Saturday, December 28, 2013

T-Mobile VPN Fix

Virtual Private Networking (VPN) is a secure (encrypted) way of connecting to private resources (business LAN, home computer) over the public Internet. To make a VPN connection, VPN client software typically connects to VPN server software. VPN types include Point To Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP, deprecated but still useful) and OpenVPN (recommended, secure). But you may have a problem making VPN connections over T-Mobile USA wireless data.
The Symptoms: You are able to do things on your mobile device over T-Mobile data (browse the Internet, send and receive email, etc), and you are able to make VPN connections over Wi-Fi wireless, but you are not able to make VPN connections over T-Mobile wireless data. 
The Cause: T-Mobile apparently pushed out a data configuration in late 2013 that set APN Protocol to IPv6. That works properly for most things on mobile devices, but it prevents PPTP (built into Android) and OpenVPN (OpenVPN Connect) clients from making VPN connections.
The Cure: Open Settings > Wireless & Networks > More... > Mobile networks > Access Point Names > T-Mobile GPRS (fast.t-mobile.com) > APN protocol, and change the selection from IPv6 to IPv4/IPv6 IPv4 (see update below).
The Caveat: This cure was tested successfully with a Nexus 5 running Android 4.4.2 KitKat on a Prepaid plan, and it might not work properly on other devices or plans. Use at your own risk.
Update: IPv4/IPv6 currently causes issues with some websites (example), so try IPv4.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Junctions for Cloud Backup

"Cloud" (just a new name for "online") is all the rage, and "cloud backup" can be a computer backup option with advantages, despite Internet speed limitations, including protected remote storage, no need for local backup hardware, and access/syncing with multiple devices.

Many paid cloud backup services are readily available (CarboniteCrashPlan, etc.), but good free options are also available, including Google Drive (currently 15 GB for Drive, Gmail, and photos) and Microsoft SkyDrive (currently 7 GB, integrated as of Windows 8).

The immediate obstacle to using Google Drive or SkyDrive for backup is that both services sync only a single folder to the cloud, and it would normally be a hassle to keep all important stuff in the single sync folder, but fortunately there's an easier way to set up backup syncing in Windows: NTSF Junctions.

An NTSF Junction is a symbolic link to a folder, which has several advantages over a Windows Shell Shortcut (.lnk), including content sync by Windows SkyDrive software. (Shell Shortcuts will be synced, but not the content they point to.) So if, for example, you create a Junction to My Documents in your SkyDrive folder, then Windows SkyDrive will sync My Documents content to the SkyDrive cloud. If you keep your important items in My Documents, this will give you excellent online protection. You can add other folders to sync the same way with their own NTSF Junctions, even Desktop.

The primary limitation of this approach is that Windows SkyDrive does not monitor NTSF Junctions for changes the way it does the regular contents of the SkyDrive folder, so sync of NTSF Junction content must be manually initiated either by restarting Windows SkyDrive or by modifying something in the SkyDrive folder. (Regular sync could also be initiated with Windows Task Scheduler.)

To create NTSF Junctions, Windows has only the command line tool mklink, which is painful to use. An easier and better tool is (free) Link Shell Extension.

So what about Google Drive? Unfortunately, as of this writing Drive doesn't support Junctions for content sync, so the only way to sync a folder like My Documents is to move it to the Google Drive folder. That's quite easy to do as described here and here, and works quite well in most cases.

Friday, December 13, 2013

HDTV Antenna

ClearStream 2V
With increased online HD quality video streaming from the likes of Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube, and with cable TV bills climbing ever higher, it's becoming more attractive and practical to cut the cable, especially if you can get free digital TV signals (HD quality) over the air.

You have the legal right to install your own antenna for over the air reception, and you can check to see what channels you may be able to receive at TV Fool.

Some of the best antenna options for relatively short range reception, as tested in San Francisco (TV Fool report).

Antennas Direct ClearStream 2V

Easy to assemble. High quality construction. Solidly pulled in all green and yellow stations reported by TVFool, both VHF Hi and UHF.

If you need or want the best in this range class, this is the antenna to buy.

If you need longer range reception, Antennas Direct also has more powerful options, as well as a good indoor option, Micron R, which may be available at a bargain price refurbished.

RCA ANT751

RCA ANT751
Relatively easy to assemble, except a bolt was missing, purchased replacement from local hardware store. Also purchased cable zip ties to secure coax to mast and boom. One element was loose enough to wobble freely due to poor riveting, had to insert shims to stabilize.

Pulled in all green stations reported by TVFool, both VHF Hi and UHF, but not solid on yellow.

Good value.

Summary

ClearStream 2V definitely more sensitive than ANT751, in addition to better construction quality, clear on yellow UHF channels that break up on ANT751, also picked up a very weak (unwatchable) VHF station not found by ANT751.

However, ANT751 may be sufficiently good for many purposes (if yellow stations are not of interest), and is much less expensive ($50 vs $100).

Resources

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Windows Virtual PC Resolution

This specifically applies to Windows XP guest on Windows 7 host running Windows Virtual PC. It may also apply to other configurations.

When Windows XP is run as a guest without Integration Features, guest desktop resolution can be changed with Properties, but when Integration Features are enabled, that won't work -- the guest starts with a resolution of 896 x 600; resolution can be changed only by resizing the guest window; and when the guest is restarted any change is lost.

To start the Windows XP guest at a specific resolution (e.g., 1024 x 768) with Integration Features enabled, the settings file for the virtual machine must first be edited manually:
  1. Log off host and then back on to make sure virtual machines are shut down
  2. Click Start and enter "%localappdata%\Microsoft\Windows Virtual PC\Virtual Machines"
    (without quotes)
  3. Locate the settings file (.vmc) with the same name as the virtual machine
    (You may want to make a backup copy of this file for safety)
  4. Right-click the settings file, choose Open with, and select Notepad
    (If Notepad is not an option, use Choose default program to associate it)
  5. Find the tag <resolution_height type="integer">
    and change to the desired value (e.g., 768)
  6. Find the tag <resolution_width type="integer">
    and change to the desired value (e.g., 1024)
  7. Close Notepad, saving the settings file
  8. Start the virtual machine

Friday, November 1, 2013

iGoogle Alternative

iGoogle was an excellent tool for customizing your own Web landing (start) page with a wide variety of sources conveniently arranged in multiple tabs. I say "was" because Google shut it down on November 1, 2013, just as it has shut down other valuable and important services before it, including Reader. (See Google Reader Lessons)

If you were a user of iGoogle, or are simply looking for a good custom Web landing page, I recommend My Yahoo, which has an excellent mobile view in addition to its standard view. It has much of the functionality of iGoogle, although not as many Packaged Pages (widgets), but that can often be remedied with RSS feeds. (Yahoo Widget development was shut down in 2012, so the longer term outlook for My Yahoo is uncertain.)

Other alternatives:

Monday, October 28, 2013

Tripods Recommended

Micro Tripod

Sometimes you need a really small tripod, like for taking a "selfie" (picture of yourself) with a smartphone, or (in my case) as a stand for a digital audio recorder. The usual mini tripods (even the smallest GorillaPod) are a bit clunky. A cool alternative is the sleek, neatly folding Jelly Legs Micro Tripod by Square Jellyfish. The legs can be adjusted and locked for uneven surfaces. There's even a micro ball head available, and a bracket to hold your smartphone. Recommended.


Standard Tripod (Photo and/or Video)

A good, affordable tripod for general purpose photo and video use that's relatively light in weight but still solid is the SLIK U8000 Photo/Video Tripod. Features: 3-way fluid effect pan head. Quick release shoe for easy mounting and removal of camera or camcorder. Oversize, single action, speed release leg locks for adjusting tripod height in seconds. Geared center column. Length folded 23 1/4 in, Height extended 59 1/12 in, Extension center column 11 5/6 in, Weight 3 lbs 5 oz. Recommended.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Windows 8.1 Woes

Work-Around Windows 8.1 Update Problems
(Error 0xC1900101 - 0x30017)

As predicted here in Windows 8 Preview, Windows 8 has been a big disappointment, confusing users and contributing to poor sales of Windows personal computers and tablets. Microsoft has attempted to respond to some of complaints with Windows 8.1, a free update, which restores the ability to boot to the familiar desktop and a Start button of sorts, but it failed to address other big issues, and missed opportunities raised here in Windows 8 Misses the Mark except for better integration of SkyDrive cloud services.

Still, half a loaf would seem to be better than none, except the update has been problematic for many users. Boot problems from the RT update were well-publicized and are now apparently corrected, but there are also less well-publicized problems with the standard update. Real world case in point (with possible causes and solutions):

Correct Windows 8.1 update
Starting point was a relatively current desktop PC with quad core Intel processor and large hard disk running Windows 8 without any apparent problems. Prepared for the 8.1 update with best practices: (a) checked hard disk for errors, (b) ensured backup was current, (3) applied all Windows 8 updates, (4) rebooted system. Opened Store app and encountered Problem 1: Instead of "Update to Windows 8.1 for free", the offer was Windows 8.1 "Preview", which shouldn't have appeared. Assumed this was just a display issue, and proceeded with install, but differences with a normal update suggest it may have contributed to the later problem (below). Problem 1 work-around (discovered later): Open Search, run "msreset" (to reset the Store cache), then open Store again. (It boggles the mind that Microsoft would create a utility to do this rather than fix the system to prevent the problem, but that's Microsoft.)

That started the update process, which is quite lengthy, in part because the update is a huge 3.6 GB, a long download even on a fast Internet connection. Even when the download is complete, the update is still a lengthy process, even on a fast system, as it slowly steps through checks, installs, configuration, etc. Problem 2: Finally, well over an hour into the process, it rebooted, but instead of starting Windows 8.1, it started checking the hard disk for errors (despite the disk being error free). After a long process it rebooted, and again started checking the hard disk for errors, repeating the same long process, but after another reboot, it then displayed "Restoring your previous version of windows". So yet another long process, followed by a reboot back into Windows 8, whereupon it reported that Windows 8.1 update had failed due to error 0xC1900101 - 0x30017 (a singularly unhelpful message, but again, that's Microsoft).

msconfig
Searching online failed to turn up anything definitive on the error code, just hints that it might be due to device driver and/or software compatibility problem, notwithstanding all the time taken for "compatibility" checking in the update without any reported issues. (It boggles the mind how there could be such issues in Windows 8.1 that are not in Windows 8, but that's Microsoft.) Suggested Problem 2 work-arounds:
  1. Update all devices drivers to versions known to be compatible with Windows 8.1 (link).
  2. Check all software for compatibility with Windows 8.1 (at vendor and Windows Compatibility Center), and remove any that are incompatible.
  3. Disable all non-Microsoft services with msconfig (System Configuration) during the 8.1 update. (Click Services tab; check Hide all Microsoft services; then click Disable all.) Reverse process after the 8.1 update.
  4. Disable all non-essential Startup with Task Manager during the 8.1 update. (Click Startup tab; select all items; then click Disable.) Reverse process after the 8.1 update.
In this particular case, Dragon NaturallySpeaking version 11 was identified as a possible problem in Step 2, so it has been removed (along with some other non-essential software). Unfortunately, the huge update has to be downloaded again (why?!), so it will take some time to find out.

UPDATE: The update did complete successfully with Problem 1 work-around and Problem 2 work-around 2. (It was not necessary to use Problem 2 work-around 1, 3, or 4.)

OTHER ISSUES
  1. Microsoft Account part 1: Initial setup of Windows 8.1 seems to demand an online Microsoft Account. This actually isn't necessary. To use the existing Windows login, click Create New Account, then Cancel, and log into Local Account. (For more information see Quick Tip: Change to a local account in Windows 8.1Microsoft should make this easier and clearer.)
  2. Microsoft Account part 2: Some apps in the Store ask you to login to a Microsoft Account. This is actually only necessary for paid apps. 
  3. Default printer was changed by the update from the Epson printer installed on the computer to Microsoft XPS Document Writer. It was simple enough to change back, but this should not have happened.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Disk Usage for Windows

One of the annoyances in Microsoft Windows is the lack of a good built-in tool for managing disk space like the crude but effective UNIX (Linux) du utility that displays directory (folder) sizes.

True, there is the Sysinternals Disk Usage utility, but it only reports usage for a single directory, which isn't terribly helpful when you need an overall picture.

Here are some solid third-party alternatives that are free for personal use:
  • GetFoldersize
    Comprehensive multi-pane text display, but lacks helpful graphics. Explorer shell integration. No cleanup capability, just deletion. Print capability. No menus, just toolbars. Fast. Very good.
  • TreeSize Free
    Simple hybrid text and graphics view. Administrator mode. Threaded for speed, very fast. Print capability. Integrated update check. Limited, paid version more capable. Good.
  • WinDirStat
    Clone of Linux KDirStat for Windows. Small and efficient. Threaded for speed, fast. Useful (and colorful) "treemap" display. No Explorer shell integration, but can be hacked manually. Cleanup capability. No print capability, but can email report. Recommended.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

eBay goats and sheep

In October 2013, without warning or real explanation, eBay users discovered that saved searches had been changed to "searches you follow", and saved sellers changed to "sellers you follow", together with other changes along the lines of social networking. In the process, important buyer functionality was removed, including the abilities to rename searches and to add notes to searches.

Cries of outrage from eBay users have mostly assumed these changes were due to bad design. Here in eBay's own words is what's really going on:

Sellers: This new experience puts great new tools in your hands for driving sales and developing loyal, repeat customers. You can use the new collections, following, and eBay profile to transform moments of inspiration into purchases of your great inventory. We’ll also be introducing new features and an exciting new look for your eBay Store. From bigger, bolder listing images to new ways to spotlight inventory and share on social media, subscribers will soon have even more tools available to them to turn browsers into buyers. All sellers will have this option by the end of January 2014!

Whether you buy or sell on eBay—or both—we encourage you to explore these new features, to tap into your passions and expertise to create collections of items for others to explore, to follow collections of our curators, valued sellers and eBay members, and to connect to the things you need and love.

In other words, it's all about Amazon (Newegg, etc). This isn't about buyers -- this is about sellers, and further transitioning eBay from a peer-to-peer auction site into a marketplace of storefronts. In the process, users are being transitioned from goats (buyers) into sheep (consumers) that follow sellers, curators, and other buyers. So tools that helped buyers to find what they want to buy are being replaced with tools that push consumers to buy what sellers want them to buy. Welcome to the brave new world. There won't be any going back unless a great many stop using eBay (which probably isn't going to happen), so goats (real buyers) will have to look someplace else.

Sellers are the eBay customers. Buyers are the eBay products.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Great Compact Digital Cameras 2013

Here's how I get great images and video: 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200
  • Fast f/2.8 aperture across full zoom range
  • 24x optical zoom (25mm wide angle to 600mm telephoto)
  • 12.1-megapixel MOS Sensor
  • Full HD 1080/60p video
  • 1.3MP Electronic Viewfinder
  • 3.0-inch Free-Angle LCD
  • High-speed autofocus
  • Hotshoe
  • External microphone compatible
  • Filter and conversion lens compatible
  • It's what I use
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1
  • Fast f/2.0 aperture
  • 7.1x optical zoom (28mm wide angle to 200mm telephoto)
  • Larger 1/1.7-inch, 12.1-megapixel MOS Sensor
  • Full HD 1080/60i video
  • Electronic viewfinder
  • 3.0-inch high resolution LCD
  • Pocket size
  • Wireless (Wi-Fi and NFC)
  • Great all-around camera for most people
What both Lumix cameras share
  • Fantastic Leica lens (glass matters more than megapixels!) 
  • Optical Image Stabilization
  • Stereo microphone
  • Intelligent Auto Mode
  • Face Recognition
  • RAW image capture
  • Excellent image and video quality
Honorable Mention: Sony Cyber-shot RX100
  • Fast f/1.8 aperture Carl Zeiss lens
  • 3.6x zoom (28mm wide angle to 100mm telephoto)
  • Large 1" CMOS, 20.2 megapixels sensor
  • Optical Image Stabilization
  • Full HD 1080/60p video
  • Compact size
  • RAW image capture
  • Superb image and video quality

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Stereo Sound Off Camera

When my video needs high fidelity audio, I normally use the compact Zoom H2 recorder, selecting microphone pattern and adjusting level with the built-in meter to fit the particular acoustic environment. I place the H2 as close as possible to the audio source.

I typically record WAV-48kHz-16bit. While the H2 is capable of 24bit recording, I've not found a significant difference over 16bit recording in carefully controlled tests, and 96kHz is only needed for critical mastering.

To make syncing easy, I start the camera recording, start the H2 recording, then rap the H2 with my finger. It's dead easy in post-processing to match the "thunk" of the rap in the H2 audio to the rap in the video. (I don't use camera audio for matching because of audio delay at the camera.)

When I convert for YouTube, I encode video with AAC audio at a variable bitrate of 192 Kbps.

Why Stereo is Problematic for Camera Mics

A stereo camera microphone typically consists of two mono cardioid microphone capsules mounted next to each other, each of which has a pickup pattern like this (capsule facing upward in the diagram):


If the capsules are mounted in parallel (side by side), they will have largely overlapping patterns with poor stereo imaging.

A more common arrangement is with the two capsules angled 45° to the left (red) and 45° to the right (blue), 90° angle between them, which results in much better stereo imaging, but with much more side and back pickup of sound/noise.

Thus with a stereo camera microphone, generally speaking, you're either not going to get good stereo, or you're going to risk pickup of extraneous sounds from sides and rear, or both.

This is why for high fidelity ambient sound I prefer to use a good external recorder like the Zoom H2.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

External Microphones for Digital Camera Video

RØDE VideoMic on Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200

Roundup and Mini Reviews

Many digital cameras are capable of good video recording, but typically have poor microphones (and noisy preamps) that produce poor audio. For cameras with audio input jacks, an external microphone can be used to greatly improve audio quality.

Directional microphones (e.g., shotgun) are designed to pick up sounds from in front of microphone and camera (typically across an angle of 70-90°) and reject extraneous sounds and noise from sides and rear. Usually monophonic. (See Why Stereo is Problematic for Camera Mics) Roundup:
  • Audio-Technica ATR-6550
    Thin sound. Lacks shock mount. Lacks continuous power on light. Not recommended.
  • Bronstein BRN-900
    Not readily available.
  • Opteka VM-100
    Re-branded RØDE VideoMic (original version) at much lower price. Includes wind muff. Best buy.
  • RØDE VideoMic
    Good sound. Good directionality. Output level pad. Switchable noise filter. Good shock mount. Plastic construction. May pick up RF interference (e.g., from GSM cell phones). Original version pictured above; new version has red Rycote Lyre Suspension System.
  • RØDE VideoMic Pro
    Good sound (about the same as original VideoMic). Good directionality (although not quite as good as original VideoMic). Output level pad. Switchable noise filter. Fragile shock mount. Plastic construction. May pick up RF interference (e.g., from GSM cell phones). Compact. Fairly expensive.
  • Sennheiser MKE 400
    Thin sound. Good directionality. Fragile shock mount. Metal construction. Switchable noise filter. Lacks continuous power on light. Not recommended.
  • Shure VP83 LensHopper
    Very good sound. Output level pad. Good directionality. Switchable noise filter. Metal construction. Good shock mount. Resistant to RF interference. Compact. Expensive. Best.
  • Shure VP83F LensHopper with Flash Recording
    Same as VP83 LensHopper plus high-quality integrated flash memory recorder, great for cameras with automatic level control. Best.
Ambient microphones (e.g., omnidirectional) are designed to pick up sounds from all directions when that is desired, but noise pickup from camera can be a problem. You will generally get much better results from a good external recorder like the Zoom H2. Examples:
  • MegaGear Shotgun
    Thin sound. Inexpensive. Widely available. (Not a true shotgun.)
  • Panasonic DMW-MS1
    Decent, but could and should be better for the money.
  • RØDE Stereo VideoMic
    Good sound. Output level pad. Switchable noise filter. Fairly expensive.
  • RØDE Stereo VideoMic Pro
    Very good sound. Output level pad. Switchable noise filter. Expensive.
2.5mm male to 3.5mm female
headphone adapter cable

Tips

  1. Use a wind muff ("dead cat") to reduce wind noise when outside.
  2. Bronstein WM-21 Wind Muff is good, inexpensive, and will fit the RØDE VideoMic (and Opteka VM-100).
  3. Get as close to your subject as possible. Directional microphones are not like telephoto lenses - they don't amplify sound - they just reduce extraneous pickup from sides and rear.
  4. Use highest output level without distortion to minimize noise pickup from cable and camera.
  5. 2.5mm male to 3.5mm female headphone adapter cable will be needed for cameras with 2.5mm sockets.
  6. Best output pad setting I've found for RØDE VideoMic (and Opteka VM-100) on Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 is -10.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Surge Suppressors

SurgeX Power Pro
Many surge suppressors, particularly the inexpensive ones commonly found at retail, do a poor job of protection. Surge suppressors built into quality uninterruptable power supply (UPS) units tend to be better, but for best results, use commercial grade surge suppressors -- more expensive, but worth it.

At a minimum, make sure that any point of use surge suppressor is UL 1449 listed/recognized at a suppressed voltage rating (SVR) of at least 330 volts. For endurance, the surge suppressor should also be Classified in Accordance with ANSI/IEEE C62.41-1991, Recommended Practices. (UL 1449 listed products are not necessarily classified for endurance.)

Good commercial grade surge suppressors include:
One of the best commercial grade values is the SurgeX Power Pro, available through Home Depot for $99 (as of this writing).

Tripp Lite Isobar, some of the best standard grade suppressors, are available through Amazon.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Great Coffee by the Cup

Pod-type coffee brewers (e.g., Keurig, K-Fee, Nespresso) are all the current rage, but they trade aroma and taste for convenience, chiefly because you're not getting freshly roasted and freshly ground coffee, which are the keys to a great cup. In addition, the brewing machines can be quite expensive. Fortunately, there are simple and inexpensive ways to get great coffee by the cup with easy cleanup:

Aerobie AeroPress

What makes Aerobie AeroPress special is the plunger for forcing brewed coffee out of grounds with air pressure, thereby ensuring full extraction for maximum strength, espresso-type drinks in a hurry.

Clever Coffee Dripper

What makes Clever Coffee Dripper special as compared to a standard cone filter holder or coffee maker is that ground coffee is kept in contact with water for the entire brewing period by means of a valve in the bottom of the holder, which ensures full brewing like a French press, but without the problem of sediment, especially if a paper filter is used (rather than a gold metal filter).

Grinding

For best results use freshly ground coffee, ideally by grinding your own with a good burr mill -- see Coffee Grinders under $100.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Powered (Active) Speakers with Remote

Boston Acoustics Soundware XS Digital Cinema
Samsung TVs have fixed audio out level that cannot be changed by remote control, so to have remote volume control of external speakers, you need to use:
  1. Receiver or home theater system with remote
  2. Soundbar with remote
  3. Powered (active) speaker system with remote
Option #3 is difficult, because there have been few good yet affordable powered (active) speaker systems with wireless remote, and most that previously existed have been discontinued (e.g., Creative I-Trigue L3800, Klipsch iFi, Onkyo HTX-22HDX). But, as of this writing, the Altec Lansing PT6021 (or similar SLS6221) is available on both Amazon and eBay. (Much more expensive options are the Audioengine 5+ and Bose CineMate Series II.)

Update 1: Unfortunately, the Altec Lansing PT6021 does not live up to its specs and is therefore not recommended:
  • AC hum is a problem, especially during soft passages, as acknowledged in the User's Guide: "Some low hum may be detected when your speaker system is powered on without an audio source playing, or when the volume is set at an extremely low level." (That's simply unacceptable.)
  • Sound quality is mediocre, lacking in clarity. 
Klipsch ProMedia 2.1
Update 2Boston Acoustics Soundware XS Digital Cinema is an excellent more expensive option, but can be found (currently) for as little as $180, making it a great bargain.

Note: If you don't need remote volume control, try to find a good used Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 system -- it's head and shoulders above other affordable powered 2.1 speaker systems: dazzlingly clear sound, smooth response with strong bass, and ample volume.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Google Reader Lessons

It's not "OK".

Google Reader was an important tool for aggregation of RSS feeds that facilitated sharing (at least until Google+ was forced into it), and was an important platform for RSS applications. A large number of people invested a great deal of time and effort in it, which is lost when Google abruptly shuts it down.

Google's users deserved better, at least a year of warning if nothing else. But, coming on the heels on so many other abrupt here-today-gone-tomorrow shutdowns by Google, there are lessons here that users would do well to heed: Google is not a reliable provider of services, and cloud computing has an important risk -- when a software company discontinues a product, you may be able to keep using it for a long period of time, but when a cloud service is discontinued, it's game over.

(With Gmail you can use POP or IMAP to migrate to another standard email service. Exporting feeds from Google Reader through Google Takeout is much less helpful.)

As a result, I no longer recommend Google cloud services.

See also:
p.s. The irony here is that this blog is hosted by Google -- how long until Blogger gets the axe?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Fix Windows File Association Issue

Windows file associations, which associate a given file type (extension) with applications, are normally set automatically, either when applications are installed or by the applications themselves.

File associations can usually also be set (or changed) by right-clicking a file of that type, choosing Open or Open with, then selecting the application, browsing to the application if necessary. But sometimes that process fails.

The most common cause of this failure is incorrect registration of the application, particularly when a different version of the application was installed previously. To correct this problem:
  1. Click start; type "regedit" to find it; then right-click the program and Run as administrator.
  2. Navigate Computer > HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT > Applications, and find the application exe.
  3. Navigate shell > open > command, and check the exe path in the (Default) string.
  4. If the path is not correct, change it to the correct path of the application exe.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why Netbooks Flopped

Netbook computers seemed like such a good idea: low-cost, compact, portable computers with good battery life and enough power for common tasks. At first sales took off reasonably well, but we can now see it was a cycle of rise and fall. Why did they ultimately fail?

I think the answer may be best illustrated with an anecdote: When updating a typical netbook that hadn't been used in about 9 months, it took over two hours to apply the accumlated Windows XP patches, and another hour to update applications. And that was by an expert. Simple tasks like populating the Add/Remove Programs window that should have taken seconds instead took many agonizing minutes. It's just too painful to endure. The value proposition just isn't there.

But that's not the fault of the netbook -- it's the fault of Windows, which takes way too much maintenance and tweaking, and which needs much more powerful hardware to run decently!

But there is hope for the machine: Chromium OS Vanilla, the open source development version of Google Chrome OS, "a lightweight, lightning-fast operating system for your netbook, laptop or even desktop. With the familiar environment of Chromium/Chrome, the entire web is at your fingertips in seconds. HTML5 is fully supported, allowing you to enjoy the very best that the web has to offer." It has the potential to turn the netbook into a speedier, easier to maintain Chromebook. Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chromebook Pixel: close, but no cigar

The Google Chromebook Pixel is presumably meant to be the best that a Chromebook can be, and while it is an attractive package with a killer screen, it has a number of flaws that just don't belong in a premium-priced machine:

9. Bluetooth: 3.0 is adequate, but it should have been 4.0 for the advances in power conservation (battery life).

8. DisplayPort: DisplayPort is adequate, but HDMI would have made more sense.

7. Storage: 32GB isn't enough for a premium machine; 64GB should have been the minimum.

6. Memory: 4GB isn't enough for effectively managing many open tabs; 8GB should have been included.

5. USB: 2.0 is painfully slow; 3.0 is becoming essential for high speed devices.

4. Gloss: Glare is a problem on the glossy screen; should have been non-glare. 

3. Weight: At 3.35 lbs it's about a pound heavier than it should be, almost as heavy as a light notebook computer.

2. Keyboard: Just backlit isn't enough, a premium machine warrants a premium keyboard (like the Lenovo ThinkPad).

1. Battery: 4 hours of typical use just doesn't cut it, needs to be 8 hours (at least double).

As the saying goes, "Never buy version 1.0!" And Chromebook Pixel is no exception. Perhaps Google will get it right with version 2.0.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Guacamole Ole!

Serves 4
  • 2 ripe Haas avocados
  • ½ fresh tomato, coarsely chopped and drained
  • ¼ fresh onion, chopped (Maui/sweet preferred, but yellow OK)
  • ¼ cup salsa (Safeway Select Southwest medium preferred)
  • Small squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 clove fresh garlic, crushed
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder (or to taste, good quality, like Grandma's Chili Powder*)
  • Salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
  1. Mash avocados but leave slightly chunky
  2. Mix in remaining ingredients
  3. Adjust heat with chili, pepper (ground or flakes), and/or salsa
  4. Let stand to meld flavors for a few minutes
  5. Serve with tortilla chips (Casa Sanchez Thick & Crispy preferred) and classic Margaritas
* Alas, Grandma's Chili Powder has been discontinued, but a good alternative is Williams Chili Seasoning.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Tequila Bargain!

See Updates below.

To make a great Margarita you need great tequila, and most of the widely-available affordable tequilas (including name brands) are dreadful mixtos. (See Types of Tequila) Fortunately there is a very good tequila that won't bust your budget: Zapopan, sold by Trader Joe's for only $10 per liter, both Blanco (lighter) and Reposado (richer and smoother). It's generally better than anything else under $20, and stands up well to anything else under $30.

Classic Margarita
  • 1½ oz tequila
    100% agave reposado preferred
  • ½ oz triple sec
    good quality, Hiram Walker preferred, orange curaçao also works well
  • ½ oz lime juice
    unsweetened, preferably fresh, Key lime for extra flavor
Serve in Old Fashioned glass filled with cracked ice, without salt.
For more sweetness, add more triple sec.
Great accompaniment for guacamole!

Update (12/2015): The price of Zapopan has gone up to $12 per liter, but that's still a great bargain!

Update (8/2017): Alas, Trader Joe's no longer carries Zapopan, and the replacement tequila doesn't measure up, but Zapopan can still be found at Bitters+BottlesThe price is higher, but it's still a great bargain. Only Blanco is stocked, but Reposado can be ordered.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Record Internet Radio

VLC as a Recorder
Tip: You can record without a computer using an online service. See Record Radio Online.

Tip: You can transcode streams to make them easier to record. See Transcode with VLC.

VLC media player (free open source cross-platform multimedia player and framework) is a great way to listen to Internet radio (streams). All you need is a streaming URL (often obtainable from the source website; e.g., http://18543.live.streamtheworld.com:80/KUSCMP96_SC from KUSC) which you open in VLC with Media > Open Network Stream. To save a source for future listening while it is playing, just drag the Title and drop it onto the Media Library.

Recording a source while it's playing is quite easy: View > Advanced Controls to make the recording control available; click on the red record button circle to record; and click again to stop recording. The recording file will be appropriately named and (on Windows) saved in your Music folder.

Scheduling recordings for times when you're not at your computer can be done with (a) the Task Scheduler built into Windows and (b) the VLC command line interface. Start by testing your recording command in a Command Prompt window, with the following four elements separated by spaces:
  1. Complete path to vlc.exe; e.g.,
    "C:\Program Files\VideoLAN\VLC\vlc.exe"
  2. Stream URL; e.g.,
    http://playerservices.streamtheworld.com/pls/KUSCMP128.pls
  3. Recording duration in seconds; e.g., (for 60 mins)
    --run-time 3600 vlc://quit
  4. VLC record parameters; e.g.,
     --sout="#std{access=file,mux=raw,dst=Recording.mp3}"
The record parameters above assume the stream is in the most universal MP3 format. Where a source has multiple stream formats available, choose MP3 to avoid problems; to try recording some other format, use the appropriate file extension (instead of .mp3). You can of course change the file name from Recording to whatever you might prefer. To create unique file names with date and time, see VLC Documentation: Format String; e.g., Recording_%Y%m%d_%H%M

Complete example with date and time (single line):
http://playerservices.streamtheworld.com/pls/KUSCMP128.pls ‑‑run‑time 3600 vlc://quit ‑‑sout‑file‑format ‑‑sout="#std{access=file,mux=raw,dst=The_Record_Shelf_%Y‑%m‑%d_%H%M_(KUSC).mp3}"

Putting them all together on a line in a Command Prompt window should launch the VLC GUI and create the recording file. After VLC has completed the recording and quit, double-click on the recording file to play it, or open it in VLC. When this is working properly, you can move on to scheduling:
  1. Open Task Scheduler
  2. Click Create Task
  3. On the General tab:
    1. Enter Name (e.g., My Stream)
    2. Select Run whether user is logged on or not
  4. On the Triggers tab, click New:
    1. Enter desired schedule
    2. Check Stop task if it runs longer than: and enter twice desired recording duration
    3. Make sure Enabled is checked
    4. Click OK
  5. On the Actions tab, click New:
    1. Action: Start a program
    2. Program/script: complete path to vlc.exe (1st item above); e.g.,
       "C:\Program Files\VideoLAN\VLC\vlc.exe"
    3. Add arguments (optional): 2nd and 3rd items separated by a space; e.g.,
      http://playerservices.streamtheworld.com/pls/KUSCMP128.pls --run-time 3600 vlc://quit --sout="#std{access=file,mux=raw,dst=Recording.mp3}"
      (Note: Display of line above may be truncated!)
  6. On the Conditions tab, set whatever options you wish
  7. On the Settings tab:
    1. Set Stop the task if it runs longer than: to twice desired recording duration
    2. Check If the running task does not end when requested, force it to stop
  8. Click OK to save the task
  9. Test the task by selecting it in the Task Scheduler Library:
    1. Click Run to start the task
    2. Click End to stop the task
    3. Check recorded file
  10. Close Task Scheduler
Screenshots:

 

 

 

 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Google Chrome Processes

If you're not careful Google Chrome can configure itself to run multiple background processes when it isn't running in the foreground. This may be desirable if you want faster loading of Chrome and/or background services like Offline Gmail, but it may just be unnecessary system overhead.

To see if this is happening, close Chrome, and then start Windows Task Manager (e.g., by right-clicking on the Taskbar) and check for "chrome.exe" in the Processes tab.

To keep this from happening:
  1. Start Chrome.
  2. Click icon Customize and Control Google Chrome at top right corner, and then click Settings from the drop-down menu.
  3. Scroll to the bottom of the Settings window, and then click Show advanced settings...
  4. Scroll again to the bottom of the Settings window, and then uncheck Continue running background apps when Google Chrome is closed.
Now when you close Chrome all Chrome processes should terminate.

How To Delete Windows 8 Upgrade Download

If you purchase an online Windows 8 upgrade, download it, and then create an ISO file for later upgrade or installation, afterward you'll still have 2.7 GB of wasted space on your system drive. This same problem was reported in the Consumer Preview (see How to uninstall Windows 8 Consumer Preview setup?!) but wasn't fixed. Fortunately, a similar manual process can be used to reclaim the wasted space after the ISO file has been created for the release -- delete these two directories (folders):
  1.     C:\ESD
  2.     %LOCALAPPDATA%\Microsoft\Websetup

Friday, January 25, 2013

How To Play TuneIn Radio Pro Recordings

TuneIn Radio Pro (Android app) makes recordings in whatever format (MP3, AAC, WMA, etc) a source streams in, but does not create legal container files, making recordings (deliberately) hard to play outside of TuneIn.

To determine the format of a given source, start a manual recording and note the format shown on the TuneIn screen.

To play a recording, copy the file from the TuneIn folder on the device to a computer, and rename the file to give it an appropriate file extension; e.g., .mp3 for MP3 audio. The file should now be playable with VLC Media Player. (See example in Comments.)

To play with other players less forgiving of file format issues, it will need to be converted with a tool like foobar2000 or Audacity.

UPDATES

  1. This method does not appear to work with WMA streams. See if MP3 stream is available.
  2. In same cases TuneIn makes a recording in multiple file segments, with additional segments named -001, -002, etc.
  3. VLC Media Player on a computer can be used to transcode a network stream on the fly to any desired format.
  4. As of version 10 (October 2013), recordings appear to have been moved from open storage to protected app storage, which can't be accessed without rooting the phone.