Sunday, June 29, 2008

Happy Birthday Jarrett!

Click to enlarge picture We celebrated Jarrett's first birthday today by throwing him a party right at home. It was a family only affair but the turnout was already more than we can cope. I did not manage to do a count but I suspect it to be around 50 pax with a fifth of them being kids. Thanks for the strong support guys!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Moving ffp to a USB stick

Ok, I finally got down to moving ffp to a cheap 1GB USB stick. The motivation for doing so are:

  1. Power saving - When there are little to no activities in the box, I do not want the hard disks to spin up unnecessarily.
  2. Clean HD_a2 file system - I still haven't figure out why cleanboot is not working on my box hence I rather risk a corrupted USB stick containing only ffp than my precious 500GB of real data.

Here are the steps I took to get it working on my box: [Edit: The instructions below is no longer valid for ffp 0.5 dated Aug 20th and later. Please look here for the latest instructions.]

  1. Get a cheap 1GB USB stick and plug it into the USB port behind the device. (duh!)
  2. Download the necessary module (i.e. usb-storage.ko) from here and put it in the folder /ffp/lib/modules/[kernel_version]/. Note that this is a new directory that you will need to create. (TIP: run 'uname -r' on the command line first to get the kernel version and then substitute it in the path above)
  3. Test the compatibility of the USB stick by running the usb mounting script that came with the ffp v0.5 package.
    1. Note: you may need to edit the script var usbdisk_dev if you have a second HDD as the default value is sdb1.
    2. run the script using the command ". ./"
    3. If everything is ok, you should see the message "Mounting /dev/sdc1 on /mnt/HD_a2/sdc1". You may also want to run df to confirm that it is properly mounted.
  4. Now that you are sure your USB stick works in the DNS-323, its time to format the stick in ext2. To do this, unmount the stick and run "mke2fs /dev/sdc1".
  5. Now, mount the new fs and copy the entire ffp folder to the stick. i.e. run "mount /dev/sdc1 /mnt/HD_a2/sdc1", followed by "cp -a /mnt/HD_a2/ffp /mnt/HD_a2/sdc1/".
  6. When we get here, we are now ready to replace the stock fun_plug script with one that will run ffp from the USB stick. There are a couple of variants floating about in the forum. Personally, I like the one by SilentException best as it identifies the stick via its UUID hence making sure it grabs the right stick for our mount point even if you have multiple USB sticks attached to the box.
    1. Backup your original fun_plug script. (This is always a good idea)
    2. Grab the script from here and put it in the root directory of /mnt/HD_a2.
    3. Locate your device's UUID by running the command blkid /dev/sdc1.
    4. Copy the UUID and replace the value in the variable USB_DEV_UUID in the script.
    5. You may also want to edit/remove the portion after #MS (but before # run commands!)
    6. Reboot the box and when it comes back up, check the log /mnt/HD_a2/ffp.log to make sure that you are now running ffp off the USB stick instead of the HDD.
Note that for convenience, this script also defines the shortcuts /hd and /usb to refer to /mnt/HD_a2 and /mnt/USB respectively.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Things I don't like about the Diamond

A few observations, gripes and questions after a week with the device:

  1. For the sms wakeup problem, i noticed that in my unit, i do get the audio alert even after the phone went to sleep. however, there are a couple of times when it just flash the ring of light with no alert. I know this as I got the phone in front of me on my desk most of the time. Oh, and most importantly, i did not do the sms wake up fix.

  2. For Voice Command, it is mapped to button 1. But for the life in me, i can't find button 1! Oh, and I did search the manual but the diagrams does not show any button 1! [edit: Ok, apparently, this is the call button. Thanks to a fellow diamond user for telling me.]
  3. For the issue on screen going blank on connecting a call, I believe this is only true when the light sensor near the ear piece gets cover up. I suppose the assumption is that it happens when you put the phone to your ear hence you will not be requiring the screen. (plus it saves on battery and prevents accidental screen press!) So its really thoughtful of HTC to put in this feature. HOWEVER, the implementation comes up short. Why? cuz
    1. when you wanna end the call, you need to do two actions - (1) turn on the screen via the power button and (2) end the call via the on screen button. Or on my unit, I found out that the first press on the end call button while the screen is off does not end the call but power up the screen so you have to press twice to end the call.
    2. say you picked up a call by putting the phone to your ear, then u decided to use the notes app to enter some data. Yeah, pulling out the stylus will turn on the screen and open up the notes app. That's a nice touch (sic) but the damn screen turns off a split second later. just brilliant. Oh, and if you manually turn the screen back on, it goes off after a split second again (as long as the call is still active). sigh... nice idea but half baked implementation.
    3. [edit: Apparently, I was wrong on the light sensor part. It is really the accelerometer that is behind this. Granted that under _certain_ circumstances, you will lay it flat to enter data but there are _many_ other scenarios where you won't have it flat (e.g. when you are out and about!) and yet you need to enter data or just to check your appointments!]
  4. According to the manual, hitting the left softkey (labeled "send text") during an incoming call automatically sends a canned SMS reply (which you set in one of the options field) to the caller. However, when I finally got a chance to use it today (a call came in during a meeting and I simply pressed on the softkey followed by hitting the "off" hard button), I found out that the softkey launches a new sms input screen with the "to" field set to the caller and your canned text in the message body BUT it does NOT send out the message. Woah... is it just me or does this not tally with what is described in the manual?

  5. I'm also suffering from the "thou shall not accept any settings for the backlight other than 10secs" syndrome and have found no workarounds. How annoying is that!

  6. The messaging app is just so damn slow! Sending an sms involves a 3-5secs wait just to get to the editor screen. How annoying is that x2!!

  7. I sync my calendar items with two Vista machine, a pc and a notebook. Every time I connect to one of them for the first time in a day, I get the error "Activesync encountered an error on the desktop" (support code 86000107). So far, the only remedy is to remove the sync setting and then add it back again. How annoying is that x3!!!

    Thursday, June 12, 2008

    Time out with the kids... Kungfu Panda... and PC Show

    I took the day off to spend some time with my wife and the two boys today. The plan was to head down to Marina Square to catch the movie Kungfu Panda, give the boys a treat at their favourite lunch place (yes, the one with the M), do some window shopping and perhaps drop by the PC Show next door over at SICC if time (and my kids) permits. Phew, a pretty ambitious plan and I'm glad that it turned out ok. In fact, I even managed to squeeze in an extra bonus (getting my diamond) so I'm happy.

    Jarrett, unfortunately, will have to sit this one out as he is neither old enough to appreciate the movie nor has the stamina to be out the whole day. Sorry buddy! But look on the bright side, you will be having your first birthday bash in just a couple of weeks!

    Click to enlarge pictureOk, back to the outing. As it was an early show on a weekday, we pretty much had the whole theater to ourselves. We spotted a few group of teenagers and families but thank goodness there were no noisy kids or crying babies. Since it isn't often that we have movie outings, we decided to let our kids indulge in the full movie experience; Yep, that means popcorn, nachos and soft drinks.

    Joel did not take to the popcorn much but Jordan had a blast with it. It was such an adorable sight watching him sitting straight up on my lap, eyes peeled on the big screen in front and little hands reaching deep into the box, grabbing fistful of popcorn and stuffing them into his wide open mouth that is lined with sticky popcorn bits all around. Too bad it was mid way through the movie else I would love to snap a few shots of this messy look.

    The movie itself was great and the boys thoroughly enjoyed it. Joel, as usual, got visibly upset during scenes where bad things are happening to the good guys, like when Master Shifu got badly beaten up by Tai Lung, but he liven up and laughed at the scene where Poh was being trained by Master Shifu, especially the chopstick fights. Jordan was fascinated by the kicks and punches that he has been imitating them ever since, luckily not on his Kungfu Panda backpack.

    Click to enlarge pictureAfter the show, we brought them to MacDonald's as promised where they wolfed down a happy meal each in double time. How I wish they can eat just as fast when they are at home. This was then followed by a trip down to Toys R Us over at Suntec to grab some swimming toys (the foam tubes that shoot water out from one end) which I promised to buy for them.

    By the time we were done with our planned itinerary, it was past 2pm and the boys were visibly tired. But when I asked if they were tired and if we should head home to rest, the answer was a resounding no, which did not come as any surprise. Kids will be kids I guess.

    Since we had hit all our (kids) targets for the day, we decided to shift focus and went shopping for some big boys toys instead. To the PC Show we go! Yippee! (Edit: on further reading, it sure sounds to me like this is still a kids target afterall!) It was the first day of the show, coupled with the fact that it was a work day, I was hopeful that it would not be crowded. Slightly worse than expected but still very much bearable, people were everywhere and we literary handcuffed ourselves to the kids to make sure we don't loose them in the crowd.

    In terms of offers, there wasn't really much. I was shopping for a new laptop for my wife but the prices were no different from SLS or anywhere else on any other days. Even the freebies thrown into the package were not attractive at all. Lenovo for one is just throwing in a bluetooth mouse (worth say S$50 max?) for the purchase of a T61. What a waste of time.

    I was also looking to replace my standalone AIO printer with one that has network capabilities (not just for printing but also can scan and save fax to samba shares). There was a promotion for a new launch model MFC-885CW from brother but alas it cannot do the scanning and fax receiving to network folders without the assistance of a PC. It really bugs me why these devices have network capabilities when they still require an attached PC to function. Granted its now attached over the LAN instead of USB but what is the point in that?

    The only gem in the show (as far as I'm concerned anyway) was the launch of the HTC Touch Diamond. Singtel had the most attractive offer of the lot; at S$498 with a two years plan (RRP is S$1098), it was a steal really. I jumped at the opportunity and got the recontract and phone in less than 30 mins. Not only did I get the phone cheaper (Its a roadshow offer only as Hello shops are retailing them at S$798), the transaction also took considerably less time than if I were to buy it from any Hello shop. Hello shops are known to be incredibly inefficient. Either that or they are grossly understaffed.

    All in all, it is a nice change to finally have one day where everything just works for you; I bonded with the kids, they were on their best behaviour throughout (well, most of the time anyway), and I get to check out the PC Show and even managed to get a new PDA phone. My kind of day indeed!

    Woot! I got my Diamond!

    Ok, so I did say before that I am not likely to get this device. But... but.. the deal was just too good to resist. Check this out... The HTC Touch Diamond was launched today in conjunction with the PC Show and there are quite a few retailers promoting it at the show. The price was mostly fixed at RRP which is S$1098 and no freebies to boot.

    However, Singtel came along and spoilt the whole market by offering it at... get this... S$498 with a free leather case, a second battery and SPB traveler or organizer pack. (with the mandatory 2 years contract of course) That is close to 50% off RRP and with freebies!

    I was at the PC Show shopping for a laptop but ended up buying the phone instead. I figured that with the second battery, it should solve my power issue some what. In the event that it doesn't, I can always pass it to my wife when the HTC Touch Pro is released. Given the tiny form factor (it is even smaller than her current Nokia!) and the improved usability (not to mention the eye candy), she will feel right at home with it. :)

    Sunday, June 8, 2008

    Can you guess our names?

    Click to enlarge picture
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    Ans: From top to bottom - Joel, Jordan and Jarrett! Did you get it right?

    Saturday, June 7, 2008

    Tip: Search in SMS inbox!

    Found this out by accident recently and have been loving it since. If you are running Windows Mobile 6, here is a tip for you.

    In the list view for SMS, enter a character and WM6 will automatically search and filter into view for any message with that character in the contact name AND message body! Continue to type in more characters and they will be added to the search query (exact pattern case-insensitive search only. i.e. *xxx*). What's more, it will even highlight the queried text in the filtered view! To get back to normal view, just hit the delete character.

    I believe it works for email and MMS as well but I've not personally tested that since I don't have messages in those categories. Perhaps someone out there who have tested this may want to share with the rest.

    Friday, June 6, 2008

    RAM upgrade... finally

    Back in Feb, I took the poor man's route to improve performance in Vista running on my aging hardware; by adding a 1GB USB stick to activate ReadyBoost for under S$15. It did help somewhat but you quickly loose that perceived improvement when it still takes seconds to load and switch between windows.

    I was seriously thinking of junking this box entirely in favor of a brand new setup (with maybe BluRay drive and HD capable graphics card thrown in) but figured this move probably won't go down well with the missus. Plus the fact that PC Show is just around the corner and maybe by then I can come up with a reasonably good excuse ahem.. reason to do just that.

    Anyhow, this morning while browsing the HWZ price list, I noticed that the market rate for DDR400 1GB Ram modules has fallen somewhat (S$58 a pc now). A quick search on HWZ marketplace yielded a chap selling off his DDR400 2x1GB sticks for $100 and decided to jump at it. The sale went very smoothly (2mins in front of an MRT station was all it took) and the installation was a breeze; I was back up and running with 2GB in the box within the hour.

    Vista now reports 60+% free memory after initial boot compared with only 30% free previously. And running outlook, three instances of IE (with about half a dozen tabs each), trillian, plus four gadgets on the sidebar leaves 40% memory free as compared to only 6% free previously. No more harddisk trashing when I switch windows or launch new applications. Morale of thee story is... If you want to have a usable Vista system, you will need 2GB of RAM at least. ReadyBoost can certainly help alittle but ultimately, it is the amount of RAM that makes the difference.

    Still no joy on aero though but that is because I'm running on embedded graphics that is four years old. Perhaps I should start sourcing for a second hand AGP 8x graphics card next...

    Thursday, June 5, 2008

    Home network topology recap

    Back when I started exploring options for home networking, I pretty much concluded that WiFi was the best option, or rather the only cost effective solution for me at that point in time. (*) I was up and running very quickly as all it took was to setup the router (I had an existing 802.11g device) in a suitable location (I have it in the living room) and configure the clients for access (a PC in level 2 master bedroom, and a laptop that is floating).

    However, the results was less than satisfactory; I had large dead zones and weak spots all over the house. My PC (in level 2 bedroom) could only connect at 2-5Mbps stable and my laptop failed to connect at level 3. Even when I had clear line of sight between the client and the router (my laptop was just sitting on the opposite end of the room from the router), large file transfers to/fro my NAS (which has a direct connection to the router via cat 5e cable) via Windows Explorer would fail at times due to interference from neighouring APs.

    In late January, I managed to get hold of a pair of homeplugs for just S$50 as part of the mioTV signup bundle (*) and that fixed my connectivity issue with the level 2 bedroom PC. I am now getting a stable connection at speeds of 80-90Mbps.

    I did not stop there as I still needed to have connectivity on level 3. So I upgraded the router to one with MIMO technology, built-in amplifier and high-gain antenna. (*) That did solve the problem somewhat but stable speed at level 3 open areas was still hovering around 5.5Mbps and I still have dead zones in critical areas like my study.

    Since the homeplugs are doing a good job, I decided to go hunting for a few more. I also figured that there will be people trying to cash in on the MioTV offer so I can probably get a few cheap. True enough, I found quite a few brand new sets in HWZ marketplace and I managed to grab one set for S$100 earlier this evening. Just for comparison, normal retail sets are going for S$180 at Challenger. At S$50 per connection, it is still alittle on the expensive side but TCO is still lower than the other options.

    This pair of homeplugs are being deployed as follows: one is used to hook up the XMBC located in the lvl 3 den and the other will be connected to a 4 port switch in the lvl 3 study serving another PC and the printer.

    In summary, my home network now comprises of a core backbone based on 4 homeplugs (real world throughput around 80Mbps), a satellite switch (the 4 port 100baseT switch) in the study and another switch (the 802.11g MIMO WiFi router com 4 port 100baseT switch) in the living room. And lastly, I still have the patchy WiFi coverage for mobility and low bandwidth scenarios.
    What's next? Hmm.. maybe explore using directional antenna to extend my WiFi range to the pool so that I can get online while lounging out by the pool :)

    Tuesday, June 3, 2008

    Stop Vista from messing up your display(s)

    Have you noticed that whenever your Vista machine (especially laptops) resume from standby, hibernate or just plain screensaver and you have Windows lock enabled, your screen will flash at least once or twice? And if you are like me, running on multi display, Vista will try to reconfigure both displays for some reason but usually ends up messing up both displays? In my case, my laptop display's resolution gets dropped to 800x600 (and in the process messing up all my windows layout) and sometimes I get blank screens on both displays (after which I had to hard reset my PC to recover and lose all my unsaved work in the process.. geez.. thanks Microsoft).

    It took me awhile to track down the problem but I finally managed to pinpoint the root cause. There is a new component in Vista called "Microsoft Transient Multi-Monitor Manager" that manages the switching of displays. By default, it is configured to run everytime a user is logged on (apparently, unlocking your desktop is considered as such).

    To solve the problem, follow the steps below to disable it.
    1. Open up Computer Management window. i.e right click on Computer in the Start menu and select Manage.
    2. Expand System Tools -> Task Scheduler -> Task Scheduler Library -> Microsoft -> Windows and click on MobilePC.
    3. In the top middle pane, right click on the item named TMM and select Disable.
    4. Reboot your PC.

    Sunday, June 1, 2008

    Woot! I got my Harmony!

    I have been eyeing on a Harmony remote for awhile now but have always managed to held back as I couldn't bear parting more money on a remote than on say a branded DVD player. Until today that is.

    Logitech is running a promotion for all its models in the Harmony range and the best bang for the buck offer is the Harmony 525 at 50% off. This is the entry level model and even at 50% off retail prices, still costs a good S$99. Thank goodness it falls just shy of the triple digits psychological barrier which otherwise would have made the purchase a no-go by The Significant Other.

    Anyhow, so what's so good about the Harmony you say? Well, simply put, it is a universal remote control with macros. Yes, how we geeks just love macros... to the layman, macros is the ability to program a series of steps with just one shortcut, in this case, button.

    In the Harmony world, this is introduced as "Activity". So say you have an activity called "Watch DVD". This macro can turn on your TV, Home Theater system, and DVD player, set them all to the right input source and even eject the DVD tray with just one click of a button.

    On top of that, all keys on the remote then get mapped to functions related to the activity which you have just activated. For example, the volume keys controls the volume on the Home Theater, while the navigation keys (i.e. play, stop, forward, reverse, etc) controls those on the DVD player. How convenient!

    Another differentiator from other remotes is that the Harmony remote remembers states. So for example, if you are currently listening to CD via your DVD player and your Home Theater, and you decide that you now want to watch TV, clicking on the "Watch TV" activity will turn on the TV and at the same time, turn off your DVD player and Home Theater!

    Although this is generally a good thing most of the time, but some times, it does get in the way when it falls out of sync with the real state of the appliance. For example, when you have manually turned on your TV, the remote doesn't know it so when you hit the "Watch TV" button, it will still send a "power on" command to your TV which may turn it off instead if this command happens to be of toggle type. The way around it then is to try programming discrete commands for power on and off, provided that your device supports it of course.

    Talking about programming, Logitech tries to make it easier by hosting a central database of devices online where you can select and import into your Harmony remote directly. This will mean that a pre-requisite for owning this remote is access to a Windows PC with a USB port and Internet connection.

    All in, I will rate this a good buy and a necessary piece of gadget in any living room setting where you have three or more appliances to control. FYI, I have a TV, Home Theater system, DVD/HDD player cum recorder, MioTV and Xbox (running XBMC)!