Monday, September 19, 2016

Hasselblad Moto Mod is a Thorough Disappointment

I am a photographer.  Thus, I was pretty stoked to know when I purchased my Droid Z Force that there was a Hasselblad Camera Mod coming down the pike.

I waited patiently for nearly a month, and finally it arrived… and what a major disappointment it was.

hasselblad-moto-mod

Here’s the short of it: the Motorola Droid Z Force has a pretty decent camera with a 21MP sensor (some would argue the best camera phone currently available).  The Hasselblad has a 12MP sensor.  Pretty much the ONLY thing going for the Hasselblad Moto Mod is the “optical zoom,” but you can “zoom in” on a 21MP photo and have nearly the same amount of zoom as the 10x optical on the Hasselblad’s 12MP photo!

The Hasselblad has a 4.5mm to 45mm zoom (that’s why they call it a 10x zoom) which is basically a 25mm to 250mm 35mm equivalent.  The Droid Z Force has a 4.51mm lens, which is equivalent to 26mm on a 35mm camera.  So a 21MP photo can give you nearly the same “zoom” digitally at the Hasselblad’s max resolution of 12MP.  In other words, if you simply crop the Droid’s photo to half (crop a 21MP photo to the Hasselblad max pixel dimension of 12MP), you’re still at 10.5MP and your 35mm equivalent is 52mm (the Hasselblad optical zoom maxes out at 45mm).

Any positive review I’ve seen for the Hasselblad mod (they are never raving, only lukewarm) goes on and on about the zoom, but frankly… who cares when the zoom really doesn’t do much for you and everything else comes up short?

Hasselblad Moto Mod shortcomings:

  • Only 12MP sensor (phone has a 21MP sensor) and also physically smaller (1/2.3 inches vs. 1/2.4 inches)
  • minimum aperture of f/3.5 –are you kidding me?! Not only that, but it’s not fixed, and the variable goes all the way up to f/6.5!!!  By the way, the phone’s minimum aperture is f/1.8
  • Max ISO is 3200 (same as the phone)
  • lesser focus technology than phone (the Z Force utilizes laser and contrast auto focus with phase detection; the Hasselblad only utilizes contrast/phase detection)
  • bad 24fps video (choppy)
  • no video HDR (which the phone does have)
  • no optical stabilization for video
  • No 4k (which I don’t care too much about, but if this is an “upgrade” it should at least be able to shoot the equivalent of the phone to which it’s attached!)

And from what I’ve read in every hands on review I’ve seen, the focus is no faster than the phone (often the user says it’s slower), the shutter lag is much higher than the phone’s, and the quality of the photos isn’t really a bump since the phone already has a decent sensor and utilizes Moto’s “Deep Trench Isolation” technology to isolate pixel color.

Sure, the Hasselblad Mod can shoot RAW, but who cares, considering all the other shortcomings?

Please explain to me why I should spend $250-$300 on a “mod” that I have to carry around if it doesn’t IMPROVE the camera on my phone (or even come close to what’s already there!).  Just because it says Hasselblad?  If I’m shooting more than what the very capable Moto Z Force camera is capable of, I think I’ll just carry a REAL camera that actually gives me a reason to mess around with a second device.

Boo, Hasselblad.  You guys should be ashamed of yourselves for letting Motorola slap your name on a piece of garbage that doesn’t even work as well as the phone to which it attaches.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Fixing a Samsung Ice Maker

One of the most popular posts on this blog is the “How to Defrost a Samsung Ice Maker” post.  In that post I outline how to defrost your Samsung Ice Maker using a “secret code” on your control panel.  You shouldn’t need to do that every week, but a lot of people do, because the Samsung SZAB001TA1 ice maker (which exists in refrigerators like the RF263BEAEW) had serious issues when it left the factory.

Fortunately, the issues can be remedied.  Unfortunately, Samsung is keeping the information under wraps, and it is extremely difficult to find any information on the subject.  Hopefully this post will help those of you looking for answers.

So first, here again are the steps for defrosting your Samsung Ice Maker using the control panel on the front of your fridge:

  1. On the front panel display, press the Energy Saver and Refrigerator buttons at the same time for 8 seconds.  The display will switch to the Test Mode and the display will go dark (all buttons, etc., will go dark) .
  2. Press any button within 15 seconds after the display has gone dark to scroll through the Test Modes as follows:
    • Manual operation 1 (FF)
    • Manual operation 2 (0F-r)
    • Manual defrost of fresh food compartments (rd)
    • Manual defrost of fresh food and freezer compartments (fd)
    • Cancel (display goes completely dark)

“fd” is the one you want.  The defrost mode will cause the refrigerator to beep the entire time it’s in effect (pretty annoying) and will shut off after five minutes (I had to do it quite a few times to thaw everything out).

When the Geek Squad Tech came to fix our ice maker, he also used a hair dryer to speed things up, but be careful if you go this route as you can actually melt the plastic housing and components and cause greater issues than you had before by deforming the plastic in your ice maker.

There are four things that need to be changed to make this ice maker work properly.

  1. The water fill tube needs to be adjusted.
  2. The thin gap between the refrigerator wall and the ice maker housing (bottom side of ice maker against fridge wall) needs to be sealed.
  3. The ribs surrounding the ice room fan air duct need to be removed with a utility knife (they cause water to puddle in the duct).
  4. Foam should be installed on to of the ice maker housing around the water fill inlet.
  5. If you have an older control board, the control board should be upgraded.

These issues are covered in a service bulletin that went out to Samsung Service Techs.  I got to take a look at the four page PDF, but our tech was nervous about getting in trouble if I actually posted the document on the web, so he only let me look at the doc. on his phone.

Since then, the document has found it’s way to the web.  An anonymous user actually posted the Service Bulletin document number in the comments of my original post on this issue.  So now I have a copy of the PDF here: ASC20150717001 (if you don’t trust the link, just search the doc. title on Google). 

Looking at the service bulletin is the easiest way to address everything, but I’ll lay things out here as well (though in less detail).

So, issue #1, the fill tube.  In the back of your Samsung fridge you can see the fill tube sticking out the back of the refrigerator.  This tube has a tendencey to slip, and after that happens water starts pouring all over the ice maker instead of just into the ice tray.  Thus, the first step in fixing your ice maker is making sure this tube goes where it’s supposed to, and then making sure it stays put.  Oddly enough, the tube often slips to far in (not out) and causes water to splash all over the place, so usually you have to actually back the tube out a bit and then secure it.

Issue #2.  This is an easy fix.  Simply take a tube of silicone and seal the gap.  It seems hard to believe this would be an issue, but I guess it’s why Samsung didn’t catch the problem earlier, and it really makes a difference.

Issue #3. (see service bulletin)

Issue #4.  With the entire ice maker out of the refrigerator, cut a thin strip of foam and glue it (silicone works well) around the perimeter of the water inlet area.  See photo below.

20160409_121521

Issue #4.  When I got fed up with Samsung “tech” (really just a bunch of people who have NO IDEA what they’re talking about reading scripts on the phone) and went to Best Buy and they put me on the phone with a Geek Squad guy in Minnesota who REALLY knew what he was doing, he listened to what I had to say, realized I had done some research and figure out what was going on, and thus just ordered every possible part that might need to be replaced to fix the issue and had them all sent directly to my house so the parts would already be there when the tech arrived.  Freaking fantastic.  One of the things that got sent was a new controller board.  The board has a lot more ports and resistors and what not.  I took a photo of the new board, but I’m having a hard time locating it.  Here is a photo of the OLD board.

IMG_20160829_091844

For what it’s worth, Samsung “customer support” is not support at all.  I spent hours and hours going through the same process over and over again (the person on the other end insisting on reading their script and asking me irrelevant, inane questions ad nauseum).  Each time, they would tell me someone would call me back soon, and each time, after a couple of days I would call back and there would be no evidence that I had ever called and the number I had been given was linked to no information whatsoever.  It was pretty infuriating.  I had to laugh when weeks after the matter was resolved (via Geek Squad, NOT Samsung) I received a letter from Samsung asking if I would like to purchase extended warranty services from them.  Unbelievable.

Some additional photos of the ice maker problems and fixes…

20160409_11185120160409_11190620160409_11192120160409_121134

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

My First Couple of Days with the Motorola Z Force Droid

I REALLY wanted to buy a small phone for my next phone, but the Fates conspired against me.  The only option I had was the iPhone SE, and while I LOVE the size and design of the phone (I really love the hard edge and metal buttons and switch), I know I can’t live in an iOS world.  I would go mad.

The only other option on the market is the Sony Z5 compact, which I REALLY wish I could use, but it’s a GSM only phone, and I live in Denver and regularly travel into the mountains, so Verizon (CDMA) is really the only carrier I can use if I expect to have signal when I want it.

Thus, for my next phone I went with one of the LARGEST phones on the market. [frown]

motozForcestyleshell

I ended up purchasing the Droid Z Force, mostly because it was $108 (with two year contract and including tax) out the door at Best Buy (and they threw in the JBL speaker mod to boot).  With Verizon, there is a $40 activation fee that appears on your bill when you purchase a new phone… even at the Verizon store!  Evidently the only way to get that fee waived is to purchase and activate online with Verizon, which would have been a lot more expensive (full MSRP and no bonus mods).

Man... when any store tries to convince you that the monthly payment plan is the way to go, CHECK... THEIR... MATH!  Even with the "monthly line discount" they try and bait you with, if you do the monthly payment, you are paying full price for the device over 24 months.  That means you also pay the tax on the MSRP up front!  That alone was going to be $62, then the activation fee, then the full cost of the phone over time (meaning a higher bill every month).  Crazy business.

The Samsung Galaxy S7 was going to be $220 (with 2 year contract) plus activation, so I just went with what was saving me money, not to mention avoiding the awful one-two punch of the way Samsung and Verizon turn a great phone into a piece of crap with their bloatware (and I have been quite pleased with the "clean" environment of the Moto-verse).

As I mentioned, BestBuy was also giving away the JBL speaker mod with the Droid Z Force, and while it's not going to be loud enough for DJ-ing parties and weddings, it's actually a pretty decent little speaker and will be great for working on location and listening to tunes.  It has it's own battery as well, so that's great (I have read that the speaker battery can actually power the phone, so it's like a battery mod as well, but I haven't confirmed that yet –I have confirmed that you can charge the mod through the phone though).

While I definitely hate how big the Droid Z Force is (bigger than my S5 and probably the same size of the Note 5), I have to admit I'm loving the functionality and speed.  The Motorola fingerprint reader is stellar, and I love how you can use it to lock and unlock the phone one handed.  You can also choose to link it to other passwords and apps, which is nice (though I won't be linking it to my banking and purchasing apps).  They warn you that it's not as secure as a pin or pattern, but I assume that's because you can "lift" a print from the reader, so I'm trying to get into the habit of swiping my finger down after it registers, effectively wiping the reader clean of my physical print.

When I powered up the phone to activate it in the store, the battery was at 99%.  We were on our way into the mountains for a wedding, and the device ONLY comes with the turbo charger (no stand-alone USB-C cord to use with a car charger --you have to order that on your own, which is pretty of annoying since you don't have a good way to transfer files to/from a computer until you do that), so I had no way to charge the new phone except for plugging into a wall.  Even with doing all the initial syncing, playing with the phone and figuring out features, downloading all my apps, etc. (all over 3G and 4G/LTE because I had no wifi), the phone was still at 33% the next day's afternoon!  Way more than 24 hours on the factory charge with a substantially higher amount of use is pretty impressive.

Not only that, but I went from 25% to 100% in less than a half hour charge using the included turbo charger.

I have been using Qi wireless charging with my S5, and I actually love it, so I'm pretty disappointed that the Droid Z Force doesn't have wireless charging, especially since pretty much EVERY other "flagship" has it these days.  I guess the turbo charge will have to make up for it.  There is an external battery pack mod that will do wireless charging, but I’m not going to buy an extra mod just for wireless charging.

I do wish the phone was water resistant like my S5 and the S7, and I'm not sure why it isn't.  The Z Force only has three physical buttons, the card slot, and a USB-C port.  It seems like it would have been relatively easy to seal up.  They advertise that it has a water resistant outer covering, but isn’t all plastic and glass water resistant?  I’m not sure what that even means.

The camera is great so far.  There's a "pro" mode that allows me to set ISO (though not aperture and shutter speed), so I'm loving that.  Maybe there's an app that will allow me to access those extra manual features.  Also... the camera is 21MP, so I can actually do some zooming and still have "flagship size" (8-12MP) and quality on the zoomed image.

Hasselblad is coming out with a camera mod for the phone (there was actually a physical spot for it on the Z Force displace at Best Buy, so it must be coming soon).  I'm interested to see what the price will be and how much higher the quality is (it will supposedly do RAW and will have a 10x optical zoom).  It seems weird to have to get a "better" camera mod for a phone that already has a 21MP camera, but we'll see.  Also, I'm not sure what the advantage would be to having a "mod" instead of a stand alone camera that will likely be the same size, but again, I guess I'll see.

I've read that though the screen is "shatterproof," that feature comes at the cost of being pretty scratch prone (the surface layer that keeps it together is soft), so I ordered a couple screen protectors.  I prefer a matte finish on my screen anyway (no glare and a more pleasing tactile feel).

I'm also trying to figure out which case to get.  I can't imagine not using a case on a phone to protect from scratches and dents, but the PITA about the "mods" on these phones is they won't attach if the phone is sporting a case.  Thus, I need to find a case that is easy to take on and off, and that can weather the abuse of constantly taking it on and off, so I'm able to attach mods when I want.  To me, this is the biggest draw back of the phone (other than it’s size).

There is also a "style shell" that is just a faux wood back.  I guess it looks pretty cool, but it really just adds thickness (almost doubles the thickness of the phone), so I'm not sure what the point is, other than looks (which don't matter if you're using a case).  If the "mod" doesn't really offer any protection, it's seems kind of stupid compared to a case that would protect the back, edges, and front (with a raised lip).

Again, I HATE the size of this thing.  It would be awesome if it were the size of my original Droid Incredible. But everything else about the phone seems pretty great so far.  And I really can't get over how much I'm loving the finger print reader to turn the phone on and off "securely."  Not having to enter a pattern all the time is really nice.  It's actually got me locking the phone every time I turn the screen off, vs. setting a longer time out to lock the phone for reasons of convenience (and making the phone less secure).

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Exact Audio Copy (EAC) Won’t Convert to Flac

EACIf you are having trouble getting EAC to convert to Flac on rip, it may be that you are trying to rip to a NAS (network) directory.  It seems EAC doesn’t like using a NAS directory when converting files.  I assume it has something to do with no “solid” drive path to the file that needs to be converted after it has been ripped to Wav.

Everytime I hit “shift-F5” or clicked the CMP (copy selected tracks compressed) button, EAC would only rip the tracks as Waves (not convert them to Flac once they’d been ripped).

I having a feeling a command line change could solve the issue (some sort of change to the %source% and/or %dest% settings), but my quick fix for now is to map the music directory on my NAS to a Mapped Network Drive.  Once I did that and pointed EAC to the mapped drive instead of using the network path, everything worked fine.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Easiest Way to Convert MKV to MP4 (MOV)

I recently wanted to do a little content editing of an MKV file.  I really didn’t want to spend time converting the file (and losing video and audio resolution), but every “trick” I could find online involved downloading software for demuxing, converting, etc. (things that take time, and mostly things that alter the original video –not to mention things that often come from shady sources).

So I thought about it for a bit, poked around in some of the (free) software I had readily available, and found a solution.

An MKV file is just a container.  Thus, I figured I could just change the extension (.mkv) to something else more “useable” (like .mp4) and mess with it that way.  Just changing the extension made Adobe Premiere unhappy (header issues), but as usual, VLC handled it just fine.  Not only that, but VLC ultimately turned out to be the solution for what I needed to do.

In VLC, you can save a file (right click the file in your playlist and select “save” from the list), and under the “settings” options you have “convert” and “dump raw input.”  First I tried utilizing the RAW option, but when it went to “streaming” after clicking “start,” there didn’t seem to be any progress, so I tried the next option.

Using the “convert” option, you can select pretty much any preset to do what we want to do, but I wanted an MP4 so I chose the first thing on the list:  Video – H.264 + MP3 (MP4).  Of course I don’t want MP3 for my audio (I want to keep the original file format), but don’t worry!  The next step is to click the tools/settings button next to the profile drop down. There you will see tabs for “video codec” and “audio codec.”  In each of those settings, you can choose “keep original video track” and “keep original audio track.” Once you do that, you simply click “start” and you’ll see your progress bar tick away.  It took me about four minutes to ouput a 2 hour movie that was originally 17.8 GB as an MKV.  However, the new file was now 11.4 GB, so obviously something had changed (and I assume resolution was lost, thought the file still looked pretty similar to the original).

I actually created a profile called MKV to MP4 wherein I selected the “original video” and “original audio” options with an MP4/MOV container, and the subsequent “conversion” took only around 20 seconds.  I had opened and closed VLC several times, but I suppose the conversion could have still been using cached files.

UPDATE: If the original audio format (like the audio in the file i was using) isn’t an audio format that VLC has in its output codec selection, trying to utilize the “original audio” option will create a file with no audio.  I’m not sure why it does this, but to correct for the problem, I changed my profile to convert the audio, and set up the audio as a high bitrate AAC with a sample rate the same as the original (48KHz).  The resulting file was a bit larger than the previous and took longer to output (because it’s actually converting the audio), but now has audio and can be imported into Adobe Premiere.

It turns out that the RAW dump is actually the better option if you’re trying to keep the file exactly like the original (just changing the extension), it just wasn’t showing me a live process when it was outputing a file.  I tried the RAW option again, and sure enough, after about four minutes (the same amount of time the above “convert” option took), I found I had an MP4 exactly the same size as the original MKV.  Unfortunately the file still wouldn’t work with Premiere, althought now i just get a “generic error” when trying to import the MP4 into Premiere.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Pinterest has Ruined the Internet

pinterest_ban_2_450x450I am SO sick of Pinterest ruining every internet search I conduct.

I often find that a search for a given term will return hundreds of “re-pins” from morons posting the same photo (or topic) over and over again.

I am almost to the point of creating a plug-in that automatically removes Pinterest from ALL internet searches, but for now I end up just typing “-site:pinterest.com” at the end of just about every search I make on Google.

Hope this helps someone else out there with their frustration of Pinterest littering their search returns with useless garbage.

-site:pinterest.com

Monday, February 29, 2016

Why the Best Phone for 2016 is My Phone from 2010

HTC-ADR-6300

The HTC Droid Incredible ADR 6300 (1st gen) has my vote for best phone of all time.

Yes, in today’s world there is an issue with certain things gobbling up the internal memory and a woefully problematic issue with the phone not being able to use the entire capacity of the internal memory for phone features (and only being able to use a TINY portion of said internal memory), but in 6 years I’ve learned to work around that.  For the trade-offs, it’s absolutely worth it.

And yes, the Incredible doesn’t have 4G LTE capability and maxes out at 3G, but I don’t care.  I just want something that fits in my pocket so I can make phone calls, take pictures, listen to music, and occasionally comparison shop by checking a price online while I’m at a store.  Sure it’s only running Android 2.3.4, but who cares?!  I don’t need Marshmallow to do any of the things mentioned above.

My tablet (LG GPad 8.3 VK810) and other devices (two rooted Galaxy S5’s) tethered to the tablet via Bluetooth take care of my higher speed data needs on the rare occasion I need a faster connection via mobile device, and when I’m traveling or on location for photo/video work, I’ve got those with me for the larger screen, faster data connection, updated Android OS, and more processing power.

But the biggest factor in my decision?  SIZE.

Size. Size. Size.

All currently available phones SUCK as far as size goes.  They’re just WAY too big!  They hurt my hand and just barely fit in my pocket.  At 4.5” x 2.25” the Droid Incredible is perfect.  If I need a larger screen for video, I’ve got my tablet.

Replaceable Battery

Before there were all these power banks so readily available now, you needed to actually swap out batteries, and the Incredible was king.  I have three high capacity batteries.  I can fly from Denver to Tokyo, watching videos the whole way, without worrying about running out of juice.  I’m more likely to use a power bank now, but it’s comforting to know I’ve got extra batteries that are VERY easy to swap out if I need them.  Not to mention my bedside charging dock also has a slot to charge an extra battery.

Expandable Storage

It’s true that the Incredible has issues in regard to internal memory, BUT it also supports micro SD cards.  My current Incredible has a 128 GB micro SD card.  And I’ve got extras for traveling with even more movies and music and photo/video storage.  I’ve got THOUSANDS of movies and lossless music files available (without streaming) at any given moment.

The Dedicated (and physical) Optical Cursor Pad

Why did mobile makers end this fantastic feature?!  My Droid has an optical cursor pad that allows you to move your cursor around the screen instead of trying to pin point your cursor location with your big, fat finger on a mobile screen while you YEARN to at least have cursor arrows always available (aggravating on even the largest of current devices).  Not only that, but it functions as a PHYSICAL button for camera, etc., and since it’s optical, it could have also functioned as a fingerprint reader if they’d have taken the next logical step.

Landscape Docking

The Incredible’s USB port is on the side.  That means the charging dock orients your phone in landscape.  It’s perfect for watching video while connected to power and using as a bedside clock.  Why did phones stop doing this?!

Beautiful and Responsive AMOLED Screen

Why are companies putting 4K screens in mobile devices?!  There is a massively diminishing return on pixel density and resolution for mobile devices, especially since the screen is the number one thing that gobbles up battery power.  The size and resolution of the Droid Incredible is a serious sweet spot that shouldn’t be ignored.

Not to mention, I’ve replaced the screen 4 times (I’m hard on phones).  It costs $10 to do so (cheaper than a screen protector on a lot of phones).  It’s an easy swap, and the screen has always been cheap and readily available via Amazon.

Camera

True, the phone only has an 8MP camera, but the results are actually quite good (though this phone was before phones had HDR, so I do really miss that), and I love that the phone is so tiny that people are less likely to notice you shooting like when you’re using one of today’s GIANT phones.  Plus, the Droid Inc. was the first phone to have a decent LED flash (though it still sucked, as do most LED flashes available on new phones), and one that could actually be TURNED ON to use as a flashlight!  There is also no front-facing camera for video calls, but that’s something I actually prefer.  If I want to make a video call, I’ll use my tablet.

 

So the Droid Incredible doesn’t have a SIM card or LTE, only has an 8MP camera, has some internal memory issues (that can be worked around), and is maxed out at Android 2.3.4.  But all these things considered, to me it’s still a better phone than anything offered today.  For a phone from half a decade ago, that’s pretty… Incredible and STILL the Droid that I am looking for (to my credit, I didn’t do either of those things until now).

 

The current contenders that just don’t cut it:

Sony Experia Z5c

The ONLY currently viable available-to-purchase-new phone where the size is right.  The camera is awesome.  It’s got (had) the best processor available (Snapdragon 810 octacore) until the Snapdragon 820 comes out with the new Flagships this week (S7, G5, etc.).  This is the phone I would have if I could, but I’m not willing to pony up $450 for a phone that might work using only LTE on Verizon’s CDMA network (it’s a GSM phone).  Again, this would be THE phone for me, but no US carrier sells it, so you have to buy it unlocked and outright, and the US warranty version has slower data speed than the euro version and no fingerprint reader.  I can buy the euro version via Amazon, but it’s a gamble.  Why does Sony always take it right to the line and then drop it?!

LG G5

The “modular” thing seems to me like a gimmick and defeats the purpose of having everything you need in/on your phone at all times by requiring you to insert modules.  Why not just carry around separate devices for all the things those modules cover?  How is it different? Plus, the phone is gigantic.

LG VK10

The camera is amazing.  The audio processor is amazing.  It’s beautiful.  But the phone is FREAKING gigantic.

Samsung S5, S6, S7

The S5 has been my main phone for a couple years.  The camera is pretty good (I actually shot a 4K video shoot with it… UNDER WATER FOR 8 HOURS!).  The hardware is actually pretty amazing.  However, the way Samsung and Verizon have absolutely crippled the phone is shameful.  Not a day goes by that I don’t scream “I HATE THIS PHONE!” But it’s not the phone’s fault, it’s the software.  I’ve got a second G5 that I rooted, and it’s fantastic.  But again… the phone is huge.

HTC One (M8, M9, M10)

Meh.  The camera in the M8 was supposed to be a game changer, but it’s really not all that (in fact, it’s quite bad).  I do love the stereo front facing speakers and how the phone looks.  And now in 2016 CFO Chialin Chang is promising, “We can confidently say that HTC will have a very, very compelling camera experience,” but I certainly don’t trust that statement, because it’s what they said about the sh*tty camera they put in the M8!  Also, it’s just too big!

OnePlusX

Not for Verizon.  Even on AT&T there were lot’s of problems with the bandwidth not being correct for the US market with earlier phones (1 and 2).  I’m just not willing to take the gamble.  Plus, its too damn big!

Nexus 6

Seems to be a pretty good phone, though I don’t like the “bump out” for the camera lens on the back.  But it’s gigantic.

iPhone

I hate Mac and it has no place in my work flow.  The end.  Well, maybe not the end.  To be fair, Mac has the prettiest hardware.  I actually like the form factor of the iPhone 5s.  And the iPhone 4 is probably my favorite mobile phone form factor of all time (I love the metal edge with the metal buttons and flip switch).  But with my work flow and being a control freak, I just can’t live in the Mac world.  I also hate how they obsolete (yes, I’m using “obsolete” as a verb) their own hardware every 10 seconds.  Seriously?  You can’t realistically run the current iOS (9) on their last gen phone?! Ridiculous.  And the iPhone 6 (and especially 6 plus) is… too big!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Roku has a “Contra Code” Secret Screen for Wifi Antenna Settings

UPDATE (5-31-16): Gardner Lonsberry has created an info. graphic containing TONS more secret screens for Roku.  Scroll to the bottom to get the skinny.

Remember the Konami code that got you 30 lives in Contra (and other stuff in other games)?  Well there’s a similar trick for your Hulu Stick to get you to a “secret screen” with settings for the Wifi Antennas and a couple of other things.  It might not be as exciting, but it could be more useful (depending upon your priorities).

Up-Up-Down-Down-Left-Right-Left-Right-B-A

From the Home screen press…

  • Home x5 (press home button five times)
  • FF (not the pad arrow)
  • Down (on the arrow pad)
  • RW (not the pad arrow)
  • Down (on the arrow pad)
  • FF (not the pad arrow)

I was having a lot of frustration with the Roku in our kitchen dropping signal.  This is particularly aggravating, because when it happens the show you are watching disappears, then you have to wait a while for the Roku to reboot and get through the incredibly annoying “dancing Roku” screen, then you  have to navigate back to the content you were watching.  This is not fun when you’re just trying to watch something while quickly making a sandwich and getting back to work.

So after messing with the location of my router and trying to optimize it’s settings and power output, I went looking for tips on how to optimize signal reception for the Roku.  The Roku site basically blames your router and tells you to make sure it’s not by a window, in a sealed lead box (along with your kryptonite stash), or in your basement, but they don’t give you anything REALLY useful like the information here.

platform-secret-screen

The secret screen is labeled “Platform Secret Screen” and the first screen shows you how your Roku us currently functioning (temperature, IP address, SSID, Channel, N, RSSI, SNR, remote MAC address, remote battery level, etc.).  There are also options for System Operations Menu, Disable Travel Connect, WiFi Remote Menu, and WiFi secret screen.  Unfortunately none of these let you change the four dedicated content provider buttons at the bottom of the remote, but the WiFi Secret Screen is extremely useful.

wi-fi-secret-screen

On the WiFi Secret Screen there is a signal level meter for combined signal strength, antenna 1, antenna 2, and also a meter for glitch/sec.  This allows you to move around your Roku to optimize your reception.

This page also has Resets, Interference, Radios, and Power, so you can optimize your settings.

interference-mitigation

system-operations-menu

wifi-power-level

wifi-radio-controls

wi-fi-remote-menu

Setting my radios at TX 1 RX 1 kept my signal strength consistently at 22/23 (other settings were around 16-18 and fluctuated a lot more).  After trying different interference settings, I found “reduce non-WLAN interference” to be my best option.

Obviously your settings will depend upon your specific situation.

p.s.  If after getting things where you want them with your wifi reception you want to check the signal speed of what’s coming into your Roku, Vudu (a free channel with purchasing options for content) has a speed test under “info and settings.”

Props:

When searching for a solution to my Roku drop-out woes, I found most of this information on Richard Loyd’s YouTube channel here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1GZO8e_KJo

The updated secret screen shown above is actually a lot more robust (there are more options, settings, and measurements) than the one Richard posted in his video from August 24, 2014.  This leads me to believe that Roku will be supporting and updating this feature into the future.

gqiwsuivaxuta2cspi3x

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

How to Defrost a Samsung Ice Maker

[UPDATE 8-29-16]: The solution, sent out to all Samsung service Techs in a bulletin, is in the new post on this subject here.

If you have a Samsung refrigerator with the SZAB001TA1 ice maker, you have a problem.

RF263BEAEWWWe recently purchased a French door refrigerator by Samsung (RF263BEAEWW) from Best Buy (heavily discounted as scratch and dent, $1,200 instead of $2,300… plus all the extra money for the extended warranty, etc.).  As usual, I researched this major purchase for weeks, and drove around to just about every major appliance store and outlet in Denver to see what I could find on scratch-and-dent-deep-discount.

While this fridge was the best rated fridge available (currently there seems to be a dearth of decent refrigerators on the market), it’s still had it’s issues, especially in regard to the compressor being astoundingly loud for a new refrigerator.  The biggest problem we’ve encountered so far is that it started making a “churning” or “chugging” noise and I quickly realized it was the fill pump for the ice maker.  The defrost was not working correctly and an ice dam was blocking the fill flow, thus the pump just kept trying to pump in water without ever quitting.  Not only was the noise extremely annoying, but it was going to destroy the pump if left to continue.

Samsung Ice MakerEvidently the ice makers in these units are HORRIBLE, and the circuit board that controls them is also awful (and fails if you look at it wrong).

Calling Best Buy gets you nowhere, as they will only direct you to the manufacturer if the appliance is still under manufacturer’s warranty.  Trying to get someone to come check out an appliance via Samsung will make you feel like you live in cold war Russia (trying to talk to the right person, trying to get someone to come to your house, getting scheduled for a visit more than a month out, etc.).

Rather than wait for someone to come fix it while putting up with the awful noise and having the pump fail completely while we waited, I ended up doing it myself, and that started with figuring out how to defrost the ice maker without having to turn off the fridge (and thus empty all the contents).

Here are the steps:

  1. On the front panel display, press the Energy Saver and Refrigerator buttons at the same time for 8 seconds.  The display will switch to the Test Mode and the display (all buttons, etc.) will go dark.
  2. Press any button within 15 seconds after the display goes dark to scroll through the Test Modes as follows:
    • Manual operation 1 (FF)
    • Manual operation 2 (0F-r)
    • Manual defrost of fresh food compartments (rd)
    • Manual defrost of fresh food and freezer compartments (fd)
    • Cancel (display goes completely dark)

“fd” is the one you want.  The defrost mode will beep while in effect (pretty annoying) and will shut off after five minutes (I had to do it quite a few times to thaw everything out).

Once the majority of the stuck-to-the-unit ice was thawed, I used a screw driver to carefully dislodge all the ice, then completed melted any chunks I couldn’t remove by hand with a hair dryer.  Finally I blew out the ice maker with an air compressor to remove any remaining droplets/moisture so it wouldn’t build up ice crystals once the unit was back on.

I’m not happy about this issue, and I really hope it doesn’t continue to happen, as returning a refrigerator is going to be a major pain (all the doors and drawers had to be removed to fit through the front door and kitchen door, not to mention the hassle of scheduling the process and storing food in the interim).

UPDATE 1-11-16: The ice maker is more of a problem than I had originally anticipated –more specifically, the way the ice maker is unable to defrost/thaw in an efficient manner).  There is a fairly permanent puddle in the bottom of the refrigerator, and often there is so much water it pours out of the front and onto the floor (and also into the bottom freezer, creating giant chunks of ice and icicles).  In fact, the water coming from the ice maker has ruined our floor (woke up one morning with a giant puddle on the floor that warped the floating cork, and I’m sure there is now mold under the flooring).

Here are some photos of the madness:

Samsung Ice Maker Issues 20151206_193432 20151207_152032
  20151206_193441  

UPDATE 1-17-16: The Samsung Ice Maker has failed again.  The genius who designed it decided that the defrost cycle, which happens on a regular basis, should drain directly into… the bottom of the ice maker housing.  Thus, this next time our ice maker failed (again, pouring water all over the floor and further damaging the cork flooring), the ice tray also froze completely shut, meaning I couldn’t get the ice maker drawer out without first thawing the ice maker (which meant the thawing ice had nowhere to go except all over the place).  There was nearly a full 1/2” solid sheet of ice holding the ice drawer to the bottom of the ice maker housing.  I spent around 2 hours fixing the problem tonight, and I have a feeling this is only going to get worse.  I really don’t want this refrigerator anymore.

Monday, January 4, 2016

I Hate Plex So Much

I have been hobbling along with Plex for nearly two years now.

thumb-logo

I have re-named all my files by their facist naming system (since Plex ignores the title information and anything else from file details) and placed each and every file in directories exactly as Plex has instructed.

As an early adopter, I paid hard-earned money for their Roku app (which should provide an elevated level of functionality… it does not).

I have spent hours looking through forums and trying to find information on their official website.

Still my files are constantly renamed (almost always incorrectly) and almost NO FILE has a thumbnail that corresponds to the actual film or television program it represents.  Even when I manually add names and poster files via the computer desktop interface, Plex will inevetiably switch the name back to whatever it wants, even when I use Plex’s “lock” funtion (this is particularly frustrating with episodic television).  Not only does Plex rename the titles, but it also removes the artwork I have assigned to replace the thumbnail with an image of Kevin Spacey from House of Cards.  I love Kevin Spacey, but I am so sick of seeing his #*&$% face on EVERY THUMBNAIL IN MY LIBRARY.

Furthermore, when I search (FF/RW) the “preview” always shows scenes from The Long Goodbye.  No matter the show I am watching, FF/RW will only show Elliot Gould, never the characters from the program I am searching through.  Thus, I have to guess how far forward or back I have gone.

I have dumped caches, refreshed databases, optimized databases, on and on and on… all to no avail.

The Plex interface in Roku is abysmal, especially since all the thumbnails are wrong.  I can’t search visually (since every thumbnail is the same still from House of Cards), so I have to highlight each and every file to see what the program actually is.  Not only that, but whoever created the Plex navigation for the Roku interface should be dragged into the street and beaten.  It is the most convoluted and unuseable maze of nonsense I have ever encountered.  I have no idea what they were thinking when they were creating the “quick access” sections, as each offering is completely useless when I’m trying to find the content I want to watch.

I am at witt’s end. I absolutely HATE Plex, but there seems to be NO OTHER choice for viewing my NAS stored media via Roku (which is what all the tv’s in our house use to access streaming media).

I could switch to XBMC and mirror to Roku, but I don’t want to have to access media via a computer (I want to use just Roku and NAS).

Why in the world is Plex the only game in town?!

Goodbye Windows Live Writer, Hello Open Live Writer

I use Windows Live Writer to compose my posts (it’s a much more robust desktop blog composition interface than anything else I’ve been able to find).  A couple of days ago I tried to post here, and I got a log in error from Google (The Invisible Blog is hosted on Blogger).  This has happened (a lot) in the past (basically everytime Google changes any log in protocol), and I didn’t really have time to troubleshoot at that moment, so I revisited the issue today.  Turns out the problem is going to be permanenet.

Microsoft hasn’t really updated Live Writer since August of 2012.  Since Google updated their API at the end of 2015, Windows Live Writer will never work with Blogger again.  Luckily, Microsoft turned Live Writer over to .NET Foundation (which includes a bunch of Microsoft employees working as volunteers) and they are working with Google/Blogger to make Blogger and Live Writer play nice.

openlivewriter-purpleheader

There are some things that they’ve done away with (spellcheck –won’t work on Win7 but will hopefully work on Win8 using the OS’s built-in spell check, albums –which I’ll miss because it was an easy way to upload a group of photos), and there are some things that just aren’t supported yet (categories –hopefully they are able to get this back up and runnning, plug-ins –I don’t use any, so this doesn’t really affect me).

A current annoyance (but minor, in comparison to the possibilty of not being able to use Live Writer at all) is that Open Live Writer doesn’t seem to be able to open any Drafts that are online (it only has the option to open local drafts).

I am happy to know that there are people keeping Live Writer alive, especially since no one seems to be interested in creating decent blog composition software (which seems REALLY weird, since the internet has become basically one giant blog).

Kudos, people of .NET Foundation.

Autopopulate Fields With KeePass

keepass_512x512I have been happily using KeePass to safegaurd my passwords for years.

My one gripe has always been that to use my username and pass, I have to open the database, find the entry I want to use, then either right-click “perform auto type” or copy and paste the username and password.

Today I found out I’ve been doing it wrong. :-\

There is actually a keyboard shortcut/hotkey that will allow you to simply click on the username field and then KeePass will recognize the site’s address and autopopulate the necessary fields.

Once you’ve clicked inside the username field, simply click ctrl-alt-a.

It doesn’t always work, but it’s worked every time I’ve tried it so far.  This is a MAJOR time saver (you don’t have to open KeePass, find the entry, and populate the fields).

You can also alter the hotkey combo by going to Tools>Options>Advanced, and then in the lower right corner there is a button marked “Auto-Type” where you can change various settings for this hotkey combo.

image

Format Large SD Card for Android

I’ve got several older devices laying around that I use for various things (media players, cameras, etc.).  Recently I tried to upgrade the Micro SD card in my HTC Droid Incredible (ADR6300) running Android 2.3.4 from 8GB to 128GB and I had a heck of a time getting it to recognize the 128GB card.

Formatting via Windows for anything over 32GB can’t be done using Disk Tools (you can only format as exFat and NTFS).  Thus, if you’re going to format with what you’ve got in Windows, you have to use a command line.  Using the “quick” format command in the command line ( format <drive letter>: /FS:FAT32 /Q) almost always causes failure for disks over 32GB, and when you don’t do a quick format, it almost always pretends like it’s formatting for a couple of hours, then fails.

I actually got the Droid to recognize and format the card using its own utility at one point, but then the phone just went into boot loop and finally hung on the HTC screen.

I am loathe to download and install programs from weird locations around the web, but after about an hour and a half of trying all the routes that DIDN’T involve installing software, I finally broke down and installed FAT32Format from Ridgecrop Consultants, LTD (a guy in the UK).

Here is their fancy logo.

While their graphic design may leave something to be desired, their code rocks.

Lemme tell you… I wasted a lot of time trying to figure out “other ways” when I could have just done this in the first place.  The executable is tiny (76KB), and the disk was formatted and working in my droid in less than 60 seconds.

Kudos, Ridgeway.