|Yes I am still here...V2...||[September 2016]|
Almost time to retire or at least take a LONG vacation.
|Yes I am still here...||[April 2013]|
It has been some time since I last wrote anything. This has been due to a number of factors, mostly just the usual of being very
busy initially at work. Actually in just a few weeks it will be 25 years since I
graduated university and started
my career. Though I had by that time already worked for at least four summers doing software development work, plus had been
eagerly developing ever since that summer of 1980 when I purchased my first PC.|
I actually hope to take the summer off to enjoy, after a very busy last few years. As a contractor you usually just wait for the end of a contract before taking time off, but that has lead to very few and short breaks(luckily I guess) over the last 17 years.
|QuiBids BidTracker(works on Windows and Mac)||[July 2011]|
|Media Center Extender for iPad, almost||[April 2011]|
One application I would really love to see is an official Media Center Extender for the iPad, but there is just about no chance of that. While looking through remote control
such an VNC, I noticed one application that claimed to allow for full motion video and audio transfer from your PC to the iPad. VNC and others allow for choppy video and no audio, so I
was skeptical. Bottom line is it does work, your PC had better be dual core but beyond that, my 6 year old server with a first generation dual core chip, was able to handle the load.
The application is, Splashtop Remote Desktop for iPad The program also needs
a server component to be installed on your PC, which you can download from their website for free.
I was able to interact with Windows Media Center and watch live tv, from my satellite on the iPad. Note, that it does not work in full screen mode, so don't try to maximize your window on the PC.
|Running Debian on the Seagate DockStar||[Jan 2011]|
|While being able to use the DockStar for it's intended purpose is nice, actually the most useful thing you can do with it is install Linux. This involves a few steps so let me elaborate in detail.|
|Pogoplug, Full resolution photo access on your iPad.||[Nov 2010]|
I really do like Seagate's DockStar, it's a nice little computer for $30, which is built on the pogoplug platform. They ever recently added a iPad specific app. I installed
the app but quickly found it was very poorly done. The download ability of the application does not exist, worst, the pogoplug web interface does not function correctly on mobile sarafi, thus you can't get FULL resolution access to your photos on the iPad. I noticed a few comments in the forums about this, but not solutions.|
So, I thought I would take a look at the issue. I used the web interface on my pc for an hour or so, then noticed something strange. The URL to download the files was talking directly to the pogoplug(dockstar in my case). What would happend if I used the URL associated with the full resolution picture on the iPad? I gave it a quick try, it worked! So that leaves us with one large problem, how do we get the URL's for all the files on your pogoplug?
I worked on this for a day, and here is the solution...
For local use, the device also allows your home computers to mount the drives connected to the dockstar as network shares. Normally that would also be a great selling point, but in my case I already have a server for file sharing/PVR/torrent use. The DockStar by default comes with Samba, which enables windows drives to be connected to it. I think the regual pogoplug does not have the feature by default.
The hardware specs are better than a lot of NAS boxes you get for more money:
That just the start though...
Since you are able to get full access to the device, it's a hackers dream. Since I did not want to lose the normal abilities of the device, I just went out and managed to purchase two more at the same price, $30 Canadian, shortly after getting my first DockStar.
Loading and customizing Linux on the device is where it really shines, but I will leave that to an extended second article on the subject.
As you can see below, I had originally purchased and activated a Bell micro-sim, which I used in an iPhone 3GS. This was not hard since the activation could be done over the phone. When I tried to do this again, in August, it no longer worked. Bell tech support were not able to add any more money to my account, nor make any changes to it. They said it MUST be done via the iPad. I tried calling back a few times, but with no luck. They just said, it MUST be done via the iPad.
I was about to give up, after going to BestBuy and FutureShop in hope of using an iPad for a few minutes, but having no luck. My last idea was to google it. Well I now have been able to re-active the account. The 'iPad' application used to activate the Bell account is nothing more than an URL! Thus all I needed to do was a few simple tricks to make Firefox look like an iPad then visit the Bell URL. Few minutes later I had an activated and working Bell data account.
You need to do three things:
Update: Tethering is not enabled from the iPhone when connected to the Bell network.
Untested rogers activation information:
Activation URL: https://www.rogers.com/web/HSPA.portal?dev=cp&SIM=Y&IMEI=X
Pre-activation APN: internet.com
Since I use Speakout for my cell service, which does not have a decent data plan available, except for a slow WAP plan. I thought it might be nice to have the ability to enable the iPhone to use a 3G network if needed. Recently the iPad was launched in Canada. Bell is offering a $15 and $35 Plan. So, I thought I would give using that on my iPhone a try.
Making a micro-sim adapter was not too hard I guess. What I did was use part of the card that held the micro-sim to form my adapter. To do this, get a normal sim and use that as a guide to create the adapter. I at first used electrical tape to hold the micro-sim in place but found that too thick. The adapter would not fit in the iPhone, so I switch to masking tap to hold the micro-sim, that worked fine. Here are some photos.
Getting the APN setup was a bit of a problem. Normally it's simple, hit settings->general->network->cellular data and enter pda2.bell.ca for the APN. Problem was, when I did that ONLY opera worked! Strange to say the least. No other data applications worked at all. Thinking about this for a minute, I realized I had setup a 'profile' for the Speakout data(see below) using the iPhone configuration utility. I downloaded this utility again, then setup a Bell profile with the pda2.bell.ca for the APN, installed it on the iPhone and that fixed it. All data applications were working. Speed, using Speed Test application gave: 3433 down 327 up. Not bad at all.
If you really need to make a call when you have the Bell micro SIM in, just use Skype. Skype out(calling a land line) works great.
Note for SpeakOut users, when setting up the APN above, don't forget to enable 3G. Also don't forget to disable it when you place your SpeakOut sim back in your phone. I needed to re-boot my phone before it was able to connect to SpeakOut again.
Update: you can use tethering via the iPhone also.
Update 2: after 30 days it seems the SIM goes invalid, phone no longer shows Bell as the provider, just searching.
Update 3: See above about how to re-active now you can't do so via the phone.
I briefly tried three times before to setup Google voice from Canada with no luck. Many guides exist on the internet to help you with this, problem is they are out of date and just don't see to work. The fourth time was a charm for me. Before thinking about going to all this effort you should realize that you can't get a Canadian google voice number, but with a little effort you can get your US Google Voice number forwarded to any Canadian number. Regardless, using it does give you a chance to play with it so that once Canadian numbers are available, you will be familiar with the service.
The problem with activating a Google Voice account is Google Voice wants to phone you at a US based phone number and have you enter a two digit confirmation code as part of the activation. This requires a number of steps to get working from Canada.
The hardest part seems to be step 4 above, getting that software setup and working is just a bit problematic. Even when I run it now, it seems to fail about 30% of the time. You only need to answer that one phone call from Google Voice as part of the setup, after that, you don't need to be concerned with it.
The settings I used for the x-lite SIP phone software are:
* Update: I was aware that Google Voice had some kind of loophole that allowed forwarding to Canadian 403 area code numbers, but since I don't live in Calgary that was not of much help. It seems a serivce does exist that allow you to sign up for a free 403 number and forward it to any Canadian number. This service is FreePhoneLine.ca Using that service I selected a 403 area code(Calgary Alberta) number and just set it up to allways forward to my cell number. Now my US Google Voice number rings my Canadian cell number.
For a number of years now I have been using a cell provider called SpeakOut. In Ontario the phones/pre-paid service is sold through 7-11 stores. The service has never had a system access fee and has low rates (.20/minute). Usually I spend in total about $15-$25 a month, this includes free voice mail and caller id. Problem is, the service is far from perfect. They have no website to check usage or purchase air-time, plus they have no add on features. Recently, as in this month, they added a new option for WAP web access. For $7/month(introductory price for 90 days), then $10/month(Plus you get 25% off the $7 or $10 if you purchase the $75 or $100 vouchers since they both give you a bonus 25%)
After struggling for a few days with the settings, I was able to get this service up and running in 2g mode on an iPhone 3gs. Settings used.
What works and does not:
Most sites do work fine. That said, some do work much better than others. Using gmail via mail.google.com works very well, gmail detects the iPhone is the client and provides a custom (light) interface that is faster to deal with. Yahoo also detects the iPhone but the mobile site simply has scripting issues, similar issues also affect google.com. You can resolve the yahoo issue by simply clicking the 'desktop' link on the page to switch over from the mobile-light to the desktop version of the site. As for Google, it seems to get a script error. To access Google search, I just filled in the always present Google search box beside the URL in the iPhone, which allowed for a Google search. I assume the slow access and possible proxy being used are causing most of these issues.
Update: I have been using it for just over a week now. As indicated above, it works very well with gmail and some of the news readers, which seem to download in the background articles while you are reading. General web surfing is just too slow to tolerate, at least for me. Overall, I do think it will be worth keeping.
Update 2: A few things I have noticed over the last few weeks, some areas may have full strength cell access but data just does not work. One location where I hit this almost every day is within Union station in Toronto.
Update 3: Finally just gave up on the service. Just did not work fast and well enough to justify the price. When I need data, I just switch to the Bell iPad micro sim.
Please send me details on your experience with this, or comments, I will update this page. glalonde at gmail.com
It seems the price of power in Ontario is about to go up again. Since I have a moderate amount of electronic equipment around the house, I thought it might be wise to look into getting some idea on how much power all these devices are pulling. A found online a device called the Kill A Watt. Which allows the user to measure the power load you plug into the device.
Actual readings: (+/- 4 watts)
Seems Microsoft changed the contents of the MBR(Master Boot Record) between Vista and XP. Normally this is not an issue, but I wanted to do some changes to my machine that resulted in running in to a few problems. What I have done the last few times I changed drives, was to use a partition copy program so I can change disks without having to install the OS and all the programs again. My plan was to change out a noisy 500GB drive for an older 320GB drive, since only 100GB was in use I thought it would be easy. The drive had a copy of XP on it, which I did not want to reinstall then have to install all the programs again. Thus I used Acronis Disk Director to do a partition copy. This worked, but XP would not boot. First problem was the partition was set as logical not primary, which took a few minute to figure out. The disk was first brought online under Vista so it seems Vista wrote it's boot code in the MBR. So the boot manager(Vista's) could not find the OS(XP). Seems you need to boot using the XP install CD, in recovery mode, an issue fixmbr, fixboot to resolve this. I found an article that had this solution. Fix XP MBR(remove Vista boot manager)
Second thing I wanted to do was replace a 320GB drive with my main Vista install, with a 300GB VelociRaptor 10000RPM disk. Again, this went off easy until I tried to boot. The boot manager was not able to find the OS. Using a Vista install disk, I was also able to repair the boot problem. The Vista install just noticed an issue and asked if I wanted to fix it. After that, my Vista was up and working.
I spoke below about using HotSpot shield to access some US sites that only work from within the US, such as www.hulu.com for US network TV shows, while HotSpot shield does continue to work, the resulting user experience is just too poor to recommend. It seems as if the connection is very slow and when video plays the results are just too poor to watch. You also get ads injected at the top of each web page, which I assume is how they offer the service for free. Looking for another solution which worked better lead me to a post on redflagdeals.com(by user mrG). It seems as if a US hosting accounts shell account can be used via ssh tunneling. I have tested it and this solution does work well.
I spoke with NetFirms to ask which accounts supported this feature. Answer none. Thus I moved on to goDaddy. They indicated only a dedicated server account would allow for that. Which is just about the most expensive account you can get, giving you your own box.
Update (July 2010) : new direct access method is now available, works great to get around US only restrictions. See here
I hoped to see the Dell 30" monitor, 3007WFP-HC, on for $1000 over Christmas. This simply did not happen, they had other monitors on sale but not that one. Dell also has a newer 3008 model with a build-in scalar, so you can feed it more video sources. Problem with that is, the video is delayed, so if you are watching a movie the audio and video will be out of sync. This few frames delay also effects video games where you will be 'behind' in the action a few frames on the new 3008. Which is why I was looking for the 3007 model. It finally came on sale in January, 10 days of deals, for $900. Great deal, the 27" they sell is $850. You need a good video card to drive the monitor, since it requires a 2560x1600 resolution. I am using a 8800GT, which has two dual link DVI ports. My full review.
I fired up iTunes one day, went to the music video section where I had seen a country music video I was interested in getting. Seems the video was no longer available. Later that day I realized, it may have just been the fact I was signed into the Canadian iTunes store. Sure enough, switching to the USA store made the video show up, at 10% lower price too. Problem is, I was not able to create a US iTunes account. Seems you need a US credit card or PayPal account tied to a US credit card/bank account.
What to do? Then I recalled reading many years ago, about using a US iTunes gift card to register at iTunes USA. A quick trip over to eBay and I was able to find an auction for a $15 gift card ending soon. Won the action, asked the seller to just send the card number(no need for the physical card). Using that number I was able to setup an iTunes USA account(using a bogus New York city address). This gives a store credit equal to the value of the gift card. It seems as if most songs and albums are about the same price between the Canadian and US store. Videos and movies are cheaper in the US store, but given the exchange rate, it's about even. In the end, it not really about getting what you are looking for cheaper, it's just about being able to get it in the first place.
For a number of years, ever since I setup my media center machine in the family room witch runs Vista Ultimate(previously XP Media Center Edition), and is connected to a FTA box, I have been looking for a decently priced Media Center Extender to watch and control media center remotely. I found one, the XBox 360. With the recent price drops to only $199 for the XBox 360, it was an easy choice. You get possibly the best MCE available, one that can even generate HD content, for only $199. Also, I hear the thing can play games too! The final funny note about this is, the $199 version comes with no hard disk, but Microsoft started to offer a 20GB XBox drive for $20, so I picked one up. Seems the new xbox dashboard will need at least a 20GB drive, so MS was kind enough to offer one directly from them at a good price. It's a great solution, for anyone who has a media center PC and needs a MCE.
One problem many people have, like me, is that some content sites such as www.hulu.com or www.mtv.com, will only stream to ip addresses within the USA. A few solutions to this issue have existed for years(TOR), but none of which were easy enough for me to bother with. Recently I did find utility the addresses this in an easy to use fashion. It's Hotspot Shield, which connects to their servers and thus gives you a US bound IP address for the connections. You do get served ads at the top of web pages, just about ALL web pages from them. For this reason I use it just for a limited time.
Update: hotspot shield does work, but is slow and has some issues, see my Feb 2009 post above.
Having multiple computers can at times be a pain. Currently I have a main machine, laptop, and server for myself in my house. Attempting to keep contract, and schedule information synced is a long time goal I have had, but until now with no solution. Also, when at work, it would be nice to have access to some information on these machines. I have my iPhone syncing with Outlook for calendar entries, since that is the only calendar it will sync with. So, I changed over to use Outlook for my contacts also, this allows me to use Plaxo to sync calendar, contact and some note information between all my computers, phone and have an online copy for access via the Web. The Plaxo software must be downloaded from Plaxo and installed into Outlook to make this work, but it seems to function well and keeps all the copies in sync. The notes added to contacts gets synced with the iPhone and the calendar entries get synced, but the main notes don't, as expected since I don't they any application can sync with iPhone notes.
If you have multiple machines and want to keep contact and other information in sync between them, give Plaxo a try. For now it looks like a nice solution, and the standard account is free.
Update: The outlook sync feature is no longer free at Plaxo.
With PC being using for such a wide variety of functions today, from media viewing machines to general web surfing devices, it's very helpful to find a way to remotely control them. Each of the machines I have is setup for some type of remote control. My main media machine in the family room is using a Gyration mini-keyboard and Logitech AirMouse. That solutions works well but was rather expensive. Often I watch downloaded movies or TV shows in my den, using a 20" LCD while sitting about 8 feet away. The solution I use in this case is a MCE remote talking to a USB-UIRT device. This also works acceptably for controlling VLC, but does not allow for general PC control. That is I can't move the mouse around, rather I can only map the MCE's buttons to VLC commands.
Recently I purchased a laptop for use around the house, rather than being stuck in the den sitting in front of my main machine all the time. I found a nice solution to control even the laptop with a lot less expense then was uncured with my other two solutions. Along with a lot of other gear, I had a Logitech RumeblePad 2(USB) game controller I was not using much at all, to the extent I almost forgot about it. Then by total chance I found some software that lets you control the PC via the game controller, allow you to map the mouse to the rumeblepad's joystick control and also map the buttons of the rumblepad to any key(or key sequence) you wish. It's the Pinnacle Game Profiler software. It's not designed or marketed specifically for this type of use, but they do provide a windows 'background' profile that can be used for general PC control. The software is very customizable allowing a large array of keyboard mappings for each of the control's buttons. The level of PC control offered by this solution is far better than that of a simple MCE remote and comes out FAR less expensive than going with a media center 'air' type mouse and wireless keyboard solution. Coming in at only $19.95 for the software, this solution offers at a low cost the ability to get just about total remote control of the PC. Obviously you get the added bonus of being able to use the software for it's main design purpose too, that is add gamepad and joystick support to any game. The software works with a large variety of controls connects to the PC.
Update: I also managed to pickup a Logitech cordless RumblePad 2 at a good price, witch I can now use for this same purpose.
This really is great, we now can have a library with hundreds, if not thousands, of technical books on our local computer for reference. Sitting in at my desk in front of my main workstation for hours on end reading them, though is no joy. So I went on a search for a eBook reader. The kindle was almost what I wanted, problem is, it's not available in Canada and it does not support the wide range of formats most books seems to be in(pdf, html, chm). I looked at the ASUS EeePC but the 7" screen made it look more like a PDA, way to small. The 9" version sounds good, but for it's price I can get a "real" laptop. So the search was on, in the end I picked up a Dell Vostro 1510. The amount of processing power you can get in today's laptops at a reasonable price is truly great. My review of it here.
The answering machine software is once again working, at long last. When the server was moved from Windows XP(MCE) to Vista Ultimate, the existing software broke for a number of reasons. After replacing the modem twice to find one that worked well with Vista, and searching for some good software that was Vista compatible, I finally settled on FaxTalk Messenger Pro which seems to work better than any solutions I had used before. Coolest feature being the ability to e-mail you a message when a message is left.
Previously I had a long standing issue resolved. Even when the machine was working under XP, I noticed on a number of occasions an issue with video playback where green(usually) lines would show up. It looked as if the video file was corrupt, but viewing it on my main workstation showed on such issue with the file. One day I was adjusting the power settings that effect the CPU's stepping ability. I just thought of running the video when the CPU was forced to always be at 100%(no stepping) and the video issue that haunted me for almost a year was gone. Seemed the default not-busy stepping was running the CPU at about 50% speed which was just not enough to render the video correctly. I guess VLC just did not increase the load enough for the OS to step up the CPU to 100% since it was only the occasional frame who had this issue. All CPU throttling has been disabled via Vista. This can be changed in the power options, processor power management in Vista. Set both the minimum and maximum processor state to 100%. Note, your processor may run hotter because of this.
The USB-UIRT vista driver was released, and along with a open-source project I found, EventGhost, it is now possible to use USB-UIRT to accept commands from remotes to control vista. The EventGhost project while being a bit light on documentation, does provide a free flexible solution to control the system. You can setup different profiles to run which map events to windows actions such as a key press. Using this mechanism I setup a MCE and VLC profile while I use to control the playback of media via an IR MCE Remote while sitting across from the PC. The software seems to come with some nutty defaults, but it's not too hard to configure.