Saturday, May 31, 2014

Time for Tea

And so Marcus's british tea journey is now almost complete

From plain Tea

to Earl Grey Tea

to Lady Grey Tea

to, in 2014, Empress Grey Tea

Of course as in colonial times past, this is not available natively in Darkest Switzerland,  so importation is necessary.

Jack Payne: Everything Stops for Tea

And by the way, the background is reminiscent of the records in our study, before we painstakingly digitised everything of course.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Sound Responsibility

I was talking to my neighbour recently and found that she had bought one of the spare rooms in our basement area and uses it as a piano room.

Otherwise, of course,  the noise from our children learning the Piano would disturb our neighbours.

It is so wonderful to live in a country (Switzerland) and in an Apartment block where such care and consideration is made.

Likewise I can say that we too have a gadget that helps reduce noise pollution

[Note: We already don't have any Hi-Fi system, because we don't want to burden our neighbours]

Bluetooth Sound Transmitter

What does it do?

The Black square box takes any audio output and retransmits it as a Bluetooth Audio Source.

SO, then you take your bluetooth headphones, or other Bluetooth receiver and listen to the audio.

In the above, I tested with an Apple iPod  (Bluetooth off and output via the lead shown).    Audio enters the Bluetooth transmitter and I listen to it on my Logitech H800 headphones.

Did it work?

Sort of!

So far it's a  little hit and miss to get the headphones to latch onto the Bluetooth transmitter.

But once connected, it works fine.

What about the Batteries?

The unit contains a rechargeable battery.  You charge it via a USB to mini cable.  This battery powers the Bluetooth transmitter.

Any Drawbacks

We tested it on a variety of audio devices.  At high outputs  the transmitted audio became severely distorted.  This is a potential issue since some devices  (e.g. TV's) might have a fixed level audio out.


Product is average.  No better. If I have the time I will purchase a differently design one from eBay to make a comparative test.


Bluetooth Transmitter

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Apple Mac Mini Repair, Yet Again

Agata's Apple Mac Mini (2012, i7, 16GB) has recently experienced a partial disk failure.

We already performed some very awkward surgery on this Mac Mini and I had previously thought never again.

Oh well, welcome to 

Mission Disk Repair

a) take out boot SSD and failing Apple spinning disk
b) Replace with larger OCZ Vertex SSD, which will revert the config back to a single disk machine.

First gather the specialist tools bought previously from Ifixit,  and a Powerful Petzl Nao headtorch, some watchmakers eyeglasses and a head-mounted magnification lens.

Before opening Mac

  1. New OCZ Vertex3 SSD drive checked  (HDtune Pro under windows)
  2. Connected to the running Mac Mini with a USB converter cable
  3. Using OSX Disk Utility then Carbon Copy Cloner I  partitioned the disk, then copied over recovery partition and OS partition.
  4. Machine is then booted from externally connected disk.  OSX boots fine, therefore we can be sure copy is made OKay

Now Disassemble

Cover is off, memory is out,  remove fan, and beeper, and upper hard disk.

What you see here (click to enlarge) are the already damaged connectors from the last surgery attempt.  These small fragile, don't every touch me connectors are on the point of breaking.

Using a special ifix tool once connectors are disconnected slide out motherboard.

This is the ifixit guide 2012 mac mini

(note: Remove the Motherboard screw before sliding out motherboard, not mentioned by ifixt)

Motherboard is out finally, top disk removed.  To remove the lower disk you need to unscrew the hex bolts holding drive, also part of plastic frame on bottom.  Jiggle and pull lower drive free.

Those damaged connectors again.

A small Problem

New Single disk inserted, Motherboard replaced, fan replaced, memory reinserted, beeper replaced.


Apple Support: Flashing question mark

The system did not boot and only offered a flashing question mark.

No amount of pressing the Option key on the Apple keyboard would get to Startup Manager

So Mac Mini is opened up again, connectors off, disk removed, connections check, all put back ...

2 hours later ...

STILL a Flashing Question Mark

Startup Manager

It did not make any logical sense (since it worked from the Apple keyboard when I was cloning the disk) but eventually I found how to get to RELIABLY get to Startup Manager.

Use a WIRED keyboard

In my case, a black, wired, Asus keyboard.  Hold down ALT key,  startup manager appears.

No disks are visible!

Booting OSX for diagnostics

I connected the original boot disk on an external USB converter and OSX booted fine  to that external  (no Startup Manager required)

Of course verbose boot is enabled and I noticed a disk error message, as shown here (click enlarge) indicating some read problem, I presume to the new internal disk.

Lots of weird inconsistent errors

With OSX booted to the external I tried to view the Internal disk that I previously cloned and booted from ...

OSX can see the disk but seems it blank (no partitions!)

Disk utility claims that the new Internal disk is Master Boot Record.  Incorrect!  It has to be GUID and must have been otherwise the clone would have failed.  Hmm

Re partitioning with Disk Utility fails

Waiting for the disks to reappear message bottom right of screen.   It waits infinitely. (Error)

Formatting with Drive Genius 3 seems to hang indefinitely

I created a bootable MAC based OCZ tools disk  (not easy!). This booted and secure erase worked!  Also status worked!

I created a bootable Windows 2012 installation USB key.  You cannot install Windows  due to no drivers, however you can start a Administrator command prompt.  From that prompt you can view disk drives ... OK. Create Partitions ... OK.  Format partitions ... ERROR

So right now there is some sort of error, but what?

Desperate times!

The initial configuration had 2 disk drives.  So on a whim I decided to dismantle yet again and connect the disk drive to the other internal SATA port, and use the other SATA cable

Note the non standard and fiddly SATA connector from drive to Motherboard.

Reassemble  (You have to remove motherboard to get access to hard disk)

Thus far, we have spent about 8 hours buggering about.  I am ready to throw Mac Mini out of the window ...

Connect old OS disk via external USB cable

Power on and boots from external disk

Now Partitioning of Internal disk works OK!  (Although I previously cloned the disk I had made many partitioning changes so figured I needed to start from scratch again)

Next step is to copy recovery partition from USB to new Internal

Next, copy entire OS disk partition to new OS partition on internal ... Hours later ... OK

Shutdown,  (this system currently booted from external disk)

Remove external disk and power on

Of course the system is security protected so even if the Option/ ALT PC key is pressed Startup Manager needs a password.

Enter my secret password

Boot from OSX volume ->

OSX boots fine from internal disk!  Wahoo

In Control panel, Startup Disk, make sure this is set correctly.


Power On, wait.

OSX boots fine!


Drive Genius 3 and OSX Disk Utility agree that the disk structure looks fine

Notice bottom right of Disk utility shows GUID Partition Table

What did I learn
Well nothing really!

I just confirmed what I already knew.   Apple computers are a nightmare to service.   Not just today, but ever since the transition from Apple II to Macintosh ...

But don't take my word for it, watch the above video!
Opening up the 30 year old MAC

Mac or PC

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lenovo U430 touch upgrade

I did earlier review the Lenovo U430 laptop pointing out it's excellent upgradability.   I did not know  I would have to do it so soon:

Cost Minimisation
These days Marcus and Agata are operating on an increasingly tight budget.  So we are keen to use and re-use our technology.

The continued failure of the Mac Mini has prompted an intense disk shuffle (to save money)

Today it is time to remove the OCZ-Vertex3  (to be used in the Mac Mini) and insert the Crucial M500 SSD.  That came from the Big server, which was upgraded to Crucial M550 SSD

First I used the EZ GIG software that works with the USB cloning cable that was previously supplied with Crucial SSD.
(They now use Acronis and this kit here)

You can remove the necessary screws from the laptop back with a simple Philips screwdriver in about 90 seconds.

 Existing configuration with Vertex SSD

Replacing with Crucial M500 SSD

Now put back the screws. And a few tests ...

Windows loads in just seconds and then via HD Tune:

Decent performance figures to me.

Now all I have to do is put that SSD into the Mac Mini. Oh no, that is not going to be easy :-(

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Farewell to the Ambassador

I have now lived or travelled extensively in two countries which were once populated by only one or 2 makes of Car.

Having grown up in Mainland Europe this came as a large surprise.

On my first visit to India I was surprised to see that the

Hindustan Ambassador

was the car of choice for any Indian who could afford a car at all.  [Since all our photographs are digitised it only took me seconds to find my 30 year old photographs:]

The car was of course based on the English Morris Oxford

Similarly in Poland  the Polski Fiat was not only the car du jour, it was almost the only Car  (the other was Polonez)

Polski Fiat


Now both Poland and India have an astonishingly diverse range of official, prestige car dealers.   In Warsaw you will certainly see at least one Ferrari per day and probably a Porsche every hour.    In India meanwhile

Ironically here we see a Jaguar side by side to an Ambassador.

Farewell Ambassador, we will miss you.

Farewell Ambassador
Wikipedia Ambassador

Jalopnik Ambassador
Quartz Ambassador

Monday, May 26, 2014

Orico 4TB capable USB3 Hard Disk Dock

Considering 4TB hard disks have been out in consumer hands for over 18 months now the number of Disk drive docking stations that are capable of correctly formatting them is still shockingly low.

After a lot of internet research, discarding all the docks that sort of forget to mention the largest disk they can handle, or the dual slot docks that can accomodate 2 x 2TB disks, I found the 

Orico 6619US3-BK Dock

Why is this dock so great?

  • The dock comes with a power adapter, special USB3 cable and the dock itself
  • No drivers are needed for connection to Windows 8
  • It does support 4TB hard disk drives

  • Performance via USB3 is just fantastic.  The limiting factor is the drive itself if you use a spinning drive.
  • The dock was only about 30GBP  (50 USD or 50CHF) including postage.  A bargain.  Recommended.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Sermon: Religious Naming Convention

In most societies people have a family name and a given name  (often called a Christian or firstname in Christian countries) chosen by their parents.

This is a short appeal from Marcus and Agata to the name choosers i.e. parents, to please think carefully.

The Overloaded Name
Marcus: as an ex teacher can you imagine the difficultly in addressing a class where [nearly] everybody's name is the same.  In modern times:

Mohammed - boys, after a prophet
Maria - girl, after the Virgin Mary
Jesus - boys, after Jesus Christ

In a country where religious indoctrination belief holds strong; what could be more powerful than calling you child after your deity or religious leader.

Well, but if most people then have the same name, well it is not just confusing.

To me, it is really, really irritating.

The /Differentiated/ Religious Name
In a country like Poland  (with which Agata and Marcus are familiar) many given names have a religious association

Saints of the Blessed Catholic Church

In fact nearly every Polish name seems to have a Religious association! Some obvious ones:

Jozef - Joesph, Mary's husband
Piotr - Peter, Apostle
Szymon - Simon, Apostle

but see the above link for what is a very long list!

Agata also has religious roots, although I am always ready to inform my wife that Saint Agata will to Marcus always be associated with the home of Lamborghini cars and not the Catholic church.

To Marcus a strong religious name  (Magdalena) ties your child to a Religion, which [unreasonable religions excepted] they might wish to have no association with in later life.  [UDHR] Take care!

An Older Religious Name
Marcus, the name stems from the Roman God of War  (Mars).  When questioned my mother who was [extremely] religious did comment that Mark  (another religious name!)  was too commonplace at the the time.   Thanks mother, you thought about it.

We Are Rich
Kayne West named his first child North, and it makes for quite a subtle, different and entertaining name /North West/.   Celebrities can choose any name for their offspring, always assuming said children won't have to justify or fight out their name in the school playground,  they'll have a smiling private tutor instead.

We are Chavs
David Beckham, the British footballer named his children Brooklyn, Harper, Romeo and Cruz.  These unusual names are copied and haven given the nod to the most offensively tasteless in society the right to give their children unfortunate names.  3 at Random: Chirp, America, Squirrel.

Parents should be free to choose a name for their Children but please let them bear in mind that this name is something that will identify them for the rest of their lives.

In the 21st Century our interactions both electronically and physically will be with people from every part of this world.  Think carefully before you name and perhaps shame your child.

Pope recommends Biblical names
Celebrity Children Names
Baby Name Finder