A tale of unfortunate coincidences and incidents

This would be a biggie so please relax as this is going to be a really long one. So make sure you have something to chill out with.

People talk about ‘ease of doing business’ or what not for quite sometime. From last few months, there has been a slow-down and due to certain issues I had to make some purchases. This blog post will share the travails from a consumer perspective only as the horrors from the other side are also well-known But for this blog post, will share the series of unfortunate coincidences and incidents which happened with me.

APC UPS

For quite few months, my old UPS had been giving issues hence I decided to see what is available in the market. As my requirements are small, two desktops and a laptop sometimes, I settled on APC BR1000G-IN . Instead of buying it from Amazon I decided to try my luck at the local vendors. None of them had this specific UPS which I wanted. Before I continue I want to share the trivia that I had known that Schiedner Electric was buying APC the last time I bought an APC UPS. That was the big news at the time, 2007. At that time when I bought the APC UPS I was given 5 years warranty and the UPS worked till 7-8 years so was pretty happy with it. I also had a local brand I used which worked but didn’t offer anything special such as LED interface on the UPS.

Anyways, with those factors in mind, I went to the APC site and saw the partner list and saw that they were something like 20-25 odd partners in my city, Pune. I sent one or two e-mails to each of the partners of APC, while some were generic with my requirements while in others I was more specific in what I want. I was hoping that at least a few would respond. To my horror, most e-mails bounced back and some were in black-hole which means no one answered. I even tried calling some of the numbers given of the partners and even they turned out to be either fake or not working, which of the two it is I don’t know.

Luckily, I have been to Mumbai quite often and have few contacts with some people who are into IT sales. One of them, had numbers of some of the people in Mumbai, one of which worked, who in turn directed or shared number of a vendor in Pune. One thing led to another and soon I had BR1000G-IN at my place. Sadly, the whole process was draining and took almost a week to get it at my end. I read the user guide fully, did all the connections and found that the the start/reset button of the UPS is depressed, it doesn’t connect well with my stubby fingers. I asked mother and even she was not able to push the button.

APC Back-UPS Pro 1000 Copyright – APC

As can be seen while it is at the upper corner when trying to on it and do the required settings, it just wouldn’t work. I was not sure whether it was the UPS at fault or my stubby finger at fault. As shared, even my mom was not able to push it. After trying for a day or two, turned to the vendor, had to escalate it up and finally was assigned an engineer who came to check it. When you buy a unit for around INR 10k/- this is the least they can do. Somehow his finger was able to penetrate. For both mum and me, the start/reset button was a design fail. While I can understand it why the original design might have been so, I am sure lot of people like me would have problems with it. Coincidentally, the engineer was from one of the vendors whom I had e-mailed earlier. I showed him the e-mail I had sent to the firm. Sadly, till date the e-mail address hasn’t been corrected. vishal@modularelect.com is still a blackhole while I was told this will be corrected soon but two months and it has still not been corrected 😦

Sadly, my problems still continue somewhat. While I’m thankful to whoever the apcupsd Debian wiki page for some reason it doesn’t work for me. While I have asked the good people at apcupsd-users mailing list I am hopeful will get an answer in a day or two. The good part is that the cable at least is working and giving some status information as shared. Hopefully, it will be some minor thing rather than something major but that only time will tell.

Another bit of trivia – While some of you may have known, some might not, I was also looking if APC bought out the Li-Ion batteries too. As fate would have it, the date I bought the UPS, the same date the Li-Ion batteries were launched or shown on youtube.

While it probably will take a few years, would be looking forward to it. There is also possibility of supercapacitors as well but that is well into the future.

Cooler Master G650M

I remember writing about having a better SMPS about a year back. At the time I was having power problems I also thought it would be prudent to change the SMPS as well. While it didn’t take me much time, while I was looking for 700-750W SMPS I finally had to settle for Cooler Master G650M Bronze SMPS as that was the one which was available. There were others too, 1000W ones (gold) but out of my price range. Even the 650W SMPS costed me around INR 7.5k. This also worked for few months and then shorted out. I was highly surprised when the SMPS conked out, as the warranty is supposed to run for five whole years. While buying I had checked the labelling and it was packed only couple of months before purchase, so not that old. What is most peculiar is that now that product is no longer in the market and in fact had been replaced by Cooler Master MWE Bronze 650 which has 3 year warranty 😦 . Why is it so is beyond me. Usually Products which have 5 year warranty or more are usually in the market for a much longer time. Unlike other brands, Cooler Master doesn’t believe in repair but offer replacement but takes anywhere between 2 to 3 weeks which I didn’t knew at the time of purchase 😦

Just to be clear, I wasn’t sure what was wrong. I had bought the ASUS Prime Z270-P motherboard which has LED lighting all around it. I have blogged about it before last year in the same blog post above. What was peculiar that the stock fan above the CPU was not running and nor the cabinet power button, although rest of the motherboard it was showing power so it was peculiar as to what could the problem might be. I have an old voltage detector, something like this from which I could ascertain that I was getting power at points but still couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I did have the old stock SMPS but as have shared before it has lot lesser wattage, says 400 on the label but probably more like 300-325 watts. I removed few of the components from the system before taking it the vendor so it would make it easier for the vendor to tell what is wrong. I assumed that it most probably might be the switch as I usually use reboot all the time whenever I feel the need for reboot, usually after I have some updates and need to refresh my session. The vendor was able to diagnoze within few minutes that the fault lay in the SMPS and not in the switch or anywhere else and asked me to take the unit to the service center for RMA.

While I sent it for RMA, thought could survive for the required time without any internet. But I was wrong. As news in most news channels in India is so stale and biased I found it unbearable to be without news in 2-3 days. I again wondered how people in Kashmir would be without all the facilities that we have.

GRUB 2 missing, UEFI and supergrub2

I went back to the vendor with my old stock SMPS and it worked but found that grub2 menu was missing. It was just plain booting to windows 10. I started a thread at debian-user trying to figure out if there was some issue at my end, maybe some grub variable had got lost or something but the responses seemed to suggest that something else had happened. I also read through some of the UEFI documentation on wikipedia and web, I didn’t go to much depth as that would have been distracting as the specification itself is evolving and is subject to change. I did find some interesting bits and pieces but that is for a later date perhaps. One of the things I remembered from my previous run-ins with grub2 issues is that supergrub2 had been immensely useful. Sadly though, the version which I tried as stable was dumping me to grub rescue instead of the grub menu when I used the ISO image on a thumb drive. I could have tried to make a go for it but was too lazy. On an off-chance I looked at supergrub2 support and did find that somebody else also have had the same exact issue and it was reported. I chimed in and tried one of the beta versions and it worked which made me breathe easier. After getting into debian, I tried the old $ sudo update-grub which usually fixed the issues. I again tried to boot without using the help of the usb disk but failed as it again booted me into MS-Windows environment.

Firmware update

I dunno how or where or how I thought it might be a firmware issue. While trawling via the web I had come across issues which stated similar issues especially either with dual-booting or multi-booting and firmware was one of the issues which was found. Apart from waiting 2 weeks and then perhaps getting a hdd I had no other option than to update the firmware.

Using inxi I was able to get firmware details which I also shared in the github issue tracker page before update.

$ inxi -M Machine: Type: Desktop Mobo: ASUSTeK model: PRIME Z270-P v: Rev X.0x serial: UEFI: American Megatrends v: 0808 date: 06/16/2017

I would ask you to look at the version number and the date. I used Asus’s EZ update utility and downloaded the new UEFI BIOS .pcap file . In EZ update, I just had to give the correct path and couple of restarts later I had the new version of UEFI BIOS as can be seen below.

Asus UEFI BIOS 1205 Copyright – Asus

One thing to note is that there is no unix way that I least I know of updating an UEFI BIOS. If anybody knows, please let me know. I did look for ‘unix .pcacp update’ but most of the tutorials I found out were for network packet sniffing rather than UEFI BIOS update. Maybe it’s an Asus issue. Does anybody know or can point to something ?

The update fixed the EFI code which was also not appearing, as can be seen now via efibootmgr.

$ efibootmgr
BootCurrent: 0004
Timeout: 1 seconds
BootOrder: 0004,0000,0003,0001,0002,0005
Boot0000* Windows Boot Manager
Boot0001* UEFI:CD/DVD Drive
Boot0002* UEFI:Removable DeviceBoot
0003* Hard Drive
Boot0004* debian
Boot0005* UEFI:Network Device

While I’m not going to go into more details but this should be enough –

$ efibootmgr -v | grep debianBoot0004* debian HD(2,GPT,xxxxx)/File(\EFI\DEBIAN\GRUBX64.EFI)..BO

I have hidden some details for privacy sake such as address space as well as GPT hash etc. Finally, Grub 2 menu came to me in all its loveliness –

Grub 2.04-3 debian-edu CC-SA-3.0

There are still some things I wanna fix through, for instance I hope to help out adrian in testing some of his code. I wasn’t able to do because nowadays we get cheap multi-level cell, see for e.g. this paper. I might have mentioned before.

Ending Notes – Powershell

To end I did try to make home even in MS-Windows but the usefulness of shell far outlives anything that is on MS-Windows. I used powershell 5 and even downloaded and installed powershell 6 and even manage to figure out how to get quite some of the utilities to behave similar to how they behave under GNU/Linux but still the Windowing environment itself was much of an irritant than anything else. One of the biggest letdowns was not being able to use touch. While somebody made a powershell module for it but it still needs to be imported for every session. While I’m sure I could have written a small script for the same, my time was beneficial in finding the solution to it. As shared I also learnt about UEFI a bit in the process. Sharing screenshots of powershell 5 and 6 .

Powershell 5 Copyright – Microsoft Corporation
Powershell-6 Copyright – Microsoft Corporation

Conclusion – While it doesn’t even cover probably even a quarter of the issues or use-cases but even if one person finds it useful, that is good enough. I have taken lot of shortcuts and not shared whole lot otherwise this would have been lot longer. One of the things I forgot to mention is that I did find some mentions of MS-Windows overwriting, this was in October 2018 as well as October 2019 Security Updates as well. How much to trust the issues that people posted don’t really know.