, they have generally lasted well – except my newest one – an AOC i2353Fh – and it’s not so much that I had a problem with my first of these monitors, my issue is really with the warranty replacement I have been sent.

My original monitor was great – lovely picture, super thin screen. etc. etc. but it had one issue – of the two HDMI ports included, only one worked, HDMI2 would accept the cable, detect something was plugged in, try and switch to it and then declare that there was “no input” and thus revert back to HDMI1.

So I initiated a warranty repair online, everything fine with that and I was informed that it would be an exchange unit. Delivery was extremely quick – especially as the replacement came from Germany, was routed via Brussels, then Tamworth, to reach me at home within 2 days.

Dirty Windows

Here is where the real pain begins… the monitor swap was fine, the nice man from UPS waited whilst my wife took the replacement monitor out of the box, re-packed my extremely clean and shiney broken monitor back into the same box and taped up for return to Germany.

I cannot put it any other way…. the exchange monitor is an absolute shoddy mess! (although both HDMI ports do actually work).

For an exchange monitor, this is absolutely disgustingly dirty, there are all sorts of sticky looking splodges over the screen front and rear, the front bezel is not fixed in place correctly in the top-left area, there is ingrained dirt on both right and left sides of the bezel, as well as scratches and scrapes (I really do not know what this was being used as) and to top it off, I now have either dead pixels, sub-pixels or dirt behind the LED display that is highly visible in both the lower left and lower right quadrants!!!!  I am shocked!  I want my original monitor back!, I’ll even forgo the second HDMI port….

Displayed (Dismayed)

Dismayed (or even very disappointed) is somewhat of an understatement.

A warranty replacement should at least be a standard that is comparable to that which I have returned, especially for a monitor just over a year old that has sat on my desk in my home office, not mistreated in any way, and other than the failed HDMI port was in perfect condition.

And yet I am sent something that looks like it was sent in by someone else (probably the pixel issue), left on the workbench for about six months, got in the way of everything (including the repair man’s dinner), then eventually jammed into a pile of similar faulty monitors for a period of time waiting for an unsuspecting mug to come along and be fobbed of with this monstrosity.

This was the situation I returned home to this evening after being away “up north” the past couple of days for work. oh joy! All I want to do is sit an relax this evening, but now all I keep doing is looking at those numerous (there are between 30-40) black blobs towards the bottom of the screen.

Tomorrow morning I will be making my feelings known to the AOC warranty repair center (in a very nice way of course).

Further updates (and perhaps pictures) to follow…

Now just need to find a peaceful vista to look at… and relax…

A Bluescreen Trend?

BSOD Sad FaceDPC_WATCHDOG_VIOLATION – this is all I have been seeing for about a month – pretty much every day at some point throughout the day I would be presented with this rather cryptic BSOD (blue screen of death). Hopefully(?) it seems, I have solved the problem…

First, a little more detail on my setup and symptoms…

My laptop received a clean install of Windows 8 about 6 months ago, almost as soon as Dell released the BIOS upgrade that allowed the laptop to install Windows 8 whilst still keeping the Laptop screen working (prior to the BIOS upgrade, it would get part-way through the install and the laptop screen would go entirely black and you couldn’t see what you were doing to finish the install).

Although, like many, I still don’t get on with Metro interface and miss the ability to go straight-to-desktop on bootup, Windows 8 has worked pretty well – it’s resource usage appears to be a little lower and the majority of the apps I use have worked flawlessly. I particularly like the improvements with the task bar on dual monitor setups….nice!

My Windows 8 laptop is connected to my Windows Server 2012 Essentials box which stores all my home data files, movies, photos, music etc. and carries out the backups of all the PC’s in my household. This has been working great and the backup process appears to work much better than it did on WHS 2011 – I have really liked the easy recovery mechanism in the event your PC is totally broken.

Just to add to the mix, not too long ago I also decided to try out Trend Micro Titanium Internet Security (that’s a mouthful) instead of the pretty good Microsoft Security Essentials, mainly due to its smaller footprint and impact to the boot-up process. This seems to be where things went awry.

It didn’t happen immediately after installing Trend, which is why I didn’t first think it was related (I’m still not convinced actually), but soon afterwards, whenever the daily PC backup was triggered by the server – about 12-15% through the process, I’d get the lovely bluescreen and DPC_WATCHDOG_VIOLATION as already mentioned.  I tried numerous things – disk check, emptying/deleting all trash folders/temporary files, changing disk permissions, making sure I wasn’t using any apps during the backup, and removing little used programs/apps entirely – NO improvement whatsoever….

Unfortunately, this time Google was not my friend – certainly there are plenty of people experiencing watchdog violations, but none that seemed to offer a real solution to the problem… so I waited, searched some more, and eventually started removing things. This still didn’t really solve the problem and I used a temporary fix of killing the backup process manually as soon as it started, but of course, this wasn’t providing the security of the full PC backup that I wanted.

Eventually, I did come across some posts that led me to think it might somehow be related to my SSD drive and this post put me on the right track. Although the SSD activities did not help (I am already running the latest firmware, and Windows has been tuned to support it to best effect), this left the latter part of the article – re-installing potentially offending software….

So, the short ending is this – I de-installed, rebooted, and re-installed Trend and now the backups are flying along…. with NO sign of the BSOD and watchdog violations…. happy days…

Now I just need to write up my experience with Trend as an Anti-virus solution (rather than a BSOD trigger)…

What’s .it all about?

As reported previously, I have recently acquired a variation of my domain name and am happy to announce that this site has been successfully migrated over to the new name….

Wait for it….

image of URL

 Nice eh? I am rather pleased with it for two reasons:

  1. It is actually shorter and requires you, the reader to type less characters to get here 🙂
  2. It better aligns with the content of the site – I’m not a company, so .co.anything just doesn’t seem right.

For those who still don’t get it – the “.it” better aligns with the Information technology (I.T.) nature of the site – you know, like the “man of I.T.” tagline….

Don’t worry if you can only remember how to get here through one of the other domains – they will still work and as soon as you hit this site and start navigating, everything will switch to automatically.

Fresh Look

I have also taken the opportunity to try out a newer theme for the website, although I like monochrome tremendously, and really liked the layout of the old theme, this new theme feels cleaner, fresher and is actually a little bit wider so more detail can be seen on the screen without scrolling up and down. I may well look into adjusting it slightly to get it exactly how I want, but for now I am very pleased with it.

So now all I need to do is think about writing some real content again eh? doh!

A Change Is Afoot…

Monty Python FootOr it could be a leg, or a hand…..(Ba Dum Tsh!)

I have been struggling to keep this site IT oriented whilst actually producing content (ok, ok, I know it’s been quiet), yet I still need somewhere to document my other interests – stuff like my music, woodworking, and other interests (dare I mention Technical Lego…)…. So I have made an executive decision – from now on I will include all these different things on this website, albeit I’ll do what I can to section them off appropriately, so they don’t detract too much from my main purpose of this site, which is to provide useful IT information for the-man-on-street. Hopefully it should mean I post more often (hope is a wonderful thing).

Also, in other exciting news, I have just purchased an additional domain name which is quite interesting (a variation on the existing domain), and I will reveal it in all its glory soon as I switch it over as being the primary domain for this site shortly…

So that’s it for now… But keep a lookout for some changes over the coming days….perhaps weeks….

Broken iMac

24" iMac White (Intel)

My circa 2006 White 24″ iMac (Intel) has recently stopped booting properly – it boots past the initial white screen with the spinning wheel, and looks like it’s switching through to “graphical” mode, but the best that happens is that I get the mouse cursor in the top left and the spinning beachball – but nothing else.

I can boot into safe mode perfectly well and do everything with the GUI as expected.

I have also tried:

  • Resetting the PRAM and NVRAM
  • Resetting the System Management Controller
  • Tried all variations of RAM/Slot change (I’d upgraded a long time ago to 3Gb)
  • Re-installed Lion
  • Re-installed Tiger

and still don’t get any further…. from everything I see on the internet, it’s looking more and more like a graphics card failure.

I’ve got the Mac apart, cleaned everything up (fans were really full of gunk) and checked all connections, including re-seating the graphics card and heatsink/heatpipes.

The iMac’s part number (according to the original invoice) is: Z0DD with an Nvidia 7600GT 256Mb Graphics card.

So I think my options are:

1) Replace the graphics card
2) “reflow” the graphics card solder/connections (although I’m not convinced this is appropriate to my model of Mac)

I appreciate option 3 could be “buy a new Mac”, but seriously cannot justify it now, and the Mac had been servicing perfectly well as a media center machine for the living room 🙂

Any ideas, suggestions, recommendations?