Still one of my favorite game endings…


G2x Gingerbread

I love the Nexus One but I found a sweet deal on a T-Mobile G2x on eBay that I couldn’t pass up.  It came in today and has Froyo (v2.2.2) installed on it.  Information on the web indicates that a Gingerbread (v2.3) version of the G2x is due for re-launch, so the over-the-air (OTA) update should be headed out soon.

Being impatient as I am, I also found information on the XDA Developers forum  that the LG Update Tool will allow for a manual update to Gingerbread.  The entire update process took 8m 38s in the application, and then the phone took about 5 minutes to reboot (stuck at the ‘T-Mobile G2x with Google for 4 of those minutes) and now I am at v2.3.3.

The LG updater alerted that it might erase all applications and phone settings during the update, but everything from v2.2.2 appears to have transitioned to 2.3.3.

The G2x is a T-Mobile 4G device and I am seeing download speeds of about 6Mbps when using the phone a mobile hotspot.  Upload speeds are bout 1Mbps.

Samsung needs to have some pretty impressive stuff with the Galaxy S2 to make me consider an upgrade now… :)

EnviR on Pachube

I received my Current Cost EnviR unit today!

Once I opened the panel box, it took about 15 minutes to hook up- and most of that was spent making the cables all neat (and taping a packaging bag to the front of the 'brain' so it is securely wedged between the panel front box front & back).

The unit is fairly neat so far- even with the absence of Google PowerMeter.  I was able to find an application to upload to Pachube- which will create a graph based on the data provided to it.


Acer 3830TG-6431 Teardown

I was recently informed that the Acer 3830TG-6431 may have some thermal issues and that replacing the thermal paste with a higher grade paste may alleviate the issue.  I did not think I was having any problems, but I decided to see what was involved in replacing the thermal paste.  Hint: It isn’t very easy…
Here is my step-by-step tear down guide for the Acer 3830TG-6431.
Disclaimer:  Opening your laptop in this way will likely void your warranty.  It is very easy to damage one of the small cables/connectors and make your laptop inoperable.   I am providing this information as-is and I am not responsible for any damage/mayhem you may cause if you try to follow along at home.  I have done most of the documentation from memory- so I may have missed a screw/plug/etc.  If you are experienced in working on laptops, use your common sense when you are following this.  If you have never opened up a laptop before, I would advise that you do not start on this one as there are several awkward cable placements- and several easy to damage plugs.
With this in mind, it is time to get into the gutty-works of the laptop:
1. Remove the single screw in the center and remove the bottom plate of the laptop
2. Remove the following from inside the laptop
     a. Hard Drive
     b. SATA board connector for Hard Drive
     c. Mini-PCIe Wireless Card.  The two wires are mini-coax and should snap on/off without much effort.
3. Disconnect the battery switch connector cable from the motherboard
4. Remove the eleven (11) 2.5mm x 7 screws from the bottom of the laptop
5. Use a plastic pry tool (see recommended tools at the end of this post) to carefully release the snaps around the edges.  This will free the top cover containing the keyboard
6. Slowly separate the top of the laptop from the bottom; there will be 5 cables to disconnect before the two parts can be separated:
     a. Power Switch connector
     b. Trackpad connector
     c. Keyboard connector
     d. Bluetooth connector
     e. I/O board connector
All but the Bluetooth are ribbon cables and can be pulled out (or clip retention released).  The Bluetooth connector is a keyed connector and it should be carefully removed so the wires are not pulled from their socket.
7. Disconnect the left and right speaker connectors from the motherboard.  These are keyed sockets and very small and easy to break.
8. Disconnect the display connector.  Pull the connector straight up- do not attempt to pry this from the side as this can damage the connector.
9. Remove the one screw from the motherboard and the four screws holding in the battery bracket.  (The motherboard is beneath the battery bracket)
10.  Lift the front edge of the motherboard up to expose the connectors at the rear of the board (close to batteries).
11. Remote the three connectors:
     a. Power connector
     b. Battery connector
     c. Daughter board connector
Note: The battery connector is also accessible from the bottom of the system.
12. Remove the motherboard from the chassis
13. Disconnect the CPU fan connector
14. Remove the two (2) screws in the NVidia GPU heat sink area and the four (4) screws over the CPU area.
Note: The four numbers on the heat sink are the tightening order sequence for re-installing the CPU heat sink.  The numbers are opposite corners so to prevent over stressing one side and damaging the CPU core.  I would also suggest doing a gradual tightening in rotation to further ensure the CPU is not damaged.  For example:
   Just barley start screws in sequence #1-4
   Go back and tighten 1-4 in sequence to about half way
   Go back again and snug screws 1-4 in sequence
   Finally go back and fully tighten screws 1-4 (yep- in sequence).
This is a picture of the factory applied thermal compound.  It doesn't look like they used the good stuff:

15.  VERY IMPORTANT: clean off all of the old CPU compound before applying new thermal compound- from both the CPU and the heatsink!
PCB flux cleaner is great to get off troublesome thermal paste (found at Fry’s)
16. Make sure the tacky pads contacting the Chipset Processor, the GPU RAM and the chokes around the CPU don’t have any dirt/junk in them.  This could affect the heat transfer from these systems to the heat sink could cause damage/failure over time.
17. Once your new thermal paste is applied, do everything in reverse to put the system back together.
18. Fini
Here is a reference picture of the bottom of the system board:

This is the laptop bottom chassis with the system board removed; daughter board is still in-place:

This is a detail shot of the battery power switch and the Mini-PCIe WiFi card:

You will probably notice that the wire and connector from the battery power switch is missing.  I did not find this connector until I was into removing the system board- and the connector didn’t come out correctly.  Hindsight is always 20/20 and that is why step #3 is included above.
The system board power connector is pretty small- and almost impossible to deconstruct as Asus has added glue to the back of the connector (I am assuming this is to prevent possible terminal end pull-out from the housing?).  It took me about an hour to get the cables stripped, tinned and the terminal ends out of the housing.  It took another 30 minutes to get the damned little thing back together and soldered.

After all was done, one of the solder points broke from the switch board after the system was put back together.  I was not going to take the laptop apart again to fix. I ended up stripping a length of wire and shorting the connection on the board inside the connector (and covering with electrical tape); this connector is so small that even the micro-sized hard drive jumpers are too large to fit inside the connector!
In review, I do think the laptop is running cooler.  I did not take an accurate measurement before, but the system seems fees not as warm during normal use. I have even had the cooling fan switch off for 15-20 min at a time- and event that never occurred prior to replacing the thermal paste!  :)
Recommended tools:
You will need a small screw driver and some plastic pry tools, such as these:
Opening Pry Repair Tool For Cellphone / iPod / iPhone
A plastic spudger tool is also invaluable for this kind of work:


Nexus One Root on 2.3.4

I recently purchased an old T-Mobile Nexus One from a friend as I am looking to move to T-Mobile in the near future.  In spite of this phone being released almost 18 months ago, it is still a friggin’ awesome phone!  It runs smoother than my Droid X and seems to be much more stable.  I guess that is a benefit of being a Google flagship device where the updates all come direct from Google.
A quick revisit to the Google Phone page that originally only sold the Nexus One direct to consumers now shows fifty-four (54) different Android phones and Six (6) Android tablets; a lot has changed in the last year and a half. :)
When I received the phone it was in it’s original state with Gingerbread 2.3.3 installed.  I played with it for a few hours, installed the 2.3.4 update- and then decided to root it.  :)
These instructions are for a Windows system.

1st step is to void the warranty by unlocking the bootloader:

1. Download and install the Android SDK from Google.  You will need to install the Java Development Kit (JDK) for your system to execute the SDK setup (it will tell you if you don’t have it).  When you first run the SDK Manager, it will mark several items for download- if you are an actual developer then you will probably want to download all of these. Otherwise you will only need the USB drivers (both regular and Google), the SDK tools and the SDK Platform Tools. 
2. Download fastboot and put it in the folder containing the ‘AdbWinApi.dll’- most likely this will be under a folder called \platform-tools found under the main path where the Android SDK is located. (This is created when the SDK Platform Tools module is downloaded in the prior step.)
3. Put the Nexus One into fastboot mode by powering down and holding in the roller ball when you power back up.  You should get a white screen with three skating androids across the bottom.  When you plugin your phone via USB the phone should indicate ‘fastboot’ in the screen.  If not, check that the USB/phone drivers were detected properly in device manager.
It is now  time to go to a command prompt…
4. From the command prompt, navigate into the \platform-tools folder.  From here, execute the command:
     fastboot devices
If all the files are in the correct place and the USB drivers are installed properly your Nexus one should be listed.
5.Next, type:
     fastboot oem unlock
This will bring up a confirmation screen on the phone.  You must use the volume up/down buttons to move and power button to select.   Note: selecting yes will invalidate any warranty you have on this phone and will reset the phone to factory settings- i.e. it will erase the phone and start you over with the android setup screen on next boot!

Change the recovery image and apply the root patch.

1. In the phone, go into Settings –> Applications –> Development and enable ‘USB Debugging’ (this will be needed for testing much later).  When you plug the phone in you may need to specify another device driver from the \usb_driver folder if Windows does not automatically find the correct driver (it may be show a ‘Nexus One’ under Unknown Devices if the driver is not correct).
2. Download the su-signed zip and save it onto the MicroSD card of your phone.
3. Download the Clockwork recovery image and save it into the \platform-tools directory on your computer.  In this case, the image is called ‘Clock.img’.  If you use a different recovery image, the information in the next step should be changed to reflect the proper name.
4. Boot the phone into bootloader mode by holding in the scroll ball while pressing power.
4. Back to the command prompt and navigate to the \platform-tools directory.  Type the following
     fastboot flash recovery Clock.img
     fastboot boot Clock.img

5. The phone should reboot into Clockwork recovery.  Select ‘update from ZIP on SD card’, select the su-signed zip and confirm the update.  The update should go fairly quick.
6. use the power button to go back to the main menu.  Select ‘reboot device’ and press power again.
The phone will reboot and you will have root access.  The Superuser application will be present in the applications list.
To verify that everything installed correctly, make sure your phone is plugged into USB and unlocked with USB debugging enabled.  From the command prompt under the \platform-tools directory, run:
     adb shell su
A superuser request should pop up on the phone screen.  if you accept, your su will run and the shell prompt will change from ‘$’ to ‘#’ to indicate root access.


Home Energy Monitoring

Home Energy Saving Monitor ENVI-CC128 Complete Unit with TransmitterIt appears the both Google PowerMeter and Microsoft Hohm are throwing in the towel for home energy monitoring.  :(
Home energy monitoring is a pretty cool idea- being able to monitor power usage in real time via a dedicated display or via an iPhone/Android application.  Some of the systems have individual plug monitors so you can see exactly how much power your refrigerator or computer consumes in relation to your overall power usage (don’t think they have anything for 220v systems like the A/C, oven or dryer as of yet). 
Some of the more advanced monitoring systems will even allow for solar or wind generated power monitoring and calculate your offset from the grid power. This would be useful as I have been looking into setting up a modular solar power option that I can expand over the next several years- but solar is still so very expensive to deploy.
The idea is that once you identify usage patterns you can make changes to reduce your energy usage- and save on utility bills.
The Energy Detective (TED) lists several alternative application providers- but most are directed for use with the TED 5000 devices.  There are also several upcoming iPhone applications and one Android application listed.
I recently ordered the Current Cost CC128 from Amazon- which looks like it will be supported by MyEragy ‘soon’.  No sign of appliance modules for US plugs at this time…


Samsung Focus (SGH-i917) on T-Mobile

2011-07-19_10-46-44_223I picked up a good deal on a Samsung Focus phone from eBay a few months ago.  After TechEd 2011, I was interested in Windows Phone 7 (WP7) OS.  At the time my office used AT&T for my company cell phone so I was able to pop the work SIM in and use it without getting an additional carrier plan.
Times change and I no longer have an AT&T SIM- and I really do not want to pay the crazy GoPhone data rates ($25 for 500MB!) or sign another contract and I started looking at alternatives.
T-Mobile has an prepaid 'unlimited’ talk, text and web plan for $50/month.  The ‘unlimited’ allows for up to 100MB at 4G speed and everything else after that is 2G (EDGE) speed; for another $20 they offer unlimited 4G data as well.  I was unable to find a way to use an old T-Mobile SIM I had on-hand so I purchased an inexpensive prepaid T-Mobile phone from Target ($20 for a Nokia 1661), activated it and promptly pulled the SIM an stuck it into the Samsung Focus.
The Samsung Focus is a quad band 850/900/1800/1900Mhz device and T-Mobile uses 1700/2100Mhz for its 3G network- so there is no possibility of getting 3G/4G data on this phone with T-Mobile; the $50 plan will provide unlimited voice, text & 2G data. 
The Focus is SIM locked to AT&T- so installing the T-Mobile SIM provides a ‘SIM locked’ status on the screen.  If you are an AT&T subscriber, you can call AT&T and request an unlock code (tell them you are looking at vacationing out of the US and you want to be able to use foreign SIMs).  If you are not with AT&T you will need a 3rd party to unlock the phone.  I found a seller named ‘nckzone’ on eBay that will unlock the Focus for $5.80.  I forwarded the seller the information requested (IMEI, carrier and phone model) in an email and I received my unlocking code in about 10 minutes.  This purchase was made at 12:30AM EST, so I am pretty sure the seller is not in the US. 
With that, I now have an unlocked Samsung Focus working on T-Mobile.  For $50/month I have unlimited voice, text and 2G data- quite a bit less than the $115/month AT&T wants for unlimited voice, messaging and 2GB of 3G/4G data on their contract plan… (granted they are subsidizing a phone, but over two years that is a $1,560 difference).
If you are overly paranoid or hate credit cards you can even keep the prepaid phone as a total cash endeavor by purchasing the refill cards from Target/WalMart/etc.


Acer Aspire TimelineX 3830TG-6431

I have been on a quest for a decent gaming laptop for several months now.  I had a gateway P6860FX that was very awesome, but it 17” and way too bulky to carry around everyday.  There are some very cool new Sandy Bridge laptops coming out from MSI, Asus and Gigabyte- but these will all be $1000+ laptops.  Some of these can support up to 16GB of RAM (via four SODIMM slots), have dual SATA hard drives capable of RAID0 and offer full 1920x1080 HD resolution- oh, and a couple also have nVidia 3D or the new Samsung passive 3D.  :)

I was looking for a light weight laptop with a decent CPU and a decent discrete GPU; I came up with the Acer Aspire TimelineX 3830TG-6431.
The 13.3” screen is only 1366x768 (a very common resolution for 16:9 displays) and it can only hold 8GB of DDR3 RAM in its two SODIMM slots.  It uses an average Core i5-2410M dual core CPU clocking in at a native 2.3Ghz per core.  Where it shines is the GeForce GT540M (1GB dedicated memory) and an 8+ hour battery life (during normal use- definitely not gaming time).  USB 3.0, 1.3MP webcam and Bluetooth 3.0 and WiFi B/G/N are also nice added perks.

There is no optical drive on this model- but it only weighs in at a little over 4lbs!

Oh- and the battery is non-removable… WTF?

The device achieves 8+ hours of battery life by creating a hybrid display integrating the CPU embedded Intel HD 3000 and the discrete GT540M so the later is only used when needed- like what apple did with the MacBook a few years back.  This seems to work pretty well (save for MineCraft as it is all Java and CPU driven; OpenGL does not appear to help much) and I have seen an average use time of 6-7 hours during normal browsing/video watching/etc.  This drops down significantly when gaming that uses the nVidia 3D rendering.

Note: it does not appear to be possible to download the generic nVidia GT540M driver and install on this system; I get ‘supported hardware not found’ when trying to update to the latest & greatest driver.

Overall, I am very happy with the performance of the system for gaming.  I played Dungeon Siege III, Trine and Bioshock all with very high graphics settings.  The video was flawless; no frame skips or lag.  The bottom of the laptop stayed relatively cool, but the heat coming out of the left of the left fan exhaust was pretty hot.  :)

Not to happy with Minecraft performance; it is chunky and gets slower as you play.  I would be quick to blame this on the damnable java that this application uses for everything.


Note: this is with a Seagate Momentous XT Hybrid hard drive; the stock HD was a 5.2 rating.

Here are a few shots of the actual system:


Keys are separated; non-backlit.  Keyboard is not too bad, but the trackpad is very easy to hit while typing- which will drop the cursor somewhere inconvenient in the document you are typing.

There is a ‘P’ button on the upper right of the keyboard; when you unplug from the charger it auto enables.  I assume this is some kind of ‘power save’ mode as the screen dims and an on-screen green battery icon appears when the button is physically pressed.
There is also a little battery button on the front of the laptop.  If I press it while on battery it will turn blue for a few seconds; not exactly sure what this does.

The ‘user manual’ included the recovery DVDs you burn (three for full restore or just one for drivers & apps) is a ‘Generic User Guide’ for all models of the Aspire TimelineX series; the 30MB file has about 60 pages in English that cover computer safety, making recovery discs and the other Acer branded applications that are bundled with the unit.


The memory and hard drives are accessed by removing a single screw from the bottom of the laptop.  (Yay!)


Memory is easily upgraded to a maximum of 8GB with two 4GB DDR3 SODIMMs.  I replaced the standard 500GB WD hard drive with a Seagate 50GB Momentous XT hybrid hard drive.  I didn’t try one, but it looks like there is adequate space to fit a 12.5mm hard drive (like the Seagate 1TB 2.5”) in here- if anyone really need to know, let me know via email and I will test.

On the right side of the laptop there are solder points on the board for a Mini PCIe card, but no header was installed.  There also appears to be space for a SIM card slot, but again nothing was installed in this model.

One clever adaptation for this model is since the battery is non-removable there is an on/off switch integrated into the removal of the bottom of the laptop shell (switch is located to the left of the bottom SODIMM).  This switch disables battery power when the bottom is removed for service.  It can be turned back on for testing, but should (of course) remain off when replacing memory, HD, etc.

Note: FN+F3 toggles through and enabling Bluetooth and WiFi in some sequence (I think it is All Off/WiFi only/WiFi+Bluetooth/Bluetooth Only).  I took me a while to figure this out.

All said and done, I am very happy with my new laptop.  Is is basically a larger sized netbook with a real (i5) CPU, a decent amount of memory upgrade (8GB) and a dedicated GeForce GT540 GPU.  It is zippy for everyday work and very decent for real gaming.  The only thing I would really like to change would be a slightly better screen resolution (1440x900 would be nice, 1920x1080 would be awesome!).

UPDATE: I did a teardown of this system to apply some good thermal paste (I used Artic Silver 5).  I did not think there were any thermal issues before, but I have found the laptop runs MUCH better (and quieter) than it did prior! Most noticeably was in Minecraft- which is very CPU intensive.  I am going to assume that the thermal paste used by Asus wasn't very good so the heat was not being adequately transferred from the CPU to the heatsink/heatpipe- and this was causing the CPU to throttle..


MacOS is User Friendly - Total BS

MacOS seems pretty nice for basic web browsing but it can really become a tiring pain in the ass when you try to print an envelope from Microsoft Word...

I had a simple task: Open word, create an envelope (COM10 sized) and print it to my networked HP LaserJet printer.  I created the said envelope and went to print.  I had forgotten to setup my printer since my last re-install of MacOS, so it prompted me to add a printer.

Both my HP and Epson printers were found.  I chose the HP and it installed drivers and printed the envelope.

But nothing came out of the printer?

I checked the printer an all was Ok.  Looking in the MacOS control panel I saw the printer was paused.

Odd.  I un-paused.

The printer queue indicates:
  Looking for Printer

After a few attempts and checking settings, I cleared the queue and tried again.  Same problem.

Printer control panel shows device is Ok, detects the toner levels and links to the webpage in the HP device for more info.

Ok.  Clear queue, close Word, delete and re-add printer, open Word, create envelope and print.

  Looking for Printer


Ok, clear queue, close Word, delete and re-add printer with alternate driver (Gutenprint?), open Word, crete envelope and print.

  see above.

Wow- this is starting to be annoying.

I decided to see if HP had a specific driver for my printer for MacOS.  Under HP's site there is a specific driver holder space for MacOS 10.6 which basically says 'driver included in OS'.

I did a Google search for 'MacOS 10.6 HP LaserJet Paused' and I see many people having the same problem with a variety of other models and MacOS 10.6.

I printed the envelope from Word on my Windows 7 system and had no problems.

Note to self: If I need to do work, use a PC.