Friday, December 23, 2011

Android Tablet Update Woes

While this comes during what might be my last few weeks as an Android tablet user (I see an iPad on the horizon!), this annoying little problem wasted a crap-ton of bandwidth and time before I figured out how to fix it.

I've got the Acer Iconia 500 tablet. I hadn't used it in a month or so. (It got buried under some mail). I dug it out the other day so I could load my new SitePoint books onto it.

Sidebar - their Christmas sale is fantastic and it's almost over! You can get a bunch of their ebooks super cheap (and their books are fantastic). See this - SitePoint Christmas Sale.

When I booted up the tablet, it said there was a system update, to 7.006.01 (not sure if this is relevant, but just in case....). Coolio. Go.

400MB later, I noticed that the update didn't install, and instead, started downloading itself all over again. Wha?? Hmm. Maybe there are 2 downloads. I let it go.

400MB later, I noticed that again the update didn't install, and again, it started downloading itself all over again. Really? Can this be right? OK. I'm going to try one more time.

400MB later, I gave up and went to bed.

The next day, I tried again, and (you see where this is going), again, the tablet downloaded the entire 400MB then started all over again.

(How many times can I type "again" in one post?)

The fix: go into the tablet settings and set the screen timeout to the maximum possible (30 minutes).

I know what you're thinking. "What does the screen timeout have to do with installing a system update?" (That's what I thought, anyway).

Apparently, when the download completes, if the screen is asleep, the install screen will not appear and the download goes into an infinite loop.

Bummer for anybody that doesn't happen to notice it! That's a lotta wasted bits and bytes, Batman. Hope you're not on metered bandwidth!

Thankfully, with the screen on, upon completion the download of my 5th or so attempt at the update, the install screen appeared and I was able to continue on my merry way.

Coincidentally, these updates also fixed another problem I was having. I was unable to get the Android file manager to see any files on my tablet (so that I could copy my ebooks from my iMac to the tablet). Don't get me started on how crappy the support and options are for syncing Android tablets to the Mac platform.

The moral of the story is: I should get an iPad. :)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thunderbolt + DVI = Fail

Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas!

Has it really been a year since I've posted here? That seems to me a pretty good testament to the fact that Macs just don't cause me as much woe as Windows machines do. (I spent 2011 using primarily Macs). Hoorah for Apple!

I'm a full-on Kool-Aid drinking card-holding member of the Apple clan these days. I use iMacs and MacBook Pros both at home and at work, and recently (finally!) switched from Android to the iPhone. (Next up will be replacing my Android tablet with an iPad, but I have to hurry up and win the lottery first).

I still own two Windows based machines:

1. My "kitchen laptop", which was the cheapest laptop I could possibly find, used as an internet access device to look up recipes while I'm cooking. (It had to be cheap, because I'm clumsy in the kitchen and fully expect one day to drop a cup of flour or a bottle of oil on it).

2. My "gaming" PC, which is also a super-cheap rig (< $500) that I put together so I could play Ultima Online without having to boot out of OS X via Bootcamp on any of my Macs.

And yes, they did happen to give me some troubles in 2011 (namely with video irregularities on the PC that caused me to send my video card back to XFX, as the mainboard was reporting a video card failure via boot sequence beeps). The problem was resolved when I put a new video card in, so I figured the card was faulty. XFX tested the card and sent it back to me, unable to detect any problems. Now, the new video card is flickering out with the same symptoms that led to the initial "failure" of the first card, and all I can do is shrug and say, "I hate PC's!!!"

But those aren't the kinds of problems that warrant posting here, because I like to keep this blog for posting solutions that I come across (so that I can look them up for future reference as necessary, and maybe help somebody else out with the same problem in the process). Unfortunately for me, I still don't have a solution to the video problem.

But back to my glorious Macs!

Just because they're glorious doesn't mean they're entirely trouble-free (though they are indeed mostly trouble-free, at least in my experience!)

I had the joy of purchasing a new 27" iMac recently. My previous setup was a 20" iMac connected to a 22" ViewSonic secondary monitor via a Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter. It worked great.

The new iMacs, though, have the new "Thunderbolt" port instead of the old Mini DisplayPort, though they claim to be backward compatible.

I plugged my ViewSonic into the new 27" iMac with the same cable setup as I had working minutes earlier on the 20" iMac, and... nothing. iMac did not detect the second monitor, and the monitor did not detect a computer signal.

Long story short.... TONS of people are reporting similar troubles getting Thunderbolt ports (on both iMacs and on MacBook laptops) to recognize DVI monitors. Now - if you have a large screen (27"+) monitor, it could be an issue of needing the dual-link DVI adapter ($100) instead of the single-link DVI adapter ($30), due to resolution constraints on the single-link adapter. But that wasn't my problem.

The solution:

Well, it's not exactly a solution, particularly if your monitor doesn't support HDMI. But, the solution seems to be to use HDMI instead of DVI. Lots of people reported that working, and it worked for me.

Now, I've got the 27" iMac running a Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter, connected to a DVI to HDMI cable, and the HDMI cable going into the monitor.

It works.

Of course, this meant some monitor-juggling, because my ViewSonic doesn't have HDMI. But, the never-heard-of-them Hannspree monitor that I bought for my cheap Windows box has HDMI. So, I swapped monitors.

It's not ideal; the ViewSonic is a 24" monitor and the Hanspree is a 20" one (which looks awfully ridiculous next to the 27" iMac). But, it's better than nothing. Even though the 27" iMac gives me plenty of screen real estate to work with, I still like putting some things off to the side on another monitor (like social media and chat apps, etc).

So, there you have it. Thunderbolt to DVI is wonky. Use Thunderbolt to HDMI instead. This is on OS X Lion 10.7.2. Good luck!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Yes, it's been some time since I posted here, but that is a good thing - because it means I haven't had any technological woes worth recording for the archives!

Is that what happens when you switch to Mac? Ahhh... technological bliss.

For the record, I'm still enjoying life without the DirecTV bill. That whole thing has worked out very well, and with the money I'm saving on TV services, I hired maids! Best decision ever! :)

Here's hoping you've found something to be thankful for in 2010, and something to look forward to in 2011 - wishing you a happy and healthy new year!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Be the One.

Be the One. Sign the petition. Restore the Gulf.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How I ditched DirecTV and their $100/month bill

It's official. I cut the proverbial cord. I canceled my DirecTV service in favor of internet TV.

Before I proceed, I want to make clear that I really have no problems with DirecTV. I was a loyal customer for a decade. I'm not a fan of some of their subcontracted technicians, but overall, I rarely needed to invoke customer service, and when I did, it was generally a good experience. What I did not like about DirecTV (or any paid television option currently available) was that I was paying $100/month but only watching a handful of channels - mostly locals, which I could technically get for free over-the-air.

I would absolutely love if a la carte TV came to be, where I could build my own bundle of channels and just pay for those. I'd gladly pay! But since that's not an option, I'm forced to go the other extreme, and basically pay nothing instead. It seems like the cable and satellite companies are missing out on a niche audience that, according to CNN, is growing - people that are ditching their cable and satellite bills altogether. 1 in 8 people in 2010, they predict.

There was a certain sense of "Yeah! Fight The Man!" rebellion that came to me when I hung up the phone for the last time with DirecTV, as well as a bit of fear. Trepidation, if you will. Like, this afternoon, when I was driving home from the gym and heard a radio commercial for one of my favorite TV shows, Rescue Me. The new season starts tonight. I will not be able to watch it "live." For a moment, I wanted to grab my blankie and run back to mama.

Still, I think I'm going to be OK, and after a week or so of tinkering and trial and error, I've got my home theater PC up and running, and all is well.

There are 2 parts to my setup, one of which requires a preface. I'm not completely relying on the internet for TV. I could if I wanted to - the TV tuner I bought for my PC does support the reception of free over-the-air HD local channels. However, my current situation will make my choice clear.

You see, for a decade or so, I have paid two bills: a DirecTV bill for my satellite TV, and a cable bill for my internet access. I originally had to go with satellite TV because they were the only option to receive the NHL Center Ice package, which allowed me to watch out-of-market hockey games (which was very important to me at the time). I had to go with cable internet because, well, it was the fastest option out there (and still is - I love my Comcast cable internet, in spite of the fact that I fear Comcast is the next coming of Satan).

When I signed up for Comcast, there were two pricing tiers: one for current (TV) customers, and one for non-TV customers. It was $30/month cheaper for internet service if you were a TV customer, but the limited basic cable TV package only cost $20/month. So, if I signed up for limited basic cable, I'd be saving $10/month over not signing up - even if I never used the cable TV. So I went that route. (This was, of course, 10 years ago - I'm sure things have changed since).

So that's the first part of my setup - I'm taking advantage of the limited basic cable that I was already paying for. That gets me my local channels over cable (in HD even!). It's kind of like the olden days when TV channels only went up to 60-something, and skipped a bunch of numbers in between.

The second part of my setup is the internet TV, which I am viewing through Boxee. My first attempt at using Boxee was to install it on my Apple TV. While it worked, I had some major complaints. First, the wifi in the Apple TV is extremely flaky, and it would drop out all the time. To add to that frustration, once you're logged into Boxee, if the internet connection drops, Boxee doesn't throw an error message. It just returns zero results for whatever you were searching for, or dumps back to the home screen when you try to watch a video.

The other problem I had with using the Apple TV for Boxee was that the Apple TV just isn't powerful enough to push video out smoothly at 1080. It was OK at 720, but at 1080 resolution, video got choppy - particularly Flash video. (Maybe the flaky wifi contributed to this, as it does rely on internet streaming - I'm not sure). And speaking of Flash, the current version of Boxee at the time of this writing did not include Flash 10.1, which most of the major streaming video sources were requiring - so I had to go through a process of SSH'ing into my Apple TV over the network and downloading and installing the Flash update via the command line - something my mom would definitely not be comfortable doing.

So, the Apple TV running Boxee was not going to be my path to TV-bill freedom.

Then, I had a thought: what if I took the PC that I built a few months back to play Ultima Online, and ran Boxee on that? I looked up Boxee's recommended system specs for Windows:

  • a dual-core x86 system at 2.66GHz or faster (check!)
  • 2GB of RAM (check!)
  • a video card that supports OpenGL 1.4 or higher (check!)
  • DirectX 9 (check!)
Hmm. Seems like a no-brainer! So I downloaded and installed Boxee on my PC, and moved it into the living room. It had a wifi card in it, so I connected to the internet that way, then hooked it up to my TV via a DVI-to-HDMI cable, and voila. Smooth streaming video over the internet to my TV.

The next step was a bit of an experiment, because I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to just simply split my cable and run it to the PC. I only have one Comcast cable drop coming into my house, and that runs straight into my cable modem (despite the fact that I also pay for limited basic TV cable).

I picked up a 2.4GHz 2-way splitter and a roll of RG6 coax cable and held my breath. I disconnected my cable modem, added the splitter, then reconnected the cable modem to that. And... whoa! My internet was still working! With that hurdle crossed, it was time to try running it to my TV. I wasn't sure if I was going to need some sort of cable box from Comcast in order to access the cable TV service I was paying for.

It turns out, all I needed was a TV tuner for my PC that supported the QAM digital cable standard. So I ran over to CompUSA (aka TigerDirect) and got this USB TV tuner (that also supports over-the-air HD, which was my backup plan if the cable didn't work) - the PCTV HD mini Stick, model 80e.

(I had to go with USB because I had no PCI slots left in my machine - it's just a cheap $400 PC that I put together to play PC games, as of course I'm a Mac user otherwise).

I had some problems getting the TV Tuner working initially. The problems weren't with the cable - it detected my channels the first time through, and that went perfectly well. The problem was that the software it came with kept crashing. After a lot of Googling, I realized that the drivers it shipped with were Vista drivers, and did not specify if they were 32 or 64 bit drivers. I'm running Windows 7 64 bit.

After further digging, I found that the tuner card, formerly made by Pinnacle, was taken over by a company (or sub-company of Pinnacle?) called PCTV. So, the drivers on Pinnacle's web site were not the latest. I had to get updated Windows 7 "beta" drivers from the PCTV web site, and the updated TVCenter software. These together worked perfectly.

The TVCenter software was kind of clunky, though. I kept seeing people mention the Windows Media Center, but I assumed I didn't have it because I just had the "professional" edition of Windows 7, and back in Vista-land, "professional" meant that it did not include any of the fun stuff. I decided to check my Start menu anyway, and lo and behold - there it was!

Long story short - Windows Media Center is much more slick and user-friendly for watching live TV than the software that came bundled with my TV tuner card. I had to re-do the channel scanning, but other than that, it worked right out of the box.

The only thing missing was a remote control! (It got a bit tedious having to get off the couch to go to the computer every time I wanted to change the channel). So I picked up a USB Media Center remote that also works with Boxee - the Pinnacle (also now PCTV) Remote Kit for Media Center. It only mentions Vista compatibility, but it worked fine for me with Windows 7, no drivers necessary. It got good reviews, but I feel like it's kind of a crappy remote - maybe a 3/5 rating. It's not very substantial - feels cheap - and I often have to press and hold buttons repeatedly to get them to pick up, even though I'm less than 10 feet away from the infrared receiver and have a clear view to it. It's annoying, but it doesn't seem like there are many options out there for good home theater PC remotes. I need to do more research on the topic.

So, my current setup involves limited basic cable provided by Comcast, running into a USB TV tuner card, and Boxee, streaming internet video content over my cable internet connection (also provided by Comcast). You could achieve this exact same setup without the basic cable TV package, by attaching an HD antenna to the TV tuner instead and getting your live local channels that way (over-the-air for free).

The only glitchy thing is that I can't seem to get Boxee or Windows Media Center to default to my "second" monitor, which is my HDTV. They both insist on starting up on my computer monitor, which is set as primary. I haven't tried making the HDTV primary, because really, I want the computer monitor to be primary (it's hard to see the TV from where the computer sits). I'm sure there's a solution - I just haven't found it yet. So, when I start up Boxee or Media Center, I quickly press Windows-Shift-left-arrow to swap screens. It's not a big deal. I can live with it.

But can I live with waiting until tonight's Rescue Me season premiere is available for viewing off of the FX web site? It'll be tough over the summer, while I'm off work and free to watch TV whenever I want, but come fall when I'm back at work, I rarely watch TV shows until a week or two after they air anyway.

I've only come across a few regular cable-channel shows that I can't yet view through Boxee. TNT has 2 shows that I watch - The Closer, and Men of a Certain Age. GSN runs High Stakes Poker. Discovery runs Storm Chasers. While these shows can be viewed via their respective web sites, they aren't being picked up yet in Boxee. All of my other shows are on the major local networks, or are available through Boxee - and I wouldn't be surprised if these others end up on Boxee eventually too.

So, I could either watch these straggler shows on the computer, or buy them from the iTunes store or Amazon Video on Demand. Buying a few TV shows is still cheaper than the $1,200 a year I was paying to DirecTV.

I will be fine. And I am saving $100/month.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Missing Textures folder in Photoshop CS4 Presets

If you're working on a Photoshop tutorial in CS4 that was written for Adobe Photoshop CS3 or earlier, and it requires you to load a texture into the Texturizer filter from your Presets/Textures folder, you'll quickly discover that the Textures folder does not exist.

While I didn't have much luck finding the textures available for download on the web (I was seeking the Puzzle.psd texture), I was able to grab the textures off of an old Photoshop CS3 DVD that I had laying around.

Just open up the DVD, and open the Goodies folder. You'll see another folder called "Textures for Lighting Effects." That's the one! Copy that folder into your CS4 Presets folder on your hard drive, and you're good to go.

Crisis averted.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Walk MS 2010

Donate online via my Walk MS 2010 page!

In 3 weeks, I will be walking in the Walk MS 2010 event for Team Kathy. We're walking for my cousin's wife's mom, who has battled multiple sclerosis for years, and it greatly affects her everyday life. MS interrupts the flow of information between the brain and the body and eventually stops people from moving.

Every hour another person is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. For 20,000 people in Illinois and some 400,000 nationwide, that hour has already arrived.

It's not easy to pinpoint the cause of multiple sclerosis and so far, the cure rests on continued research. This is why I am writing to you: I need your help, generosity and support! Donate to our team, or come walk with us!

As a participant in the Chicago South Suburbs Walk MS taking place on Sunday, May 2, 2010, I am raising money so the Greater Illinois Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society can continue to provide programs and services for Illinois families impacted by multiple sclerosis while funding vital research into the cause and cure of multiple sclerosis.

The Greater Illinois Chapter utilizes approximately 88% of every dollar raised to fund programs that actively help people with multiple sclerosis and their families, public and professional education and research. A portion of your donation will help fund more than 350 multiple sclerosis research projects.

Please consider making a tax-deductible donation on my behalf to help me reach my fundraising goal. No amount is too small!! Online donations can be made simply by clicking on the link at the bottom of this message. You can also send a donation made payable to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to me, or print a donation form and mail it to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Every dollar makes a difference in leading the movement against multiple sclerosis.

Check out my personal page to learn why I'm walking in this great event on Sunday, May 2. You can even check on my fundraising progress, and if you've made a donation, look for your name scrolling in the fundraising honor roll. Your support is so important to me and to Kathy and to all those living with multiple sclerosis.

I truly appreciate your support and will keep you posted on my progress!

Thank you!

Donate online via my Walk MS 2010 page!