Sunday, July 30, 2006

See how my little niece fending off her grandma & her mum

While my little niece clearly has learnt how to use the spoon without her grandmas knowing it. She is so busy fending off her grandma & her mum putting more food into her plate as well as into her mouth... this is so cute. She is 1 year & 8 months old now.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The making of the FC5 home theater box

Ok, I have a spare pc lying around & so I decided to put it into better use then just collecting dust.

I have some collections of realplayer video that I can only watch on the small pc monitor. So I decided to convert the spare pc to some sort of home theatre box so that I can watch the realplayer video on my 29" Sony WEGA flatscreen TV. Ok, I know someone is going to suggest to upgrade to a LCD TV. Well, that is almost a certainty in the not to distant future. I am sure.

Let's see what I've got to make a FC5 home theatre box. My spare pc has a duron 1000 MHz processor running on a AsRock K7VM2 board with 512Mb of rams. Though the board has a VIA onboard VGA, I needed a video card with TV-out to output the video to the TV. So I pulled out my good old nVidia Ti4200 3d card to do just that. The pc is fitted with a DVD-rom to read the DVD disc where I store most of my video collections. And to complete the hardware list, I plugged in a DLink G520 wireless network card. A wireless network seemed unavoidable for most home theatre box. For my case, my TV is far away from the rest of my wired network. Most people will throw in a 5.1 sound card for their home theatre box. For my case, I am just going to connect the sound straight into the TV. So I just use the onboard stereo sound card instead of spending money to buy extra.

Fedora Core 5 is used, simply because it is the one linux os that I am familiar with. The objective is simple, the pc is to output the video through the TV-out to the TV. The sound output from the sound card goes straight into the stereo-L & stereo-R input of the TV. And the pc has to be connected to the rest of the network via the wireless network card.

Installing FC5 on a such an old motherboard should have been idiot-proof. But strangely, I was met with a strange kernel panic on first boot after install with an unrecognised file system error. I suspect the driver for the VIA IDE-controller was accidentally missed out from the default FC5 kernel. I solved this by booting into 'linux rescue' mode with the FC5 CD & did a live update with yum. That upgraded the kernel to the latest 2.6.17-1.2157_FC5 & the system sprung to live.

To enable the TV-out, I installed the nVidia geforce linux driver via the livna repocitory. You can refer to the Stanon-Finley guide for FC5 on how to do that. It's at


Once installed, you can see the NVIDIA Display Settings under the 'Applicaton', 'System Tools' menu. To enable the TV-out, I used a S-video-To-composite-out convertor to connect the S-video out from my video card to the video-in of my TV. That is because my 7 years old SONY WEGA did not come with S-video. Next, go to 'System', 'Administration' menu & select 'Display'. Go to the 'Dual-head' tab & select 'Use Dual Head'. On the 'Second Monitor Type', select a standard CRT monitor that is 1024x768 or 800x600. The second monitor setting is for the TV actually. I choose 800x600 for my TV's resolution & 'Spanning desktops' for my 'desktop layout'. On exit, I was prompted to restart X Windows for the dual-head settings to take effect. On logging out of X Windows, I was prompted with multiple error messages asking me to reconfigure X. Ignore all errors & just proceed to reboot your FC5 box.

On reboot, I was happy to see displays on both the monitor as well as the TV-out. Once I get into X, I have a 'spanning' desktop from my 17" LCD monitor to my 29" SONY TV. I have to choose the resolution of 800X600 for both the LCD & the TV to align the desktop on both display. 800X600 is choosen because the text is too small & not very legible on a 29" SONY TV. As you can imagine, you can't read the text well on a old TV which has a very low resolution. You shold not have this problem if you are using the latest LCD TV. To work on the desktop, simply launch the video player & drag it to the TV desktop & maximise it. I use both RealPlayer for Linux & MPlayer. Why 'spanning desktops' is used instead of 'individual desktops' is because it seemed RealPlayer will crash once it's started playing in the TV desktop under 'individual desktops' mode. I think it's should be a bug in the current release of RealPlayer dated Feb 2006. Mplayer works well in both 'spanning desktops' or 'individual desktops' mode. RealPlayer seemed to work fine in 'spanning desktops' mode & so it is what I am using now.

Getting the wireless network to work is quite a chore in linux. I followed the livna's wpa_supplicant guide from below to get wireless working. You can download the pdf file from the link below for detailed procedure.


So, now I have a FC5 home theatre box that plays video straight to the TV. And if need be, it can also play video files from any computers in my network via the wireless network. That is not bad for a low cost linux multimedia pc.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Some intricate problem with linux

I have one weird problem with my 6~9 months old AMD64 computer. FC5, apparently installed without problem. Then i noticed that, my computer will somehow hang the GUI randomly. Sometimes, it happens after I used RealPlayer. Sometimes, it happens after I used skype & sometimes, it happens after I used either Skype or Realplayer & wanted to start another application from the pull down menu. Mysteriously, the open-sourced Mplayer works absolutely well, no matter how long I watch movie with. So I know, it's not a hardware issue at all.

Eventually, I found the root cause being the outdated, close-sourced RealPlayer & Skype software, and the solution, hilariously, is by changing the hardware. Let me explain.

So, I have some 6~9 months old nVidia motherboard, which is considered very new in linux's context. By now, all the drivers for nVidia 6150 VGA, nVIdia Gigabit network & nVidia HD audio are all installed very well by the various repocitories. However, one noticed that Realplayer's version is still stuck at Feb 2006, & skype, for heaven sake is still stuck at Skype for FC3!!!

So, the problem is that, RealPlayer will somehow work with the latest sound card driver but occasionally, it just hang the GUI when you start another application that activate the sound driver also. In this case, clicking the menu will create an audible sound also. The situation with Skype is the same, it works well for me to talk online. Again, after the skype talk, if I click on the menu & invoke the desktop sound, it will hang the GUI also.

Hilariously, the solution is nothing more than putting an old sound card like Yamah YMF724(atleast 7 years old) or a old sound card(by linux context) like Sound Blaster Live 5.1 digital into the system. It simply uses a driver that RealPlayer & Skype are 100% compatible off. So, now, there is no more hanging of GUI desktop after RealPlayer or Skype.

One thing to note though, when I install the addon sound card. FC5 is already advanced enough to detect two sound cards & let users to choose which to use. Bad thing is that, RealPlayer is still not updated enough to switch between the sound cards. And so, I have to disable the onboard sound to force Realplayer to use the addon sound card & finally working flawlessly. And RealPlayer is still needed to play some of the buggy real video clips that is stuck halfway. You can use the scroll bar to skip the stuck part in realplayer. On mplayer, it simply hangs the mplayer & you have to restart, which is not quite a viable solution still.

So, this is a strange dillemma of linux users. 6~9 months old hardwares are considered old by today's standard. Incidentally, AMD is already announcing the end-of-life of my AMD64 3000+ socket 939 cpu. Good enough, FC5's kernel is already at 2.6.17 just few days ago & to be fair, all drivers are fully operational now for my hardwares. Bad enough still, closed-sourced applications like RealPlayer &
Skype has till very slow update for linux & compatibility issues are till not catched up to the open-sourced community.

I think, this is worth putting in my blog...