Damn Target

I was at Target so I made the customary run through the electronics department. 

Clearance items: I found a Harmony 720 remote  marked down to $89,88 (regularly $179.99- and the same at Costco) and Gengi: Days of the Blade for the PS3 for $14.98. 

I already have the Harmony for the xBox 360 so I really don't need another remote- but the Harmony 720 has a rechargeable base (and my buttons are a bit worn on the 360 remote) so I purchased it. 

Genji didn't get the best reviews for a PS3 game, but for $15.00 it will have to be pretty terrible to be a bad purchase.

In short- Target clearance in electronics = $105 in impulse buys for me tonight.  D'oh!

MS 'Heroes happen {here}' Event in Atlanta, GA

This is the launch event for Microsoft Server/SQL/Visual Studio 2008 (with free copies of all three platfoms!) it runs from 8am - 5pm.

Breakfast and Lunch are provided via a free cooler bag (novel idea). Tons of free coffee as well (which is a very good thing).

Waiting for the keynote to start now...


AVerTV Bravo Hybrid PCIe Tuner and Vista

I went to Fry's yesterday with the intention of purchasing an Antec Fusion Black 430 HTCP case.  I have an older Antec NSK2400 but it lacks the VFD and IR receiver of the newer models.  I chanced upon a closeout of an older version of the Fusion for $80 (actually, $75 as an open-box buy) instead of $220 for the newer version.  The primary difference in the two appears to be the integrated IR sensor (which also allows remote power on/off).

With the difference in price, I decided to try out TV tuner- preferably one with Clear QAM support.  I also purchased the AVerTV Bravo Hybrid PCI-E tuner for $70.  It is an unusual tuner in that it supports digital or analog signals- but not both at the same time.  Vista detects it as an analog Cable tuner with an Atlanta Comcast cable connection or as an ATSC tuner with an OTA antenna.

Initially it appears that QAM support is only for the included AVerTV Media Center software.  A little more research indicates that there are beta drivers/QAM mapping software to allow MCE integration available for download from:

There is a PDF with setup instructions also available on the site.

After installing it should allow basic QAM support with MCE- but at the expense of the channel guide.  In other words, you will be able to watch live QAM channels in MCE but without the benefits of a channel guide it is not possible to schedule recordings (save via old-school VCR style scheduling).

So I am back to analog TV scheduling on MCE (and using my Comcast cable box for Digital/HD recordings).

It looks like I chanced upon a simple codec configuration for Windows while I was setting up TVersity that includes FFdshow, Haali Media Splitter and the AC3 Filter codecs...


PS3 Streaming (Still Looking)

I have abandoned the FUPPES media server as it was having constant faults and I needed to login to WHS to restart the service- sometimes during at the middle of a movie. (possibly due to install under a terminal session as mentioned in a prior blog post).

I found a nice 'How to choose a DLNA Media Server' page on Robert Green's DIY page and it has a pretty coclusive list of DLNA servers.  I went through and revisited the list I had tried for Windows:

  • Fuppes - Crashes on WHS
  • Nero MediaHome - Uses way too much system resources
  • SimpleCenter - Too many 'not supported format' messages (All DiVX) and runs on buggy-ass Java
  • TVersiy - Lackluster video quality; lots of 'not supported' and 'corrupt' files messages for videos
  • TwonkyVision - Decent, but $40- and some transcoding issues
  • Windows Media Connect - Now part of WMP11- which is not supported on WHS (at least via Windows Update)

So I have tried pretty much every Windows based media server that supports transcoding (the PS3 will not support MKV/TS files natively) and was unhappy with all.

The most reliable one for me was TVersity- and it is free- so I decided to give it a go once again.  I searched and found some tweaks for TVersity with the PS3 on the PS3 Forums, PS3Mods, readme blog, and the Doom9 Forums-  all of which offered very valuable information and greatly improved video quality.

The only issues I have now are issues with MKV playing (indications are that I need to convert these to a PS3 friendly format), ripped DVDs (individual VOB files will not play) and DVD ISOs (I miss XBMC!).

WHS & Terminal Install Issues

It appears that Remote Desktop under WHS behaves much like Terminal Server 2003 as when I install software (Such as ActiveHome, TVersity or Titan Backup) it will often fault and crash if I try to start it up under a terminal session.  The correct way to add programs in Terminal Server is to go through Add/Remove programs in control panel, but WHS does not seem to give the normal prompts (such as 'did the program install successfully after setup).

I installed VNC server (and manually added an exception to the Windows Firewall as it doesn't always prompt me for such under terminal mode) and rebooted.  After reboot I can connect via VNC and all the above mentioned programs seem to work correctly.

For future program installs I will run them through the VNC session.


PS3 Streaming Clients

I have been trying a few options since I moved to Windows Home Server and it does not support DLNA (as it did with Windows Media Player 11). 

I found a good wiki page over at HillBillyHardware (?) that compares several different software titles.

My first test was TwonkyVision- which works pretty well, but also costs $40 (30 day trial)

Curretnly I am testing out FUPPES.  This is a Linux to Windows port and there is not much documentation included with the software.  There are setup instructions at hillbillyhardware and good documentation on the Wiki for configuring the server for a PS3.

Other options are TVersity and Orb- which I have tried in the past and not been overly impressed with...

Windows Home Server

Several months ago a co-worker (ironically who is an open-source admin) was raving to be about how much he liked the new Windows Home Server (WHS).  I was moderately interested but I had problems installing and I would always get a BSOD during setup, so I gave up on it. This past weekend I had a 'swap power supplies' project and I needed to rebuild my main desktop, so I decided to rebuild my 'server' as well (as I was having some sporadic share permissions issues with it).

I started setting up WHS on my 'server' PC which is composed of a Gigabyte GA-8ANXP-D motherboard in an Antec 900 case (a 'gamer case' but with lots of 5 1/4" bay storage and cooling fans).  The motherboard is an older generation (800Mhz FSB max) with a Pentium 4 3.0Ghz CPU -but it has eight on-board SATA ports (two different chipsets) which make it an ideal file server (unless I decide to buy a dedicated SATA RAID card).  I have installed two SATA dive cages (a 4 bay BP-SATA3141B and a 5 bay BP-SAS3051B) and an additional 2 port SATA card to accommodate a 9th drive allowed by the SATA cages.

In my prior endeavors with WHS the setup would detect my drive, start the pre-copy, reboot and hit a BSOD immediately after 'Starting Windows' displayed.  I did a little guess work and decided to manually load the SATA drivers for my motherboard during the setup (there is a prompt for this during setup- no need to press F6!); this resolved my setup problems!  I pulled all my SATA drives and installed to a single new 500GB drive as I did not know how WHS would interact with my drives filled with prior data.

Setup took a while longer than XP but when it was done I had a 20GB system partition and the rest of the drive was allocated to a D: 'data' drive with standard shares setup (Photos, Videos, Music, etc).  After the initial drive was installed, I was able to install additional drives, copy the data to the 'storage drive' and expand the available space by adding the individual drives to a the 'storage drive'.

WHS Server Storage Screen; add/remove devices to the 'storage pool' and see stats on space in use

WHS treats hard drives in two different ways; either it is a 'storage' drive or it is a 'non-storage' (i.e. stand alone) drive; the main difference is that when you plug in a disc it initially appears as a non-storage and can be accessed normally- but when you add a drive as a storage drive it must be formatted and it is added to a drive extender (i.e volume) set.  This can cause issues as data is not redundant in a storage set unless you use 'duplication' (set to on by default) for the data folder- which is an interesting way to implement data security.  Data duplication copes the files of a specified folder to another drive- effectively doubling the storage costs.  So if a drive fails that is part of a storage disc and duplication is not active, the data is lost and you will have no way of knowing exactly what data was lost  until you go look to see what is missing; which doesn't create a 'warm fuzzy' feeling for me...

There is also a data corruption bug that has been floating around since December 2007 that is not scheduled to be resolved until a service release in May...

Aside from the storage caveat, WHS is a very nice setup.  There are three disks for the setup; a WHS Install CD, a WHS Client CD and a WHS Restore CD.  The later two are client CDs designed to be used with Windows XP/Vista desktop systems.  The client CD installs an application that allows WHS management, acts as a backup agent, and provides notification of WHS issues.  The restore CD allows a 'bare metal' restore of a crashed system that has been backed up by WHS.

Backups are scheduled on the server (or via the client management software) and are scheduled as a regular 'grandfather-father-son' backup jobs.  Folders and files can be excluded from the backup (items such as \recycler and pagefile.sys are automatically excluded) but the settings are the entire drive(s) or nothing on the drive(s)- there is not a folder level granularity for backups.  While this works great for doing a full system restore, for people such as myself it is a little restrictive as I generally do a clean system install every 6-8 months just to clean up the crap Windows leaves behind- and I would prefer to just backup my documents, pictures and MP3s.


Backup Settings; set start/end backup windows and retention time



The server keeps track of backups and will notify if there are errors in the backup.  It also monitors items such as anti-virus status and system health and will notify when there are problems that need addressing.

WHS Computers & Backup status screen


WHS server does not have integrated backup software to backup the server to and external drive/tape- and I wonder what the outcome would be if the primary disk (containing the 20GB system partition) fails- would data across Storage disks be recoverable?

WHS has user management, but it does not have a networked user management system- rather it is for account permissions local to the server (share permissions, remote access permissions, etc).  When connecting to the server you must supply credentials for an account that has permissions to access the folders you are trying to connect.  The logon ID and password can be different than the logon on the local PC- which may cause some confusion for some home users.  The server does have password complexity criteria set to 'medium' by default, which prevents easily guessed passwords.  I would have prerred to

User Accounts screen where WHS users can be added/removed


Shared folders are located in d:\shares\<foldername> and should only be created through the Shared Folder management page to ensure they have the correct security and are set up for duplication.  Folders that do not need to be redundant can be modified to set their duplication to 'off'- freeing up space that would be used for a duplicate copy.

Shared Folders screen; Shares can be added/removed and Duplication turned on/off


WHS implements Media Connect which allows Windows Media Center extenders (and the xBox 360) to stream music, video and pictures located on the WHS server.  Unfortunately this does not yet support DLNA so devices such as the PS3 have very limited connectivity (a work-around to this is installing TVersity or TwonkyVision on the server). 

Media Connect Controller Add-in; this allows additional access to Media Connect folders


WHS only allows this connectivity the Videos, Music and Photos folders but through WHS add-ins additional folders can be accessed as well.

Add-In Settings; additional WHS components can be installed.


WHS also has remote access via a secure web page at homeserver.com; from here you can browse the folders on your WHS and download files.

Remote Access Settings; supports uPnP router configuration.


Web page access for remote WHS access.
  • Easily expandable storage
  • Duplication of folders to prevent data loss in event of a drive failure
  • Centralized storage
  • Scheduled backup of client computers
  • 'Bare Metal' restore from CD for client computers
  • Monitoring/notification of client and server issues
  • Remote access to files


  • No inherit data redundancy (such as RAID5 or x-RAID)
  • No network user management (such as ADS)
  • No integrated backup to external media

In final review, Windows Home Server is a good consumer level server, but it has a few issues.  It allows managed backup/restores which could be of immensurable value to a user with a failed hard drive- and used solely for that purpose it is an excellent product.  However, for a file server it lacks true RAID protection and backup to external drives/devices.  I find it much better than my prior server system of single disks with no 'duplication' option, and I will continue to use it as my primary home server- at least until something better comes along... :o)


'Upgrading' the Vaio VGN-NR220E to Windows XP

I purchased a Sony Vaio VGN-NR220E laptop that came bundled with Windows Vista Home.  I was a little surprised that they sold Vista on a laptop with only 1GB of RAM.  After upgrading to 3GB pf RAM (specs say 2GB max but the BIOS recognizes up to 4GB- but Vista will BSOD with this configuration) I still found it to be a bit sluggish.

An 8GB Express Card SSD drive used as a ReadyBoost drive did not help that much either, so I decided to downgrade the system to good old XP. 

Unfortunately, Sony will only support this system running Vista- so there are no XP drivers on the Sony support site.  Luckily there are others on the web with a dilemma similar to mine, so I looked to them for guidance.

My first challenge was to find an AHCI driver so Windows XP can see the hard drive; Without this the XP boot CD cannot see the SATA drive (XP can see a SSD Express Card, but will not install to this- Damn crappy-ass Sony BIOS restrictions!).  I found the Intel floppy image for the Mobile 965 Express driver- which creates a 'F6 Driver Disk' to allow XP to see the SATA controller and attached drives.  Insert the floppy in a USB floppy drive, load the XP CD in the optical drive and power up.

When XP setup starts, you will see 'Press F6 to install a third party driver'- so press F6 (quickly).  XP will chug on for a few minutes and then stop at a screen where you can 'press 'S' to specify a 3rd party driver'.  When you press 'S' it will search the floppy (only option!) for a driver and find several different drivers; select the one that reads:

Intel(R) 82801HBM/HEM SATA AHCI Controller (Mobile ICH8M-EIM)

I have heard that the are specific USB floppy drives that can be used (i.e. ones with drivers included in the default XP CD library) for F6 driver setup- and ones that do not 100% compatible will get stuck in a loop asking to insert driver floppy' at a later point in the install.  If you run into this situation you will need to make a custom XP CD and slipstream the appropriate drivers on the CD (I prefer to use nLite to build this).

The XP install finished and I was left with a laptop with a 800x600 display window and no network connectivity.  I needed the drivers to enable the hardware to correct this.  RatStash had a good article on downgrading a different model of Vaio; I used it as a reference but needed to change the Chipset & Wireless drivers to reflect the newer configuration:

Drivers Needed for VGN-NR220E:

I think this is a complete driver list (checked by re-installing XP), but please let me know if I missed anything.  During the process of re-researching drivers to write this post I also discovered a nice page on Intel's site that links to most of the necessary Intel drivers.

The Nautis Project has a ZIP file containing all the necessary drivers for the VGN-N320E Vaio laptop; I used this package to find the 'Texas Instruments PCIxx12 Integrated FlashMedia Controller' driver and remove the last 'unknown' from device manager.

I downloaded all of the above, copied them to a USB thumb drive and then copied them to my Vaio's hard drive (do not try to run/extract these from USB thumb drive as this is VERY slow).  Most of the drivers had 'setup.exe' files and a few of them were '.inf' files that required redirection to from an 'unknown device' icons in device manager.

One unusual part during my first install had all of my USB port disabled in device manager (I think after the Intel INF update); I had to delete all USB devices (in device manager) and refresh with 'Scan for Hardware Changes' and everything was re-detected and has worked since- perhaps it was confused by an earlier default XP driver?  (this did not occur on my 2nd install of XP)

Final result: the laptop seems a bit faster but battery life is about the same.  The custom 'S1' and 'AV Mode' buttons serve no function and some of the 'Fn +' buttons do not work. 

I used an extra 2.5" SATA hard drive so I can revert back by replacing my old Vista Home drive in the system- so I have left my 'upgrade' options open (so long as I am ready to remove 19 screws to replace a hard drive!)

19 screws to get at the hard drive (not counting the one on the memory door). The long one goes in the middle by the service tag and the two fat ones go in the far back corners (probably for LCD support)

VGN-NR220E system board overview

I am not 100% sure what this is- I am guessing it is either the TI card reader or a USB hub device

VGN-NR220E CPU and Chipset cooling detal

802.11g mini-PCIe network card (to be replaced with 802.11n or a WiMax card at one point in time)


Adventures in Gadgetry

I Have been debating for a while over which phone I want to use; I have been using a Palm Treo 700p (Sprint) for over a year now and the 'newness' of the phone has worn off.  I picked up an iPhone and promptly ran jailbreak on it and unlocked it to use any SIM from any carrier (and recently used pwnage to clean it up); it was nice but I now had two phones from two carriers and I wanted the best of both combined.  I ordered a 'Pick Your Plan' package from AT&T (with a $10 refurb Nokia 2610 for $10) and requested that my number be ported over from Sprint; I would get an iPhone with a SIM (so I can easily change to another phone if so desired), no contract, and my old phone number- sounds good!

At some point, AT&T dropped the ball.  I waited the standard '3-5 business days' and no sign of my new phone.  I called them and found out my order had been 'stuck in a loop' and not processed.  They apologized and told me that my order would be processed ASAP.

That was Friday; my phone arrived this morning.  But over the weekend some dramatic changes occurred...

One of the primary reasons for my switching to AT&T was the ability to change phones on a whim via SIM card.  In the past I have been forced to re-sign my Sprint contract for 2 years every time I added/changed a phone.  By some ironic coincidence, Sprint was doing web site maintenance over the weekend and an 'Upgrade or Activate Phone' option has now appeared in my online account.  This made me take a second look at the new Sprint Phones (and possibly avoid the $200 early cancellation fee with Sprint).

I came across the HTC Touch and the HTC Mogul from Sprint- two Windows Mobile 6 smart phones that do much of what the iPhone can do. After some research (and a very convincing video from youtube) I decided that the HTC Touch can do more than the iPhone could- namely play music via Bluetooth A2DP.   Apple will be releasing applications for the iPhone soon, but there is already a huge library of Windows Mobile games and applications that I can use on the Touch.  In addition, I found that Sprint is supposed to be releasing an EVDO Rev A and a GPS update for the unit in the future- two more things that the current iPhone does not have (3G and GPS)...

Another previously unmentioned upgrade reason was I purchased a Nokia N810 from a co-worker and I needed a phone that can offer decent data speeds when paired to the N810 via Bluetooth.

My final decision was to stay with Sprint; I was able to find a phone with the functionality that I found lacking in the iPhone and I am able to have a single device for my primary phone.  I can also use the HTC Touch as a gateway (once I figure out how to do this) if I want to browse the web at a higher resolution on my Nokia N810.  I saved myself from cancellation fees,  kept my number, didn't have to sign a contract and I am still able to talk for free to my friends on the Sprint network.

I purchased the HTC touch for full retail price ($550!) at Fry's as my plan was rather complicated and this also meant I didn't need to extend my contract yet again.  I tried to activate but found that my phone number transfer was already in progress; Sprint could not cancel and told me to contact the carrier requesting the transfer.

By another ironic twist, AT&T was having phone/support issues for most of the weekend; I would call in, get into the hold queue, and then get a 'we are unable to answer your call due to technical issues- goodbye' message...  I did manage to get to someone the next day and cancel the number transfer.

I then called Sprint to activate the new phone- expecting to be told I had to wait several hours/days until the cancellation appeared in their system.   I was surprised that the phone activation went without a hitch and I was receiving messages on the new phone in about 15 mins...

So now I sold my (unlocked, jailbroken, ipwned) iPhone to my roommate and I will be able to sell my (well cared for) Palm Treo 700p on eBay- and perhaps (between the two) make a little more than the cost of my new phone! 


Oh God, not another 'standard' cable?

I purchased a used Nokia N810 from a co-worker.  So far it is a great device. 

I was going to plug in my mini-USB cable to copy some music files over to the device and had to stop; the USB cable connector is now a 'micro-USB' connection...


What the Fuck?

I know that companies like to gouge their customers for add-ons, but there is no real major fucking difference in size between a mini-USB and a micro-USB connector; and on the side of the N810 it's not like they were pressed for space and needed to find a quick alternative- they just wanted to make a cheap-ass cable and charge their customers $25+ for a replacement...

The real irony for me is that this is a Nokia device- a name that was synonymous with having one standard.  This the company that had the same power cable for all of their cell phones lines for almost a decade (but I won't try to defend their very inconsistent flash memory support- I mean who else used RS-MMC?). 

Now it looks like Nokia is trying to pull a Sony and make a new 'standard' for their devices (along with the Motorola RAZR2).  Nokia- please just make your phones and leave all the connectors as Mini-USB!

My rant for the night is over...


iPhone Pwnage Tool

The iPhone Dev Team has released a new iPhone 'unlocking' tool known as Pwnage for the iPhone.  There are detailed installation instructions on iClarified and a video on Engadget.  Currently this only runs on a Mac (see- I DO have a good reason to own a Mac!) and it requires you download the Pwnage software, an official version of the iPhone firmware and the bootloader files.  Once you have these and an iPhone you are ready to unlock!

  • Run Pwnage, select an original version of firmware (such as 1.1.4) and click 'iPwner' after the software verifies the ipsw file. 
  • Put the iPhone into recovery mode (power off, and hold down the menu button while docking the phone) and dock the phone
  • The software will begin updating the iPhone firmware.

I had an previously unlocked 1.1.4 firmware iPhone and I was getting 'NOR Flashing failed!' errors when I first tried to run Pwnage on my iPhone.  A little research indicated that I needed to revert back to a clean version of the official 1.1.4 firmware to clear up any incompatibilities with previous hacks.  After a full restore to factory 1.1.4 (which seemed to take a very long time!) I re-ran Pwnage and received the happy pineapple! (the Dev Team's custom graphics).

  • After the iPhone is 'fixed', you can use Pwnage to make a custom 'ipsw' firmware that will do useful things such as activate the iPhone (without a contract!) and run BootNeuter to allow unlocking/upgrading of the iPhone's baseband (to allow use with other GSM carriers). 
  • Save this custom version of firmware and put the iPhone back into recovery mode . 
  • When you dock with iTunes it will find the unit in recovery mode indicate that the iPhone needs to be restored. 
  • Hold down 'Option' key ( or 'Alt' key for Windows keyboards) and click the 'Restore' button in iTunes.  This will allow you to select which version of firmware you want- select the custom firmware you created and you will have an unlocked iPhone!

If you do not want the pineapple and other custom DevTeam images, be sure you leave 'Use DevTeam custom pictures' unchecked while building your custom ipsw image.

Before the update I could not get the 'locate me' function to work on Google Maps; afterwards it works! (Must have been the baseband update?)

Taking a note from the Engadget video; you do not need to 'Enable Baseband Update' or 'Activate iPhone' with subsequent versions of firmware was these options were set by installing the first custom firmware (although I don't think it would hurt if you ran it again?)

My next step would be to load the iPhone 2.0 beta firmware on the phone- but I am not able to find a good copy!  The two versions on UseNet both are unrecognized by Pwnage and torrent searches only have one similar file; anyone have any suggestions?