Saturday, April 19, 2014

Adventures in computer land

I hardly know where to start.

  • Over the past month or so, Dianne's laptop, circa 2008, has been giving her a huge amount of trouble. It runs Vista, and an older version of Internet Explorer, that for one reason or another seems to get a huge amount of unwanted pop-ups, malware, and viruses. This means I spend a huge amount of time as a computer administrator, rather than my desired position of "Old Fart" retiree.
  • It had become untenable by the start of last week. Some folks were adamant that Diane should get a new computer and that it should be an Apple computer. So, on Tuesday last, I bought a new laptop of the Windows variety, and Diane bought an Apple Mac Air. When all was said and done, and taxes paid, we were down about $2500. And of course that was just the beginning...
  • On the Apple front, Dianne took to the Mac rather well. It currently is at the Apple Store getting a whole bunch of files transferred over from the old PC. That's a service they offer if you buy their $99 a year one-on-one plan, which provides a bunch of training etc. and we also bought their $350 3 year service plan, which now that I think of it might be the plan that covers the transfer. Don't know and don't really care.
  • My new laptop is an Asus unit. I rather like Asus. My desktop that I am writing this on, is an eight core unit, but the new laptop is only four cores, 6 GB of memory, and 500 GB of hard disk drive. It came with Windows 8, and even that required several hours of program updating. Once that was all done, I had to upgrade to Windows 8.1. Was that instantaneous? Not exactly... That entailed about 3 GB of downloads and I don't know how many hours of updating. Still it's all done now.
  • I should also mention that I'm not really typing all of this, I'm using what I think is the latest version of Dragon dictate, which is practically flawless. I first started using Dragon back around the turn-of-the-century. At that time it was pretty good. However this version which I bought last year sometime, is superb. For the first time, the issues are about my comfort with dictating rather than using the keyboard as opposed to the mechanics of "operating" the dictation program. Just as a point of interest, it did take a little bit of effort to put in those quote signs around the word operating in the last sentence. But, I got her done!
  • I have a Go Pro camera. One of the reasons I bought the laptop, was that my iPad is the original version, that lacks a camera, and now is so old that it is not capable of accepting new updates of the operating system. There is a remote control application from Go Pro that allows real-time previews of what the camera sees, which requires the latest version of the OS, which would cost about $600. I wear bifocals. The Go Pro screen is very small. When the Go Pro cameras in its housing, and mounted on the motorcycle, it's virtually impossible to see what the camera is actually going to take a picture of. Hence, some sort of application running on a tablet or a laptop is almost indispensable. So, I opted for the laptop even though I dearly love my iPad. Still and all, the far more capable laptop was purchased for less than $500 which was much less than the cost of a new iPad.
  • There are a number of applications available to control a Go Pro camera using a Windows 8 laptop. I saw one that had a really nice GUI, even though it cost a small number of dollars, so I bought it and it's companion file browser. I can't get either to work. I have sent an email to the support people and I even got a reply today on Good Friday. I have sent them a number of emails today including some screenshots that show the laptop and the camera can communicate quite well using their competitors software, which in fact is free! One of those free programs has a preview function and it works just great. It will be interesting to see if the problems I'm having with the paid software can get resolved.
  • It seems to take a lot of effort to be able to make good progress, but we are getting there.
  • If the weather is nice tomorrow, I might take a ride to Radio World to pick up my special ordered RAM mounts that have finally arrived. Now the only thing missing is a ball head that has separate locks for angle and horizontal panning. That type of mounting is identical to the method used by my friend Bob, and it allows the camera to be rotated left and right while one is riding. I've seen Bob's videos and by golly they look really good. Well you know, at this time of the year, any excuse will do.
  • More of this to come of course...

Friday, April 11, 2014

1st Ride of the Season!

It was cool this morning, so I had coffee, read the newspaper, and eventually went out to the garage. Did some cleanup and started a ToDo list for the outdoor stuff and garage stuff.

Noticed that I needed a new hose reel. The old one sprang a leak at the end of last year. So, off to get a new one. Figured I would get the hose in operation and get the dust off the bike and go for a ride.

Got neat metal one from Costco. But, it is a wall mounted one. The mounting hardware looks like it was meant to attach a full battle tank to the wall. Well, the afternoon was moving on, so I decided to do the ride.

Nice day, dry and sunny and relatively warm for a slow speed ride. Off to Home Depot for a metric bolt ( I had bought one before when I should have bought two) and then over to the nearby GO station. For those who don't know, GO Transit runs trains and buses for commuters in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

This station has an empty parking lot on Sunday mornings. I go there a lot to practice slow speed U-turns. I did pretty well today, considering it was the first day riding this season. Seems to me I did better than last year. That pneumonia really did a job on me last year.

On the way home, I took the long way... .

Now, I cheated a bit. The BMW 1200RT has a tank bag, rear paniers, and a top box when fully set up for travelling. Today, it was bare. Not even the GPS, which I never leave home without, almost. That might have made it easier to U-turn, but I think it was the refresh reading I did the other day that reminded me to really turn my head around.

I'm looking forward to a great season.

Off to get ready for a steak dinner with some old friends. I'll try to do regular blogs in the next while.


I was fretting last night, thinking I had lost the 2nd extra key that BMW provides with their bikes that have immobolizer alarms. Two regular keys with alarm fobs plus this little flat plastic key that is a miniature key comparatively but is still electronic and will start the bike! They intend you to keep it in a wallet I suppose, but I put it on a string and hang it around my neck when traveling. Almost lost a key camping once, spotted it on the grass near the table I had just sat down on. And, had no spare with me... .

At the end of the season last year, I thought I would keep it somewhere in the garage ... then I forgot where I put it. Looked for it last night. Looked for it today before the ride. No dice. Now I was getting bothered with myself. After the ride, I re-checked a place I had looked before and there it was! Don't know how I could have missed it last night it was so obvious. I do this too often! Do you suffer from this sort of thing too?

Really must go now.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

New Season Initialization

Nothing ever happens all by itself. Before you can tie your shoelaces, you have to put on your shoes.

Was waiting for warmth and rain. Today was 16C! Late in the day, sprinkles of rain and likely more overnight.

Renovation of the "main" bathroom at the top of the stairs is basically complete, but awaiting some final items to install. So, the half of the garage that was used for tool storage by the installer became clear after noon.

That meant:

1) sweep & take cardboard boxes to the recycle centre.
2) use the Park n' Move trolley (great item) to turn the bike around.
3) pump out the old fuel in the tank, put it in the minivan with lots of other fuel to dilute it.
4) get new, fresh fuel from the local gas station and pour it in, and ...

5) start the engine.

Every year, the first start of the engine is a concern. Never had a complete failure, but the fear is there. This time:

1) the battery delivered a fine high amperage current to the starter motor, thanks to the battery tender that has always done me good service,

2) the big twin gave a sideways shake and one cough, likely of old November fuel, stale as  could be,

3) sucked down some fresh 94 octane fuel and ... just ran. Ran fine.

Funny how fast fear flees. [Sorry about the alliteration, just could not resist.]

Tomorrow ...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

So Snowed

I'm tired. Tired of the cold, overcast, and the white stuff.

Yesterday, it snowed all day. By noon, I had shoveled the steps and walk three times. Because we have a workman here, I had to use an ice scraper to loosen the the packed snow before using the shovel. I had also done the driveway twice. That required moving my minivan and the workman's truck and using the scraper, then the shovel. On the third attempt, I realized the stil-falling snow was gaining on me, and that was it for the day.

This morning, I did it again from 0830 to 1015 and then cranked up the small Honda blower to put the snow I had put onto to road onto the lawn.

Then, down to a neighbor's to do hers. That was much easier, it turned out.

So, while Bobscoot enjoys Spring, it's not here yet. But, the sun's rays are warm, and yes, Bob, we are on DST again too!

About the workman. I know Bob will be asking "What are they doing now?". Well Bob, remember that small bathroom at the top of the stairs, with a bathtub? Soon, it will be very similar to the ensuite we just renovated. I'll post the results soon.

That will leave the main ensuite to do over - next year.

So, to forget my aching muscles, I did some web surfing on things bike related. BMW MOA forum, some local accessory shops, camping topics...

Will the weather be good by the end of next week? Will the bike start? I'm not sure about the weather, but pretty sure about the bike - I always use a Battery Tender and get great life from my bike batteries. And, I usually replace the fuel with fresh fuel. A few cranks and away we go!

Can you tell I'm ready for it?


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Friends can help ... Samsung / Onkyo ARC problem resolved!

Just came home from dinner with Richard and Nancy. Richard was as puzzled as I about the problems with the TV and receiver.

After much wine and discussion, he asked if I had reset the TV to factory settings. I had been offered this by the technician, but rejected it for no good reason. So, I thought I would try it.


Yes, now all works!

Thanks, Richard!

And, now I can see the Onkyo on-screen settings when watching the Smart TV content too. 

Samsung Repair Update & Systems Integration Rant

The Samsung service man came yesterday. I helped him turn the TV around so that the back could be removed. That revealed two printed circuit cards, each about 8” x 10”. They were connected by four flat cables, multi wire, each with a connector at both ends. One card was clearly the power supply, and the other was the electronics for the picture.
He systematically unplugged each cable and reconnected it. After he did that, he reattached the AC power cord, and it was obvious the LED screen lit up.

So it was a power supply problem, sort of, we think.

The connectors may not have been properly seated right at the factory, and a bit of vibration in shipping may have loosened the connections. Or maybe not.

He put the back of the unit on, and we turned it around, so that he could bring up the service menu. When he did that he did see an error code. It indicated that a watchdog timer had timed out on a single occurrence. He said he needed to do a bit of research, possibly order some parts, and if necessary he would arrange for a second visit.

I left the TV running from about 1 o’clock in the afternoon until about 11 o’clock at night, and there was no problem whatsoever. So maybe it is all right. Time will tell.

Which brings me to the second topic, that of system integration. When I bought the Samsung Smart TV, it was with the intention of occasionally watching Netflix movies, or a similar Internet movie source. So, I was careful to select a TV that was a smart TV and had an audio return channel, ARC.

My router connects to the TV, the TV to an Onkyo receiver, and the receiver to my speaker system. I can select an Internet source, such as BBC news and I can hear the audio through the TV speakers for example. The Onkyo receiver has the ARC set to auto, but when I select the TV/CD input the way the manual says to, I do not seem to be able to activate the ARC function.

One thing that’s making all of this a little bit more difficult than it ought to be is the fact that when I am looking at Internet content on the TV, I cannot see the Onkyo on-screen display. The Onkyo receiver is supposed to display an indicator on its front panel when it detects a signal on the ARC line. I have never seen this indicator light up.

So which unit is faulty? Is it the Samsung Smart TV that is not providing a signal on the ARC? Or is it the Onkyo input card which is not recognizing a signal on the ARC?
Yes, this is the joy of system integration. And, unfortunately in this case, Google is not much of a help. If you have ever read a TV or receiver manual, you will know they are not much help either.

It may be something quite simple, but at this point I really don’t know what else to do.

Oh yes, I spent 20 bucks on an optical TOSLINKcable and have the TV connected to the receiver. That should have provided the appropriate audio to the receiver, but that doesn’t seem to be working either. And that’s really disappointing, because the Onkyo manual seems to suggest that the optical connection is a valid alternative to the ARC and is supposed to be used when the TV set does not have the ARC function.

That points back to the Samsung, and I have asked the technician to do a bit of research on this for me. We did go through the various sound settings on the TV and he agreed that I was unable to set the output to “receiver”, although at the time this was not a valid test perhaps, since the receiver was not connected.

As I’m writing this, the only thing that comes to mind is that the HDMI cable is not one of these magic HDMI 1.4 versions, and may be not supplying the ARC signal. On the other hand, that really doesn’t explain what the issue is with the optical connection.

If anyone it Samsung is reading this, please recognize that your material on the web, on the TV, or in the supplied documents does not help anybody solve such problems and it’s very frustrating.

Surely, Samsung should be able to write a page that says "Want to connect your Smart TV to your Surround Sound receiver? Do this or this or this." Same with Onkyo.

I've already had the Onkyo in for service. They said the HDMI board was frequently faulty, so much so that they repair them even after the two year warranty. Could that be the problem?

If I ever get to the bottom of this, I will let you know.

Oh, I should tell of a success. My PC feeds an HDMI cable to the receiver. Then I must set the reciver to the PC HDMI source and on the PC I can then duplicate the desktop onto TV. Then, I can select the PC audio output devices, see the HDMI output portion of the PC is ready for enabling, enable it and get PC audio playing through the receiver. So, I don't really have to use the Samsung Smart TV function at all, but this is a too clunky solution to the original problem.

It's a bit embarrassing, I'm an Electrical Engineer. This should all be easy for me and it is not. What do "regular" folks do to get this stuff working? I've helped a lot of people with their TV and sound systems and PC problems too. The manufacturers just don't seem to provide the info needed and don't have the sense to play nicely together.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Samsung Issues and Dodge Delight

I’m having some Samsung problems.

In late October, I bought a 65 inch Samsung smart LED TV. I bought it from Best Buy, and because it was quite expensive I decided to take the extended warranty. I don’t normally do that, but it may turn out that that was a good decision. A couple of nights ago, I was watching the Olympics and much to my surprise, the TV would repeatedly shut itself off and restart again. Now recently I had had trouble with my receiver, and I figured this was the receiver acting up again. I didn’t really want to disconnect the receiver, since it had so many speaker wires and HDMI connections, but eventually I did. I was mentally prepared to take it back for repair, for the second time. Much to my surprise however, when I connected the cable box to the television directly and turned it all on, the problem was still present. In fact it soon got worse in that the TV would cycle through its power on and off cycles with no opening logos on the screen at all. Time to invoke the Best Buy warranty.

When I called their number, I was transferred to a company in British Columbia that does their service work or at least does service work for Samsung during the first year of purchase. That would’ve made the call on Monday evening, and a very nice man arranged for a diagnostic call on Friday sometime between 9 AM and 4 PM. I didn’t like the term diagnostic call, as I really would’ve preferred a repair call, for the reason that I’m going to explain now.

It turns out that two years ago we bought a large and very beautiful Samsung refrigerator, a side-by-side door unit that at the time was their largest capacity. This was when we were doing our kitchen renovation. For two years, the refrigerator worked wonderfully. Then last Labor Day it started to give us problems by running continually. We were able to get a diagnostic call after about a week. Are you starting to get a pattern? The diagnosis was that a certain part was needed but alas the part was not in stock, and in fact would not be in stock for many weeks, until the end of October in fact. This gave Diane an opportunity to buy a second refrigerator which we put in the basement next to the upright freezer. So, after about a week without a refrigerator, we were able to struggle through but it was inconvenient.

It looks to me as if the TV will go through the same pattern. I’ll let you know.

Now it’s true that any piece of electronics can go through what is called an infant mortality issue. Failures occur in modern electronics either very early in their life, or very late in their life when their normal lifetime comes to an end. If you draw a graph, it looks very much like a bathtub. Lots of failures early, then along period with a very low failure rate, followed by the end of service life rise in failure rate. The thing is, I’ve gotten very used to having consumer-electronics simply not fail. Oh, I should mention the refrigerator had two problems, one of which was an electronic problem, the other was a mechanical part. I think the same statistical issues apply.

On a more positive note, my Dodge 2005 Caravan has given me very few service issues. However, this week, at 103,000 km, it did need a brake job. This would be its first brake job. New front rotors and pads were needed. However the rear drum brakes only needed a little bit of cleaning and adjusting. As you can see, I’m pretty easy on the brakes. I tend to avoid high speeds, and leave lots of room between me and the vehicle ahead. That’s something I wish everybody would do, not just in the winter, but all around the year because it tends to allow everyone to get where they’re going a little faster. It’s also a lot less stressful.

I’ll provide an update when I know a little bit more. Until then, I’ll have to struggle along watching the older 50 inch Samsung rear projection TV in the family room seated on my wife’s new La-Z-Boy sofa, the one with the electric motorized recliner. Life is tough...