I built a pie

I’ve wanted to build something with Raspberry Pi for a while now. But I never really came across any projects that interested me, and/or I didn’t want to solder stuff. But then Nintendo flipped everyone off with NES Classic Edition, and word is that SNES Classic Edition is now in the works. I’m not holding my breath that supply will be able to meet demand this time.

So F it – I’ll make my own! But better!



I knew the Pi would be a relatively simple and straightforward little gadget to assemble, but dang. It was literally just a few pieces to fit and sometimes snap together.

Look at those cute little heat sinks.

I was surprised by how small this thing is. Fits in the palm of your hand.

So that was easy. Reformatting the microSD card (using the nifty little USB adapter provided in the kit) and loading up an image with the Retropie OS was really the hardest part of “building” it, mostly because there were several steps and a few little utilities to download.


The main hurdle was my display, actually. Damn Insignia TV was overscanning and cutting off the border of the Retropie’s display, and apparently this model has no fit-to-screen or overscan setting to toggle.

So I had to dig into the OS’s config file and play around with the overscan properties – lucky that’s an option! It was a little tricky when the text was cut off at the edge of the screen, but eventually got it sorted. Woot!

Now all that’s left is to load up some roms! Legally, I can only download and play games that I already own. But if I were to download the entire SNES, NES, and Sega libraries and do some sorting, and then select titles from other consoles like Dreamcast, PS, N64, and maybe some arcade games…well, I imagine that would be the most time-consuming piece of this project.

Anyway, it always feels nice to successfully build something. F you, Nintendo.




The four most important troubleshooting steps

I know I’ve mentioned the IT Crowd once or twice here. If you’re into British comedy and/or you work in IT, you may want to check it out on Netflix. If not, I guess you can bugger off, wot.

So I’ve been working in the industry for about a year now, and I’ve learned much. I’ve found, though, that the cliches are true. We have relatively good users at my organization, but my palm and face have yet remained acquainted. While we do run into some head-scratchers, there are calls that can be addressed by one of the following:

1. Turn it off and on again. Yup, this is a big one. When in doubt, ask the user to restart their machine and tell them you’ll be over shortly. Often they’ll call or email you back to say the restart seems to have fixed the problem (or you’ll swing by and everything is now working fine).

2.  Make sure it’s plugged in. I have yet to encounter a monitor that’s gone bad. Usually a connector has come lose or gotten unplugged somehow. Sometimes you’ll even get a power cord that’s been accidentally unplugged (mistaken for another device?) or jostled by the cleaning lady.

3. Is it turned on? This can happen with printers or other devices that may be set to sleep without anyone’s knowledge. I hadn’t run into this “dilemma” with a PC until this week, but it does happen. User complained of her monitor not working, saying “No signal.” I figured it was a loose or unplugged monitor cable, but when I got to her office it turns out her computer wasn’t turned on!

4. Be gracious and humble. We like to grouse about user error (PEBCAK and all that), but this is why we’re paid the big bucks. Well, some of us. I work with a lot of folk who are more educated and in many cases probably much more intelligent (or at least more wizened) than I am. Not all of them are “computer people” or know a lot about tech, just as I don’t really know much about medicine or family law. A lot of the time when you run into one of the issues listed above, the user will be embarrassed, and there’s no need to rub it in. Either smile and tell them it was no problem and happens all the time, or nod sagely and wonder aloud if the cleaner may have accidentally knocked out the cord. And be thankful that it was an issue easily remedied!





PC joy and pain

Men like to build and create. I’ve never been profoundly interested in or skilled at carpentry or stonework or automobile mechanics or, uh, spacklecraft. I do like to cook, but I’ve never constructed any kind of pastry.

I also do a little bit of gardening (mostly herbs), but I have kind of a brown thumb. Plants under my care have probably a 50-50 shot of surviving.

My creative tendency has been most manifest in my PC building efforts. The first time I built a computer, I made some unfortunate mistakes that wound up costing me. But when I got the thing working, man. Such a feeling of satisfaction – making something that not everyone can, and then putting it to good, honest use.

This second time I fared better on the front end, but over the past two or three weeks I’ve been getting a string of game crashes and blue screens of death. These kinds of setbacks can be profoundly disappointing and frustrating; computers are complex machines with all kinds of moving parts. You can look at dump files and event logs and errors messages, and sometimes you’ll be able to quickly or luckily diagnose the problem.

Often, however, the root cause of your troubles is elusive. Is it a driver? Bad RAM? Corrupted system files? Faulty PSU/not enough juice? Hard Disc error? Apps that just don’t want to cooperate with your operating system?

At least I’ve discovered a number of useful diagnostic utilities and system tools. System File Checker, Driver Verifier, Windows Memory Diagnostics, and Memtest86+ in particular strike me as good tools for any IT Guy or Gal to be aware of.

I also can’t overstate the importance of taking the time to check manufacturer websites for updated drivers, and becoming familiar with the Device Manager. I thought I had updated everything, but over the weekend I found that I had an old ethernet driver. Yesterday I checked out the support webpage for my motherboard and found that I was way behind on my BIOS version. That was a little more tricky to update, but relatively painless.

I haven’t been able to pinpoint any bad hardware so far, though I was suspicious of the RAM and the SSHD for a while. After I updated my BIOS yesterday I played the Witcher 2 for a few hours and didn’t get any BSOD or game crashes, so that’s a good sign. Fingers crossed I’ve stumbled upon the solution to my woes. Having a gaming machine that won’t run games is the absolute pits.

On Monday I couldn’t run Heroes of the Storm for more than a couple minutes without crashing to desktop, and I was branded with my very first “leaver” status. I’m apprehensive, but tonight I’ll give it a go and see if the BIOS update did it. Can an outdated BIOS cause other drivers to crash programs (my HOTS crash event log entry seemed to indicate a GPU driver-related incident)? I guess I’ll find out.



Troubleshooting: Errant Mouse

Alternate title: How many IT guys does it take to fix a mouse?

Things have been quiet here because I’ve been hustling at work. Normally the morning hours before I clock in are prime for busting out some nerdy blog materials, but this month we’ve been rolling out Windows 10 ahead of the free upgrade cutoff at the end of July. So I’ve been starting work an hour earlier and can’t bring myself to come into the office at 7:00 to write. Alas and alack, but tis only temporary, my friends.

An interesting thing happened yesterday morning – a user’s mouse decided to stop working. Now this happens on occasion, and normally unplugging the usb connector and replugging it into another port will do prompt the machine to come to its senses. This time, though, it just wasn’t doing it.


I tried another Microsoft mouse (our standard) and same thing. I’d get the little sound effect indicating the device was detected, and the underside LED would light up for a few seconds. But then it would go dark and the computer would continue to ignore the mouse’s presence.

Standard restart didn’t help. Device manager showed that the mouse driver was showing an error and also was being placed under “Other Devices” for some reason.

As I was juggling some upgrades with a limited timeframe, I escalated it to my boss and jumped back and forth between moving along the Windows 10 stuff and looking over his shoulder.

The mouse and keyboard software that he downloaded from Microsoft didn’t do the trick. Remoting into the affected system did allow for us to use mouse functionality, though, so didn’t have to navigate everything with the keyboard.

Eventually we ran to the server room and rummaged up an old Logitech trackball mouse we had leftover from a former left-handed user. It worked.

We tried a handful of other tactics to troubleshoot the regular mouse. Uninstalling the driver and letting it reinstall didn’t work. Nor did prompting the system to update the driver.

Eventually my colleague got in and took a look. He tried manually changing the driver from one of the Microsoft ones to the generic “HID – compliant mouse” driver. Presto.


We then rotated the mouse to each USB port to associate them all with this driver. Not too glamorous, but seems to have gotten the job done for now.

Curious that the Microsoft mouse driver should be erroring out randomly. Perhaps a Windows update-related failure? If future issues arise or if we return to this sometime, perhaps I’ll try copying some healthy drivers from another machine to see if this was a case of corrupted files or some such.




It’s alive

About 5 years ago I came back stateside from Japan, and that winter I received a nice little chunk of change from the tax and pension refunds I’d claimed from my years of working over there. I put some of that money to use in building my  first home-and-hand-assembled PC. It’s served me well throughout the years and still does a serviceable job where it counts, but with all the crazy graphics-intensive games coming out these days and the prospect of marriage and family-building in the not too distant future, I figured now’s probably a good time to make me a new system. Also 5 years is a decent life for many computer parts, and who wants to wait for something to crap out?

I started planning my build a couple months ago and was pleased to see that Providence or God had ordained for major new graphics card releases this summer. Not just new graphics cards, but big jumps. nVidia’s 10 series has been especially impressive – with the Gtx 1070 leading the pack in terms of popularity and cost for value. AMD’s new RX 480 also attracted my eye for a time, but the power draw problems that were reported early and briefly, along with my keen eye on Newegg’s Twitter feed prompted me to go for the 1070. All the new cards have been selling out quickly as demand has far outstripped supply thus far, but I was able to snag a Gigabyte Gtx 1070 G1 Gaming GPU a few minutes after Newegg tweeted out that they had just gotten some supply in. As of this posting it’s sold out, and has been for a while.

$430 was more than I had initially wanted to spend on a video card, but dang. Look at that thing.

They say you get what you pay for, so. We’ll see. My displays are only 1080p, so this is really more power than I need, but I’m future proofed and I expect for some time now I’ll be able to make all games my…subservient wenches…with maxed out graphics and performance settings.

I didn’t take a ton of pictures as I was building it (or after the fact), but I did have a few takeaways. First, here are the major parts I used:

Case: NZXT S340 Black Steel

Chipset: ASUS Z170 Pro Gaming

GPU: Gigabyte GTX 1070 G1 Gaming

CPU: Intel Core i5-6600K

CPU Cooling: Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO

Storage: Seagate 2TB SSHD 7200 RPM

RAM: G.SKILL Ripjaws DDR4 PC4-24000 16GB (8GBx2)

Optical: N/A (LG External DVD R/RW)

OS: Windows 7 license > Windows 10

Having built that one system in the past, and having tinkered a little bit inside it and others subsequently, I have a working familiarity with computer innards. But one thing this build taught me is that there are a variety of parts that interact and connect with each other in different ways. As the tech changes, some parts morph in form and function. So if you haven’t worked with a particular component before, even if you know the basics, you still need to read the instructions and learn.

  • For instance, I thought it would be easiest to install the CPU and cooler on the motherboard before mounting it inside the case. That’s what I remember doing last time. But the aftermarket Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO was difficult to attach to the motherboard without having it mounted. I was showing my girlfriend the parts and wound up using her here for extra hands.
  • On that note, I found myself applying the thermal compound to the top of the CPU and getting ready to plop down the cooler, and wasn’t sure which way to orient it and the fan. I just picked a random orientation and lucked out; the fan should be pushing air to the top of the case, which can then exit out a vent. But there was no indication in the spartan directions as to how to determine the best way to point the thing.
  • It’s also apparently the norm for this cooler to block one slot of RAM. So if you’re planning on using it, you may not have the option of employing four sticks of memory.
  • Some of the case cables threw me for a little bit of a loop. There was a black cable with a blue connector that was labeled something like “GLAN 30V.” This is the USB 3.0 cable, that plugs into the corresponding pins on the mobo. The two preinstalled case fans also both connected to a molex adapter. Unfortunately it was kind of shoddy, and when I tried to plug it into one of the PSU’s molex connectors, one pin corresponding to one of the fans would connect and the other, slightly misaligned, would push itself backwards and a little out of the molex adapter, rendering it useless. Luckily I was able to just unattach the fans from the adapter and plug them directly into the motherboard’s “Case fan 1” and “Case fan 2” slots.
  • Note, you need to connect the PSU cables before you install it into this case; there’s not enough maneuvering room inside the cavity to plug the stuff in afterwards. So that had to be pulled out and reinstalled.
  • Likewise that little metallic frame that serves as a metallic barrier between the back of the case and the piece of the mobo with all the ports (is there an official name for that thing?) – that needs to be pressed in from inside the case. So if you’ve mounted your motherboard already…you have to unmount, install, and remount. Was kind of a pain and made me anxious about handling the motherboard so much.
  • After everything was connected, I had indicator lights on the chipset lighting up, so it was getting power. But pressed the power button and…no post, no nothing. That is always frustrating! I attached a speaker, but wasn’t getting any beeps, so that stressed me out for a couple of minutes. Fortunately I had a suspicion that payed off:
  • There are two connectors on the motherboard that need PSU cable hookups. One is a large connector labeled something like EATX Power or EATX 24 or something like that. (I think it’s 24 pins) Then there’s a smaller connector above the CPU called EATX 12V. I had plugged in a regular VGA connector (I think they used to be labeled PCIe?) from the PSU, which had a 6-pin piece and a 2-pin piece. It was a pain in the ass to manipulate into position and plug in. My research indicated that some motherboards (in the past or different models) would include a CPU Power slot, labeled as such. So I guessed this may be the same thing here, and exchanged the VGA connector for the PSU connector labeled CPU, which was a similar deal except it had two 4-pin pieces to plug in. This, too, was a pain in the ass to connect. But did it, replugged and pushed power, and bam, it posted.

Putting these things together is quite satisfying, but unless I get a job that includes a lot more hardware assembly, I don’t anticipate ever being able to blow through a build without indecision or uncertainty. For the time being, I have had enough of slots and connectorz.







Game of dicks

Work’s been eventful. I don’t yet have a vast pool of experience to draw from, but checking each machine on our system for potentially malicious Bomgar software was new. Our AV software had flagged a user installation of Bomgar, which is a legitimate remote desktop software. However we don’t support said software in our office’s remote setup, and thus this raised some red flags. Well, for whatever reason our AV couldn’t pinpoint the computer where this happened, so we had to do a manual sweep of about 100 machines. Good stuff. When we finally found the computer, it seemingly deleted the Bomgar files after a restart. Malware or some kind of mistakenly-installed freeware? Who’s to know?

It seems the security field is a game of risk. “Can’t be too careful” is a rather trite expression when you consider the advantage attackers have in cyber realm. You’ve got a lot of dicks out there probing for vulnerable marks. Every week, it seems, there are fresh stories of hacks and data breaches. You can spend piles of dough and have great best practices (the best, even), but then a weak link in your chain, like a sloppy or unlucky vendor, can bring you down. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do all you can, but again – it’s about balancing risk.

Speaking of dicks, I recently took the plunge into Crusader Kings 2, which I’ve been meaning to try for ages. It’s kind of funny (though I doubt lol-inducing); a coworker of mine and I were observing the other day how gaming, though a fun hobby, can require some serious energy. It can take a real investment of time and/or brainpower to immerse oneself into the world of a new game, or to learn its workings. Sometimes you don’t want to deal with that shit, though – you simply want to come home, prepare and consume a crude organic consumable of some kind, and pwn some frigging noobs before you get your 7 hours of sleep. You don’t want to be learning about vassal limits and the hierarchy of baronies, counties, and duchies. You may want to know about stewardship bonuses and how higher crown authority displeases your underlings, and that the default gavelkind inheritance system is a pain in my ass, but you just don’t want to spend 2 hours learning how to play.

But the other day I began learning.

I’d heard it was an intricate game, and it certainly is. The first major fact that’s struck me is that to get ahead, you really have to be a dick. Sure, you can expand your holdings by trying to arrange favorable marriages and perhaps hoping for a neighbor’s grip on his lands to slip…but such opportunities don’t seem super frequent so far, and they rely on time and luck. If you really want to start piling up titles and power, you need to assassinate some chumps (often family members). Weed out those weak heirs. Fabricate some claims as pretext for snatching nearby lands. So thus far, CK2 has taught me that being a d-bag is the surest and quickest way to power. Sounds about right.