Network weirdness gets… weird

On Feb 1, all network traffic became … weird. The symptom could best be described as DNS requests being slowed by more than 2x… just enough so that attempts to connect to web servers, mail servers, web pages etc. would randomly fail on the first attempt, then work on subsequent attempts.

It was so bad that everything I did on the web, including email, had to be done twice. Once to fail, then again to connect. I noticed the problem on all devices, not just windows PCs but the iPad and iPhone as well, so I was pretty sure it was more than a device specific issue.

I waited a day or so, hoping it would clear, but after it became apparent it wasn’t getting better, I called Telus. They checked my modem and connection and pronounced all good. They also stated there were no DNS server issues.

So I was stumped.

Finally this week I decided to try the universal computer fix-all: I rebooted the Telus high speed ADSL modem. As soon as the reboot was done, it was clear that the problems were also gone.

I am used to certain types of hardware running for ages without needing a reboot, so was a little surprised that the modem needed the reboot to clear it’s buffers or whatever got mangled.

For now I’m just going to monitor and see how frequently this occurs, but it sure was weird.


Notes from all over for Dec 22

Just some notes on stuff that’s happening as of Dec 22.

Linda’s Windows 10 computer, after a few configuration teething pains, is running quite well. Getting rid of the lock screen took 3 attempts as Microsoft is determined to foist this crap on users, even to the tune of disabling workarounds with each new update. It remains to be seen if my efforts will work for the longer term as MS is so very determined.

We did blow ‘edge’ away. It’s easily the worst browser I’ve ever seen. Basically, it has almost zero configuration options, and the few it does have it ignores. Gone forever and gladly back to Firefox. Likewise the default ‘mail’ app is gone and Thunderbird again rules the emails. Like edge, ‘mail’ is another MS app that can’t even play nice – not even with other MS things like Outlook. What a damaged, untested, unprofessional piece of crap.

I did install Office 2016 this week thanks to a “Home User Program” deal from MS. Because Athabasca U bought into the whole MS lock-in, we get to buy home versions for really cheap (like $13 for Office 2016 pro!). It’s OK. I personally prefer Office 2013 because that was the last version without “THE RIBBON”. Yet another unwanted MS user interface “update”.

As for my AU work, I can’t hear people on the phone very well, and certainly not upset persons who make talk fast and in a higher register. After consultation with other AU academics, I bought “MagicJack” from the main website as it was on sale. It does come from the USA and took a while to arrive, and the free phone number is only USA, but it does indeed do what it claims. I paid the extra $10 to get a CDN number (Edmonton exchange) and then had AU tie it to my academic 1-888 number. By yesterday it was all working tickety-boo. Better yet – any voicemail message gets emailed to me as an audio file so I can keep track. I can use a headset when calling anywhere in North America (free) so it’s awesome. Eventually I plan to see if it would work to replace most of the land line features, but not yet. First to see it in action.

I bought a leak detector for my underwater camera, and it came after almost a month in the postal system. Still, not bad coming from Slovenia. It’s really well built and should provide extra protection against flooding for the big underwater camera system.

Speaking of which, the replacement Kraken ring light/strobe came a few weeks ago, and worked correctly from the box. Nice to know it wasn’t simply user error but rather some issue with the optical strobe sensor.

That’s all for now. Time for a Christmas break.

Merry Christmas to all, and a very Happy New Year!

Windows 10 at last (not necessarily by choice)

Two days ago I came upstairs and Linda said “why does my computer say ‘restarting windows’?”. Good question. It shouldn’t be rebooting at 10pm on it’s own!

I watched it reboot, then fail to an error screen. The screen wanted me to run ‘Windows Repair’. OK. I’m game. It’s late and I wanna get ready for bed. So I accept the suggestion and windows repair starts doing it’s thing… and blue screens. Access violation. Uh-oh. I’ve seen this before. I power off and then on, and of course windows complains, but I tell it to start windows normally. It tries but can’t get to the log-in screen; the hard drive light is just on solid.

I try a few more times and get the same result. In the past this means “hard drive dying a horrible death”. I see things are warm, so let the whole machine cool to stone cold. This allows things to fire up to normal windows log-on, and I quickly save Linda’s critical files to the main server. Just as I’m finishing up, the drive craters again (a windows dll is corrupt, it says). Machine’s toast, so turn it off.


First we check the flyers, then online. Seems there’s a small HP desktop for just over $300. The next best is over $400. Laptops range from $400 to over $1000. Apple products start well over $1000 and up.

We decide that unless you really need a laptop, there’s no point paying for a screen and all the space compression (and heat dissipation requirements). Besides, something in a small case is something I can get into to upgrade/fix as needed.

So after a fairly quick but exhaustive search, the $300 HP desktop is the clear winner by at least $100 over any competition.

Next day (Friday = yesterday) I run into town and buy it. I decline the extended warranty and take it home. It’s well packed and comes with a compact keyboard and nice optical mouse. It’s not fancy; outputs include HDMI, VGA, speakers, 2xUSB2, 2xUSB3 and RJ45 (1000T). Inputs include microphone and memory card reader, plus DVD reader/writer. All in a box about 12in by 10in by 3in. It sits on the floor by Linda’s desk in the space occupied by the older dead computer.

I plugin the power supply, monitor, new keyboard and mouse and turn it on. After a brief start-up sequence, the HP assistant comes on and starts talking to me. I follow along and soon the PC is almost set up and running.

I say almost, because in spite of the fact I have DHCP set up on my home router/modem, the new PC doesn’t get the proper IP credentials and so cannot connect to the internet. Strange.

Still, I use static IP on my computers (and DHCP on devices) so I figure out where to modify network settings, set up my static IP and now the internet works fine.

The one big change to this new computer is that it runs Windows 10 (home edition). I’ve never tried Win 10. I did try Win 8 when it came out and rejected it as clunky and dumb. However, Windows 10 has learned from that early failure and is now quite a decent operating system. It still suffers from “Microsoft Knows Best” syndrom, meaning it’s almost impossible to configure or customize ANYTHING without a trip to google for a ‘how to’, but even that’s not too difficult.

The biggest problem with the new PC is that the old web camera (Microsoft Lifecam 1000) won’t run on Windows 10. Ever. They never updated the driver and there is nothing that can be done (I tried and tried all the suggestions… no good). So I quickly ordered a new Lifecam 3000 for cheap off the internet and it should be here next week.

I did find a microphone lying around (from a surround sound system) and it allows skype to work until the new web cam arrives.

Otherwise the overall change was not horribly painful, with one exception. I even managed to get Linda’s saved emails back off the server, so nothing really lost.

*The one painful exception is the dreaded LOCK SCREEN. Microsoft has deemed this “thing” mandatory and has even crippled all the past work arounds to defeat it. I tried them all: special registry setting (defeated) and rename the lock screen app (defeated). Finally the only thing that worked was to disable main PC sleep mode. It still shuts off the screen and powers down the disk drive, but sleep was the one thing that would trigger lock screen no matter what else one did. Good grief Microsoft!


That said, why not go back to an Apple product? Linda has had a small PC (died from heat), then a Mac laptop (died from heat and bad battery), and then this last small PC (probably died from heat). So why not go back to a Mac?

Simple. COST. Even the cheapest Mac is many times more expensive than this $300 PC. Simply put, for internet and email, the Mac simply cannot compete on price.

So Windows 10 is now here in the house. It’s not too bad. 🙂


**footnote: about the “died from heat”. Linda’s machines live in the main level, on a desk in front of south-facing windows. Even with blinds, it gets hot there in the summer. Everything gets hot there, even if protected. The problem with all  3 machines is they were small form factor, and that means heat dissipation is critical as everything is mashed up inside a tiny case. Eventually, even with frequent cleaning, they will suffer heat stroke. I think it’s inevitable for the tiny form factor.

Network Update for Nov

While fretting about the ever increasing connectivity bill, I discovered that I could get faster internet for about $8 more per month from Telus, my current provider.

We don’t have fiber in our area, so all I can get is an upgrade from 25mb/s to 75mb/s download speed. Still, for $8 that’s a no-brainer. I called and an installation was arranged.

In order to get this speed, the modem needs a bonded pair of wires, so a second jack was added and the new modem connected.

Unlike past modems, this new one is full-featured and ultimately configurable. However, before I started playing I first simply plugged the old system into the new modem for a test. Just to summarize, old system was ADSL modem -> Linksys RVS4000 firewall -> house network. The initial test system was New modem -> Linksys RVS4000 -> house network. So all should be good, correct?

Before they came I did a Telus speed test. It showed 22.5 down, 1 up, which is pretty good for the 25 plan. The new plan (75) should be 75down, 10up. Once they were done, I ran another Telus speed test: 10up, but 4 down!!! What could be wrong?

On a hunch, based on a bad streaming experience some years ago as well as issues with the RVS4000 a decade ago in a co-locate, I pulled the RVS4000 and re-ran the test: 75down, 10up!

So here’s a warning to anyone using 10-year old technology with faster internet: DON’T. The old crap just can’t keep up. The RVS4000 may have been an expensive device 10 years ago, but it’s brain was an atom processor, which is about 1/100 of a modern smart phone (just guessing!).

At any rate, the little atom processor simply cannot keep up with modern high speed internet. This also confirms the RVS4000 was the problem with streaming some years ago, though I could not pull it at the time to test.

However, the new modem  is awesome. It has wifi that is incredible. My old wifi was a good 10 year old device with big antennae, but devices only ever got 2 bars max anywhere in the upstairs. Now you get 5 bars everywhere, and coupled with the high speed, downloads are amazingly fast.

So all-in-all a great upgrade for $8 more per month.

FLSUN delta printer update for 2017-10-24

Yesterday the new aluminum extruder came from for my delta printer. It was nicely packaged and although the instructions could have been better (b&w photos aren’t great for assembly), they were adequate.

I removed the original plastic-parts extruder and installed the new extruder. It was immediately obvious the mechanism is much better than the original. The toothed wheel is a much finer tooth count, and the idler wheel with notch is much smoother. The spring tension is not adjustable either from close examination nor from the assembly photos, but seems to work in an excellent fashion.

The only hiccup was when I tried to test the calibration. No matter what, I could not get it to extrude. Finally, after much frustration, I realized the two settings in pronterface are not extrude lenght / reverse length, but rather settings for 1.extrude/reverse length and 2. extrude/reverse SPEED. Setting it from the default of 10mm/min to 120mm/min (2mm/sec) was all it took to see some action. Unfortunately the operation was now reversed due to placement of the idler compared to the original extruder.

Fortunately there’s a setting in the configuration.h file for stepper direction which includes the extruder stepper. Flipping the binary option caused the extruder to properly extrude/reverse. Due to the finer gear spacing, asking for 1cm gave 1.4cm. It’s a quick parameter change to fix that and confirm requesting 1cm now gives 1cm extrusion (and retraction).

Finally, I reconnected the filament and tube to the hot end, burning myself severely in the process (2nd degree on a finger which slipped). Once connected I made a test print of the benchy (boat). The first layer is still off, but now at least I can make adjustments knowing the extruder is functioning properly.

Final lesson learned: 185C is VERY, VERY hot. It will cause an instant 2nd degree burn as I found out to my distress. Fortunately immediate cold water followed by ice for 2 hours has reduced the damage significantly.

So… I guess I’m NOT done with Apple

My iPhone 4 is so old now that it’s really getting flakey – freezing up at the most inconvenient times requiring a hard reboot and all that.

So I checked my Virgin mobile plan, and I have some money in the (discontinued) supertab plan. In fact, enough to get a new phone. Now I know there are new phones for $0 on a two-year plan, but I was looking at what I could get for the supertab balance I had.

This is nice as there’s no other way to use up the supertab, so why not spend it on a new phone?

Anyway, it quickly became apparent that Android was out. The phones were either way too cheap, or way too expensive. Besides, I’m not all that thrilled with Samsung phones either as they give you a Samsung mangled Android, not the pure deal.

So what did come up in my search within my (no cost) budget? An iPhone 7. Yep. Apple stuff.

So I went out last week and got it, and it’s actually a very nice phone. More cool, I was able to move all my stuff off the old phone to the new phone in two painless steps as I still have the Macbook available. All I had to do was turn it on, update whatever was out-of-date (including iTunes) and then backup the old phone and restore the new one (data and apps only).

The new phone is, as I said, pretty cool. It’s nice to have something that will last for a few years before getting orphaned again. If the iphone 4 is any indication, that was not really a bad deal for me.

The only thing I had to do was sign up for my same plan for 2 years, which I was using anyway.

So I’m an apple dude again. Kind of. 😉

3D Delta Printer Update

I was not happy with the first prints out of the delta printer. In spite of upgrading the firmware from Marlin 1.0 to Marlin 1.1.3 and running the auto-calibrate several times, things were not as good as I wanted.

One problem was with one axis end stop, which turned out to be loose on the rail. The square nuts (instead of true “T” nuts) was the problem. After much fussing I was able to tighten it, but I think I’ll be buying some proper “T” nuts soon. With that fixed, things were better, but still not great.

I realized another problem was the “probe offset” might not be correct. The Marlin 1.0 default was 0.2mm, but the Marlin 1.1.3 default was 0.7mm. I was using 0.7 and the first layer height seemed high (it wasn’t printing the first layer at all).

Yesterday (Oct 12) I manually calibrated the printer using the paper strip method, then checked the additional distance from “0” to where the probe end stop triggered. It turns out to have a bit of a dead zone. Using the default test height of 315mm, zero was found at 1.13mm. The probe end stop triggers ON at 0.83 but OFF at 0.93. In the middle is a dead zone (0.83) that is either ON once triggered, or OFF before triggering.

As the auto-calibrate uses the probe trigger point, the distance between zero and trigger on was 1.13 – 0.73 = 0.4mm. This was more than 0.2 and less than 0.7 explaining why the auto-calibrate height number was off.

Using the new depth (315 – 1.13 = 313.87) and probe offset (0.4), The prints should be good.

Except they are not.

Watching closely while it started printing, I saw the problem immediately. The bowden extruder mechanism which decouples the extruder from the hot end was not feeding filament properly. Frequently the extruder gear was turning, but no filament was moving. There’s an adjustment wingnut to set the tension, but I found with experimentation that it is just too finicky to work reliably. It seems there is not setting of the tension that will always work first time, and you can’t be fiddling with tension all the time during a long print.

Examining the bowden extruder mechanism, I think I see the problem and the solution. The mechanism is plastic. The idler is a bearing and washers, but the tensioner is just a bolt and wingnut. What is required is a good quality aluminum housing with spring tension similar to that on my cartesian 3d printer that I built.

A quick search on found several excellent choices in the $13 range, so I ordered an appropriate one. It should arrive next week and I’ll resume the testing. I’m quite certain a good extruder will solve the final problems, and perhaps with a final auto-calibrate I’ll be up and running.

Of course, Marlin is now at version 1.1.6, but I’ll hold off trying that until after I get the current version working.

Printer update

I’ve been busy blowing glass the past week or so, so haven’t spent much time with the 3d printers. I did print 8 more weight collars for the weight bench, installing 4 of them last week. They work really well and are easy to print. Printing 4 at a time is easy and takes about 2 hours. What  is even nicer is the new brand of filament is not jamming at all feeding the original cartesian printer, so I don’t have to monitor the print all the time.

The delta almost printed a nice cube. Only the base was off, and on reflection I think it’s because the setting for ‘probe offset’ is too large. The probe offset is basically the distance between the extruder tip touching the printer base and moving enough (into the base) to trigger the probe microswitch. There were two values in the Marlin firmware – 0.2 and 0.7. I’m using 0.7 right now and I think it’s too much, so when you calibrate the printer the final distances are out by a small amount. Not much, but just enough that the extruder is farther away from the bed on layer one than necessary for a proper first layer.

I need to spend some time with raw gcode to find the actual probe distance for my printer and then use that to recalibrate. Perhaps later this week or sometime next week.


FLSUN Delta not quite there yet…

I’ve been working with the FLSUN delta printer I built from a kit this week, and although it has printed a few of the test cubes, it’s still not quite fully functional yet.

It turns out delta printers are a lot faster than cartesian (x,y,z) printers, but with that speed comes some rather unique challenges. The first is that the printer, being tripod and pendulum based, really wants to print in an arc. To counter this, the software needs to know a lot of details about the printer, such as segment lengths and arcs in order to calculate various angles and offsets to use when printing.

Fortunately the delta code firmware I’m using (Marlin 1.1) now has an auto calibrate feature that works with the built-in z-probe on the FLSUN delta. Not all deltas have the z-probe, but it’s easy enough to add to any printer. Basically it’s a microswitch down near the extruder that detects when the extruder is near the print bed. On the FLSUN, the switch is triggered by a rather ingenious lever mechanism built into the extruder mount. When the tip touches the bed, it rocks slightly and trips the microswitch. You can fine tune the triggering pressure so that it’s very accurate. There is one compensating measurement you must take, and that’s how much deflection occurs when triggering. That is, the extruder doesn’t just touch the bed, it touches it a bit MORE than when printing to tip and trigger the switch. You need to know (in mm) how much this extra movement is so the software can compensate when calculating actual bed height.

The auto calibrate touches the bed in a set number of places that can be programmed (n*n, with n=4 as default). It can then calculate various angles and offsets that you then either save in the printer firmware eeprom or hand code into the software. I chose to hand code. The default calibration runs until a set standard deviation is achieved, so it’s quite accurate.

Once the auto calibrate is done and the information encoded in the firmware and uploaded to the printer, you can print.

My first prints were terrible. I quickly realized the extruder calibration was off. Extruder calibration is done with auto calibrate but must be done separately. Mine was barely moving, so after some experiments and adjustments, I got the correct parameter (stepper steps per mm of filament) and that was OK.

However, the next several prints were all still bad. I quickly found one of the three end stops that controls the position of the extruder was loose. After adjusting and tightening, things were much better, but there’s still a problem with the print.

The first few layers (about 1mm or so) are offset from the rest of the print in one direction. It’s consistent and repeatable at this time. The rest of the cube is perfectly straight, so it’s a “first layer” problem. So far I have not found any solution on the internet.

One hint that I’ll be pursuing is that the height measurement of the cube is only 19mm, while the sides are both 20mm perfectly. That implies again a “first layer” problem, possibly too hot. I am also considering the fact that this printer is incredibly fast. It’s almost twice the print speed of my first (cartesian) printer. It’s possible that it is simply printing the first few layers too fast, which may also affect the temperature of those first layers.

My next steps are to compare speed parameters between Marlin 1.1 (my current firmware version) and Marlin 1.0 (supplied with the printer) and my cartesian printer (also Marlin 1.1, but much slower settings). I will also try slowing the first layer in slic3r as a quick test. If slowing the initial print speed works, then that will be great. For now it’s a wonderful printer that has yet to realize all it’s benefits (and yet to make it’s first perfect print).