On Dell and their WD-15 Dock

Dell are usually pretty solid, as a brand. A bit pricey maybe, but they’ve survived because they are usually as good, if not better, than their rivals at HP and Lenovo. I had no issues recommending my bosses replace their outgoing MacBook Pros with the 2015 Dell XPS 15, billed by reviewers as the “Windows […] MacBook Pro”. The XPS 15, by itself, absolutely lives up to that moniker. But something terrible must have happened within Dell, because the docking station they built for their latest laptops, the WD-15, is an abject failure.

We needed the docking stations because the bosses wanted dual monitors. On the MacBooks, this was astoundingly simple; purchase two Thunderbolt Displays, plug one into the other and the other into the MacBook and watch as the MacBook receives power and outputs video. The Apple mantra of “it just works” writ large.

The Windows ecosystem is rarely as straightforward, and I accept the need for docks to go between a laptop and multiple monitors. Our users get a Belkin USB 3.0 hub to power twin 1080p displays, and they work really well, requiring only the generic DisplayLink driver. Unfortunately these wouldn’t work for my bosses, as they wanted a one-port devices and charging solution like the MacBook. No problem, the WD-15 is what Dell recommend for this exact scenario.

As a reminder, the Apple way requires you to plug in a cable and you’re good to go. The generic Windows way requires you to install one bit of software and then plug your cables in. The Dell way needs you to install five individual software packages, with a reboot between each installation. Their driver download page doesn’t even highlight that the correct process, which has only been noted in their community support forum, varies from Dell laptop to Dell laptop, and requires you to install those patches in a specific order to expect them to work at all! What the hell, Dell? Who OK’d this out-of-box experience? Upwards of half an hour to install the patches on a brand new system, and if you miss the unmentioned instructions, having to uninstall them all and start again?

The real kicker, then is that even after that arduous process, it still might not work. Ours didn’t output video. Other reported issues include displays turning off at random. I called up Dell Support, and after confirming that I’d run through their hidden process, the rep admitted there had been “some issues” with the model, and suggested I get a refund. The alternative was to wait “a month or so” for a new patch which “may” resolve the issue. At this point I’d wasted so many hours uninstalling and reinstalling Dell drivers that I opted for the refund.

TL;DR? Dell has released a product that’s pretty fundamentally broken to accompany one of their flagship devices. Even if it wasn’t fundamentally broken, it has the worst out-of-the-box install experience of any device I have ever used. This should not fly in 2016, do not buy a Dell WD-15.

The Geek’s Garden Part 2: A Man, A Plan, A Laser Measure

I was alerted to the existence of Monty Don’s Big Dreams Small Spaces (MDBDSS) a few weeks ago, which helped a fair bit with inspiration. Though I would like to discuss with the BBC their definition of “Small Spaces”, given that only two gardens of the twelve featured were on a similar scale to our 18m2. In both these instances, Britain’s Favourite Gardener (a title I presume Monty Don won by beating Alan Titchmarsh to a pulp in a cage before thousands of hooting Gardener’s World fans) pretty much confirmed my first thoughts: a vertical garden is the best option in such an enclosed space.

Bow before my Sketchup skills!
The left side is North.

The fence running along the northern wall is the most logical place to plant upwards, as it gets the most sunlight. Unfortunately the extant fence is, frankly, a shambles and I don’t think it can take the weight, so I’m going to have to replace it with something a lot sturdier.

Great artists steal. From garden centres, if need be.
Great artists steal. From garden centres, if need be.

 

I won’t take up the entire wall with herbs, because there is an upper limit to the amount of seasoning two people can consume. The yard is divided into uneven thirds by bricks that support the north wall, and the largest middle section will be where the herbs live. The western segment will be an assortment of cottagey flowers, and to the eastern side there will be some trellis with a mirror on accompanied by some climbing plants, an idea stolen shamelessly from a local garden centre.

 

This'll really confuse cloud-to-butt users
A water butt! No idea what to accompany it with, though…

I’ve already repainted the southern wall, which is external to our extension, because it was a hideous yellowish colour turned brown with years of grime and mud. It’s now a standard issue plain white. Attached will be some trellis, and a climbing rose suitable for shade will wind around the bathroom windows. That’s the idea, anyway.

There’s not much to the eastern wall as it’s taken up by windows and drains, but a potted tree, possibly a bay tree to fit with the edible theme, will sit in the corner, behind a bench. The western wall is still a blank canvas; I have not been able to make a decision whether to use it for further climbing plants, some raised bedding, or a gurt big water feature. Ideas on the back of a postcard, please!

On top of the grand designs (home improvement pun!) I’ve laid out above, the whole thing needs re-paving, because the current paving doesn’t cover all of the floor and is best described in style as “robbed from a council leftovers pile in the 1950s”.

The 3D models dotting this article were created in Sketchup, which is free and handy for planning out a space properly instead of on the back of an envelope. Another thing that helped was the ELEPHAS laser measuring tool I picked up a few weeks ago, as it made getting the exact measurements of the yard really easy.

The Geek’s Garden Part 1: Inception

It’s a little over two years since me and Coralie took over the smallest cottage in the village. It was a bit run down, but that’s par for the course when your budget looks like ours. Since then we’ve made a lot of improvements, and while there’s still a lot of work to do (I’m led to believe that this is the natural state of all houses ever), we’ve done enough of the “need to do” stuff that we can now work through the “nice to do” stuff. With summer approaching, top of my list is the garden.

The mudpile
The mudpile

Calling it the garden may be overselling it somewhat; it’s a paved courtyard, a little over two and a half metres wide and about seven metres long. When we arrived, the defining feature was a heap of soil over a metre long covering the rear width of the yard. It may once have been a carefully maintained raised bed, but when we arrived it was home to a combination of nettles and daffodils, with a few large pot plants dumped on top.

Bless this mess
Bless this mess

Maybe this was all deliberate and I’ve harshly judged a neatly assembled modernist piece. Indeed, we may have inadvertently enhanced that effect by adding some installation art in the form of a spare tyre, an old oven and a collection of copper and plastic pipes as we renovated the insides of the house. Seeing as there’s no obvious signs of Arts Council members issuing prize money, I have to assume not and return to my original conclusion: our courtyard is a dump. It must be razed to the ground and we must start again.

The brief for the project is pretty lofty; I feel that in a small house every square foot must pull its’ weight. It must be a nice place to relax, with seating enough to entertain guests. I want a herb garden – this is an English cottage and I want our yard to play the part of a much larger English cottage garden. Also I hate paying seventy odd pence a time for fresh herbs at the local Tesco only to have them decompose within a few days. The whole garden must be incredibly low maintenance, because I am absent-minded at the best of times and I struggle to make sure I get enough water, let alone the plants in my care. Lastly, the project must be done on a fairly meagre budget, because I much prefer to spend my money on shiny gadgets and when you get down to it, most gardens are a combination of soil, stones and plants, and it does not feel satisfying to spend lots of money on these naturally occurring and plentiful items.

I’m blogging about this partly because I feel that making a target public will pressure me into meeting it, and partly because it might be useful for other amateur gardeners who can learn from my inevitable mistakes.

Opening .AJP CCTV Video Files

If you’re unlucky enough to find yourself needing to view CCTV in an .AJP file format, (as far as I can tell these are created by older Hangzhou Hikvision DVRs) then the following will hopefully be helpful.

Some Googling suggested an application called JPEG2000 AJP Video Player. Downloading it and installing it (always use a VM! Do not install random applications on a production machine! Eat your greens!), will lead to disappointment. Not just because it’s a hideous old application, but because it doesn’t work on modern Windows – I’ve tested on 32 and 64 bit versions of Windows 7 and no amount of futzing with Compatibility Mode settings will get it to run properly, and often not even install at all.

What you’ll need to do is set up a Windows XP virtual machine (SP3 worked fine for me) and install the JPEG2000 application there. Once installed (it atually calls itself JM Integrated Remote Station) you can view your AJP file with the “Player” section of the application.

The application is pretty user-unfriendly and some features still won’t work reliably (I couldn’t rewind the video without closing the application to start it again!), but there is a silver lining in that you can output the video to a standard AVI file that will play nicely elsewhere. You can only do it one camera at a time, in real time, but having seen other horrible vintage CCTV programs, any standard-ish export option is a good one.

Blogging

So yeah , I’m blogging again. I’m very web 2.0.

Goals for the blog this time are a bit more concrete: I’m an IT admin at a small to medium enterprise and from time to time I come across useful information, which I’ll be sharing here. There may also be occasional rambling. Anyway, on with the blog!