Solution for (most of) your Airplay woes – Airfoil

I first began using Airfoil back in late 2012 with my Windows system in order to take advantage of some existing Airplay speakers that I was using with iTunes only. Airfoil allowed me to redirect the sound from my browser-based Pandora player throughout the house.

Later on, when I switched to using an OS X platform (Mac Mini) I encountered the numerous issues that seem to plague Airplay users, random dropouts and disconnects being among the most annoying. On impulse I purchased the Mac license for Airfoil and found my issues were 90% improved.

I’m not sure why but playing iTunes content through native Airplay is still just an awful experience. Airplay devices seem to come and go as they please. While the issue is most notable with third party speakers (I have a couple of Philips Fidelio Wireless Speakers that I came close to launching out the window), it also manifests with my stereo which is attached via an Airport Express router and with my outdoor TV which is connected via Apple TV.

What a difference! I won’t say it’s perfect, anything depending upon home wireless connectivity seldom is, but the improvement in reliability is dramatic!

If that isn’t enough I can also install free add-on software on my Windows and Macbook machines and broadcast music from my primary Mac to wherever those other devices are. If your goal is to have your music available subtly throughout your home rather than blasting it from a single stereo or computer then this is your solution.

So I’m much happier with my setup now. When I am puttering in the house or when I have a party I have my music coming from every room so you can just enjoy it without straining. And very few dropouts compared to before!

Posted under Tech Stuff, Utils / Tools

This post was written by Marc
on December 28, 2015 at 3:58 pm

Syba SY-KVM20054 1920 x 1200 DVI Video 2-port USB KVM Switch with Wired Remote Port Selector Review

I purchased this KVM after my TRENDnet TK-207K bit the dust after only 6 months of use.

I have to admit that I’m now happy for being forced to change. The TRENDnet was only about $23 from Amazon where this Syba weighed in at closer to $60. This is still a very good price for a fully functioning KVM.

The reasons I am happy are twofold:

The Syba uses native DVI ports so I no longer have to use any converters or VGA cables. I really can’t tell if this has improved the quality of my video performance but I am finding that I have no more issues with my screen resolution being reset on me when I remove and replace my laptop (something that happens frequently as I take it to and from work).

Swapping ports is nearly instant with the Syba where there used to be a lag of several seconds plus a little acknowledgment sound from each computer as the change was made before. I silently swap between machines now with just a click of the Syba remote button or a double-click of my mouse middle button (scroll wheel). Quick, easy, reliable and the settings are remembered.

So far count me very happy with this new Syba KVM.

FYI my setup is:

1 desktop machine (Alienware) with two monitors (Syncmaster 226BW and SyncMaster 2343BWX). I am sharing the Syncmaster 226BW whose native resolution is 1680 x 1050.

1 Dell Lattitude E6410 with a port replicator

Basic 3 Button Alienware optical mouse (USB)

Basic standard Dell keyboard (also USB)

I don’t like using laptop keyboards or the eraserhead or trackpad pointer devices. I’m a mouse and full-sized keyboard kind of guy.

The laptop travels with me to and from work so I can have a consistent platform as my primary workstation.

 

Posted under Opinions, Tech Stuff, Utils / Tools

This post was written by Marc
on June 18, 2011 at 9:04 am

TRENDnet TK-207K KVM Switch Failure

I’ve had this switch for almost exactly 6 months now and it’s just failed utterly on me this morning.

My setup is:

1 desktop machine (Alienware) with two monitors (Syncmaster 226BW and SyncMaster 2343BWX)
1 Dell Lattitude E6410 with a port replicator

I don’t like using laptop keyboards or the eraserhead or trackpad pointer devices. I’m a mouse and full-sized keyboard kind of guy.

The laptop travels with me to and from work so I can have a consistent platform as my primary workstation.

I used the TK-207K to share the 226BW between the laptop and the Alienware along with a proper keyboard and mouse. This has always presented a minor issue where, each time I replace the laptop into the port replicator and switch to it, the resolution on the monitor is ALWAYS incorrect with no correct option to select from. I always need to log onto the laptop and then PULL THE VIDEO PLUG out of the back of the port replicator and then plug it back in. After this the computer recognizes that the resolution is incorrect and allows me to select the right resolution. The monitor that I use at work has exactly the same native resolution so there is something a little odd here. Once this is done I’m good until the next time I remove the laptop.

This morning I was working on my Alienware machine when the keyboard and mouse just stopped responding and the computer threw up a message indicating that it did not recognize a USB device.

Several restarts later and after swapping out keyboards I come to the conclusion that the TK-207K is no longer of this world…

I am not going to try to get a replacement as others have done. I’m sure TRENDnet will probably honor their warranty but frankly I prefer my stuff to work the first time and work right.

I’m going to look for another solution. Until then I will have an extra monitor on my desktop and two keyboards and two mice.

Posted under Opinions, Tech Stuff, Utils / Tools

This post was written by Marc
on June 17, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Automating Encryption of Financial files

I’m not the most paranoid person in the world, but I *do* believe in safeguarding my critical files. If my computer is ever compromised I like to ensure that as much as possible, all of my personal information, financial records, etc. are encrypted.

To this end I make use of TrueCrypt. This is such a useful utility that I have also gone ahead and made a donation to support the author. I *highly* recommend you get TrueCrypt and use it to safeguard your own information.

I’ve created a batch file which I execute whenever I want to use Quicken that will mount my encrypted volume, open Quicken, then dismount the volume when Quicken exits

Part of TrueCrypt’s mandate is to try to also thwart folks from figuring out what files you’re using by not updating the timestamps of volume container files when they’ve been modified. I don’t need quite this level of protection, but in command-line mode I can’t get away from it.

My nightly backup solution depends upon timestamps in order to determine what should be backed up. Of course one thing I don’t ever want skipped in my nightly backup is my financial stuff.

So I found a great little Freeware Touch utility written by Steve Miller. It is a part of his “Win32 Console ToolBox 1.0 (Item 10)”.

My final batch file looks like this and works like a charm. It will mount my volume on the Q: drive, prompt me for my password, run Quicken, dismount the drive then update the modified timestamp for me.

“C:\Program Files (x86)\TrueCrypt\truecrypt.exe” /v c:\nameofmyquickenvolumehere /l Q /q
“C:\Program Files (x86)\Quicken\qw.exe”
“C:\Program Files (x86)\TrueCrypt\truecrypt.exe” /d Q /q
“C:\bin\touch.exe” /m c:\nameofmyquickenvolumehere

Posted under Tech Stuff, Utils / Tools

This post was written by Marc
on November 26, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Standby Issues and some workarounds

Computers don’t die, they only fade away… to become household servers so it seems. A computer typically lasts me about 3-5 years of primary use before it becomes old enough where it just can’t drive the software and / or the operating system that I want to use. Then I tend to purchase an extra hard drive for it, toss on an FTP server and make it a backup server for the house. Having these computers all running would just be a waste of energy so I’m taking advantage of their standby abilities and, where possible, their Wake On LAN ability.

My primary machine an Alienware Aurora Desktop which, through Windows 7, offers a great modified standby feature called “Hybrid Sleep”. This is similar to the well known “Standby”  – meaning that the system will come back to life very quickly and pick up right where you left off.  The “Hybrid” aspect has the computer also dumping its memory to disk a la hibernation in case the power should fail. This causes the computer to take a bit longer to power down – and I don’t need to care because I don’t have to wait for this – but after a power failure restarting the computer also will bring you right back to where you left off without losing anything.

My former primary computer is now a media center PC in my TV room and it’s configured to go into hybrid sleep mode too after about an hour of non use.

My PC prior to that (a PowerSpec 8922) well.. it would be nice if it could work as nicely as the others, it just exists as a host my laser printer but it must be shut down and restarted as I need to print documents (see why below).

Whenever I’m finished using my primary machine, I hit the power button and it goes into Hybrid Sleep mode. I manually turn off the monitors since, even in “powersave mode” they consume about 20 watts apiece.  The power use is absolutely negligible once I’ve done this. Very early each morning, a scheduled task will run that will wake the PC, send a Wake On LAN command to wake up my Media Center PC and then back up my system. When complete both systems go back to sleep. When I get up in the morning I see the reports from the backup waiting for me and I know that all is well.

The Wake on LAN command is sent using a free utility from here. I just unzipped the executable into my bin directory, created a simple batch file that is executed by my backup software as a “program to execute before backing up” and the media center is up and running waiting for the backup process. It works like a charm. My wife’s laptop executes an identical batch file before it starts its backup as well and has no problems.

Quirks:

The PowerSpec 8922 (Running Windows XP) has the annoying habit of going into sleep mode and then NEVER COMING BACK. Whenever I print something I stroll to the back room and boot it up (it’s a 2004 vintage and does not have WOL even if it could come back from standby anyway). Window’s print spooler is patient enough to wait for the PowerSpec to start up and then continue with the print job. I have not been able to find a better solution for this. If the computer is put into sleep the power must be disconnected and reconnected to force it to restart and come back to life.

The Dell Inspiron 530 (Media Center PC running Windows Vista 32 bit) will not go into standby manually. If I click “standby” from the start menu or if I invoke standby by setting the power button to do so it will enter sleep mode and then, maybe a minute later wake up again for no discernible reason. So I just leave it alone and let the power setting time out after an hour and it goes to sleep just fine after that.

On awakening, the AlienWare Aurora Desktop (Windows 7, 64 bit) shows 4 issues:

– The Alienware Thermal controller will fail with the error: System.Net.Sockets.SocketException: An invalid argument was supplied

I have found no solution to this yet.

– Windows Microsoft .NET Framework dies, again indicating that “An invalid argument was supplied.

I have found neither any solution nor any downstream issues caused by this and so have not been motivated to resolve.

– Upon starting iTunes, it reports that the Bonjour service that it relies upon to share music (notably with my Roku sound bridge) has “been disabled“.

For this I created a batch file consisting solely of the following two commands:

Net Stop “Bonjour Service”
Net Start “Bonjour Service”

I then used the Task Scheduler to create a task that ran when it detected that the computer was woken up from sleep which executed this batch file and iTunes has been fine ever since

Trigger
Begin the task: On an Event
Log: System
Source: Power-Troubleshooter
EventID: 1

– Firefox, if it was open, would be unable to connect to the internet.

Restarting Firefox corrects this (I picked up an add on for Firefox to do this via a button on the tool bar). But I became tired of this silly behavior and have since switched to Google Chrome and have fewer issues.

Clearly a lot more work needs to be done by either Alienware, Microsoft or both in sorting these issues out. For me, I’ve got workarounds that are satisfactory for me so I am not hampered by these problems. If there is a problem that I suspect may have something to do with the computer having been in standby, I will reboot it and see if that resolves the issue.

Posted under Tech Stuff, Utils / Tools

This post was written by Marc
on November 7, 2010 at 12:26 pm

“Must Have” apps for BlackBerry Torch

I’m about to trade in my BlackBerry Torch 9800 for a couple of HTC EVO devices from Sprint. The job I’m moving to, while still a BlackBerry shop, does not provide them for my position (yet…).

But I’ve been refining my collection of BlackBerry apps for a while now. Mostly with my Bold 9000 but these apps have served me well on the Torch for the brief time that I’ve enjoyed using it.

As you check out the list below, remember that my BlackBerry device is primarily a business tool needed for communicating day-to-day support issues plus nightly oncall support notifications. So it needs to be available for all this – sometimes 24 x 7 – and it needs to do all this and be a reliable telephone to boot.

In order of usefulness and not including standard apps that come with the phone :

Pocket Informant: (in app store) Without hesitation the most useful application I have. It replaces the default calendar, tasks and contacts applications and expresses daily commitments in a clear and useful manner. I can quickly see what scheduled calendar entries I have for any day along with relevant tasks so I can work through them as the day progresses. I favor the agenda view as being most suitable for my needs.

BerryWeather: (in app store) A great weather app that I have set to show the current conditions on the home screen as well as a tiny little icon showing temperature in the icon strip. I have mine configured so that my current GPS location (updated every hour) is considered my “home” location and is what displays on the home screen. Then I keep track of my actual house location and Toronto (so I know how lucky I am to be living here). It also shows weather advisories as they are made available.

BatteryBooster: Actually, I only got BatterBooster because I wanted to get SmartWiFi but BatteryBooster was being offered for 1/2 of SmartWiFi’s price and had SmartWiFi bundled in as a package deal. BatteryBooster looks like it would probably help somewhat but many of the options did things like turn off the phone radio if the signal strength dropped too low or (with another bundled piece called PowerControl) it can turn off the whole unit at various times during the day. Since I often have a 24×7 requirement for my BlackBerry, this doesn’t benefit me at all. But the SmartWiFi app is great. Basically it figures out what cell towers are near WiFi spots you use. If you move away from those cell towers it turns off the WiFi radio. Likewise when you return to those cell towers it reenables the WiFi and reestablishes contact – completely transparently to me. I just happen to notice that my device is browsing the web MUCH faster when I get within range of those hotspots and I can see that I’m not wasting my WiFi power otherwise.

MailMinder: I make copious use of Profiles and filters on my blackberry. But the simple distinction between “normal” messages and “Level 1” was not quite what I needed. I have things set so most messages just appear on my device and I’ll get to them when I get to them. But I wanted to be able to distinguish between different kinds of high priority messages since, depending on the situation, I may or may not need to address them right away. So I use MailMinder to draw distinctions between messages from certain friends, warnings from the servers that I monitor, critical issues from the servers that I monitor, messages from my wife and notifications from my personal calendar on Google Calendar. MailMinder allows me to have distinct tones and LED colors for all of the above. Especially handy when I’m on call and the only thing I want to wake me up are critical server issues (and maybe messages from my wife…). If I’m in a meeting, the device can silently let me know just by its LED that a message has arrived from a friend and I can ignore it without even touching the BlackBerry. However a server failure worthy of interrupting the meeting will give me a blip and a red LED and I must be on my way.

RingScheduler: Another great app for someone with differing notification needs throughout the day. I have mine set so that it uses the “Normal” profile as its default. Every evening at 10 pm it switches to the “Phone only” profile until 8 am. On nights when I am oncall, I have oncall scheduled in my calendar as a 10 pm – 8 am meeting. RingScheduler sees the keyword “oncall” in the meeting and automatically switches me over to a custom “oncall” profile that I created. If I have an ad-hoc meeting or simply want to ensure that the BlackBerry will not disturb folks around me for a period of time, I can select the “Schedule Ringer Now” menu option that is available nearly everywhere in the device and set it to hold any of my profiles for a selectable period of time (a few minutes, a few hours), then the BlackBerry will switch back to whatever profile makes sense (default, timed, meeting based) when the ad hoc period ends. Very good if you have ever silenced your device while in a movie or a meeting and then forgotten to reset it and missed those phone calls or emails afterwards.

Ascendo DataVault: A worthy replacement for MiniSafe. It follows the same paradigms. My passwords, logon information, bank account information, etc. are stored in an encrypted file on my BlackBerry – available to me at any time. I bought the bundle that syncs the data with a desktop companion so I can more easily update and reference the same information when I’m working on my PC. It also boasts the ability to fill forms for you on your PC but I use a different app for that so I haven’t tried that functionality.

Twitter (from RIM): I’m not a power Twitter user by any stretch of the imagination so my needs are simple. I tried other offerings such as “Uber Twitter” and a couple of others whose names escape me now and they were not as good as this simple app made by RIM. It actually works in the background to refresh tweets – something the others seemed to have problems with – and it integrates very nicely with my messaging app so I can see that I have new tweets just by inspecting my inbox. And the notification is removed from my inbox when I return from Twitter. Simple and functional.

Bloomberg Mobile: Pretty clean, easy to set up and accurate. It’s amazing how hard it is to get a decent stock price app. I have concerns about battery drain with this app so I always exit out of it so it is not constantly running. But I like how it presents my data.

Facebook (by RIM): While I am sure there are probably better Facebook apps out there, this one from RIM is pretty straightforward, allowing me to post simple updates and pictures without any fuss at all as well as read items from my friends. It lacks the ability to honor the  filters I have set up on the web version to ignore crap such as game updates from bored folks but fortunately not too many of my friends are that desperate for stuff to do…

Google Sync: I only use this to sync calendar entries (not contacts) so I can speak solely to that half of its functionality. If you sync with another calendar system, Google Sync will recognize that fact and will not sync those entries with your Google Calendar. Have a LOT of experience working with corporate calendaring systems I can appreciate that there are probably huge complications that this avoids. But I put it to you that Google should develop read-only calendar entries so that so that your *complete* calendar can be reflected in Google Calendar and be available to aid in planning. As it is, I must choose what calendar to update for what events so that my wife or coworkers can see my busy times. Fortunately the BlackBerry *does* show all entries from all platforms, so I work mostly out of pocket informant.

Vlingo (Professional): I went crazy and sprang for the full version of Vlingo. Seduced as I was by the prospect of being able to largely dictate my emails. Two things: First – If you are in a modestly technical environment and you use a fair amount of jargon in your messages, especially names (people or computer names) then you’ll spend plenty of time manually correcting these. Vlingo’s “learning” ability seems to be more about grammar and sentence structure than individual words. No matter how often I corrected it, it never managed to spell my name correctly.  Second – I really don’t think that voice recognition is quite there yet. This app is amazingly good compared to other versions I’ve experimented with even in the past few years, but it either gets my words almost exactly right or laughably wrong. There does not seem to be a middle ground here yet. My favorite use for this app is to read incoming SMS text messages to me while I drive. The free version will accomplish this for you.

Gmail app: As I have my BlackBerry configured I really can’t work properly with Gmail using the native BlackBerry messaging application. In searching for the link for Gmail Mobile I see that there may be remedies out there for this but it’s a bit too late for me now. I review new messages on my handheld and then delete them permanently (handheld & mailbox) or just off the device (handheld only) if I want to add a label in Gmail later and then archive it. I use the Gmail app because there really isn’t a practical way to keep Gmail messages on the device in the default app and the Gmail app allows me access to search my entire Gmail mail database.

Evernote: I use Evernote on my PC a fair amount. I thought I’d use it more on my BlackBerry than I do, but even with the Torch device – which sports a respectable enough camera – Evernote takes such poor pictures that it is really only useful for non-text grossly obvious subjects. But the ability to search Evernote is handy.

Pandora: I’m of mixed opinions about using my SmartPhone as a music player. The idea of my phone being dead because I was listening to the latest “Katie Melua” song seems distasteful to me. Especially when I actually *do* have an iPod available to me. But the iPod’s weakness is that it cannot introduce me to new music and Pandora does a great job of that. This app doesn’t seem to have buffering issues (that I’ve noticed) and the commercials are not a nuisance. I may even upgrade my Pandora subscription to a paid membership if the Android version of this app is as good as this one.

BeamExplorer: If I really want to manipulate files on my handheld I plug it into my computer and use “mass storage mode”. But this little app is useful when you’re on the road and you want to find or move something other than a straight media file around.

Remember all of these are apps that I use pretty regularly and they are all worthwhile. My needs are more oriented towards business and communication and I think the apps that I favor reflect that. YMMV but I would not hesitate to recommend these apps for the right needs. Most of them I feel are best of breed except where I’ve indicated otherwise.

Posted under Blackberry, Opinions, Utils / Tools

This post was written by Marc
on October 27, 2010 at 11:55 pm

Beware Amazon Price Watch

I love Amazon.com. I do a LOT of my shopping there. Anything from my TV to my rowing machine to filters for my furnace I purchase through Amazon.

Anybody who has dealt with Amazon knows that prices tend to fluctuate rather a lot.

Recently I was opining that Amazon’s kindle book prices should not be greater than those for new hardcopy books. So I set about looking for some kind of price watch tool that could alert me when ANY Amazon price changes, I was specifically interested in finding a tool that could track Kindle book prices as well.

This turns out to be pretty hard to find.

In my travels I elected to install a piece of [expletive deleted] software from nukeprice.com called “Amazon Price Watcher”. I found the software on CNet which is usually a pretty reliable source of safe software.

Right away, after installing it, I wasn’t impressed with the interface. It really wasn’t clear how it did what it was supposed to do and there was no useful help at all.

The clincher is that the uninstall – when you find it in the program files folder – doesn’t really uninstall everything. I ended up manually going through the registry to get this hunk of junk off my system.

I had already pointed it to my wish list (public wishlist) so it had already absorbed some of my current items of interest.  So for the past week I’ve been receiving daily emails from nukeprice.com telling me about one item that seems to drop by about 2 cents a day.

The *only* way, according to the email, to stop the emails is to reinstall the software and then change my watches. There is an intimation that the watch my expire on July 21 so that may ultimately stop the messages.

Of course I don’t feel comfortable with that software so it’s not going back on my machine so I’ll be spamming the incoming emails in the interim.

I just wanted to post this in case anybody is smarter than I am and searches teh intertubes for some opinions on Amazon Price Watch before installing.

I’ll say it again to be clear. I do not like “Amazon Price Watch” by nukeprice.com, the interface is confusing, the help is terrible and it doesn’t uninstall right.

Yech.

Posted under Opinions, Utils / Tools

This post was written by Marc
on June 28, 2010 at 8:00 am