Monday, March 30, 2009

Watch YouTube on the go without connecting to the internet possible? Yes!

Previously, the only way to watch YouTube videos on the HTC Diamond (and the later siblings) is via the YouTube application that came bundled. It is a small application with a nice user interface. However, it does not have an offline mode hence requires an internet connection at all times. This pose a problem when you want to watch the clips on the go and don't want to incur hugely expensive data charges.

Then came freeware alternatives like youtubeplay; It's user interface won't win any awards but the good thing is that it allows you to save the clips and watch them offline. However, it doesn't have a "push" mode meaning that you have to spend time working through (i.e. choosing and saving) the clips you want to watch later which can get rather tedious.

Then I noticed that the YouTube site has rss feeds and figured I can perhaps use the bundled RSS Hub application to download them as podcasts and watch them on the go later. But alas, the native podcasts from the YouTube site are actually embedded flash players hence RSS Hub falls flat on its face here.

Then I found RSSHandler; a website that parse the YouTube feeds and convert the attachments to either FLV, MP4 or PSP formats! This turns out to be the perfect solution as there is nothing to install, its free and its dead easy to setup.

So to recap... to watch YouTube channels on the go with the clips automatically pre-downloaded on your Windows Mobile so that you don't waste time downloading them in real time and more importantly, you save on expensive data connection charges:

  1. Go to RSSHandler website.
  2. Generate the URL for the YouTube Channel you wish to watch by following the simple instructions on the website.
  3. Fire up RSS Hub.
  4. Add the URL in as a new rss channel.
  5. [IMPT] Go into the channel properties, tap on the Podcast tab and change the setting for "Automatically download podcasts" to "If Connected to PC Only" and "Keep this many podcasts:" to "All". (Otherwise, your clips won't be downloaded!)
  6. Hit refresh and wait patiently for your clips to get downloaded. (It can take awhile)
  7. And now enjoy your subscribed YouTube channels on the go... for FREE!

Oh, in case anyone is interested in what I'm subscribed to:

  1. TED Talks (technology) (RSS Hub link)
  2. New Scientist (science) (RSS Hub link)
  3. ThinkGeek (geek stuff) (RSS Hub link)
  4. Apple Movie Trailers (entertainment) (RSS Hub link)
  5. Fail Blog (entertainment) (RSS Hub link)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Jarrett can sing!

Managed to capture Jarrett singing "Rain, rain, go away!" on video this morning during breakfast. Check this out!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Tips for extending the range of your wireless coverage at home

If you are using a wireless router like WRT54G as a secondary AP to extend the wireless coverage in your home, here are a few things that you should take note of:

  1. Use the same SSID, encryption type and shared key as your primary wireless router so that you can roam between the APs transparently.
  2. Use a different channel on your secondary AP if it is in range of the primary no matter how weak the signal is so that you have less interference between your own APs. If possible, use channels as far a part as possible (e.g. 1 and 11).
  3. Disable the WAN settings. Optionally, turn the WAN port into a LAN port.
  4. Disable the DHCP services.
  5. Set the IP of the WAP to a static IP. Remember that it has to be unique and be in the same subnet as the rest of your network (no reason to use a separate subnet unless you have lots of networked devices or special network zoning/security requirements). [TIP: set your DHCP server on your primary wireless router to allocate IPs in a range say 100 - 254. Then you can safely use the IPs from 2 -99 assuming that 1 is already used by your primary wireless router.]
  6. Set the gateway IP to that of your primary wireless router.
  7. Set the DNS IP to that of your primary wireless router or your ISP's DNS servers.
  8. Change the router mode from gateway to router since you no longer need NAT, Firewall and port forwarding services. (can save some CPU cycles and device memory from doing so)

Note that the above tips are only valid if your secondary AP is backed by a wired network. i.e. It is connected to the primary wireless router either via direct Ethernet cables (LAN to LAN port and do use a crossover cable if your ports do not have auto-MDIX feature) or via HomePlugs.

Another way of hooking up the access points is via Wireless Distribution System aka WDS. In this approach, the secondary AP acts as both a wireless repeater for the primary AP as well as an AP for wireless clients (i.e. your laptop).

WDS is cheaper to implement and less messy as it does not require a wired backbone. But do note that your network throughput will generally be halved, latency will increase slightly and the placement of the secondary AP is restricted to locations in range of the primary AP. And lastly, to use this approach, you will most likely need to use a wireless device capable of flashing to third party firmwares like Tomato, DD-WRT or OpenWRT.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Using all 5 ports of a WRT54G for LAN?

If you are not using a WRT54G as a gateway (i.e. solely as a LAN switch and/or WAP and/or WDS), you can convert the WAN port on the router to a LAN port and have five wired devices connecting to your LAN via the wired ports on the WRT54G instead of four!

To work this magic, you will first need to flash the WRT54G to a third party firmware (e.g. tomato) that allows you to telnet into the box.

Once you have done that, telnet into the box and issue the following commands:
  • nvram set vlan0ports="0 1 2 3 4 5*"
  • nvram set vlan1ports="5"
  • nvram commit
  • reboot
Now you can use your WAN port to uplink to your core switch or gateway and keep the four LAN ports free for your other devices!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Finally found a cheap solution to extending my wireless coverage on level 3!

Recently, I discovered just how cheap it is to finally fixed the lack of wireless coverage at the top floor of my home... at just S$30! The solution? A second hand WRT54G v2.2 wireless router running Tomato configured as a secondary AP.

Originally, I had wanted to run it in WDS mode but realized that I have a problem with placement (its out of reach from my primary AP signal) and didn't like the fact that throughput will be halved.

Luckily, I have a HomePlug network in place hence I just replaced the LAN switch in my study with the WRT54G now doubling as the LAN switch plus secondary AP hooked into the home network via the HomePlug. (Configuration details of my WRT54G can be found here.)

There are plenty of used WRT54G wireless routers for sale on local forum marketplaces like HWZ and VR-Zone and S$30 appears to be the going rate. Do note that if you wish to run a third party firmware (like Tomato) on the WRT54G, be sure that you are getting the hardware revisions 1 to 4 only. Anything higher is not supported.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New printer in the house!

I finally decided to retire my four years old HP PSC 2310 AIO printer after it's black ink tank suddenly went belly up on me; the printer just refuse to acknowledge the cartridge even though it has been there and working just a few days ago.

This happened in late December 2008 and since then I had been hunting around for its successor. It took me a while to find a worthy replacement as I had some pretty demanding requirements:
  1. Print
    1. It must be capable of printing photos at par with the photo labs.
    2. It must be capable of printing text and graphics for general business use.
    3. It must support auto duplex printing (no manual flipping of pages!).
    4. It must support individual ink tanks (at least four).
    5. It must have at least two input trays with one tray holding at least 100 sheets of A4 paper.
    6. It must print at reasonably fast speeds and quietness.
    7. It should print from media cards directly and cameras via PictBridge.
    8. It should support network printing.
  2. Scan
    1. It must be capable of scanning at 9600 dpi (optical).
    2. It must be capable of scanning via an auto document feeder (ADF).
    3. It must be capable of scanning via an ADF in duplex mode.
    4. It must scan at reasonably fast speeds and quietness.
    5. It should support scanning directly to media cards
    6. It should support scanning directly to shared volumes over the network. (no PC!)
    7. It should support scanning directly to email via a SMTP gateway. (no PC!)
  3. Copy
    1. It must be capable of copying via an ADF.
    2. It must support 2-sided-to-2-sided copying as well as other combinations.
    3. It must copy at reasonably fast speeds and quietness.
  4. Fax
    1. It must be capable of sending mono and color faxes.
    2. It must be capable of sending fax standalone and via a PC.
    3. It must be capable of receiving fax in memory.
    4. It should be able to receive fax and store them to shared volumes over the network.
    5. It should be able to receive fax and forward them to an email address via a SMTP gateway.

4-in-1 Multi-Function Printers or All-in-One printers are pretty common nowadays. They even come in the price range of just over S$100! Unfortunately, these printers are usually either short in the quality, efficiency and/or features departments. Even the top end ones costing almost S$1k are still pretty lacking in the networking area. i.e. They still require a PC for some of its features like storing directly to shared volumes or sending to email. And what's the point of having networking capability if you still need a darn PC next to it?!

Some claim that these are really enterprise features and I should be looking at AIO printers in the enterprise class instead of the SOHO class. But I beg to differ as having a NAS or even just a shared file server and wanting scan/fax over email are no longer entitlements of the MNCs or even the SMEs; NAS boxes can be had for under half a grand (including 1Tb storage!) and for SMTP gateways, you can simply rely on the ones that came with your email providers.

Anyways, after months of searching, I have finally given up hope of finding one that fits all the above and instead, just settle for the one that come the closest. And there are not one but three choices; Cannon MX850, MX868 and MX7600 (sorted from cheapest to most expensive).

All three models are very similar in terms of quality and features. The differences are just that the MX868 has built-in WiFi and comes in a more compact form-factor while the MX7600 gives laser like quality via the "Pigment Reaction (PgR) technology".

I eventually settled for the MX850 at S$499 during the recent IT SHOW 2009 since WiFi, form-factor and "Laser like" quality ain't enough for me to shell out additional S$100 and S$300 respectively.

And speaking of the IT SHOW 2009, the package that Canon had put together is a real joke; a useless bag, a mandatory trolley since its cash and carry, and... here's the kicker... product training. Wow... since when did product training become a freebie?! At least HP gave away additional warranty and Epson was giving out additional ink cartridges!

I did not feel good at all buying the printer at the fair but at least it has not disappointed me yet in terms of its print quality and speed. Getting it hooked up to my WiFi router and printing/scanning wirelessly is also quite a joy although pretty much an overkill since my laptop has to be almost right next to the printer. DUH!