25 April 2012

Solved: USB flash thumb drive not recognized by Windows

So, today I decided to intall the newest build of Chromium OS for my Dell Mini 9.  I didn't have a 4GB thumb drive handy, and so took a risk using the 32GB one I have on my key ring. Needless to say, the install did not work, but what was worse, Windows now only saw 1GB of space.

Using Disk Management the problem was clear - imaging the drive had created a number of linux partitions which were not being seen by Windows. I  could delete them, but not merge them into a Windows friendly format, which is why I then reverted to the good old magic of GParted.

GParted not only saw and deleted all the partitions, it could also format it into a single 32GB NTFS space.


And here is why I am writing the post...

The drive was still not being "seen" by Windows. When I plugged it into a USB port a dialogue would pop up saying that drivers were being installed, and then it would fail. The drive did not appear in My Computer and did not show up in Disk Management either. I was flummoxed. I went into Device Manager and could see that when I inserted the drive it was recognized but the driver installation failed. No amount of forcing a driver update (locally or on the internet) worked as the OS reported that the latest drivers were installed.

So finally I went back to GParted and reformatted the drive, then clicked on "Disk" in the top menu and "Disk label" in the drop down menu. The entire disk was reformatted with a new msdos label. And lo and behold! The key was once again recognized in my PC. Hooray!

28 December 2011

Parent-proofing the PC

So, that time of the year has swung around again, and it is time to tweak the parental PCs to ensure they are running smoothly and malware free, at least for another year. Last year I gave my parents the old Dell Mini 9. Unfortunately, they found it a little too fiddly for daily use and were squinting at the screen all the time. As the demands they place on their PC is minimal (web browsing, flash video and video chatting) I didn't need to get them anything too complicated and settled on a Dell Mini 12 with a 6 cell battery. This gives them the slim profile of the Dell Mini 9, but with a spacious keyboard and screen. Naturally, before giving it too them, I tweaked it a bit so they would be able to use it, hopefully free of further intervention on my part, for the forseeable future.

Step 1: Reinstall the OS
You never really know where these second hand PCs have come from, or what nefarious software has been preinstalled, so my first step is always to reinstall the OS. In this case it was also an upgrade, from Windows Vista to Windows 7. Being well attuned to Windows XP, my parents will find Windows 7 a bit of a jump, but should be able to acclimatize themselves to the change. Linux distros are a definite no-no.

I also split the HDD into an OS and a storage partition should a reinstall or OS change ever be necessary, and point all programs (Live Messenger, mail client, web browser) which may potentially save anything they download to that partition. This is where they will save all the photos I send them as well as those hundreds of crappy powerpoint slideshows their friends send them.

Step 2: Install Microsoft Security Essentials
Lightweight, runs in the background, updates automatically and free, this is, as its name suggests, an absolute essential.

Step 3: Install Google Chrome
Also lightweight and simple to use, but especially important for its sandboxing of flash and the fact that it too autoupdates. Plus it now seems to support virtually all websites and definitely the fancy new HTML5 ones. I also install AdBlock to minimize the chance they actually click on one of those random pop-ups.

Step 4: Install LogMeIn
If, heaven forbid, the parents do manage to screw up the PC, some form of remote desktop is needed. This isn't used too frequently, but it does help be troubleshoot software issues in person from two continents away. Sure beats long drawn out phone conversations where neither of us is entirely sure what the other is saying.

Step 5: Create a standard user account and a guest account
A rule of thumb is to only give administrator access to admins, which is why a standard user account is needed as it locks down the system so my parents can't randomly install things. A guest account is needed as well for whenever an aunt, uncle, cousin or nephew pops round and wants to play. That way they can do what they like without wrecking my hard work or screwing up my parents' settings.

26 May 2010

A (re-)look at the Samsung SGH-i600

I realise that I am in the fortunate position of owning both an HTC HD2 and a Toshiba TG01, two super specc'd and very speedy Windows Mobile smart phones. More on the Tosh later, as I have now upgraded to 6.5.x and it is working beautifully as my portable media player, synchronizing beautifully with my Windows media centre.

Until last week, the HD2 was my actual phone, but, much as I like it, there are a few things which I would prefer to see in it. The first is a longer battery life - with Exchange and Twitter running you are lucky to get through 12 hours of use before a recharge. The second is that, much as I like Swype, the on-screen software inpout panels (SIPs) are much more effective on a resistive screen, and I prefer a harware keyboard anyway. The third is that the HD2, even though it is all screen, is still pretty massive.

I am also someone who is fortunate enough to have 2 SIM cards: one for voice and texts (with minimal data) and one for data alone. So, what was the best way to optimize my devices? Well, it would make sense for me to put the data SIM into the HD2 because with internet connection sharing and the marvellous WiFi router, it would be the easiest for using that connection. I also like that I can take it with me and have its serve independently as a mobile internet device (do people still use the term "MID"?).

The Tosh is still my home browsing device, so that meant I needed a new phone, preferably one with a hardware keyboard, WiFi, HSDPA and also pretty cheap. That's where the Samsung SGH-i600 came in. I manage to snag one on eBay for just under £40. It came announced as SIM-locked to O2, but O2 doesn't really lock their handsets so both the 3 and the Orange SIMs work in it. After doing the basic tests to make sure everything was operational I flashed it from Windows Mobile 5.0 to Windows Mobile 6.1. This is not a particularly difficult procress but definitely requires Windows XP (not Vista or 7) and involves a particular sequence of ROM flashes to allow the progression to higher versions of the OS. Now it has the lovely sliding panels interface and all.

Key programs I've loaded on board in no particular order:

  • twikini

  • total commander

  • facebook

  • windows live

  • marketplace

  • bing

  • google maps

  • keep recordin'

  • live mesh

  • myphone

  • opera mini 5 beta

  • smart piano

  • tcpmp

  • tempoperfect

  • weather watcher

  • wm wifi router

Overall I am pretty pleased with the result. The phone serves mainly as a social networking hub and with push email, twitter (via twikini) and facebook all of my bases are covered. This being an older phone the internet connection is HSDPA version 1, but it is fast enough even for browsing using Opera mini.

One thing I will say is that the normal battery is definitely not enough. You will need to use the extended battery if you want to use any kind of connectivity. Thankfully the phone came with a jewel box shaped charger so you are never without an extra. One work of caution though, for reasons entirely incomprehensible to me, Samsung have cables which either charge your phone, or synchronize it, but not both. So you cannot charge the phone with the USB cable that comes with the phone and must use the included wall plug. For people like me who use a single wall wart USB adapter then plug the variety of USB cables in to allow charging of all the different electrical gizmos this is singularly annoying!

My other criticism is that the processor isn't all that quick (certainly conmpared to the two snapdragon devices), so if you are contemplating watching videos encoded in the native QVGA resolition, then you will ve disappointed. Instead, I reencode everything using Windows Media Encoder into the Pocket PC 220x176 profile. This keeps a decent framerate and image quality, with a small file size.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with this arrangeent; my conclusion is that nothing can beat a hardware keyboard at the end of the day!

21 April 2010

Hacking the joggler

So the joggler arrived on Monday and it is a pretty cool gadget as I described previously. But in its box fresh state it is fairly limited. For instance, the news source is limited to Sky News. Who decided that? When I booted it up, a firmware update did a bit to correct it my allowing the installation of the official app store and Google calendar rather than the built in O2 one. Intriguingly, my joggler, unlike the publicity materials, only bears O2 branding in the firmware, and nowhere on the hardware at all. This bodes well for future software upgrades!

I wasted no time in applying the telnet hack, which was somewhat delayed only by my inability to find a suitable USB stick, followed by the Pimp My Joggler hack. This installed a load of BBC streaming channels (amongst other programs) which now come to the Joggler via WiFi. All in all, pretty cool. I am now just waiting for the rest of iPlayer and hopefully the other terrestrial channels to show up for a great in kitchen telly! Even if they don't, all is not lost as the good news is that the joggler can already conect to my home server to view TV shows stored on it recorded by my media center.

19 April 2010

That big ass table

It was with some surprise that I wandered into Delft tourist information to find Microsoft Surface in action there. Never touched one of these before, and it was unoccupied. I am convinced this really is the way of the future!

10 April 2010

Joggler, not iPad

Readers of my blog will realize that the iPad is basically the antithesis of everything I believe in when it comes to gadgetry: a shiny, slick, seductive trinket which is also a closed and proprietary appliance. I'm not saying that this is not right for many people, but for me, with my propensity to tinker and tweak, it is unsatisfying. And the suggestion that any company can decide what I run on my own computer once I've bought it is frankly downright insulting. I can't put it better than Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing, or Peter Bright at Ars Technica, but in short, Apple is doing its hardest to lock people into its own way at the expense of open standards. Bad, bad Apple!

This did not, of course, stop me from popping down to the Apple Store by the Licoln Center for a quick fondle, and I must say that it does swoop and swoosh with considerable aplomb, so the device is very appealing from an aesthetic level in terms of both the hardware and software. What really put me off though, in addition to the above, was the zealous fervour of the random member of the public next to me, trying to convince his friend about the wonders of this new device. It was as though he was a paid salesman who was regurgitating that ridiculous video where Jonathan Ives is going on about how "magical" the iPad is. Urk. She, on the other hand, was sensibly asking things like "Where is the keyboard?" and "I have a netbook, why do I need this?" If there is one thing worse than the smugness of Apple, it is the sumugess of its users.

Anyway, exposing myself to new tech makes me itchy to buy something, so I withdrew before I made a regretable mistake, but wasn't quite fast enough. When I got in, I chanced across an advert for the O2 Joggler and how it was going for just £49.99 for a limited time to celebrate the launch of the app store. Now, I remember the Joggler when it first came out: it is a rebranded OpenPeak Open Frame, but O2's customizations and firmware castrated its functionality leaving it as little more than a really expensive photoframe (it originally cost £149.99). Despite this, it really is a great piece of hardware with pretty good specifications including a 7" WVGA capacitive touch screen, WiFi, a built-in speaker and an Atom processor. The hardware alone costs more than £50, so at that price I could't say no.

A bit more reading, however, and I have now discovered that O2 have finally released an SDK and a style guide, which bodes well for new funcitonality. They have already added Google Calendar, Google Maps and YouTube. And there are other hackers out there who have managed to install Ubuntu Netbook Remix, Android and even Maemo Mer onto it. The joggler does not ahve batteries, so it may have been more prudent to have waited for a true Android tablet, but it wouldn't have been this cheap. Will give it a bit of a play and see where it goes. Delivery due any time now!

26 March 2010

Replacing the N800

For a device which, for the better part of 18 months was my main way of accessing and listening or watching podcasts, I blogged very little about the Nokia N800. Sadly, with the arrival of the Toshiba TG01, I decided that it was time for it to find a new home, and it has, courtesy of eBay, flown the coop.

Of course, this means that the TG01 had to be repurposed to this role. But could it live up to the standards of the N800? Well the answer is both a 'yes' and a 'no'. First of all, the TG01 just doesn't have anywhere near the same kinds of speakers of the N800. I don't mind the loss of stereo sound, but I do mind that the Toshiba can't really crank up the volume enough. I don't need it to be too loud, just loud enough to overcome the sound of frying something in the kitchen or splashing about in the tub. The TG01 can't quite achieve this. The other major issue is the lack of a built in stand. I looked on line for a case which has this as part of the design, but they were nowhere to be found. Instead I have taken to using a bit of blutack to stick the stand which came with the TG01, a weird 3-way folding contraption, to the back of the phone. It works but is hardly cosmetic. I guess the best thing is that it works in both landscape and portrait where the N800 could not.

So, what do I use now as my pod catcher? Well, the one I have settled on is BeyondPod, which has two great features. The first is automatic seeking and downloading of podcasts. This means I never have to check manually and all the latest material is there for me to watch when I want. It also has a great automatic delete function, which I have set to remove podcats older than three weeks. This is essential as I have an 8GB card in there which is surprisingly little capacity. I am still sticking to downloading the versions of the podcasts formatted for the PSP as the resolution is fine, but some shows just don't come compressed that way, such as the Engadget Show. There was some trepidation the first time I played this on the TG01 - would the Snapdragon processor hold up? - but it all seems to run fine at the encoded frame rate. Of course the file is totally massive, and, for my purposes, unnecessarily so.

The other amazing program is myPlayer, a great riff on the BBC iPlayer, but which supports most of the U.K.'s on-line TV channels as well as the one from the Beeb. Now, in this case the resolution does matter, as what comes through is blocky and pixelated, and now and then there are limitations to the speed at which it streams. This can lead to the odd glitch in playback.

Finally, the Snapdragon processor really comes into its own when myPlayer is combined with my pair of bluetooth speakers. I have, in the past used an HTC Magician to try to stream audio, and this worked fairly well. The N800 does not have the BT audio profile so could not connect to the external speakers. But the TG01 handles the combined streaming of video into the device via Wifi, decoding and displaying the image on the screen, and transmitting the audio out via bluetooth to the speakers without a hitch. Amazing! To a certain extent it also mitigates the disadvantage of the poor built-in speakers.