Thursday, December 26, 2013

HP Envy 17t TouchSmart Quad laptop review

Santa brought me a laptop early this year and here is what is in the box:

Now that I've played with it a few days here are some of my followup thoughts.

Though I forgot to give it a rating in the video, on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give it an 8. I find it to be a very excellent laptop for my needs, which are video editing and working on my web site. Later I may do programming on it.
Here are the specs:
  • 4th generation i7-4700MQ 2.4GHz
  • 16GB RAM
  • 2GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GT 740M
  • 1 TB Hard drive
  • 1080p Touch Screen
  • Backlit keyboard
  • Fingerprint reader
  • 802.11b/g/n WiFi

Friday, November 15, 2013

Short video comparison between Nexus 5 and Sony HDR-CX380

A couple mornings ago I was able to take a video with my new Nexus 5 phone of a train going by. I had done a similar video with my Sony HDR-CX380 so I thought I'd toss the videos together and do a comparison. I think the Nexus 5 did quite well. It won't beat my Sony, but it is good to see it can handle some low light conditions well.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Goodbye Virgin Mobile!! Hello Nexus 5 with T-Mobile!

After 10 years I've finally quit Virgin Mobile and have gone to T-Mobile! HIP HIP HOORAY!
Why T-Mobile? Well they have a $30/month plan that does 100 minutes of yaking, unlimited texting, and 5GB of data which should do me quite well as I don't yak a lot. So I'm even saving $5/month compared to Virgin Mobile.
Another reason why I left Virgin Mobile was because of their poor support for their phones. The whole GPS and Motorola Triumph debacle and then the failing texting with the HTC EVO V 4G was the last straw. So I bided my time until the right phone came along and I could find a good plan. I had originally thought about the Nexus 4 but it wasn't quite what I was wanting so I was patient and waited. When rumors of the Nexus 5 came out that sure looked like a phone I could be happy with.
so all that I had to do is figure out which of the 3 carriers it supports to go with. I had been with Virgin Mobile, which is owned by Sprint, so that would be my last choice. AT&T is known for gouging customers so they weren't my first choice. T-Mobile, though not as big as Verizon or AT&T, started offering some of their "uncarrier" plans and features which were very appealing. So I decided to give them a try. Got a couple of their SIM cards, one to test, and another to port my number too.
I signed up and tried out T-Mobile to see how the coverage was around my home town and even took on a road trip and it did very well so I decided to not wait and went ahead and ported my number.
You Virgin Mobilers out there will want to be aware if you want to port your number you will have to call Virgin Mobile's retention department to get your account number (it's not your phone number). They will of course try to persuade you to stay, but be firm and polite and get the number as you'll need it to port.
I entered my porting info on T-Mobile and at midnight that same night the port was complete.
I'm thoroughly enjoying my Nexus 5 phone and here's a follow-up video. The screen is nearly 5" and 1080P so very happy with that. It has a quadcore processor so very fast. The LTE speeds from T-Mobile are very nice.
KitKat is also a nice improved version of Android. One reason I chose the Nexus 5 is that I'll be able to get the upgrades from Google and not have to wait for a phone company! Such Freedom!

Panorama sample:

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Virgin Mobile

Well it is time for me to say goodbye to Virgin Mobile. It's been a long run, 10+ years, and their cell service was pretty good.
So you ask why is he leaving? Well, after the GPS debacle with the Motorola Triumph, and then the texting fiasco with the HTC EVO I decided that I was going to leave Virgin Mobile over a year ago, it was just a matter of finding the right phone and the right cell company.
Last week I ordered the phone I've been looking for, the Google Nexus 5! Should be in my hands this week if what UPS says is true. I had originally thought about the Nexus 4, but it wasn't quite a big enough advance over the HTC EVO so I bided my time. When rumors of the Nexus 5 started coming out I knew that was going to be a phone to look very closely at, provided the rumors were true. Turns out, they were.
So Virgin Mobile, if you had only owned up to the faults in your phones in a quicker fashion and actually fixed them quicker I might have stayed. But you never fixed the Triumph, and it took an inordinately long amount of time to get the EVO fixed. So, your lack of support for the equipment you sell for using your service drove me away.
I can choose from at least 3 carriers to start with to use my Nexus 5 with. I've decided that based on their way of bucking the traditional cell carrier plans I'm going to try T-Mobile. I'll try them out for a few weeks and if all goes well I'll port my phone number. If not, then I have a couple others to try.
So Virgin Mobile, it will soon be adios, and no, you won't be able to persuade me to come back!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Windows 8.1 and Hyper-V Guest problems

I installed the Windows 8.1 update on my main desktop machine and I found a couple issues with Hyper-V upon finished the install.
First, when I went to fire up my Windows XP Pro guests the wouldn't. There were errors about not being able to do a secure boot. So I thought that maybe I should recreate the Virtual Machine. When I did that I discovered the Specify Generation screen in the Wizard, which is new in Windows 8.1.
Once I selected Generation 1 I was able to fire up my Windows XP Pro guests.

However, I then found that none of my guests had internet access.
I thought that by installing a new version of the Integration Services that it would be fixed. Nope, didn't.
I then tried uninstalling and reinstalling the network card in the guest. No go.
I then created a new virtual switch, I have two network cards so I left the old one and applied the new one to the guests. Bingo, that worked. Well almost. I then found that the host didn't have internet connectivity. I removed the old virtual switch and then my system was back to being usable.
So far I haven't discovered anything fabulous with 8.1, but I think that eventually folks should upgrade as it is being reported as being a touch quicker. I don't reboot my machine very often so I couldn't say how much better the boot up is.

Friday, September 27, 2013

ASUS RT-AC66U Router

My Netgear router has been dropping WiFi connections and blocking NetFlix so it became time to replace the router. Here's my unboxing of the ASUS RT-AC66U.
So far when I connected from my couch I have 100% signal strength, before it was only 50% so already an improvement!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Withings Pulse 1st Impressions

I've had the Withings Pulse for a couple days now so here are my 1st Impressions.

  • Activation
  • No way to tweak measurements to get more accuracy
  • Record steps, distance, climbing, heart rate
  • Monitor sleep
Check out what else I have to say in the video.

Withings Pulse

Recently I decided I needed to lose some weight and how better to assist me than to use technology. I looked at several devices that work with Android and decided on the Withings Pulse, a French company. Though, unfortunately, the device itself is made in China.
So I pre-ordered the Pulse about a month ago and started my calorie and exercise (primarily walking) tracking. I finally got the Pulse and so here I am opening the box for the first time.
Note: I do say in the video that it tracks your heart rate at night with the wrist strap, but that is not correct. Maybe they'll add that feature at a later time.
Look for my 1st impressions video soon.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

HTC EVO V 4G GPS freak out

When we go on walks I like to use My Tracks to, well, track how far we walk and how long we take. Normally a GPS track would look like this:
It's a nice and smooth track of our walk.

Here's what My Tracks suddenly started doing a few days ago.
Now obviously we weren't walking through people's yards and houses!

Well I tried a few things, mostly clearing the cache and trying other programs but still the same result.
So I finally decided to do a factory reset of my phone and that is what cleared it up and it's working normally again!
I can only imagine a settings file somewhere got corrupted and since I don't root my phone I wasn't able to find it and fix it. So doing a factory reset is a little extreme but the way I figure it I clean out a bunch of other junk at the same time. Of course you have to reload your apps and your accounts so that is the hassle part.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Installing a 3TB Hard Drive

The two main computers I work with in my house are my Windows Home Server 2011 and my desktop. The server I've been leaving on 24/7 for many years now and was just only turning on my desktop when needed. On both I run virtual machines, the WHS2011 has VirtualBox and my desktop uses Hyper-V.
Lately I've been finding that I've been leaving my desktop computer on over night for processing so I decided to eliminate the dedicated server and just go with my desktop. The desktop has 32GB of memory and is an Intel i7-3770 processor so it had plenty of power to handle the server and 4 other virtualized guests.
I would virtualize the server and run it as a Hyper-V guest. To make room for all the storage I decided to get a Seagate 3TB drive and here's the video of me installing it.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sony HDR-CX380 followup

Here are a few of my findings and thoughts, now that I've been using it for a few weeks, on the Sony HDR-CX380.
I find that digital technology is so wonderful! I can take all sorts of practice shots and I can just easily delete them! Fantastic!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Nova Launcher

Here's the first regular video I've made with my Sony HDR-CX380! What an improvement over the Kodak ZI8! I just set it up and recorded.
Anyway, this is Nova Launcher, one of the many replacement launchers you can get for your Android phone. So far, out of all that I've tried this is my favorite.
I can hide apps I don't want to see, show the number of missed messages in several apps, and I can increase the number of rows on the desktop to 5 rows.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Practicing with the Sony HDR-CX380

Today I was sitting in my backyard and was experimenting with my Sony HDR-CX380. I'm a firm believer in practicing to get used to new equipment so today I was exploring the camcorder.
I know my hands aren't that steady and some shots were done by hand, and they are ok, nothing spectacular. I have a tripod that I've used a lot with my still camera and it definitely doesn't move smoothly and it is hard to get it to hold in one spot. Again, I need more practice . . . a lot more!
Here are some of the highlights of my practicing today.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Sony HDR-CX380 camcorder

I've been upgraded to a Sony HDR-CX380 video camera! I'll start using it in place of my Kodak ZI8 camera more.
It's a nice camera with capability of recording 1080p. There's also 16GB of internal storage which you can expand by up to a 64GB SD card, which I have done.
It also has the capability of taking 8 megapixel still shots as well.
So far I've used it a little and at the end of the video will be a snipet showing a brief comparison with the Kodax ZI8.
Look for more videos on the Sony in the near future.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Foscam FI8905W Unboxing

Had someone messing around with my truck in the late hours of the night and we've seen other suspicious activity in our neighborhood so we thought that it would be a good idea to get an outdoor wireless camera to see what is going on in our front yard. We don't expect that the camera is going to be able to get a good enough face shot for a positive identification of someone, but at least we'll have more information and then we'll decide what to do from there based on what the camera captures.
So based on price and reviews we picked up the Foscam FI8905W for around $95. I set it up last night and it is working rather well. Still playing with the settings in the software.
The software definitely is very very poor. The software works best with Windows XP! It has issues saving video in Windows 7 and Windows 8. Luckily I can run XP as a guest on my server so I don't have to have a dedicated machine wasting energy just to monitor the camera.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Showing the bootup of our Dell Inspiron 1525 with the SSD

In this video I simply show how fast my Dell Insprion 1525 boots up just so you get a feel for how much faster the SSD is compared to the old hard drive that was originally in the laptop.
A SSD isn't going to magically make the laptop process faster, but when loading files from the disk it will be faster. Is it very noticable day-to-day? No, since this laptop is only being used for internet browsing and watching videos. Programs load faster but it would be seconds faster, not any huge amount faster.
The most telling is the battery life, before I was getting around 3 to 3.5 hours of battery life, now, I'm getting close to 5 and sometimes even 6 hours.
Was the upgrade worth it? Yes, I believe so. If nothing else for the batterly life but I think due to some of the performance increase (just disk loads mind you) it might make us keep this laptop longer and not be so apt to need a new one in the near future.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Hyper-V on Windows 8 Pro

I have a mini-server farm setup on my desktop machine to learn more about SharePoint. There are four servers and one client for that setup. I have two drives, C: and E: and I've had all my virtual disks located on E:. What I was finding is that the servers were bogging down, of course, because they were all trying to interact with the hard drive but were having resource contentions and slowing them down.
So I though, ok, I'll move a few of the virtual machines to the C: drive just so two hard drives are doing the work that one was doing before.
I just figured I'd have to power down those virtual servers to move them, but NO! Hyper-V will move the files while the virtual machine is still powered on! Very Cool!
Actually what it does is copy the files first, then points the live machine to the new location. All part of Hyper-V's live migration capabilities. I just figured that on a desktop operating system I wouldn't be able to do that figuring that was reserved for the server world.
Glad Microsoft got this one right as so often they put artificial limits on capabilities in the software. The one that immediately comes to mind is no native UPS support in Windows Home Server 2011! Server and desktop O/S support it, why not that?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Upgrading to a SSD in our Inspiron 1525

We've had our laptop for quite a few years now and to breath a little more life into I thought it'd be good to upgrade it. Now laptops, generally, aren't very upgradeable but there are often two components you can upgrade. Memory is one, but for us our laptop is already maxed out at 4GB. So the other is the hard drive which is often quit a battery hog along with the screen. By replacing the hard drive with a SSD drive can enhance the speed of the computer by the fact that programs and files open much faster, but also should enhance the battery life. Before the SSD drive it would get around 5 hours of battery life. Not sure how much yet until played with it more.
The toughest part of the swap was getting the SSD to plug into the internal SATA ports in the laptop as it was skinnier than the old hard drive. Took quit a few tries before I was able to get it in.

Moving VirtualBox Guests to Hyper-V

A short review of my setup:
I have a Windows Home Server 2011 (WHS2011) as my server on my home network. On it I have VirtualBox installed. The reason I have to have that setup is that I have a weather station and it needs a computer to record its readings. The software uses a USB dongle to communicate with that base station and VirtualBox luckily supports attached USB devices in its guest’s operating systems.
I could have the weather station software running on a separate computer, but I prefer to only have one PC on 24/7 to save on electricity.
I have a Windows 8 Pro desktop computer which can, and now does, run Hyper-V. I like Hyper-V from the standpoint it can easily autostart guests at boot up. VirtualBox could do that with some klugey work arounds which I didn’t like to use and they were never completely 100% at working properly.
Well there were a couple guests on the WHS2011 box, inside VirtualBox, that I wanted to move to my desktop’s Hyper-V and become guests there. I wasn’t sure it was going to work but I thought I’d try since VirtualBox does support copying a guest’s harddrive into a format that Hyper-V supports.
So I did the copy inside of VirtualBox and moved the new VDI file over to my desktop. Configured the settings for it in Hyper-V and fired it up. Well it didn’t go well even after trying to uninstall the VirtualBox drivers and instally Hyper-Vs. So I went back to VirtualBox, uninstalled the drivers from within there. Did the copy again, moved to Hyper-V and fired it up. This time it worked much much better. Installed Hyper-V’s drivers and away I went and it’s been working for several days without any issues.
Of course my preference, and how I used to have my server setup, was to run Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V and have WHS2011 as a guest, along with any other guest I was needing. Unfortunately, for some very odd reason, Microsoft doesn’t and still doesn’t support USB devices inside a guest. There is networking type hardware out there that might allow for the USB dongle to be seen by a guest in Hyper-V but who wants to shell out more money, especially in a home environment?
So for now, I’ll keep VirtualBox running inside of WHS2011 and Hyper-V on my desktop.
Oh, and another reason why I prefer Hyper-V over VirtualBox is that Hyper-V supports dynamic memory. So I can initially allocate 8GB of memory to a guest, but it may only end up using 1 or 2GB of that when running. But of course can increase its allocation as needed. I’m starting to play with SharePoint 2013 and it had quite heavy memory requirements for its server farm so the dynamic memory is going to help my 32 GB desktop juggle all those guests better.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Upgrading to 32GB

I'm going to be running a mini-server farm for learning software and I needed to bump up my computer from 16GB to the maximum 32GB. Here I add the DDR3 memory to my machine.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Windows 8 Update

It's been a little over a week with Windows 8 and I'm getting more and more used to it, finding where things are located.
Just today, I went down to the lower right corner to get the Start Screen "icon" and right clicked on it just to see what happens and you get a menu of some of the items I use all the time. Power Options, Event View, Command Prompt, Command Prompt (Admin), Task Manager, Control Panel, and several others. So that might become handy.

Missing Start Button
I do have to say I miss the Start Button. For me it was very nice to have all my apps organized in menus that would also be organized in folders. You can get something similar by right clicking in a bare area in the Start Screen and get a listing, but boy, if you have a lot of apps installed you could be scrolling for a long time.
No, I'm still resisting the urge to get a Start Button replacement.
I have found that I use the Windows key a heck of a lot more than I ever had in the past. It gets me quickly to the Start Menu where I can start typing the name of the application I'm looking for and find it. Although if I'm looking for something in the Control Panel I have to then select Settings. I'm still not liking the very small area in which you have to put your mouse to get the Start Screen so the Windows key is much easier.

Explorer Crashes A Lot
I'm finding that Windows Explorer crashes a lot. When I've highlighted a bunch (hundreds) of files for deletion it will often crash and have to restart.
Searching also is slow to start and doesn't always indicate that it is actually searching.

More Upgrades
With the price being $39 to upgrade I went ahead and updated a laptop and another desktop in my house to Windows 8. I have one others desktop in the house, attached to the TV, and will probably not upgrade it.

Battery Life Improves
On the laptop, a Dell 1525, the battery life appears to have increased by 30 minutes! Before I'd get 4 1/2 hours out of the battery, now it's 5! I haven't precisely time it but it is noticeable.

I haven't had any problems with drivers on my divergent systems. I only had to download printer drivers for my very old inkjet printer. Luckily they, HP, had Windows 8 compatible drivers available.

Summing Up
I spend 99.9% of my time in desktop mode and don't hardly run any Metro apps. For me the Start Screen isn't as efficient as the Start Button but I'm working OK with Windows 8. It still takes learning where much of the stuff is, but with time it'll become second nature.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Windows 8 thoughts

Well yesterday, I bit the bullet and updated my main computer to Windows 8 Pro. Even though I had played with Windows 8 as guest virtual machines, I never became overly enamored with it. But Microsoft's deal on upgrading for $40 was coming to a rapid end (January 31, 2013) so I decided to go ahead and try.
Boy, I've been using computers since the late 1970s, used Windows 1.0 all the way through to Windows 7 (never used Windows ME though) and I have to say Windows 8 definitely takes some getting used to.
I'm a tinkerer and like to know what my computer, more the operating system's function, is doing so one of my favorites for tinkering was the old old Windows with all those .INI files you could mess around with to change how your system behaved, or not behaved. As time went on I got tinkering less and less, after all it takes a lot of time, so Windows XP and Windows 7 have been my most recent favorites. They still let you know what was going on so you could make and educated decision on what you were going to let your system do.
Well Windows 8 isn't much for tinkering. Microsoft has made an operating system that tries to serve people by just letting them run their apps and not having to worry about what goes on behind the scenes. Which, I have to admit is probably what 99% of the people want to be able to do with their computers, just like their phones. They want to turn it on, look up that recipe, or find that store someone mentioned, or see the pictures of their 3rd cousins and Windows 8 does deliver that.

Give Me Many Windows or Give Me Death! (ok, a little over the top, but you'll get my point)
For me it has been a frustration as I want to run multiple windows on my screen at the same time. I even tried to force myself to run everything full screen before the upgrade just to get used to the concept but it drove me crazy not being able to have a ton of windows open. I'm not talking two windows side by side but many. Right now on my computer I have 7 different apps running, each in a window. So for me, if all my apps go the "metro" way and not allow me to resize the windows to how I want them, it will greatly reduce my productivity and enjoyment of my system. But that's just me.
Also, Windows 8 seems to want to do things without letting you know what the details are. For example, I went into the App Store and it told me there were a bunch of apps needing to be updated. So, ok, I wanted more information as the icons just gave me the most basic of information and as I was new to Windows 8 I just wanted to know what it was going to do to MY system. Well, no information at all. So I just had to blindly trust that the apps were ok and went ahead and updated them.
I do miss the Start button, heck it's been there since Windows 95, so it's a friend that contained most of what I needed to have access to. And the button was a good size so you had plenty of area from which to click on. Not in Windows 8, you have to get your mouse way down in the corner before you can make the selection to see the Start screen.
I'm so tempted to get a Start button replacement app but I'm trying really hard to hold off to see if I can just get used to the way Windows 8 operates.

Photo App Craziness
One app that drove me to frustration last night is the Photo app. One it shows the pictures way to big, and I wish I could see thumbnails. Though it may be an option somewhere, I just haven't found it yet. Anyway the frustration was that I use a Windows Home Server 2011 to store all our pictures and on any of my computers I map a drive to it for easy access. Ok, easy enough, mapped the P: drive in Windows 8. So far so good. Then I thought, ok, I'll add that to my Pictures Library. Did that, working. However, then go to the Picture app and though it shows empty boxes for the photos that are stored in the root of P:, it shows nothing else. Nada. Zip.
How crazy is that? I'm using a function built into Windows for a long time (networking) and it doesn't work. Ok, look on-line for answers. Someone suggests setting up a HomeGroup. I've never liked HomeGroup as setting up networking was always easy for me. Well, OK, I'll try anyway. Go to my WHS2011 server and attempt to setup a HomeGroup. BIZZ . . . error, error. No luck there!
Ok, next try. I go into my user's folders and remap the My Pictures from being on the C:\ drive, to be the P: drive. SUCCESS! Now the Picture App finally sees all my pictures and shows me what is in the picture other than a blank.
To me, it's just a crazy road block that Microsoft has put in the way between the Picture App and the folder where I keep my photos. It shouldn't matter to Windows 8 that my photos are on my local computer, a home server, a linux server, or even in the cloud. If I can map a drive letter to it then Windows 8 should see it and not care about the particular "hardware" setup. The whole separating the user from the details just doesn't always work!

More and More Tinkering
Oh, and though I have mail setup, it still doesn't pop up notifications, so more tinkering to figure that out. For trying to separate the user from the details, it sometimes fails so that a user can only scratch their heads wondering why something is working.

All I can hope for, with the multitude of feed back and issues that crop up during real world usage that Microsoft will get these things fixed, even for us "tinkerers." But I wouldn't hold our collective breaths.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Building new computer

I've been slowly gathering up the pieces to build me a new computer and today I should be getting the rest of the pieces.
So far I have the Antec P280 (Google Affiliate Ad), a Rosewill Capstone 650 W power supply, a LITE-ON optical drive, a Kingston 64 GB SSD, and a Western Digital 1 TB hard drive.
My initial plan is to install Microsoft Windows 8 Pro (Google Affiliate Ad) onto the computer as I really want to see what it is like on some hardware. Previously I've only tried it as a virtual machine and wasn't all that impressed. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will be ok to use. Unfortunately, I have read that my video editing software doesn't work well or at all with Windows 8, so I may be forced to use Windows 7 if that's truly the case.
What still has to come is the Asus US P8Z77-V Motherboard (Google Affiliate Ad), Intel i7-3770 CPU, and an Antec KUHLER H2O 620 CPU Liquid Cooling (Google Affiliate Ad).
Stay tuned for more...