Saturday, August 25, 2018

Hit the kerb

Today was a very sunny day indicating to us that the winter is coming to an end. We were planning to go out to a place nearby, but my son wanted to go to the beach. We picked St. Kilda beach.

It was not too bad, but I wished it was a bit warmer. The water was cold and hardly anyone was in the water.

The route Waze picked for me back home was not familiar to me at all. It routed me through many small streets. Turning to one of those streets, I hit the kerb and hit it hard. I didn't realise how narrow the street was!

Thankfully, the wheels are steel and it didn't damage the wheel. If it was an alloy wheel, I bet I would have to change the wheel. That would have been painful because it was already dark.

But the impact damaged the wheel hub.

Although it is an eyesore for me, I won't be replacing the wheel hub right now because brand new OEM hubs cost about $45 on Ebay. Super Cheap Auto is selling 4 piece hab caps for cheaper, so I might pay them a visit. Perhaps they have hub caps that show less of the ugly steel especially with that slight rust. That would be a win after all.

Decided to finally do something about the MacBook Air's battery

Since buying the Metabox N850HJ laptop, I had been using it as my primary computer. Yes, I didn't use the desktop PC as much as the Metabox laptop.

My wife has been using the aging MacBook Air. She hasn't been treating it well though. Its battery was in a very bad shape, and she doesn't keep it charged. So every time she wants to work on it, we have to first let it charge for a few minutes, otherwise, it would be very sluggish. I started observing this behaviour after upgrading to macOS Sierra. After upgrading to High Sierra, it is still behaving the same way.

This is the current state of the battery. It only holds 30% of the original capacity. It's funny how it says it's only done 713 charge cycles. I thought the battery was good for 1000 charge cycles before degrading seriously.

This could well be the last MacBook I would own because I cannot justify spending Apple prices. So I decided to buy a replacement battery for it. Apple would charge $189 for their "battery service" which I think includes a new battery but I wouldn't be surprised it didn't. I didn't want to pay that much especially for a 7-year-old laptop, so I went on eBay and ordered a cheap compatible battery. I don't expect it to be as good as a genuine OEM battery, but if it gives me several hours of battery power without blowing up, I would be happy.

The battery should arrive next week and this will the first time I open up a MacBook Air. Hope I don't kill it.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Bought a "new" CPU for the NAS

When we moved to our new house, we had to buy some new stuff and among them was a new TV. Since I don't like to spend big bucks on brand names, I ended up choosing a TCL which was full of new features. The model number is 55X2US and I'm happy with the purchase. Any TV would have been an upgrade since we used my 27" QNIX monitor for watching movies before.

I have some movies in my NAS and I set up PlexTV to make it a media server - among other things. I don't use on-the-fly transcoding PlexTV supports because the movies I have, play just fine at full source quality. It's not as if I had a choice though because the G1610T Celeron chip in my NAS is hardly a capable CPU. I've been experiencing slowdowns, especially when opening a movie (which I almost always have to do twice, because it errors the first time) and using the time-slider.

So, I had been waiting to upgrade the CPU in the NAS to a 45W quad-core Xeon. There are higher wattage Xeons available for the platform, but I am concerned about the power consumption of the NAS. The best overall chip is the E3-1265L V2 which is an IvyBridge one, but they go for $250 used. The next best one is the E3-1260L which is a SandyBridge CPU, about 10% slower than the IvyBridge, and it goes for half the price. Needless to say, this was the CPU I had been eying. I waited for few months until finally, I had had enough and I pulled the trigger on a used CPU on eBay from a US seller. The total cost of it was about AUD 120 including shipping. I might have been able to find a Chinese seller for a slightly cheaper price, but the delivery takes about a month.

Oh, I also had to buy a tube of thermal paste. I settled for Arctic MX-2 which set me up for about AUD 10.

Installing the CPU wasn't that hard. I followed this video to get an idea of how to take the motherboard out. I didn't run into a single issue during the entire swap.

I would be lying if I wasn't 100% confident it would work. It's not because I wasn't confident in the server motherboard or my installation, but because it was a second-hand CPU. It was from a top rated seller though.

The server managed to detect the CPU without any trouble. Once booted, I fired up CPU-Z and Realtemp to see how the CPU was doing. I started an H265 video transcoding job. It was amazing how cool the CPU ran. After an hour, it only managed to hit 71C on the hottest core. This might not sound amazing, but the CPU is cooled by a tiny passive cooler with one case fan responsible for maintaining some kind of an airflow.

I haven't measured the power consumption - I should - but I think it consumes fewer watts than with the Celeron because the CPU utilization is significantly less. This means the CPU is almost idle most of the times. Even at full load, the new CPU has only a 10W higher TDP.

Now my PlexTV experience is better as well. Pretty happy with the purchase.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

No birthday present this year? :P

I used to buy some kind of a tech gadget for my birthday ever since I had started earning. But this time, it didn't happen. That's because I bought it a month and a half in advance.

It's a Google Pixel 2. That's my 2nd phone purchase since moving to Australia. I got it from Telstra on a $59 per month plan with 15GB free monthly data allowance. That alone is a good deal, but I got $100 gift card from JB HiFi and a Google Home Mini (which I will write about later) with it.

I was upgrading my phone from a Samsung Galaxy S7, which had become very sluggish for no apparent reason. I was paying $65 per month for it with only 7GB monthly data, so this is a good deal.

I got the White one. But I got a black case for it so the white body hardly reveals anymore. I loved the Spigen case that I had on the S7, so I had no reason to look for another brand. This new case has a sturdier kickstand than the old one.

While the Pixel 2 is a newer phone, it lacks so many features not only comparing with phones from competitors that were released around the same time but also the S7.

Improvements over S7

  • Super snappy UI and fast app launches
  • Tapping the fingerprint sensor takes me into the phone. With S7, you need to "press" the home button.
  • No bloat (read: no bundled Samsung apps)
  • Squeeze feature
  • Better camera
  • Full quality unlimited photo uploads to Google Photos (for 3 years at least)
  • Stereo front facing speakers, but not really louder than the S7's single speaker
  • Simpler but effective stock launcher
  • Faster OS updates
  • Double the internal storage
  • USB type C (i.e. modern and reversible)
  • Bluetooth Headset's battery level is displayed
  • Double tap screen to wake

Things missing after switching to the Pixel 2

  • Battery level is not displayed on always on display (but should be fixed via software)
  • No hardware buttons despite having a large chin (i.e. software buttons taking up screen space) and slightly smaller screen size (5 inch vs 5.1 inches)
  • The fingerprint sensor on the back (i.e. have to lift the phone up to get into)
  • Terrible automatic screen brightness adjustments (reddit post)
  • Large bezels
  • No inbuilt Smart Stay functionality (screen won't keep awake while reading)
  • The power button is hard to press (to double press to launch camera)
  • No headphone jack and no bundled earbuds (but I use Bluetooth Earbuds almost all the time so not really a deal breaker for me)
  • The battery is smaller, but I probably the S7 died sooner than the Pixel 2
  • Photo shooting gestures missing from photos app (should be added to the Camera app)
  • Supports USB type C which is also a disadvantage because now I had to buy new cables (I blew the $100 gift card on cables)
  • No IP68 water resistance (only has IP67)
  • No MicroSD expansion

So it doesn't feel like an upgrade across the board, but I give a larger weight to the snappiness of the phone, so it definitely is a worthy upgrade for me.

Other than those deficiencies over the S7, I have experienced few things that I have never experienced on the S7.

  • Bluetooth crashed twice!
  • The phone has rebooted a couple of times out of nowhere

But these things don't happen often, so I am not infuriated by it... yet.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

One expensive purchase

I apologize for not writing much on the blog in the last few months. A lot of things happened and I'll talk about the biggest one of them all.

We bought a house.

This is by far the most money I've paid in my life. The one before that being the car at almost 1/50th the price of the house. :D

Now, the house we ended up buying was very small - 3-bed-roomer with a single garage - compared to what we originally thought we could afford. The land is a mere 220m3 in area. The Melbourne market is really competitive and house go for unreasonable prices. It is still a bit saner than Sydney market though.

Also, the area we bought was an area we didn't even consider initially. We bought in Mernda, which is about 35km North of Melbourne. 35km is not bad at all, but I work in South Melbourne, which means I have to travel through the city to get to work and back home. The average speed in the city is about 10km/h (i.e. it takes 30 minutes to travel 5km).

We had a decent amount of money saved up, but since I'm the only earner in a family of four, the amount we could borrow from a bank was very limited. We bought through negotiation because we couldn't handle the risks of going to a public auction, although we could have saved some money with the latter since it is transparent. The risk was that at the auction, your offer is unconditional. When buying through negotiation, you can do a conditional offer - subject to finances getting approved being the most common. If the bank doesn't lend you enough money, then you don't have to go ahead with the purchase. You don't have that option when buying at an auction and the broker advised against it because if the valuation doesn't come at the market price and the bank won't lend you what you need, you will have to find some mean to fill the shortfall. If you have the backing of the family (locally, that is), then there is less risk because you can find someone to lend that money easily. But not for us.

By the way, we didn't have to pay stamp duty for the house because we were first home buyers and they didn't have to pay stamp duty if the price of the property was below 600k and ours was well below that cutoff.

I don't want to say how much the house was, but it was between AUD 450,000 and 500,000. The mortgage is for 30 years at 3.69% fixed rate for the first 2 years. We put AUD 110,000 towards the house and the rest came from the mortgage. Our mortgage is not that large because we put a large amount in, and the monthly loan repayments ended up being about $150 more than what we were paying for rent at where we rented before. Not too bad, but it will rise in the future. Hopefully, I will be earning more by then which will cancel it out or put us in a slightly better position. Hopefully....

I'm happy that finally, we have a house. It would have been great if we could go for a double garage house because we would need to buy another car at some point and the Aurion being the beaten up one will have to settle for parking on the driveway.

I will write about things I learned in the house hunt in the coming days. Might come handy for someone or for me again in the future - who get to work and back home. The average speed in the city is about 10km/h (i.e. it takes 30 minutes to travel 5km).

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