Smart Codes

I have heard about the use of data matrix barcodes in other countries to convey data to others.  For example:


...contains my name, skype phone number and email address. 

Software for various handsets to read the above can be downloaded from www.i-nigma.mobi or post.beetagg.com 'Barcode Scanner 'and 'BeeTag' applications for the G1 also support this format (albeit I could not get BeeTag to work with the above on monitor display).

There are two primary types of codes; QR Code and Semacode Data Matrix Code.  The former version I have seen on FedEx pacakges.

You can create your own personalized code at Kaywa, i-nigma or BeeTag (or a plethora of other) websites...



Where Has Horizontal Spanning Gone?

I have been using dual monitors at home for a few months now and I was given the option to do the same at work.  I ordered a GeForce 9500GT card and found another 17" Dell LCD and set them up in dual-view mode on my XP work computer. I later updated the video drivers with the latest nVidia drivers and was looking through the menus to see the options and I came across 'Horizontal Spanning' and vertical Spanning' options-which basically means instead of having two separate 1280x1024 screens, I could combine them to make a virtual desktop of 2560x1024 (or 1280x2048).  This could be very useful for applications that cannot dynamically resize- such as World of Warcaft- and give a display of something like this:


The one issue I have with this is the center of the display is split across the two monitors (not pictured in the screen capture), so it can be a bit difficult to see what my character is doing.  To fix this, I installed CTMod3 Core with CTViewPort, allowing me to modify the game view area:


This looks awesome so I tried to replicate it at home with two 24" monitors (1920x1200, trying for an 3840x1200 resolution)- and have had nothing but heart-ache since...

Some people have said 'window it and stretch it to fit the screen'; WoW will only offer proportional renderings in variants of the screen resolution it is presented by windows (i.e. 1920x1200, 1920x1020, 1600x1200, 1680x1050, 1440x900, etc) and trying to modify the window gives me a nasty stretch-o-vision variant:


...or pretty much exactly NOT what I am looking to do.

Horizontal Spanning was completely dropped in Vista due to architectural changes in the display rendering'- or so claims nVidia.  This sucks as my primary system is Windows.

Luckily I have a quick-change SATA bay for my PC, so able to install XP (and Windows 7) to see which platform(s) it works on best.  Apparently this is also not an option on Windows XP with the nVidia GTX260 video card- or any nVidia chipset boards- or two 8800GTs in SLI mode...

I could only get horizontal spanning to work with a single 8800GT under XP (x86 ver) with an Intel P35 chipset board -and at about 15fps.

I tried a few other motherboards I had laying around (Asus M2N32-SLI, eVGA 780i, MSI Neo P35) and my video card stock (GTX260, two 8800GTs) to try to replicate spanning and I was VERY disappointed with the results:

  Single 8800GT 8800GT SLI GTX260
XP32 on Intel P35 Horizontal Spanning! Not SLI MoBo Failed
XP64 on Intel P35 Not Tested Not SLI MoBo Failed
Vista on Intel P35 Failed Not SLI MoBo Failed
Win7 on Intel P35 Failed Not SLI MoBo Failed
XP32 on nVidia 590 Failed Failed Not Tested
XP64 of nVidia 590 Failed Failed Failed
Vista on nVidia 590 Failed Failed Failed
Win7 on nVidia 590 Failed Failed Failed
XP32 on nVidia 780i Not Tested Not Tested Not Tested
XP64 of nVidia 780i Failed Failed Failed
Vista on nVidia 780i Failed Failed Failed
Win7 on nVidia 780i Failed Failed Failed


I even went so far as to pickup a Radeon HD4870 from Fry's to see if it was an nVidia issue- and I was unable to get a Horizontal Spanning option on it as well... (It was returned as it is about the same performance as my GTX260- and generates quite a bit more fan noise).

The end result is that I am not sure if the video card vendors discontinued support for horizontal spanning across all platforms, nVidia chipset motherboards do not support, or f 3840x1200 resolution was never supported (perhaps it requires more than 896MB of frame buffer space?).  The only two configurations I have found to support this mode are my work PC (a Dell Optiplex 745 running XP, with an Intel chipset, a GeForce 9500GT, and dual 1280x1024 monitors) and a scaled-down version of my PC (MSI Neo P35 Mobo, XP, single GeForce 8800GT, dual 1920x1200 monitors).

I would really like horizontal spanning with more than 15fps for WoW.  Since the older Intel motherboards do not support SLI (rather they support Crossfire for ATI cards) I guess I can only hope that someone will create a mod that will allow WoW to use a resolution other than variants of the ones reported by windows.


Ask.com search Hijack

Ask.com appears to have dropped to a lower level of desperation; while installing another piece of software (BitTorrent, if you must know), I was prompted with an the option to install the ask.com toolbar.  I mistakenly hit next and then tried to go back, but it was too late- their craptastic software was installed.

1st issue I see here is that the default action for on this useless program (as well as on many similar products from Yahoo, Google, MSN, etc.) is to 'opt in' for the install instead of a default of 'opt out'- so a person mindlessly clicking the 'Next' button during routine installs will end up with several redundant search bars installed.

2nd issue is that when I uninstalled the ask.com toolbar via add/remove programs, it left the default search for the URL keyword field directing to Ask.com.  I tried the obligatory uninstall of Firefox and the purging of all 'ask.com' registry entries to no avail. 

Eventually I was able to find a resolution to this over at paperstreet:

  1. Open a new tab or window.
  2. Type “about:config” and hit enter, this brings up the all powerful settings of Firefox.
  3. Agree to the warning that you could mess things up
  4. Find keyword.url, you probably should not change anything else
  5. Double click and change keyword.url string to something else like: http://www.google.com/search?q=

So now I must thank 'ask.com' for their annoying browser hack by adding their root URL to my AdBlock filter list...




wrath of the lich king releaase...

So it is 12:00am and I find myself in a line of about 150 people waiting for the midnight release of tthe World of Warcraft expansion... what the hell am I doing?


Acer Aspire One HSDPA Mod

I purchased and Acer Aspire One (WinXP version) from MicroCenter a few weeks back on sale for $350; It is a pretty decent computer as-is, but I went ahead and upgraded it to 1.5GB (max due to 512MB being hard-soldered to the board) from the standard 1GB. 

There are other modifications available for this is system if you are adept with a soldering iron- such as installing an internal micro Bluetooth receiver.  Today I read that tnkgrl has been able to install a mini-PCIe and SIM connector to allow the addition of a 3G wireless card.

I am not sure if this is something I would attempt (unless I get a good soldering iron), but it is nice to know that it can be done!  :o)


T-Mobile G1 RC30 Manual Update

The manual update from RC29 to RC30 is available for download; it fixes the root access exploit and also a few other tweaks.

Same update instructions as before...


Manual T-Mobile G1 Firmware Update

I have been waiting for the RC29 firmware update for my G1 and it hasn't made it yet- I so much hate waiting for the carrier to decide when to push out an update to me. 

Luckily, someone over at the Android Community found a way to download the firmware update and install it via MicroSD card.  Basic instructions:

  • Download the update, rename it to 'update.zip'
  • Copy update.zip into the root of the MicroSD. 
  • Power the phone off, power up while holding down the 'Home' button to go into maintenance mode.
  • Type ALT-L to bring up a menu, ATL-S to 'apply sdcard:update.zip'
  • After update, press Home+Back to reboot.


image image

Another interesting feature is that you can create a shortcut to 'Device Info' with the AnyCut app.  When you execute the shortcut, there is a 'check for upgrade' option at the bottom of the list.  It appears to check in but didn't initiate an update when I tested (prior to installing the above).

Now I just need a beta version of the firmware that supports A2DP or  I will be returning the phone on Tuesday (i.e. just before my contract loop-hole expires).  I love the phone, but it is senseless for me to carry around 2 devices when I go to the Gym (i.e. a Samsung P2 and the G1); currently I use a Treo 800w for this task.

Now my rant:

I know that Google is 'working on' A2DP support, but I have also been reading that T-Mobile will not support A2DP (so, will they allow it on one of their devices?) and the Android SDK does not allow direct access to the BT stack- so I will be screwed if T-Mobile decides A2DP is not something their phone needs!  This was the down fall (at least for me) for the iPhone- and it is one of the primary things I look for in a phone/MP3 player (I would rather sacrifice WiFi over A2DP- at least on a 3G network).

Add into that the fact that HTC is crippling their phones with a lack of a headphone jack in lieu of their 'USB-Ext' crap connection and this phone is entirely useless as a media device without A2DP.

C'mon Google and T-Mobile; I really want to keep this phone but lack of A2DP is tainting my view of an otherwise very awesome device!





T-Mobile G1 Phone

g1_008I have been a loyal, devoted Sprint user for a few years now (at least for the 2 years that was in my contract with them).  I have stayed with Sprint due to the coverage, my friends use Sprint and (primarily) they usually have some pretty cool handsets to choose from.  In my tenure with Sprint I have been though a Treo 700p, a HTC Touch and I am currently on a Treo 800w- and I have been salivating over the imminent release of the HTC Touch Pro (see my prior posts).

This changed on Tuesday; T-Mobile released the G1 'Google Phone' with a large fanfare and Google fanboy/open source zealots rushing out to buy one.  It was like a mini-iPhone release date, accompanied by stores opening way too early and not-so-long lines of people waiting outside the T-Mobile store in the mall.  Of course I wasn't interested as I knew the HTC Touch Pro was due out in about a week; however,  I was a little curious from all the chatter I have heard about it.

I went to the T-Mobile store on Tuesday afternoon and there was no line.  I picked up the G1 and played with it- and it is pretty fucking awesome.

1st off- it looks like a fairly average device until you pick it up.  The feel of the phone is very good and the screen is beautiful; it is 480x320 and very bright and crisp.  From my understanding this is the only phone besides the iPhone to have a capacitive touch screen- which requires use of a finger instead of a stylus to move around the screen.  There are many measures of difference with screen response when comparing  my Treo 800w touch screen and the G1 touch screen.

I have only had this phone for 2 days, but I am now seriously considering skipping the HTC Touch Pro and porting my Sprint cell phone number over to T-Mobile! I have 2 weeks to decide and cancel my T-Mobile contract- so if the Touch Pro doesn't make me drool on Sept 30th I will have made my decision.

Here goes my quick pros/cons list of the G1:


  • Very fast OS and very stable
  • Fast T-Mobile 3G speeds (where available)
  • Expandable via microSD 8GB (16/32GB in future)
  • Very nice keyboard
  • Solid feel
  • Charges/Data connect with standard miniUSB connector
  • USB 2.0 speeds for MicroSD when connected to PC; appears as MSD
  • Very fast GPS lock
  • Google Market with lots of useful apps (free through 2008)
  • Excellent Integration with Google mail/calendar
  • Great browser rendering


  • No 3.5/2.5mm headphone jack; audio connectivity via HTC 'ExtUSB' adaptor cable
  • No Bluetooth A2DP (yet!)
  • Contacts only available through Google Contacts (export CSV and import into Google Contacts to resolve)
  • No flash support (yet!)
  • No Exchange/Blackberry integration (again, yet!)
  • No Video recording
  • Meager battery (I have to recharge overnight and once during the day to accommodate my current usage).

Many people are complaining about the lack of an on-screen keyboard; I had an on-screen keyboard (only!) on the HTC Touch and I hated it- so there is no love lost for that item not being on the phone (it is scheduled for a future release).

My main concern is the initial omission of A2DP; this is the reason I sold my iPhone as I loathe to have cables running up-and-down my body while working out at the gym.


  • Display: 3.2 in TFT-LCD flat touch-sensitive HVGA screen with 480 X 320 pixel
  • CPU: Qualcomm 528Mhz MSM7201A dual-core CPU/GPU
  • Memory: 192 MB DDR SDRAM, 256 MB Flash
  • GPS
  • Input
    • Sliding full 5 row QWERTY keyboard.
    • Trackball with click button
    • Capacitive touch-screen
    • phone/home/back/cancel/menu navigation buttons
  • Camera: 3.2-megapixel camera
  • Storage: microSD card slot
  • Connectivity:
    • Bluetooth 2.0
    • 802.11 b/g
    • Quad band GSM / GPRS / EDGE: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
    • HSPA/WCDMA 1700/2100 up to 7.2Mbps down/2.0Mbps up-link
  • Battery 1150 mAh
  • Physical size: 117.7 mm x 55.7 mm x 17.1 mm (4.60 in x 2.16 in x 0.62 in)
  • Weight: 158g (5.6oz) w/ battery
  • Other: Accelerometer, Digital Compass

Hardware aside, the Android OS is really what sets this phone apart from other devices.  First off, it is open source- so people can get into the gutty-works and see how it ticks (and re-write, if so desired).  Google released the Android SDK around a year ago and there were dozens of great applications available for download via the Android Market.

In addition, there are many other sites already offering Android applications/games, such as:

One of the 'jaw-dropper' applications for this phone is the use of Google street-view maps with the integrated digital compass:


Other Apps that I find interesting are:

  • Barcode Scanner: scan a barcode with the camera and check prices via the web
  • AccuWeather: weather reports/forecasts
  • Twitroid - Twitter client for Android (not available in the Market yet)

What I would like to see on this device in the near future:

  • Flash Support!
  • Turn-by-Turn GPS software
  • NES/SNES/Atari/Etc Emulators
  • MAME
  • Flickr push client (with GeoTagging)
  • Virtual Chumby software?

It is very important to remember that this is the first official release of the first phone running Android OS- and HTC/T-Mobile/Google did a very good job of making it work!  There are undeniably some issues/bugs with the phone but this should be expected with ANTYTHING that is v1.0 software; Hell- the iPhone went through v1.1.4 before upgrading to v2; now they are up to v 2.1.0.  I expect to see several updates in the next few months that fix bugs, improve the battery life and add additional features.

More information on the T-Mobile G1 is available over at the Android Forums, the TmoNews G1 Forums, and the Android Community Forums (as well as many other sites). 

The device comes with a clear protective cover on the screen and this will stay in place until I can order a protective skin from bestskinsever.

The G1 is not the easiest device to photograph, but here goes:













HTC Touch Pro delayed by Sprint!

I went down to the local Sprint store to see about upgrading my Treo 800w to the HTC Touch Pro (my 'dream phone'- at least for the Sprint network) and I was informed that the launch date has been pushed back to the 30th....

Damn you and Sprint your indefinite release dates via 3rd party sources! (i.e. blogs).


Disc Backup Software

I don't know about the rest of you, but I generally have several games installed on my PC/laptop and play one of them at my leisure.  This is inhibited by games that require the CD to play (I don't keep a games CD case with my laptop).

I have been using Daemon Tools to create images of some of my games and store them as ISO images on my HD; this allows me to mount the image and play the game as if it were a virtual CD/DVD-ROM.  This works great for most unprotected games that just require the disc.

Then I ran into the problem of Safedisc/Securom/etc protected discs.  Daemon Tools needs to be told what the protection is before it can even try to make a backup.  For this I found A-Ray Scanner; this software hasn't been updated in a few years (anyone know of newer alternatives?) but it is a great program that will check a CD/DVD-ROM and return it's copy protection information.


Woo Hoo! A Four Day Weekend!

I took a few extra days off this past weekend to catch up on things around the house; instead I played World of Warcraft, watched TV and discovered Pepsi Max (Pepsi's answer to Coke Zero).

I also picked up a new laptop (yes- another one!); this one is the Acer Aspire One 150-1570.  Here is a size comparison between the Acer and my Gateway P-6806FX:


So far I have just done some basic stuff with it; installed Diablo II, World of Warcraft, Skype, VLC, etc.

I was able to upgrade the memory to 1.5GB (the max this unit will support as 512MB is hard-soldered to the system board) and I am considering installing MacOS X on it...

Now I am waiting for Dalaran to come back online after the big v3.0 patch for WoW (which is in preparation for the Wrath of the Lich King expansion due out on November 13th).


Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

I installed the latest Rockbox v3.0 on my iPod 60GB and I was looking through the themes; I ran across the 'Flying Spaghetti Monster' theme...

This lead me to read the open letter to the Kansas School Board on Church of the Spaghetti Monster web site

I also learned that global warming has a direct correlation to the dwindling number of pirates in the world!

I guess I should at least buy a T-shirt or a car emblem to show my support of FSM...

   fsm_shirt FSM


New Programs for the Week

Here are a few items I ran across this weekend:

  • Tired of iTunes?  Try out Media Monkey; it has a lot of powerful features for organizing your music collection (and writing rating/album art info to the ID3 tag!) and can sync with a variety of devices- including an iPod/iPhone!  The basic version is free and some of the advanced features will require a $20 upgrade.
  • Fring is an application for most phones (WM6, iPhone and Treos to name a few) that is a multi-IM client and incorporates Skype and SIP connectivity to (and Facebook and GMail addins).  The deal-breaker on this app is Skype/SIP calls can only use the speaker phone (and they have been 'working on a fix' since 2006)
  • I was using SyncToy 2.0 for backing up my server data to NAS, but I was make aware of Karen's Replicator by a co-worker; this does a MUCH more reliable job of mirroring data.

Other things that caught my interest:

  • NUI Group is working on a driver for the PS3 EyeToy- to allow it to be used as a webcam.  Currently it will only work with the included test software, but hopefully there will be a windows driver soon!
  • There is a Canon 40D hack in the works that may one day allow it to work as a video recorder... (very good news for me!)
  • If you didn't hear about the release of the T-Mobile G1 then you probably won't be interested in the G1 emulator at T-Mobile.


The Pandora - Very Cool

Open Pandora is taking pre-orders (limited to 3000 for disro this year) for its game console/ultra-lite Linux NetBook at $330/ea.  Pretty decent deal considering it has:

  • 802.11b/g
  • Bluetooth
  • 800x480 4.3" Touch-Screen (!)
  • Dual SDHC slots
  • 43 button QWERTY keyboard
  • Dual Analog + Digital Gamepads
  • ARM 600Mhz+ CPU
  • OpenGL 2.0 3D video hardware
  • Linux OS

If it can easily pair with a phone and use it as an Internet gateway then I am sold!  :o)




Lest we Forget...


Back to Firefox

After trying out Chrome for a about a week, the ads and lack of plug-ins became too much and I abandoned it.

I was using Opera for a while as it has several nice features (and it seems to run fairly fast) but page incompatibilities (try to login to stickam.com), lack of features/plug-ins and the inability to block the web page ads had soured the deal...

Last night I stumbled upon Foxmarks Beta for Firefox- which returns some of the functionality lost when the Google Browser Sync project was abandoned for the Firefox 3.0 platform (probably as Google was working on Chrome at the time).

Foxmarks beta allows password sync with encryption and you can even specify your own server if you are wary of publishing all of your passwords on someone else's sever.  They do not offer tab sync at this time- but that may be another plug-in from another vendor that I need to find.

Another new feature is a Foxmarks bookmark sync for Internet Explorer- so I could have consistent bookmarks across both browser platforms!


Castle Crashers for xBox 360

Paul at my local GameStop recommended a game from xBox Arcade called Castle Crashers; it goes for 1200 xBox points (translate: about 15 USD) -and so far seems to be very worth it...


Simple but cool hand-drawn graphics, addictive game play and overall pretty fun. 

Reminds me a bit of the old Golden Axe arcade game, but with a lot more variety (like jumping on alligator head to fight the 'cat fish' in a rapids).


Video Card Upgrade

A few months ago I decided to upgrade my single 8800GT system with a 2nd 8800GT card to enable SLI and improve my video performance in games.  The two cards accomplished this task, but with some unwanted side effects:

  • The two cards generate quite a bit of heat- even when idle.
  • The increased heat in my case causes the thermal situation in my Antec P180 to go up several degrees- in turn causing the CPU/Chipset/GPU fans to speed up and create quite a bit of noise in my bedroom
  • Vista does not support dual monitors while the video cards are in SLI (but XP does?)

The above caused me to separate my 'work' PC form my 'gaming' PC- which seemed to work for a few weeks; then the inconvenience of having to fire up another PC and the lack-luster performance of the Phenom 9500 (at least compared to an Intel E8400) made me re-think my plan...

I finally ended up replacing the two 8800GTs with a GTX260- but this was no easy task...

First off, the GTX260 is a big card:

nVidia GPUs

Size comparison between the GTX260 (top), an 8800GT (middle) and a 9500GT (bottom) video card.

The card will not physically fit in an Antec P150 case (without doing some metal cutting on the internal drive bays)- and it barely fits into an Antec P180 case (I had to remove the top-most 3.5" removable drive tray)- so what I thought would be an easy upgrade turned into an complete system case swap.

The next issue I ran into was power; my case uses an Antec NeoPower 500W power supply and it has the two 6 pin SLI cables required to power the GT260- but the card would not 'spin up' when I powered up the system.  The motherboard would boot and give some strange POST beeps (that most likely to indicate 'no video') but the monitor was blank and the cooling fan on the GTX260 were not moving.

The minimum requirements on the BFG web site indicated a 525W power supply; I also have 5 hard drives, 8GB of RAM, a DVD-RW and a USB PCI card added into the mix (an the 780i chipset seems to be pretty power-hungry in itself), so I contacted BFG support.  They said it was doubtful that it was a power supply issue and offered to generate an RMA for the GTX260.  I ignored their advice and purchased a ThermalTake Toughpower 650W power supply from Fry's- and it worked!

So now I have an Intel E8400 + EVGA 780i motherboard and all is running silent (save for the northbridge fan!).  For fun, I decided to try out a single 8800GT, 8800GT SLI and the GTX260 video cards in turn to see the performance of each. 

For testing I have the following specs:

1 x 8800GT
2 x 8800GT SLI
1 x GT260

As the above results show, two 8800GTs are a bit faster than one GTX260 (about 7.8% faster), but a single GTX260 is a good deal faster than a single 8800GT (about 51% faster). 

The trade-offs are I have much less noise and I can use two monitors in Vista!

Next step is liquid cooling- if it is as efficient and quiet as I am hoping I may be able to back to the two 8800GTs.... :o)


The Ultimate Gaming Machine- from 1998...

PII 300Mhz with 128MB of RAM!!!



It has been a long time since I blogged, but I have found a few nice web sites and cool applications...

  • Somehow I had missed Chickipedia- an invaluable resource!
  • Want to learn more about the periodic table? Check out the Periodic Table of Videos
  • There is a great, free online money management program over at Mint.  It takes a little faith to enter your account logins and passwords but it gives as much info as Microsoft Money.
  • Xobni (inbox spelled backwards) is a free program for Outlook that indexes (FAST searches!)  and provides some interesting statistics...
  • Last but not least is Carbonite- a PC-to-offsite backup solution (via the web) that costs $50/year- for unlimited offsite storage! (so how much are your digital pictures worth?)

I may have mentioned before that I order a Popcorn Hour PH100- I have been planning to write a review, but I have been distracted by Spore and The Force Unleashed!

in addition I upgraded (?) my 8800GT SLI setup for a GTX260 card (and a new power supply); I will try to post info on the speed differences as well...


Browser Mash-Up

Google Chrome was released in beta and I have been using it for a week or so; it is very fast and pretty reliable but it doesn't (and provably will not) have an Ad Block- which by itself makes pages such as MySpace almost unusable. 

IE8 Beta2 is out and it seems pretty cool as well, but I cannot find a real need to use it over Firefox or Chrome. (It also sometimes has problems loading GMail up with native IE8 mode). 

Firefox 3 has been my browser of choice for quite some time (and Firefox 2 before that) but it takes so long just to load up the first page (even for my XP system on an E8400, 4GB RAM with 4x 10k Raptors in RAID0!)

Opera is also an option (Opera Mobile works great on my HTC Touch) but features has 'widgets' that are more like 'gimmicks'; no browser sync, no decent download tools- just weather, calendars, maps and a SimAquarium? It is an Ok browser with some good features (like the 'speed dial') but it looks like it was made in the late 90s.

The deal breaker for all of the browsers (at least in my opinion) is the plug-in support; small things such as PDF Download, Cooliris, IE Tab (for SharePoint/Active-X compatibility) and FoxMarks (and- of course- AdBlock Plus) make Firefox 100x better than every other browser.  (I also loved the Google Browser Sync plugin beyond measure, but it was dropped with Firefox 3 release -I assume as Google had other browser plans).

As it stands now I will be using Firefox until I can find a browser with the speed of Chrome, the compatibility of IE and the plug-in options of Firefox.  Anyone working on this at the moment?  :o)


Apple Jumps on the 'Crapware' Bandwagon

iTunes 8 came out a few days ago so I downloaded and installed on one of my XP PCs and on my MacMini.  All seems good on the MacMini but I am very unhappy with the deployment on my Windows system...

During install, I am allowed to select to install iTunes/QucikTime and/or Safari- which is problem #1; Safari is checked by default and the multitude of people (myself included) will not look and click install, thus adding yet another browser to Windows (IE, Firefox, Chrome- and now Safari).  This should be an 'opt-in' option, not an 'opt-out' choice...

Problem #2; it installs something for 'MobileME'; I am not sure what, but there is definitely a new icon in control panel dedicated to it.  If I am not mistaken, MobileME is the new '.mac' platform that is used for offline storage/web pages/photos and to synchronize iPhone data.  I do not have an iPhone and I definitely will not be sending Apple $99/year for something that I can get for free from another provider...

There are also reports of Vista BSODs due to additional driver updates; GEARAspiWDM.sys and an updated USB controller diver...

Apple- WTF are you doing?  Are you trying to get your crap added to a spyware/adware blacklist by backdoor installing stuff like this?  This is indicative of smaller, cheesy companies that need to make money by stating to their investors that their software is installed on XX millions of PCs; Is this really what you are trying to do?

I will probably never use Safari- I tried it on my Mac and found it to be mediocre (at best) and immediately downloaded Firefox.  I will defiantly never send you $99 for MobileME; the trial of .MAC was useless enough and I know that there are far superior services on the web- so please don't try force your Apple crapware on me...

Windows and Mac are very different hardware/software platforms- please don't try to force a unified software platform for both on your end users; it just will not work!

If Apple did beta testing on iTunes 8, it looks like they did a pretty crappy job of it- did they even bother testing on Vista?


More on Sprint's HTC Touch Pro

Engadget mobile has a mini-review with a photo gallery of the upcoming HTC Touch Pro from Sprint...



HTC Phones

imageI have had the HTC touch for a few months now and I love it; It does so much more than my iPhone did (most importantly, it does A2DP!).  I have been looking forward to the HTC Touch Pro being released for sprint in the near future and a current Sprint article now indicates that is due out on October 19th!  :o)

On the same day HTC announces a new 'Touch HD' with an incredible (3.2"?) 800x480 resolution (by comparison, the resolution of the iPhone or iPod Touch is 480x320)...

It will probably be another year before this device is state-side and starting to appear on the networks- so I don't think I will be passing up the Touch Pro in October.

Hopefully there will be a HTC Touch HD Pro that has a slide-out keyboard!  :o)



Media Rack Switch Upgrade

I was re-cabling my stereo rack and I came to the odd realization that I need a larger Ethernet switch for my media equipment; I have a 5 port D-Link GB switch and I currently have the following devices that need an Ethernet connection:

  1. Vista Media Center
  2. Popcorn Hour
  3. PS3
  4. xBox 360
  5. SlingBox
  6. HD DVD Player
  7. Uplink to main switch

It is just a strange feeling realizing that almost everything in my entertainment rack is Ethernet enabled.  I was also considering a different receiver before I settled on my Onkyo- one that also had an Ethernet port!

Now if everything had an HDMI port for video + audio my stereo rack would be a much more organized place! (Component cables suck- they are just too fraking bulky!)


Solar Power Calculator

RoofRay has a very cool solar power calculator that uses Google Maps to allow you to trace patterns for solar arrays and get an estimate on cost, output, savings and ROI.

First you enter your address and it pulls up a satellite view of your roof.  You add in regions and select the roof angle:


After a few more steps you get an estimate of your monthly bill and savings. I just picked an average of $300 for our monthly electric bill, but you can also input in the actual monthly charges or kWh used (it also knows the average kWh rate based on your zip code):


Finally you get an estimate of cost and years to break even:


It is obviously not an inexpensive venture and you must also take into account that there is a good bit of additional electrical hardware that must be installed in your house- DC/AC inverter, transfer hardware, etc.  However being solar efficient does immediately add to the equity in your house. 

If being less dependant on 'the man' or reducing your carbon footprint are important to you then this may be a good idea.  Personally I would wait another 3-5 years to see if the costs of solar panels start to drop due to increased demand and better technologies...


Google Chrome

Google has released their Chrome browser.  I installed it an it looks it has some of the good parts from Firefox with a much larger screen display (i.e. minimal toolbars from the start).  It allows import of Firefox bookmarks, history and cached password info as well...

Little tweaks- such as the item count on search- are a welcome addition.  The browser has Google Gears integration (for offline page viewing) but I haven't found any info on plugins/extensions yet...


Phenom 9500 Issues

I purchased an AMD Phenom X4 9500 several months ago as an 'upgrade' for an X2 5600 system; I later upgraded to an new motherboard and an Intel E8400 CPU.

During my vacation time I decided that my system is entirely too noisy- between the video card and the system fans it creates a lot of white noise that requires me to turn my media center PC up a bit louder.  To remedy this I decided it would be a good idea to split my gaming and my 'general use' (read as a NewsLeecher, web browsing and email) PC. 

My gaming PC is a now a very loud bastard; E8400 on an EVGA 780i motherboard, two 8800GTs in SLI and four WD Raptor 150GB drives in a RAID0 array.  My 'work' PC is almost silent (thanks in part the side panels of an Antec P150 Quite PC Case)- but slow as Hell.

My 'work' PC had an Asus M2N32-SLI deluxe motherboard with the latest (v2101) BIOS, 8GB of DDR2 and the above mentioned AMD Phenom X4 9500 CPU- running Vista Ultimate x64 (to enable me to access over 4GB of memory).   I read info on the web about issues with the TLB patch with early X4 CPUs- but I have been unable to disable this patch on Vista x64 SP1.

One suggestion was to do a performance check with WinRAR; if the results are under 1200 then I am probably running the TLB patch; I was getting a 248.  To compare, I ran a similar test on my gaming PC (E8400 system) and received a 1295.  For fun, I pulled the X2 5600 out or storage and swapped it with the Phenom X4 and my WinRAR performance test is now up to 925.

I understand that the X4 is running as a quad 2.2Ghz and the X2 is running a dual 2.8Ghz but a close to 4x difference is pretty amazing. 

Also odd is that the Asus board reported 7.5GB free (in BIOS) with the X4 CPU- and now it reports all 8GB are available with the X2 CPU; is this another 'limit' of Phenom X4 technology?


iMedian HD

In my ongoing quest for the ultimate media player I have tried out many products (XBMC, SageTV, BeyondTV, VLC Media Player, and others I cannot remember at the moment) on many platforms (Linux, XP, XP MCE, Vista Ultimate, xBox); all of them worked but had various issues that made them 'not perfect' (usually not supporting MKV files without some CODEC hacks).

I have been testing and having difficulties (most likely with the ATI 3450HD card) with the latest release of XBMC (release alpha3) on Windows Vista so I formatted and tried Windows XP; the problems persisted.  I was going to attempt an install XBMC on Ubuntu 8.04, but the video does not appear on my TV (and I do not feel like putting a monitor on it)- so I abandoned that idea.

imageOn a whim, I installed iMedian HD that came along with a VFD Display/IR sensor I purchased a few weeks ago (on close-out for $50) and I have been very impressed with the software: nice interface for video, music and picture viewing; multiple CODEC support (including DiVX, MKV and others I have yet to test); and network streaming. 

I will need to test more and give a better review of the software- initially I am very impressed...

xBox 360 Hacks

Edit:  This will be a rather long post detailing my experiences with personal 'hacking' an xBox 360; sorry for the length!

I have finally decided to try my hand at hacking an xBox 360.  Rather than risk my own immaculate system I decided to try for a $199 used system from GameStop; the systems from there have already been opened, they have older DVD drives (better chance for finding one that can be flashed) and they have a 10 day money-back option.

The current state of xBox 360 hacking is as such: the copy protection that Microsoft uses in the 360 for is made up of two parts- software written for the 360 disk must be digitally signed (by Microsoft) and the DVD media type must read as 'XBOX360' (instead of DVD, DVD-R, etc) by the DVD drive. The first part ensures only signed code can be run on the system (no homebrew or hacks) and the later ensures that only specific media can be used in the 360.  The first mentioned protection is still in place (i.e. no one has written a custom firmware that can run unsigned code for the 360- at least one that I am aware of) but the later has been the focus of most current xBox 360 hacks: the firmware on the various drives can be modified to present an 'XBOX360' media type to the system regardless of what type of media that is inserted.

This modification allows properly backed up xBox 360 games (with the digital signatures still intact) to be playable by the system.  However, this is not very popular with Microsoft as it can allow the playing of pirated software as well.  To counter this they have developed 'hacked system' detection tools that can be deployed via xBox live.  If Microsoft finds a modified firmware in your xBox 360 it can result in a permanent ban from Microsoft Live (based on the serial number of the xBox 360).  The firmware modifications as constantly being updated to provide 'stealth' for the system sp it does not get banded- but this is the classic crack-patch tug-of-war that goes on between hackers and companies trying to protect their products (like Sony with the PSP as a good example).

If you want to modify you xBox it will not allow the play of any homebrew software (as it did with the xBox classic); the sole function is to allow the play of duplicate copies of xBox 360 software.  You should only use this for playing backup copies of software that you already own (i.e. this is my 'Don't copy that Floppy' statement for this post).  Opening the xBox 360 will void any warranty in place with Microsoft (so if you get a RROD a few months later- you won't get any help from them!)

That said, if you really want to modify your xBox then please keep reading. 

The first step in this process is determining which DVD drive is installed in the xBox 360:

Each drive has a different method for hacking and can vary in difficulty.  I chanced upon having a Samsung TS-H943A drive- one of the most forgiving DVD drives to flash; however, I also had one with firmware ms28- which has a read/write protected firmware and must either be physically modified or rebooted to put it into recovery mode.

Attentively you can go to the 360 DVD Drive database if you want to look at the manufacture date and not have to actually open the xBox 360 packaging.

Once you know which drive you have, you can can get a good idea of how difficult/easy the modification should be.  You next should set about to opening the system and getting access to the SATA port on the back of the DVD Drive. Opening the systems was probably the hardest part for me as I didn't want to damage the casing.  There are tools that can be purchased to make this easier, but I am a tad impatient so I tried the modified CD case method to make my own 'tools'; in the end I uses a small screwdriver...

There are countless tutorials (CleverMod, The Llamma's Adventures, biline.ca, 360-HQ) of how to open the xBox 360 onthe web, but I think I learned most of what I needed from these two videos:


Once you get it opened and stripped you should have something similar to this:


You notice in the bottom right of this image is there is a standard SATA connector to the drive along side a proprietary power plug- so you will need to leave the drive connected to the power in the xBox 360 to allow for firmware reads/updates (the drive must be powered up).  You will also need to have a video cable connected to the 360 as it does not boot up completely without a video cable attached (the far end does not need to be plugged into a TV, but I prepped it to allow for testing once the firmware update was complete).

You should ground your 360 to the PC that as the two devices are on different power supplies and there could be variances in power between them- and they are tethered together via a SATA cable.  The odds are very rare that something could happen, but it is better to be safe.  An alternative idea is to put the xBox 360 chassis in contact with metal from the PC chassis:


Now comes the tricky part; you need to download some firmware tools that can read/write to the DVD ROM firmware; usually this is not a big deal, but tools are mostly based on a DOS program called MTKFLASH and it must be able to see the SATA controller from DOS.  This limited me to specific SATA chipset and gave me lots of headaches; I went through four different PCs and none of them seemed to work correctly. In the end I gave up a purchases a $12 SATA card with the VIA chipset from Newegg- this fixed all the issues I was having. (but in building this document, it looks like I could have used the Intel SATA controller in my Gateway laptop!)


360_update_007Initially I tried to use MTKFLASH with various command lines, but I found Xtreme Boot Maker that runs under Windows that will make a bootable USB drive to take care of all the work for me (you will also need XBM Definitions update to use the newest 5.3 firmware- otherwise you will get 'Import Failed' if you try to go past v5.2).

There is also a software called iPrep 101 that offers a similar function to

Easy XBins is a combination IRC client/FTP client that sends a message to a bot in the XBins channel on IRC and lets you download the firmware/application you need (or you can install an IRC client, login to #xbins on EFNet and get connection info from the bot in the channel via !list command).

Once you have your hacked firmware of choice (XTreme 5.3 for me) you load it in the firmware (make sure you have the definitions update for 5.3), select the controller and select the destination USB drive.  There are options of A,B, C and D firmware versions for Xtreme 5.3- these are all the same with variations on DVD speed (slow/silent or full speed- the later C and D options are dual-mode versions).


If you have a Samsung with the M28 firmware, make sure you check off the 'Apply Bokes Patch' option.  I am not 100% about the serial number requirements and I entered them during read/flash as well. When all is good, click the 'Create Disk' and it will format your USB drive and make it bootable. 

Shut down your PC and reboot to the USB drive inserted and boot priority set to USB Disk (also make sure your xBox drive is powered up and connected to the SATA card- if it is not available for initial system detection the software on the USB drive will not see it).  After the system starts up you are present with two options:

xRead 1234567 12345

xFlash 1234567 12345

The former reads the current firmware in and writes it the disk.  The later takes the prior read firmware and patches it to be written back to the drive.

The numbers following the command is the serial number of your xBox 360.  This should be located on the back of your system by the video connector.  Note: if you have a used/refurbished xBox 360 there may be a new serial number on the back- and the ones from Gamestop do not have the '-' in the serial number.  To confirm, it should match the number in System -> Console Settings -> System Info in the xBox 360 menu.

The basic procedure is boot up with the USB drive and read the original firmware, then reboot everything and boot up with the USB drive and flash the drive with the modified firmware- make sure you reboot between the read and write of the firmware!

As mentioned above, the MS28 version of the Samsung firmware is read/write protected- so you must put the drive into 'recovery mode' by rebooting the 360 during flashing.  To do this, run the 'xRead 1234567 12345' command as usual.  When the prompt appears to press a number for the CD drive, turn the xBox 360 off and then press the number.  Wait about 10 seconds and turn the xBox 360 back on.  The drive will come up and the software will automatically start reading the firmware information (This works as the drive goes into recovery mode for a few seconds after it starts up).

To flash the MS28 you follow the same procedure as above but substitute 'xFlash' for the 'xRead' command.  Here is a video of the above process from 360Mods:

After a successful flash, shut down the xBox 360 and PC, reconnect the internal SATA connector in the xBox 360 and verify it is working with a backup dvd! 

Note: All xBox 360 games must be on dual-layer DVDs and they must be burned with CloneCD- I have not been able to get Nero to burn a successful copy as of yet.  If you are obtaining your backup copies from UseNet then the files should be in CloneCD format- but make sure you are getting a backup for the correct region and format (i.e. NTSC over PAL, US/Canada vs. Japan, etc.)

In my research, I found the most helpful page for this project was 360mods.net website; they have pages with many tutorials (including the awesome xBox 360 Hacking for Noobs file) as well as video tutorials both the Samsung M25 and Samsung M28 (the one I have) firmware versions.

This post was specifically for the Samsung M28 firmware version- but I may try this on my xBox 360 Elite (with a Ben-Q drive) if I do not get banned from xBox live with the Fall desktop update!