Lloyd Wood

Erotto's The Double Edge

I spent a lot of 2009 walking along the river Thames, with Erotto's The Double Edge mixtape playing on my iPod Nano. I'd discovered that via thesixtyone, then at the heights of its powers for discovering indie artists such as Hot Bitch Arsenal.

Thanks to Madame Lamb's blog post, at least I know that mixtape's original track listing. These tracks approximate the mixtape experience:

It's a moment in time, captured in a playlist. And it's a blast.
Lloyd Wood

Coffee at a station

It's 1995, and a callow young man from the north of England is waiting at Waterloo International for the Eurostar, clutching his shiny new ticket and passport with some trepidation. He's early, and he can't afford to be late. He plans to buy another ticket to Toulouse once he gets to Paris, somehow; he hasn't quite figured that out.

There's a coffee shop on the platform; eventually he pays for something called a cappuccino, which sounds European, lowers his luggage, and takes a seat. The drink that arrives is unlike the mugs of instant coffee he's known. The cup has a large bowl and saucer, it's milky, textured - wait, chocolate?

In Toulouse he'll befriend students from many different countries, learn to drink and make espresso shots, to swear in the French he still can't speak. But his horizons are yet to broaden. He hears the boarding call, wipes the foam and chocolate from his lip, and rises. The train is ready; he must be, too.

Lloyd Wood

Notes on an ASUS X102BA laptop

ASUS X102BA laptop reinstalling Windows 10 Home from USBIn April 2014 I bought an ASUS X102BA laptop cheaply from the Dick Smith store, back before that retail chain went out of business and was bought by Kogan. (The X102BA is also known as the F102BA; X has 2 GB memory, F has 4 GB. Their bigger, faster, brother is the X200CA/F200CA.)

My F102BA had some promise as a netbook: 4GB RAM, which is a useful minimum for Windows these days, a full touchscreen which could be used to experiment with Windows 8, and a decent number of ports. No Bluetooth on my machine, but that's no great loss. Not much speed and a slightly cramped keyboard, but at a good price.

I soon learned that Windows 8.1 was painful to use, and even had to use regedit to get the Windows Store to work. The 64-bit AMD A4 processor was fairly slow, the hard drive even slower. The touchscreen was not easy to use; the Windows interface simply doesn't handle touch well, and Apple is right about touch not being workable for an upright hinged screen. (A lower angle and rear support are needed.) The laptop didn't get that much use, even after I put a 32 GB flash card in its SD slot for ReadyBoost to speed things up.

A couple of years later, my F102BA had been upgraded to Windows 10 Home for free, as it just met the operating system's minimum threshold of 1 GHz processor speed. (But, with an AMD processor, 1 GHz is more like... 800 MHz Intel? The AMD A4-1200 has sub-Atom performance, anyway.)

But Windows updates were failing with odd status errors. In trying to fix that, I found myself reinstalling the Windows operating system a couple of times.

The December 2017 version of Windows 10 Home warned about a disk partition that was soon to fail, but did let me install Windows on it. The laptop was very slow, and getting slower. When Windows takes over two days to install, there might be a drive issue - though, no SMART errors were reported on the 320 GB 5400 rpm HGST drive, which probably doesn't support SMART. Windows 10 Home version 1803 later refused to install on that drive at all. I have questions about the reliability of that drive model Z5K500-320. I'd like to know why the hard drive is slow and warned about but not yet showing data loss or SMART errors. Still works, but sooo slow. (and I'm not alone in slow X102BA Windows installs.)

Yet I then installed Ubuntu 18 on the same hard drive, oddly far more quickly. Ubuntu would also warn about impending drive failure on each startup, though. And the laptop would always shut down, instead of sleeping, when put to sleep, or even if its lid was closed.

So, I bought a SanDisk internal 2.5" solid-state drive, and replaced the HGST drive with that. (There are five P0 screws to remove from the bottom plastic case, one under the peel-back label, two under the rear feet. There are tutorials on YouTube.) Windows 10 Home version 1803 installed rapidly on the SSD, and Windows updates then installed just as they should. But the laptop would still shutdown instead of sleeping. Since this happened under both Ubuntu and Windows, it was clearly a BIOS, rather than an OS, issue.

Pressing F2 on startup to enter the American Megatrends BIOS showed that BIOS to be rather sparse in settings; nothing could be tweaked to fix the shutdown problem. The way to fix not being able to sleep is, according to web lore, to reflash the BIOS entirely. This is a series of non-obvious and non-documented steps that I have successfully worked through and documented:

Download the latest BIOS from the ASUS X102BA Support page

Regular visitors and long-time X102BA/F102BA users may notice the emptiness of that page and how most of the ASUS drivers and packages have been deleted as if they never were. This page can fail silently with cookie blocking; do try fiddling with browser extensions if you cannot see any drivers to download. The number of Google and Facebook trackers is appalling. At one point Chrome on another laptop could see the drivers, while an identical install of Chrome on the X102BA could not. You may have to try different web browsers as well.

Find and download WinFlash to reflash the BIOS

Finding WinFlash is a difficult hunt through ASUS support pages. There's a version 2.3 and a later 3.01; either will do. But when you run the WinFlash installer, it will refuse to install WinFlash, because it believes that the X102BA is not an ASUS computer.

Find and download the ASUS ATK hotkey utility for function key functionality

It turns out that ASUS WinFlash installer looks for ASUS ATK, and won't install unless ATK is present. This is non-obvious and undocumented; you can wind up searching for this and then cherry-picking other useful drivers on the support pages of more recent ASUS laptops, working through a variety of model serial numbers with the ASUS search tool.

If you can see the ATK download on the X102BA page, it's of 1.0.0039 - yet later versions such as 1.0.0056 are available from other ASUS download pages. That also holds for other drivers, such as SmartGesture; finding each driver's latest version is a treasure hunt.

Install and run WinFlash with a special hidden command-line flag

Once you can run WinFlash, you can then reflash the BIOS - except you can't, because you can only refresh with a later BIOS, and if you already have the latest BIOS installed, the Winflash Flash button is disabled. It's an especially idiotic kind of idiot-proofing. You'll need to open a cmd window and type e.g.:
cd "\Program Files (x86)\ASUS\WinFlash"
WinFlash.exe /nodate

At that point the Flash button is now enabled and can be pressed. Flashing begins once you quit the application, which shuts the laptop down. Reflashing the latest BIOS with another copy of the latest BIOS is sufficient to fix the sleep issue.

Voila, a laptop that can sleep again! With the necessary SSD drive in place, it's working as it should, and the SD card slot is free for use, as ReadyBoost is no longer needed.

Now, none of this is documented by ASUS, despite reflashing to fix sleep problems apparently being common across many ASUS machines, given the number of unresolved complaints about the issue that I've read around the web in researching this. This is all incredibly non-obvious, and I had to learn it slow step by step from hints in answers to questions across the web - including finally learning of /nodate from a deleted webpage. Even if you wondered whether a single-use GUI application had any useful command-line switches, Winflash.exe /? tells you nothing.

ASUS really needs to work on its support and documentation, and must make its drivers easier to obtain. Forcing deliberate obsolescence through deliberately hiding information isn't going to make me want to buy ASUS again. That is neglect, and it is not benign.

(It's also possible to install the AMD Catalyst Control Center and AMD graphics driver to give more control over 3D rendering, OpenGL buffering, and the like. You can't increase performance with the Catalyst Control Center, but you could choose to slow the processor clock.)

Battery replacement

After around five years of intermittent use, the F102BA battery would no longer charge, and the rightmost LED for charging would flash constantly while the laptop was powered. Replacing the battery requires opening the case and removing one more P0 screw holding the battery to the motherboard, before lifting the battery out. The replacement battery could then be dropped in over the terminals marked + and -. Chinese third-party batteries are a third of the cost, but generally don't last as long; given the effort in opening the case, they're a false economy. It's not something that you would want to do again soon.

This laptop is still getting all the Windows 10 updates, running some virtual machines and the Windows Linux subsystem... it's a useful backup, and has been a relatively cheap introduction to Windows 10.
Lloyd Wood

Light Emitting Diodes for intersatellite links - LEDs4ISLs

Light Emitting Diodes for intersatellite links - LEDs4ISLs
at Surrey | at LiveJournal | now tracked at SourceForge

A variety of work has been done on using LEDs for short-range intersatellite links. These are suitable for small, networked, satellites.

A brief video presentation on this topic:

Summary slides: Publications:

Other work discussing exploiting Fraunhofer lines as relatively noise-free channels for in-space links includes:

ShindaiSat and FITSAT-1 demonstrated LED communications to ground. LEDs can also be used for satellite tracking, as planned with LEDSAT (Facebook page).

Lloyd Wood

CLEO Orbital Internet earns Time Magazine award

Archived from the Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL) blog post, but with corrected links for context. SSTL moved its blog from the 'Engineering Britain' service run by its media consultants, but never corrected internal links.

Original post is at https://www.sstl.co.uk/Blog/November-2008/CLEO-Orbital-Internet-earns-Time-Magazine-award

There's also a Wayback Machine archived copy.

CLEO Orbital Internet earns Time Magazine award

Time Magazine has selected Bundle Protocol testing and the download of an image of the Cape of Good Hope from UK-DMC as one of the ten best inventions of 2008.
In September, a satellite used the new protocol to relay an image of the Cape of Good Hope back to Earth.

The "Orbital Internet" discussed in this award report is enabled by the cooperation around CLEO - a Cisco router in low Earth orbit onboard the Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC) satellite, UK-DMC. Lloyd Wood developed this idea from the CLEO project with the support of Cisco Systems Space team, NASA Glenn Research Center and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd at the University of Surrey.

This is not the first award that those involved with CLEO have won for its pioneering work in breaking the final frontier of Internet domination, which includes the Times Higher Education Supplement award 2006 and Computerworld awards.

For this test the Bundle Protocol was implemented by reusing the ground-based testbed built for CLEO. NASA Glenn originally relied on this testbed for preparing the in-orbit CLEO router for use in the satelite environment, but it is now used to develop code for UK-DMC's onboard computers.

The Cape of Good Hope image was downloaded in these experiments by carrying it in the Bundle Protocol over Saratoga. The Bundle Protocol, developed by the Delay-Tolerant Networking Research Group, is considered a leading candidate for creating the Interplanetary Internet. Saratoga is a fast file transfer protocol for hop-by-hop transfers on privately-owned networks - including the intermittently-connected networks used for delay-tolerant networking.

Find out more about the Internet in Orbit and this work leading to this award on the Bundle Protocol tests page.
Lloyd Wood

Actual British engineers.

++ungood; shirts. exegesis. explanation. express delivery.
The black-and-white war-film boffin put a comfy manageable face on military tech; like a lot of stereotypes he provided a sense of familiarity that let you stop asking anxious questions. I'd guess that the stereotype is still around, amazingly, when it's decades out of date, and actual British engineers are more likely to be smoking a spliff than a pipe, and wearing a black T-shirt that says Plus Plus Ungood on the front instead of a labcoat, and even from time to time be women, exactly because the post-war industrial tradition in this country crashed without leaving a culturally obvious successor.

-- Boffins from True Stories: And Other Essays,
Francis Spufford, Yale University Press, October 2017.

It appears that plus plus ungood is now in use as an expression, but only after the introduction of ++ungood; in 2002.

If you don't know Orwell ("doubleplus") or programming ("increment") just say what you see. I've inadvertently managed to dumb Newspeak down even further.

Plus Plus Ungood? This is New New Speak.
Lloyd Wood

Revisiting information mania.

The basic strategy to find information on the Internet, however, has not changed since the early days. If you really want to discover information on any topic, you have to find the maniac's site. Some people, God bless them, are information maniacs. They compulsively need to know everything there is to know about a narrow area of interest, compile it, and also can't resist sharing it with the rest of humanity, assuming that everyone shares their strange passion. Some of these are extremely serious maniacs and quite reputable and trustworthy. Others less so. An extraordinary example [of] such [an] efficient maniac attitude is Lloyd's satellite constellations website,58 actually a personal Web homepage at the University of Surrey. Lloyd Wood is a postgraduate student in Satellite Communication Engineering, on his way towards a Ph.D. Since 1995, Lloyd has enriched his homepage with market studies, explanations, technical insights, article references etc. on satellite constellations projects - a topic he knows very well, being a student in the field. The site is now probably the top source on the topic, and is independent of any industrial actor in the market. A truly unbelievable accomplishment!

-- E-management @ Work: The Internet and Office Productivity Revolution,
Michael Ballé and Godefroy Beauvallet, p. 71, 2002.

Lloyd Wood

Satellite constellations redux

Satellite constellations are in the news again. I'd pretty much stopped maintaining my satellite constellations pages during a fifteen-year lull, but now...

and whatever Elon Musk and Google are doing - details are emerging. More to come, no doubt.

Lloyd Wood

Rediscovering John Egan's photography

I haven't been able to meet up with John since moving to Australia. His photography: