Looking for a DVD player? I’ll build it with Linux, it’s very easy!

A friend wants an easy way to entertain his son or show him some DVDs. He is 2-3 years old so expectations are low. According to him the best option is to buy this portable DVD player with NES emulation support.

What? That screen is so bad! This to your kid eyes! I’m on it! I have an unused IBM ThinkPad in the basement, I’ll convert it into a Linux-based children’s video player/console in no time! Piece of cake!

First of all, I clean up after years of use: ew. The used masks are great and take away all the accumulated dirt with a few passes.

Then I update the BIOS to the latest version. The new bootlogo that appears at power up is aesthetically uglier, before there was the “vintage” Intel Pentium logo, now it’s modern.

The logo that appeared before (on the left) was very retro and I liked it better.

Well, anyway to see from the changelog a lot of things have changed so I leave it alone. I should have taken some pictures to document it.

Time to choose the operating system. Ten years ago I put Windows 7 but with a Windows XP skin because without Aero support it was aesthetically horrendous. But it was already a problem at the time: it refused to install because the PAE instructions were missing. To install it was quite complex. I absolutely don’t remember which processor it has. I bought it in 2009 in Japan, used, already 5 years old. I remember “Pentium 1.4 Ghz” of maybe 1.6. So it’s probably a Pentium M “Banias”, because the next ones have a numerical name. It doesn’t have 64-bit support. Ubuntu no longer exists at 32 bits. Oops!

Debian still has a 32 bit distribution! I take a 32 gb USB stick and flash on it the offline debian installation dvd, 4 gb. It won’t start. After 30 minutes or so, what if 32gb is too big? It’s too big. At the time, a 32 GB pendrive was pure science fiction. I flash the CD version of Debian in an old 1GB pen.

But you need the Internet to install properly. This computer does not have Wi-Fi. I have to get an Ethernet cable and connect it directly to the router.

In the meantime I try to see the status of the battery. According to Windows it is 255% charged, a sign that something is wrong (I should have taken a picture…). The battery of the internal clock is already gone and will have to be replaced, who knows the status of main one. I want to measure how long it lasts. I load the Debian setup, unplug it and start the stopwatch. Incredibly, it lasts over 40 minutes… and my phone memory is full! I stop the recording, I’ll try later on to see how long the gameplay lasts.

After finding the Ethernet cable, it’s time to start the installation. I’m really curious to see how the games above will run. At the time I bought this computer based solely on one parameter: price. I had assumed that this was a Pentium 4 Mobile, instead it is a “Pentium M”. The Pentium M, we read on Wikipedia, is not a low-power version of Pentium 4, but an evolution of Pentium 3, almost a Pentium 2. I’m a little demoralized. I thought I had a bomb, but I have a wreck. At this point I don’t even know if he’s got a DVD player instead of a CD! Anyway, it’s extremely quiet. Doubtful. Isn’t the fan probably broken?

The fan’s broken. Now it doesn’t turn on anymore, it says “Fan error” when it turns on. But it only takes a couple of knocks to start it up again. I’ll have to take it all apart and clean it up.

I do the basic installation, without including anything, just command-line tools. Once finished, I login, and type the first command:

sudo apt install xorg mednafen retroarch

I’m being offered an avalanche of packages, the installation will be long.

I type startx and then retroarch

The sadness. Just the user interface of Retroarch runs at 5 FPS, really in slow motion…

I’ll try installing Firefox and VLC to see how YouTube goes:

sudo apt install firefox-esr vlc

After a startx and then firefox the result is that even at 360p it’s too slow.

The audio is not installed, the guides are not clear and contradict each other. I go with a (definitely not correct)

sudo apt install pulseaudio alsa-tools alsa-utils alsaplayer-text alsaplayer-daemon alsaplayer-oss

After a reboot (faster to figure out how to restart the pulseaudio or alsa server) the audio works!

I’ll try a DVD, it looks like I have a DVD reader, thank goodness! Pirated DVDs work, but original ones don’t. You have to load the css libraries to read them.

While I’m trying to find out how to remove copy protection from the DVDs I’ve regularly purchased, I install Dosbox, SCUMMVM, Gcompris (great opensource preschool game).

I can’t install libcss, the library to read the original DVDs. I give up, anyway the child who will use this system will not be given them (for fear that it will ruin them, being too young)

I enable automatic login on the basis of this guide.

sudo nano /etc/systemd/logind.conf

change #NAutoVTs=6 to NAutoVTs=1, then:

sudo systemctl edit getty@tty1

(which creates a file in /etc/systemd/system/[email protected]/ called override.conf )

Then you paste this:

ExecStart=-/sbin/agetty --autologin root --noclear %I 38400 linux

enable and restart:

systemctl enable [email protected]

I install thunar (a kind of “file explorer”) to have the possibility to manage files with a graphical interface

sudo apt install thunar

Retroarch is so slow even with the rgui interface (the raw, DOS-style one) that it is totally unusable. It’s time to download some milestones of emulation.

sudo apt install zsnes pcsxr gngb nestopia

PCSX can’t decently emulate even Ridge Racer, even at the lowest resolution.

Mednafen sees the joypad inside Mednaffe (the configuration utility) and allows you to assign buttons, but then during the game it doesn’t see it. And then it doesn’t support Super Game Boy emulation.

Nestopia emulates Super Mario Bros. in slow motion as well.

GNgb works fine…. after losing half an hour for configuration exclusively via command line, it has glitches that make many games unplayable.

ZSNES works perfectly! Exactly as I remembered when 20 years ago I used it on a PC much less powerful than this one. Even in full screen and with filters!

Regarding video playback.

VLC is choppy with any kind of video, whether it’s a HD h264 or a 20-year-old crappy quality DiVX.

Mplayer (a version abandoned years ago) instead can play any video, even HD and h264, very smoothly.

So, I think this is the cause: the updated versions of emulators and media players use too many resources, I need obsolete versions to use this PC. Stuff like Visual Boy Advance, Bleem, Media Player Classic 6.4.

For Windows these ancient versions are easily found, for Linux it’s too hard. I lost an afternoon for nothing: it’s time to format everything and put Windows XP. I will then find a way to make it childproof

In the meantime, however, my friend is leaning more and more towards the 65 euro DVD player, there you just have to put the disc and press play…. but it’s less versatile! 😉

Japanese socks

This one in the picture is the sock I’m talking about.

Quite normal, maybe it does not deserve a full story on DanDanDin, but who knows…

It all starts out outside the Toei Studio Park in Kyoto. It is a park/film studio where hundreds of movies and TV series are recorded, set in the samurai era.

The surroundings do not offer many options, but being a bit far from the city center, and having gone there on purpose, I decided to explore the whole area, making a “discovery”.

I see a “Lawson 100”, a little different from the normal ones.

The Lawson are small shops, called コンビニ, convenience stores, which have virtually everything you need for everyday life. Being small, it doesn’t offer a big variety, but they have a solution for every eventuality. I made some videos, but I do not remember if I published them… I have hundreds of videos waiting forever to be edited/published…

In short, normally a Lawson has two characteristics:

  • The corporate colors are white and blue
  • Every object for sale has its price

Instead, this is the “Lawson 100”, from outside:

(I was so ecstatic that I forgot to take photos or videos of it, this comes from Google Maps…)

Green and white, with the 100 doing a wink 😉

Never seen before. Intrigued, I enter the store, and I noticed something weird.

“Ah well, this drink costs 100 yen (1 euro) instead of 120 that ask from other parts”

“Um, this onigiri costs 100 yen instead of 140”

“Hey even these snacks cost 100 yen”

…and then I realize it! Everything costs 100 yen! I love 100 yen shops like Daiso! (Daiso is a chain of stores where everything is sold for 100 yen)

I start to look at everything, buying a lot of stuff. For example, I took these “fettuccine”, cola flavor.

Then I see them there, on the shelf. Three socks for 100 yen, one size. Beautiful! I had already taken a package of 5 for 500 yen from GU (a clothing chain) and they were of excellent quality, but a pair of socks is always useful. I’ll take them right away!

They are a single size and are very tight…

When you don’t need something anymore…

Since september I was searching for a DVD. Inside there were some important files, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. I searched it for days, but I never found it.

Today, I decided to burn a new one (and recreate the files inside… boring…), since that DVD was missing, probably forever.Dagli inizi di settembre cercavo con urgenza un DVD con dei file importanti. L’ho cercato ovunque, per giorni, ma non l’ho mai trovato.

Guess what? Just three hours later, cleaning the bookshelf, a DVD drops on the ground. It was exactly the one I was searching for! Now that I don’t need it anymore!


When you don’t need something anymore

Two months ago I lost an important DVD, with some files that I needed urgently. I searched it for weeks, but I never found it.

So, today, I decided to make a new one, since that DVD was definitely missing, forever.

Guess what? Just after three hours later, I put some books on a shelf, and a disk drops on the floor: it was the disk that I was searching, I found it now that I don’t need it anymore!

My opinion about American Airlines

Update: their customer service already replied to my letter, they were FAST!

They told me this:

We appreciate your comments about our fleet. We are currently replacing our older domestic aircraft with modern Boeing 737 and Airbus aircraft. The delivery of the 737s commenced in 2009, and the delivery of the Airbus aircraft began in the fall of 2013. On the international front, we have 42 Boeing Dreamliner aircraft on order, with estimated delivery dates commencing in 2014. We are also proud to be the first U.S. carrier to be flying Boeing’s 777-300ER. With these fleet enhancements, we anticipate having the youngest fleet out of our top U.S. competitors by 2017.

Very good customer service! Prompt and courteous! I reconsider my opinion on them.

Original story:

Some months ago I traveled with American Airlines and I have to say that I had the worst travel experience in my life. Even worse than when I traveled with Spring Airlines, a low cost Chinese airline.

The ticket was just $50 cheaper than a Lufthansa one, but the level of service was awful.

I wrote a letter to their customer relations team:

Hi, recently I had the “pleasure” to fly with American Airlines, on a transatlantic flight.

I was surprised to learn that the entertainment equipment in the aircraft is extremely outdated.

A small 13 inches CRT TV overhead, playing a videotape, to be watched from a far distance? Are we in the 1980s?
The audio was fuzzy and noisy, as if it was coming from a thirty years old radio.
Maybe this equipment was the best the technology offered, when you installed it in year 1982, but, hey, it’s time to upgrade!
Yes, upgrading it will cost a lot of money, but how many customers will you lose if you offer such a poor experience?
And it’s not only the entertainment system to be outdated, everything it’s.
From the aircraft painting, that reminds the 70s, to the ticketing system.

The return flight was a British airways codeshare, but your system in MIA could not find it. I was sent to the BA counter, then they sent me back to your counter because it’s was a codeshare, then my connecting ticket at Heathrow could not be found. You could not emit the connecting flight ticket, even if it is the same oneworld network.

Why it doesn’t happen with Lufthansa and the star alliance network? Why it doesn’t happen with air france and the skyteam network? Probably it’s because they invested a lot of money and upgraded their systems, instead of keeping it outdated as you are doing.
Alitalia has a big financial problem, but when I traveled with them, the entertainment system was modern. Usb ports for charge phones or play movies from hard drives, lots and lots of movies, and so on.

You might say that on your 777 there is an on demand movie system. Well, it looks like it’s just a frontend to an analog TV system: just four movies and you can’t decide when to play them. It might seemed exciting in year 1994, but now it’s not.
Concluding: you saved some money by keeping your airplanes unchanged for thirty years, but you lost a customer and I will warn all my friends to choose a better way to fly. Was it worth?

Will they answer me?

They definitely lost a customer.

(Update: in february 2014 I flew again with them and it was better)

What to do if a Laptop Key gets broken

Some time ago I lent my wonderful HP Core2Duo TC-4400 “Hybrid Tablet” to a friend.

“Just a few hours, really, I need it, don’t worry”

So I lent it, it was just an afternoon.

The night I got it back, I opened it and I started to type, everything looked ok… until I had to type “?”… the key falls in my hand!

“What the…?????” I shout, on the phone

“Oh, a key fall off? Really?”, they say.

I get to know that an ormament fell on the key from a shelf, breaking the retaining hooks on the key and on the lever.

“That’s so bad”, I was thinking… “this is a model I bought in the USA, it wasn’t on sale in Italy, I wonder where I can find the right replacement, and how much it will be!”

I used the keyboard without that key for a week, then I Googled for a fix.

I found laptopkey.com and replacementlaptopkeys.com that will send a replacement for less than 5 euro!

Finding the right key was hard, because my model is rare, and it wasn’t listed on the website. Moreover, every model has 3-4 different kinds of retaining hooks, so you have to carefully look at the pictures on those websites…

After a week I got an envelope with my key. Another little trouble: in order to protect it during shipping, they preassembled it, so you have to carefully separate the key and the lever to mount it.

Once mounted, it’s great!