High Ping Time on Local Network

Since my other articles on figuring out problems that you can’t Google are popular I thought I would write about my latest mood killer. I began to get a very high ping time on my local network, even higher out to the Internet. This caused problems with ssh sessions and NVIDIA game streaming, but was not noticeable when watching Netflix.

It started simply enough, one night I left my wife to watch Netflix downstairs while I went up stairs to get some work done. My job involves using ssh to login to remote servers, any latency (high ping) is very noticeable. That was the case this night. I could type much faster than the text would display, using the arrow keys to navigate was jerky at best. I figured my ISP was being lame. I finished up as quickly as possible. The next day there was no problem.

Jump cut to a few days later. Same situation. I head upstairs to work and my ssh session is just crap. The next day its fine.

The next morning is a Saturday. I take a seat on the couch and try to play Grim Dawn over NVIDIA game streaming and it doesn’t work. The bad connection icon appears in the top right, the graphics are pixelated and jerky, not good. Having no clue what could be wrong, I give my PC and Shield TV a restart. No luck, same problem. I tried the test connection option on the Shield TV, it reported back that I have a 9mb/s connection and 200ms ping. Considering I was on a wired gigabit network with only a switch between the Shield TV and my PC this was very bad.

My wife and children, bored of me, starting watching Netflix as I furiously Googled for a hint at a solution. Immediately my phone’s connection started having problems. Sites wouldn’t load or would load slowly. I tried a speed test and while my bandwidth was ok, my ping was 500ms. I tried pinging my PC, the ping times were all over the place, 1ms, 50ms, 100ms, and everything in between. Netflix worked fine, which I chalked up to streaming not being interactive and thus not caring about latency.

I at this point I knew it was something with my local network affecting both wired and wireless, but I had no idea what.

I had several command prompts open pinging devices around my house. All showed high pings. I expected less than one millisecond and the lowest was 5ms and very jittery.

I then thought about the problems I had with UNRAID. What if another port on my router’s switch is bad? My wife stopped watching Netflix and went into another room. I unplugged everything from my router and tried wifi, all good. I started plugging in all of my devices one at a time, testing in between each one. All good again. I opened up a couple of command prompts and started continuous pings, all good. I tried the NVIDIA game streaming test, the test failed just as before. I noticed something new this time though, my continuous pings were fine until the streaming test; during the test they were high. As soon as the test stopped they went back to normal. I started a movie on Netflix, the pings went bad again. I moved the Shield TV to a different port on my switch. The game streaming test succeeded. Netflix could play without jacking up the pings. It was another bad port in the router’s switch.

That left me with a switch that had four gigabit ports. One would say it was connected at a gigabit, but only pass 100mb/s of traffic. Another port messed up my entire wired and wireless network if any decent amount of traffic was passed. As a quickie fix I daisy chained another gigabit switch to one of the good ports. For a real long term fix I purchased another router.

Netflix was red herring. Watching Netflix would pass traffic over the bad port in the switch, jacking up the network. When I watch Netflix I’m not doing anything else on the Internet and therefor would not see the problem.

The router causing all of this was an ASUS NT-N66U. I got four years of use out of it before sending it to the trash. In the first year I had a pretty bad problem with it dropping my WAN connection. Otherwise I was happy with it. Its a shame it didn’t last longer.

Getting Started with Modding a PlayStation 2

I recently decided to buy a used PlayStation 2 and try my hand at modding it to play backups. Unlike the original XBOX, which has loads of good articles on modding, the PS2 was very lacking. Not that there isn’t some good information out there, just nothing boiled down into bullet points for a country boy such as myself.

Step 1: Get a PS2

Ebay was my first choice. Premodded PlayStation 2s go for 6-7 times what an unmodded PlayStation goes for. This is a little sad as what you need to do the mod costs very little. You’re pretty much buying a PS2 with a memory card when you buy one premodded.

You need a PS2 which has a model number that does NOT start with a 9. These unmoddable PS2s are ‘slims’ and have a shiny top.

I bought a SCPH-39001 from Ebay, commonly referred to as a fat PS2. It came with two controllers and a memory card.

Step 2: Do the Mod

Free McBoot is an exploit/mod you install on a PS2 memory card. It allows you to run unsigned code on the PS2, meaning you can run what ever you want, like game backups.

Long story short on this one, buy a memory card that already has the mod installed.

I bought a pre-installed memory card from Ebay. 

Step 3: Buy some other stuff

You’ll want the PS2 to look its best on your TV. Buy some component video cables. This is the same cable a PS3 uses for component out.

With what you purchased in steps 1 and 2, you can load games from a burned DVD or a USB hard drive. Having a ton of burned discs laying around is lame and since the PS2 only has USB 1.0 ports, a USB hard drive is going to be very slow, slower than a disc. You want to buy a SATA hard disk interface.

The SATA hard drive interface is normally part of a network adapter, though you can buy just the drive interface alone. Get a SATA interface, not IDE. With IDE you’ll be relying on old used drives, while SATA drives are modern and easy to buy new. Don’t bother with an SSD, its expensive overkill.

I bought a SATA adapter with no network interface. I also bought a 320GB SATA hard drive. Outside of my cheapness, there was no reason I could not have went with a larger drive.

Step 4: Using It

Modding the PS2 is simple enough, insert your Free McBoot memory card. That’s it. You’ll see a Free McBoot splash screen on boot and the main menu will have some more options, one of which will be Open PS2 Loader. This is the program you’ll use to launch backup ISOs from your hard drive.

You’ll need to get some backups of your games. The easiest way is to make a copy using ImgBurn. This is identical to the process you would use to make an ISO of any CD/DVD you have laying around.

Next up you’ll format your hard drive and load some ISOs onto it. For this you’ll need Winhiip and some way to connect the drive to your PC. I used a SATA to USB adapter.

Get your drive connected and run Winhiip. The first thing is you’ll need to do is to format the drive for 48 bits. After that load your ISOs.

Now plug the drive into the PS2, start Open PS2 Loader, hit O, and you should see your games.

Tip: R1+R2+L1+L2+Start+Select restarts the PS2. No need to get up to change games.

Step 5: Nice clean silence

The PS2 I purchased was dusty as hell. Gross even. The cooling fan was also loud. After taking the PS2 apart and giving every thing a good dusting and cleaning, the fan was still loud. 

I replaced the cooling fan with a Noctua 60x25mm fan. I followed this guide. I deviated from it some and connected the fan to the power supply to motherboard connector. This causes the fan to run whenever the rear power switch is on, but the fan does get the full 12v… sort of. Directly connecting the fan to the 12v made it run louder than I liked. I ended up using one of the noise suppressors that came with the fan. This made it silent. I probably could have saved some effort and connected it to the original fan’s leads.

The fan’s connection to the power supply connector.

The End

All said I spent less than $75 and took about three hours start to finish. Not too shabby.

 

UNRAID is Slow, What to do?

I recently built an UNRAID server for use as backup storage. The plan was to build a computer and then shuck and use the many USB drives I already had for storage. This mostly went to plan.

TLDR: Network equipment lies about connection speed.

I went with UNRAID because it boots off of a USB drive; saving a SATA port, works well with mixed drive types and sizes, and you can take a drive out of the array and read/write to it from any other PC.

The build:

Case: Cooler Master Elite 342 RC-342-KKRJ-GP 400W
CPU: Intel Celeron 2.90 GHz Dual Core FCLGA1151
Motherboard: MSI Pro Series Intel B250
Memory: Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 DRAM 2400MHz
Boot Drive: SanDisk Cruzer Fit CZ33 16GB
Misc Items likes fans and cables I already had.

I had five 4TB Western Digital drives in USB enclosures that I planned on using in UNRAID. I bought a 4TB SATA drive, getting me a total of six drives. All of the USB drives appeared to work fine in their enclosures, no SMART errors, no problems reading and writing to them. After taking the drives out of their enclosures and putting them into the new server, three of them started reporting SMART errors. I wasn’t happy about this, but figured I would load them up and see what happens, only buying new drives if they actually failed.

Right off my transfer speeds were limited to 10-12MB/s. I was expecting more like 100MB/s, being on a gigabit network. After fiddling around for a bit I did a restart, UNRAID refused to boot. I got a monitor on it and saw in the message buffer that one of the drives was freaking out. I removed the drive and UNRAID booted up. I still had the slow transfer speeds though.

I disconnected the other two SMART error reporting drives. It was still slow. I logged in via the command line and did an rsync between one of the formerly USB drives and the new drive, still slow, albeit I was getting 15MB/s now. I put the two SMART error reporting drives back in.

I was a little lost at this point. If rsync between two sata drives was only getting me 15MB/s, something was seriously up. I figured the former USB drives were crappy and bought another new 4TB SATA drive. A day later I tried another rsync between the new drives. Same problem.

Now I started down the horrible path of googling ‘UNRAID slow.’ There wasn’t much to see here. Lots of posts about parity drives causing slow downs; I wasn’t using a parity drive. Lots of posts about using a cache drive; also not relevant since I’m not using parity.

I kept pounding my head trying everything and anything I could think of until I stumbled onto a problem with rsync. I was using the -z option, this compresses the files before they are copied. This is all good when sending files over the Internet like I normally would, but when going disk to disk the overhead kills the transfer speed. I ditched the -z option from my rsync command and I was getting full speed between all of my disks. 140MB/s+

Then I tried to do a copy from my Windows desktop to UNRAID’s windows share. Slow again. 10-12MB/s. I tried FTP, same deal. I tried rsync (no -z), same deal. Now I had a network problem.

My desktop, the unraid server, and my router all had gigabit ports. My desktop could do 100MB/s (Gigabit speeds, bit vs byte) to other devices in my house. Nothing could do better than 12MB/s to UNRAID though. UNRAID and my router both showed that UNRAID was connected at 1Gbp/s. Something was a liar.

I tried my laptop on the same ethernet cable and wall jack that UNRAID was using. The speed was bad. I tried UNRAID on a different cable and wall jack. The speed was great. Something was wrong with my cabling.

I swapped cables, redid did the wall jacks, no luck. I then tried making a simple network between my desktop and UNRAID, just a switch and two ethernet cables. The speed was great. There was only one thing left that could be the problem, the switch built into my router.

In the end, it ended up being a dodgy port in the router’s switch. Even though it says devices are connected at gigabit speeds, they are not. It works fine as a 100mbp/s port. No latency or dropped packet problems. I plugged the UNRAID server into a different port on the router, problem solved.

That’s my UNRAID saga. Hopefully my experience will help someone else.

Almost as a side note, I’ve been very happy with UNRAID. I have a 24TB array about 1/3 full. I have this 24TB array split into two 12TB user shares. I sync up the shares with rsync now and again as a backup. I’m not using parity. If a drive fails in the array I’ll either replace it with live data or use the backup in the other share to replace it. I still have a good collection of USB drives and I plug those in and rsync to them too, making for a nice third backup.

Here are some of the scripts I use to keep everything synced.

Syncing between the user shares:

rsync -Wa –delete –progress /mnt/user/UNRAID/* /mnt/user/UNRAID-BK/

Syncing between internal disks and USB disks:

dmesg | tail -10
echo -n “Mount which device? ”
read DEVICE
echo “Mounting $DEVICE”
mkdir /root/disk
mount $DEVICE /root/disk
if [ $? -gt 0 ]
then
echo “Could not mount $DEVICE”
exit
fi
echo -n “Which disk to sync? ”
read DISK
echo “SYNCING disk$DISK!”
rsync -aW –delete –progress /mnt/disk$DISK/* /root/disk
echo “UMOUNT $DEVICE”
umount $DEVICE
rmdir /root/disk

Random Thoughts on Emulation and Retro Gaming

What follows are some very brief thoughts that are not worthy of an entire article.

I have owned a GPD XD for about a year now. It is by far the best handheld emulation device I’ve used. It plays the fifth generation consoles (PlayStation, N64) very well. Since it has a built in stand via the controller it also makes for an excellent device for watching movies during flights or lying in bed.

Hipsters have the market for buying old consoles all messed up. Everything is much more expensive than it should be. If you’re dead set on collecting you are going to spend some money, if you just want to play some games:

  • A Raspberry Pi 3 plays everything up to the fifth generations of consoles well. PlayStation support is excellent, N64 support is very bad. A Pi 3 and a PS4 controller makes for a very nice couch experience. Run RetroPie, its the easiest way to go.
  • A Nintendo DS will play GBA games. A Nintendo DS also costs a lot less than a GBA.
  • A 3DS can play DS games. A modded New 3DS can play GBA, SNES, GEN, Gameboy, NES, and more very well.
  • Nothing can emulate an original XBOX. Spend some money and get one that is pre-modded. TSOP is preferred since it makes it easy to change the hard drive.
  • A modded PS3 will play PSX, PS2, PSP, and PS3 games.
  • A modded Wii-U will play Wii-U and Wii.
  • A modded Wii will play Wii and GameCube.
  • You can buy pre-modded consoles on Ebay for not much more than a non-modded one.
  • If your PC is within 50 feet of your TV, a long HDMI cable and a PS4 or XBOX One controller will turn it into a great couch gaming ‘console’. If you also have a wireless keyboard and a mouse you’re in for good times.

Landscaping and Erosion Control on a Steep Hillside

Several years ago I bought a split level home overlooking a lake on a steep hillside in Northwest Arkansas. The only access to the lake was via 114 rotten wooden steps. Attempting to walk down the hillside without the steps was next to impossible due to the grade. The soil was white, powdery, and full of limestone rock. Between the soil quality and the needles from several pine trees, nothing grew outside of some stunted bushes.

Things were OK until I cut down all of the trees and removed the steps to open up the view. After doing that I ran into a erosion problem. Bad enough that after a particularly heavy rain storm I found a newly formed ditch  a couple of feet deep. After a lot of trials and errors that involved bringing in several square yards of dirt to fix, I’ve finally hit upon some methods that work.

Trials and Errors

Surprisingly the Internet isn’t a good resource for erosion control. Most of what I could find related to erosion control in desert environments, such as southern California, or temporary control related to construction run off. Neither of which would help me build a permanent solution in my humid subtropical northwest Arkansas home that receives sixty inches of rain a year.

Spreading hay: In theory if you spread hay over bare dirt with some seed laid down the hay will hold in moisture, stop the rain from washing everything away, and keep birds away from the seeds. Three years after spreading hay I still find it random places. To say its messy is an understatement. The first windy day will spread your hay to every nook and cranny around. On a steep hill rain will wash the hay away along with whatever is under it.

Planting grass: During the first fall I planted some winter rye grass. As far as erosion control it worked pretty well. It grew quickly and held the dirt down well. The problem with grass is that it grows tall. You either have to mow it or knock it down with a string trimmer. Mowing on a steep hill side sits somewhere between pain in the ass and impossible.

Gravel: If you lay down a couple inch thick layer of 3-4 inch gravel, erosion stops. This works, but I don’t like the way it looks. I want some green.

Concrete: I had a concrete walking path built. It only served to stop the water in places it shouldn’t, and then speed up the water everywhere else. I wish I could jackhammer the whole thing up and get rid of it.

What worked

Control water at the top of the hill so you don’t have to worry about it at the bottom: I built two large drains that collect all of the water at the start of the slope and carry it all the way down to the lake, bypassing my backyard entirely. This stopped the majority of the problem all by itself. Once the drains were built the only water I had to deal with is what actually fell in the backyard. These drains were both hand dug, no way to get machinery where I needed it because of the slope.

Swales: The best way I can describe a swale is a drainage ditch that doesn’t go anywhere. You dig a ditch that is level to the grade. It fills up with water and holds it there until it naturally percolates down into the soil below.

Walking Trails: I had a zig zag of walking tails built down the slope. It took about a day for a guy with a small skid loader to do the job. The trails are covered in compost. The grade of the trails is slight enough and the compost absorbent enough that they act like swales.

Clover and Vetch: Clover and vetch are two low growing legumes. Clover looks just like you think. Vetch looks something like a fern. Both plants fix nitrogen into the soil improving the quality. Both look nice, stay green all year, have pretty flowers most of the summer, and grow low enough you never have to mow. Animals love it, I have deer, rabbits, and geese that hang out all day. Use white clover, other clover species can get tall.

Compost, compost everywhere: The city I live in sells compost by the yard so cheaply they almost give it away. Originally I used the compost to cover the walking paths I built down to the lake. Pretty quickly grass began to grow on the paths. It grew so well that I couldn’t keep it knocked down. I then ran with the idea and put down compost everywhere. I raked the soil a bit, dropped the clover and vetch seed, and then spread compost. Wash, rinse, repeat, for the entire back yard.

TL;DR

In my opinion what really worked to control erosion were three things, use drains/trenches to control water at the top of the hill, cover any bare dirt with compost, seed heavily with clover and vetch.

 

 

David Nacho Cheese Sunflower Seeds What Happened? Discontinued?

I love David Nacho Cheese flavored sunflower seeds. I used to buy them by the case in 5.25 ounce packs from Amazon. Sometime last year Amazon stopped selling them, thinking this was just Amazon being weird I found other website to fuel the addiction. As time went on they too would stop selling the big packs, eventually leaving the small packs as my only option. Something was very wrong in the world.

After a lot of Googling I only found one other person that seemed concerned, complaining and asking questions in an Amazon review to no avail. What was going on with my beloved seeds? Why wasn’t the world in an outrage?

Not being able to find any information online, I sent an email to Conagra, the folks that own David. This was the response:

It’s great to hear you enjoy our DAVID Nacho Cheese Sunflower Seeds!  I’m sorry to say we have discontinued our 5.25 ounce and 1.75 ounce sizes, but we do still have our .8 ounce size available. – Christine

Nooooooo

Amazon still sells the small packs of Nacho flavored seeds.  The small packs taste the same as the large packs. For me it takes about two packs to add up to what I’ll eat in a sitting.

Buy Nacho Sunflower Seeds
BUY NOW!

 

 

XBMC: Need to unpack a big file, continue?

From time to time, while browsing your XBMC library of files you may get the prompt, “Need to unpack a big file, continue?” This means XBMC has a large rar file it needs to open, so large that it may take a while/affect your system’s performance. Typically you can just answer yes and not have to worry about it again.

In my experience though you get this error when you have a corrupt or password protected rar. Answering yes gets you an endless loop of prompts, answering no will result in the prompt going away only to come back the next time you open your library.

What to do?

Via what ever method you have, go to your <xbmc_dir>/temp directory. In there will be the offending rar file, possibly in a directory called rartemp. Delete any rar files and any directory with rar in the name. Restart XBMC.

The next time you open your library you should be all good.

I use an SQL server for my library, sometimes I have to go an extra step and delete the file’s reference in my xbmc data. Look in myvideos->files and find the recent entry with rar:// in the strFilename column.

 

 

Squirrels do not Make Good Pets

Squirrel Balls
The cutest squirrel balls you’ll ever see

A few weeks ago our landscaper found a couple of baby squirrels and we’ve been raising them ever since. They were three or four weeks old when we got them, old enough that their eyes were open and they had fur, but not old enough to be all that active. Here we are at six or seven weeks old and their actively level has shot through the roof, they’ve gotten squirrelly.

Soon they should be old enough to be let free. In the meantime they live in my sun room.

Do you like little poop pellets?

This room was clean one hour ago.
This room was clean one hour ago.

It’s an interesting fact that squirrels will not go to the bathroom in their nest. The other side of this statement is that they’ll go anywhere else that suits them. This includes the floor, your furniture, and even you. Squirrels produce small and hard poop pellets, of which they produce about a billion a day. Even when locked in their cage you will still manage to find little poops all over the house. I believe they ride on the wind like a dandelion seed.

The only upside to all of this is that the poops come out dry and scentless. I guess that’s a win.

Squirrels will scratch the holy hell out you.

Squirrel Scratches
This is my hand. Its actually a good scratch day.

Squirrels have sharp little claws, unlike a cat, these claws are always out. Squirrels also love to climb on you, its a wondrous squirrel activity to run up and down and all around you as you scream in pain from the thousand cut torture. Sadly, you’ll find yourself liking this. My hands look like a teenage cutter. I keep squirrels so that I can feel.

Another thing of note, squirrels can jump very far. If you get within ten feet of a squirrel and they want on you, they’ll jump on you. This could mean jumping on your back, your head, or your face. Good times.

Squirrels Enjoy Chewing

Wicker Chair
I left them alone near our sun room furniture.

Wicker furniture seems to be the favorite chew toy. They’ll also chew up all of the plastic bits in their cage, turn any branches you give them to saw dust, and they also enjoy shredding fabric. If you want to keep something, don’t leave it where a squirrel can find it.

Squirrels do not Have Empathy

Unless you have food on your person, squirrels are indifferent to your problems. They do not come over to be petted, they do not want to cuddle. If they do not want to be picked up even their most gentlest attempts to escape result in painful scratches.

They’re you’re best friend if you have food. All the same they’ll stab you in the face for a walnut.

Chill Squirrel

The Mud Emporium

The Mud Emporium was a website I ran for several years dedicated to archiving MUD areas and MUD code. I eventually shut it down, but I did save all of the content.

All of the content for the Mud Emporium is now on Github, seperated out into two repositories.

Mud Emporium Areas on Github

The area repositories contains hundreds of areas for many different code bases, ROM, Diku, ect.

Mud Emporium Code on Github

The code repositories is full of code snippets to add classes, skills, spells, NPC classes, and many more behaviors to a MUD.