Monday, September 29, 2008

SkyFire instead of Opera Mini - SMT5800

I wrote a small post before about getting Opera Mini to run on a Verizon SMT5800. Although Opera was working okay, and does a far better job than pocket internet explorer, it still is not the ideal solution. It often renders text poorly even when zoomed in, and sometime has a clipping problem where part of the page does not render at all. On top of that, it is difficult to install for an average user. So, I sought out a better alternative to Opera mini or Pocket Internet Explorer, and found SkyFire

I had signed up for skyfire months ago for the beta, but was just recently included. Now it seems it is much easier to get the beta, just sign up and go.

1.) Very easy to install, you sign up, they sms (text) you a link. You access the link from your mobile, answer a couple of things, and boom it installs.
2.) So far, for me, this browser is the best thing for a windows mobile phone. It renders pages way faster than opera or pocket ie, and does a fantastic job of making it look like it would on a desktop. This of course means you will do a ton of zooming in since everything is so small, but it works well.
3.) Besides navigating text and images easily, it does an amazing job of rendering flash content. You can even access sites like hulu and youtube with no problems! Of course it is still choppy and I would not recommend watching a whole show, but for watching a clip, it works great, and opens way more formats that pocket ie and opera can do.

The only negative is actually how it works. Basically, you connect to skyfire's servers, they process your page views on their server and send them to your phone. So, it makes the experience excellent, but if privacy (on your mobile browser) is a huge concern for you, I would not use their product.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Update on Playon Hulu on PS3

Just a quick update on the "Playon" software that i blogged about earlier.
A quick refresher, Playon, by is a software program that you run on your pc to allow your xbox or ps3 watch netflix, youtube, hulu, and espn content right on your tv. The software is still very much in beta, so I just wanted to share my quick thoughts.
I have been using it for a couple weeks now, I probably have used it 10 times in total. The picture quality is still acceptable (not near as good as dvd quality or hd, but still good to just watch a show). The speed is very good, if you have a decent cable internet connection, you will experience zero problems or lag in watching a show. In fact, you can fast forward through the few commercials at 1.5 speed with no problems at all, so you can cut commercial time down to less than 30 seconds per commercial.
The bugs:
Just about every time I use the playon tool, it is broken for hulu. This means that you have to go re-download the application in its latest build from their site. To their credit though, every time hulu breaks and every time i download the software it is fixed. However, you will find that the "update" feature in the software does not work at all. If you manually update, it will tell you that you have the latest version, when in fact you dont. Just ignore the update button for now, and any time you have a problem, just go redownload and re-install the software. It is okay to install right over top of the existing software, no reason to remove it first.

for now:
  • Still no netflix, though they say coming soon "very soon"
  • Hulu works great, but like I said you almost have to update the software every time you want to use it.
  • They made improvements in the interface, so now when you access the media server from your ps3, you only see one option "playon" you click on that to get to all the sub channels that are supported, way better.
This is still in Beta, so I can't say anything negative. They give you 60 days to try it, I just hope that it is stable by the end of my trial period, so I will buy it. I cant see spending the money yet until it is stable however. Give it a shot, this is a great tool.

Recover Data from My Book World Edition

A friend of mine has (had) a western digital my world book network attached 500gb storage device. Unfortunately his house was the recipient of a electrical storm that blew out most of the equipment on his home network. He was left with a worldbook that was no longer responding to network request. If you plugged in the network cord, it immediately went red (or orange) as if the NIC inside was bad. Since this device does not have a usb port for connecting to computers, we were kinda screwed.

After contacting support at WD, they basically said the same thing, and for a cost (probably $100) I could ship the unit back and they would fix/replace it. However, they will not recover the data for you. That obviously was no good.

So, I had a suspicion that the drive itself in the unit was okay, just the motherboard or nic was bad on the WD hd. In order to test this, I broke apart the unit, (lots of snapping and screws) and removed the internal SATA drive. I then plugged the SATA drive into a windows box and looked at the partition manager to see if it could read it. Windows XP showed that there were 4 partitions on the drive, but I could not access the data since it was the wrong file system. This gave me hope that the drive itself was okay. So, here are the steps to recover your data from a world book that has a bad network card or bad motherboard.

Author Edit: These instructions are for the Western Digital My WorldBook 500 GB edition (without raid). Several commenters have left updated instructions for 1GB and 2GB units, including units with raid. Please see the comments if you do not have the 500GB model, as it will provide a different mount command in Linux/Unix.

What you need:
First off, find out if your pc has a SATA slot available. (Basically, if your pc has sata drives you should be okay, you can always temporarily disconnect one that you dont need in your computer). Visit your manaufacturer's website to find out if your pc has SATA (which is a simplified connection to a hard drive versus the old IDE style.) Once you determine your computer (or a friend's) supports sata, go ahead and take apart the pc. Keep in mind, nothing we are doing should damage your computer or your windows install, so there are no worries for borrowing a friends machine temporarily.

Second, after locating a pc that can connect to your WD drive (keep in mind this is the drive you actually physically removed from the worldbook housing) go to the link I provided above and download Ubuntu Linux. Do not worry, you do not need to be a unix/linux geek to solve your problem, it is a graphical program.
Download the Linux iso image and burn it to cd. Keep in mind, you need to take special steps to burn an iso image, you can't just drag the iso image into the cd like you would copy files normally. If you need help, open your cd burning software and use the help file to find info on "creating iso" "burning iso", "burning images" or "creating images".

Once you have the cd burned, you will now open up the computer that will accomidate the WD drive. Open up the computer, install the drive. and then insert the cd and boot up the pc. Keep in mind, with some computers, you might need to access the bios (cmos) and activate the new drive for the motherboard to see.) While in the bios (setup) make sure that your CDROM is the first bootable device.

When the machine loads to the boot menu (boot from cd) choose the Ubuntu option that says something like "Try ubuntu without installing" Basically use the menu that allows you to use ubuntu without installing it.

After a minute or so, your pc will boot into Ubuntu, which is a lot like windows. Access the menus up top until you see one that says "Terminal" I believe it is under the system main menu, though it might be under applications->accessories->terminal.

When you click terminal, you will be taken to a prompt window (text based)

Type in:

sudo mkdir /media/mount (hit enter)
then type:
sudo mount -t ext3 /dev/sdb4 /media/mount (hit enter)

You can now close the terminal window.
Now go back up to the system menu or the places menu and find the "computer" option. Launch this. It is just like "my computer" in windows xp. You should now see your local hard drive (which is actually your windows install on the machine) and you should see the new worldbook drive. If you have any external hard drives plugged in to your computer you will see them as well. Copy the data from the "public" drive of your WD drive into an external drive or your local windows drive.

That's it, data recovered. Take out the CD, Power down your pc, disconnect the WD drive, and fire your computer back up to boot into windows and see your recovered data.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

ABS and TCS Off lights go on in 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP

Unfortunately I recently had the ABS light and the "TCS Off" light both illuminate on my dashboard on my 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP. Keywords: ABS Light turned on Grand Prix, TCS light turned on Grand Prix, ABS and TCS not working Grand Prix.

There are a few sketchy posts out there that recommend that you replace wheel speed sensors and hubs on the car, but unfortunately the problem for me was the ABS control module. After taking the car to two different mechanics, and dumping tons of money into it, I had to ultimately replace the ABS control module anyhow, which is a $1,300 job.

FYI, I had to pay the dealer $100 to diagnose the problem, and then $1300 for a new module. I tried a used ABS control module with another mechanic, and the used part had the same symptoms as my existing one. Apparently, this is pretty common and you almost always need to put a new ABS control module in.

Save yourself the aggrevation, and if these lights go on in your car go straight to the dealer, do not waste time at local mechanics.

Turn Off PHP Error Reporting Unix

This one is pretty easy to find out on the web, but I thought I would throw it up there with some other keywords. Here is how you Turn off php error reporting in Unix BSD tutorial.

1 Login as root

2 vi /usr/local/lib/php.ini (or wherever your php.ini file is located)

3 find the error_reporting setting by typing /error_reporting (note arrow down to the error_reporting line that does NOT start with a semicolon!!!!)

4) to disable, insert a semicolon in front of the error_reporting line to comment out.

5) restart apache with /usr/local/apache2/bin/apachectl restart

To reenable php error reporting, remove the semicolon.

Using Tar for Tape Drive BSD

We needed to set up a backup using tar on a unix BSD system. Here is how we did it:

Backing up the current directory to Tape:

$ tar cv . <- default tape drive (rsa0)

$ tar cvf /dev/rsa1 . <- second tape drive (rsa1)

Restore files from Tape:

$ tar xv .
$ tar xvf /dev/rsa1

Extracted from information here:

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Rhino Channel Bank Punch Down Block

I recently installed a VOIP phone system in my office. Most of our phones will work over conventional POE circuits, but we also had a need to install 8 analog lines into our switch. 4 of the analog lines were for POTS while the other 4 were for stations.

Our install was a bit unconventional, because we were using a Rhino Port Channel Bank and trying to connect to a 66 punch down block to an Amphenol RJ-21 50 pin phone connector. The only instructions we could find online were not very useful.

Long story short, we found out that when connecting the Rhino Port Channel Bank to a Punch Down block (with amphenol connector) that you actually have to start at the bottom of the punch down block, not the top.

In other words, punch down your 1st pair on the bottom two rows of the punch down block and work up the block.

Install Opera Mini on SMT5800 Verizon

I had a desire to install Opera Mini on my Verizon SMT5800 SmartPhone (windows Mobile 6) and had a difficult time finding instructions how to do it.

If you would like to customize your SMT5800 Home screen, read this article

To install Opera Mini on a SMT 5800 Verizon phone, follow these instructions:

1.) Go to this link and follow the instructions step by step. Don't worry, the instructions are for the HTC s621, but work perfectly for the Verizon SMT5800 (which is a HTC phone).

2.) Download and install Esmertec Jbed You may have to google this, or go to sign up (free) and search for it.

3.) Drag the unzipped files to your phone and install it (from the phone), select the main memory, not a storage card

3.) Go to and download it to your pc

4.) Drag opera mini to your phone and install (from the phone)

That's it.

FYI: Opera sometime renders things weird, like dropping the bottom line on your screen. Also, sometimes you have to close opera, then relaunch the java midlet in order to close opera properly. Othewise, it does a way better job than pocket internet explorer.

Found a much more detailed post here:

Ford Extended Warranty Pricing

For those of you wondering if you can negotiate the extended warranty on a vehicle, here are my recent observations:

My wife and I recently purchased a 2008 Ford Escape new from the dealer. We were able to take advantage of 0% financing deal for 60 months, which worked out great.

I was able to negotiate the 6 year 100,000 extended warranty down to $1500. I probably could have done a bit better, but we had a lot of concessions in other areas. This was the actually Ford Warranty, not an aftermarket or third-party deal.

At another dealer, I got the aftermarket (not Ford) warranty for 7 year/100k mile down to $1,300 in the negotiation.

If you did any better leave some comments with what you got.

Getting Hulu and Netflix to Work on PS3

For my first post, I just wanted to write a quick summary of a product that I learned about yesterday.

I have long been looking for a solution to access Hulu content and Netflix content on my Sony Playstation 3 (PS3 Netflix Hulu). Unfortunately, there presently is not much information out there that does not require a signifigant amount of programming or a seperate unix server.

Although the solution is not perfect, I recently stumbled upon MediaMall's PlayOn product.
Here's how it works.....

Simply download there software (in the link above) onto a Windows XP machine. I used a 1.6 ghz intel Acer laptop with 1.5 gig/ram (nothing overkill). The software installs in just a couple of minutes. After that, fire up your PS3 or XBox. On the PS3 simply navigate to the Video Menu choice and you will now see PlayOn for Hulu and PlayOn for Netflix. At the time of this writing, the netflix option is not functional, but I will write more when it is up and running (with a review).

From the video menu, you simply navigate to the TV show you want to watch on Hulu and click on the show. There is no search functionality presently, so you have to know what you are looking for alphabetically.

Once you click on the show you want to watch, I have experienced up to a one minute delay (with a blank screen) on my tv. But after that, the show runs with no problems (you need a broadband connection). I experienced one or two lag periods, nothing major, and was able to do some light surfing on the laptop while watching the show. Although the picture quality is not fantastic (on a big screen) it is definitely better than watching your favorite tv show on a computer screen.

Basically, the playon sever is reading the stream to your pc/laptop and then sends the re-encoded stream out to your ps3 or xbox. Unfortunately this means that your pc has to remain powered on of course while you are watching shows.

The PlayOn software gives you a 60 day trial, and then has a one time cost of $60. If they do get the Netflix on PS3 then I would definitely spend the money.

My experience is that the Roku Netflix box is easier to use and does not require the pc to be on, but for now I am happy if they get the feature running on the PS3 so I can redeploy my roku box to another tv.

Randomly Learned - Things I have found out

I started this blog to have a place to put random thoughts as well as information I have learned, as well as to earn a small amount of revenue in advertisements.
Some things you might find here include:
  • Product Reviews
  • Store Reviews
  • Services Reviews
  • Solutions to Problems
  • Technology and Computer Problems Resolved
And just about anything I think of for that day.