Archive for the ‘Computers’ Category

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Driver to Distraction

November 19, 2012

Vista busy cursor  Another whinge, I’m afraid, this time about Canon and their failure to provide driver upgrades for older peripherals. I don’t want to be forced to buy replacements for ageing but perfectly serviceable peripherals, much as I can understand manufacturers wishing me to. At least there is a happy ending to this tale.

The device in question is Canon’s LiDE 50 scanner which I guess I acquired around 5 or 6 years ago. At that time I was running Windows XP. I think the driver support was there when I switched to Vista but recall having considerable difficulty getting the device to run on Windows 7. That would have been around March 2010, but I recently had the same issue again when wanting to use the scanner with a newish  Windows 7 Lenovo T430 laptop.

I remembered that on that occasion in 2010 I had been unable to install the driver from the supplied CD, tried the manufacturer’s website and discovered there was no Windows 7 driver available. I then did as anyone would (what you probably just did) and searched on the ‘net for a possible solution. What I found was that there was a Windows 7 driver for a slightly later model, the LiDE 60, which would still recognise and support my scanner.  I’m not certain where I came across that particular nugget but I still had the Canon driver on my desktop PC.  The latter originally came from here.

I thought it would just be a matter of running the SetupSG.exe file as administrator, but it simply did not run. I could see it was starting with a Winzip self-extract but the extracted driver install program would not launch and (oh so helpfully) the temporary files were deleted.  Googling for a solution brought me here. So it turns out that you have to install and use winRAR to do the extract then plug in the scanner, find it as an unsupported device in Device Manager, use the driver update utility and point it at the newly extracted driver file. The driver update hung on the first attempt, but mysteriously “took” on the second after a reboot.

I thought it would be plain sailing from there. The scanner was being recognised by the OS and was making scannerish noises on system boot up. But when I actually tried to scan an image into Photoshop it failed with the error message “The program can’t start because rmslantc.dll is missing from your computer”. Searching for a fix for that took me to Aaron Kelley’s blog. Thankfully, the remaining steps were not hard and well explained by Aaron. The scanner now works fine.

All the same, it was quite a job to get there, needing a number of steps, a lot of Googling and even more perseverance. It really should not be that hard.

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This iPhoneless Life #11 – iTunes’ Secret Agent

August 27, 2010

iPod To describe my life as iPhoneless is a slight exaggeration. There is definitely an iPhone in my life, my wife’s iPhone 4, and it robs me of sleep.

My wife is addicted to Angry Birds.  It has not quite taken over completely from reading in bed at night (I can thank the late Stieg Larsson for that) but there seems to be an unwritten rule that we have to get through at least 2 or 3 levels of the aforementioned smash hit game before calling it a night.  I am often called in to help out clearing a level if my wife is stuck on it and wants a break to read another chapter of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I am expected to keep going until every last grunting green pig has been blown to bits.


So I know all about the iPhone 4, it’s beautiful “retina” screen and gorgeous build quality. But for my own use I still have my old, battered Windows Mobile phone – an HTC Tytn II (in O2 “Stellar” livery).  It has done a job for me but now enough is enough and I want a modern phone.

Largely out of sheer bedevilment, I am determined not to become an iPhone user like everyone else in my family. And I’m wary of being a Windows Phone early adopter, much as I believe that platform holds out great promise. How could I forget what it was like to be an early adopter of Vista, when the pain of it is still faithfully documented in this blog? So I will go Android, at least for the foreseeable future, and currently favour the Samsung Galaxy S.

It was while I was checking out what the podcast client options look like in the Android world that I came across a free open source application called iTunes Agent. The idea is very simple. It makes your random non-Apple music device look, to iTunes, like an iPod. That means you can use iTunes directly and seamlessly to synchronise music and podcasts with any mp3 player or phone.  iTunes Agent has been around for quite a while and I can’t think how I missed it, particularly when I was casting around for a podcast solution for my HTC WM6 phone. As explained in an earlier post, I have a more than workable solution using iTunes for podcast capture and WMP for synchronisation, but iTunes Agent looked like a neater fix and I thought I should try it out.

I had no trouble installing and running iTunes Agent on my Windows 7 PC, and it hooked up immediately with iTunes. The difficulty I had was getting iTunes Agent to link up to my phone when the latter was connected to the PC via USB.

The way it is supposed to work is that you specify the folder on your music device where you want your synchronised music to live, in my case a folder on the HTC phone’s micro SD storage card. When you connect your phone, iTunes Agent is supposed to detect that this folder  is available on the Windows file system and therefore knows your phone is ready for synchronisation.  The limitation is that iTunes Agent requires your phone or music player to have been allocated a drive letter by Windows, but Windows was just listing my phone under “Portable Devices”. I could easily navigate through the phone’s folders and files using Windows Explorer but no way could I persuade Windows to allocate a drive letter.  And without a drive letter, iTunes Agent refused to accept any folder on the storage card as synchronisation target.

This stumped me for a while until, by dint of frantic Googling, I discovered the difference between the MTP and UMS protocols for connecting storage devices over USB. My phone naturally connects to my PC using MTP (Media Transfer Protocol) – a technology which is reckoned to offer the widest device compatibility with media players – as opposed to UMS (USB Mass Storage) which is targeted more at USB keys and SD card readers. Unfortunately Windows only allocates a drive letter with UMS devices, not with MTP.

More Googling and I found out about two applications that can be installed on a WM phone to make it emulate a UMS device and thus qualify for a drive letter, W5torage and Softick Card Export.  The former was written by a lone developer and is free whereas Card Export is a commercial product. Both were created so that you can in effect use your WM phone as a card reader.

I tried W5torage first.  It installed fine on my phone and appeared to be running, but in UMS mode my PC was not able to detect my phone at all. A quick uninstall and I tried Card Export, which is free to trial for 21 days. I took an instant dislike to the latter because it automatically added an annoying status display to my Today screen and an icon in the notification tray. It did however work. My phone now appeared as the G: drive and at last I was able to configure my phone in iTunes Agent. My HTC now showed up as a device in iTunes.

This did not though constitute a happy ending. Before going much further I was determined to rid my phone’s Today screen of the unwanted Card Export status display.  I went into the phone settings and unticked the Card Export option from the list of Today items. This resulted in my phone locking up. A reboot later and the Today Screen was free of Card Export status, but now my program icons were missing. There was clearly some clash between Card Export and the application manager software from O2 which came with my phone. Now the O2 software is lot more important to me than use of iTunes Agent – my researches in that direction were more curiosity than need – so it was Card Export that was going to have to go.

It took about 10 reboots before the phone was working normally again, with no trace of Card Export, the Today screen displaying all the right items and no lock-ups when I tried to access the Today settings.  There was a moment when I thought I was going to have to ditch the phone as a write-off, or at least restore factory settings.

That is, unfortunately, one of the most problematical issues with Windows Mobile. Lots of apps but easy access by developers to the deep innards of the operating system, which can readily become unstable as a result. I don’t know why iTunes Agent had remained a secret to me for so long but I could have done with it remaining a secret.

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Buzz Off Google

February 12, 2010

Vista busy cursor Why on earth does Google think I want my main day to day email platform (Gmail) infected with social media? I use email to …. er, send and receive emails. Why would I want the normal flow of email messages to be lost among a load of twitteresque status updates and other social media frippery from people that I may have emailed in the past?

Email and social media belong in two different worlds.  They do not go together at all.  Email is purposeful;  you use it when you need to get something done or are dealing with important information you need to keep on record.  Social media is for transient casual entertainment and amusement.  A time-waster or time-filler when you are not in purposeful mode.  So the two should be kept well apart.

That’s not to say that I have a problem with social media.  Far from it.  But social media works best when everyone uses the same platform.  We already have Twitter and Facebook, and Facebook pretending to be Twitter. Google getting in on the act just risks fragmenting the social media space when what we need is integration.

Buzz is not for my benefit or yours.  It is Google’s play for a slice of the social media market, for its benefit. It’s to my disadvantage because it fragments social media and, because they are trying to do it by getting a leg-up from the success of Gmail, it threatens to adulterate what has up till now been a perfectly good email platform.

I’d rather Gmail stuck to email.  It has in the past been in the forefront of cloud-based email with helpful, innovative features such as conversation threading.  I wish Google had just focused on improving Gmail as an email tool by starting to introduce features from Google Wave instead.  Wave was supposed to be email reinvented for the modern age.  Well, right now it is heading for oblivion because no-one will make the jump and there is no way to get to critical mass. Better to give us Wave by transforming Gmail bit by bit until it looks like Wave, and keep the users on board.  And keeping me-too Twitter features out of it.

But if Google wants to start a social media war with Twitter and Facebook it can do it without messing up my email.

Kill the buzz, NOW!

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Keep taking the tablets

January 28, 2010

Vista busy cursor I had a bit of a “Doh!” moment when I finally discovered what the iPad was all about.  It should have been obvious long before Steve Jobs’s announcement yesterday.  My only excuse is the constant reference to the term “tablet” which I associate with devices that look superficially like conventional laptops but have swivelling screens.  I have one of those but they are in general regarded as a failed concept.

The iPad is not in that space at all.  It is not Apple’s answer to the tablet PC but Apple’s answer to the netbook and Amazon’s Kindle combined.

As ever, Apple pick up after a need for something new has already emerged and others have already created inadequate products in response. Usually those early attempts by others fail because they are trying to adapt something that already exists but the paradigm does not translate properly.  The tablet PC is a prime example.  Another would be every smartphone prior to the iPhone which was some unhappy marriage of PDA type device and conventional mobile phone, often involving use of a (ugh!) stylus.

Apple won in the smartphone stakes, improving on the earlier failed attempts by starting from a different direction.  They realised that they needed a device that was all touch screen but with an interface that did not need a stylus.  And not to try to do too much. Most users want to be able to get their media on there, browse the web and access their email, but not necessarily care about getting into the gubbings or hacking the device.  If they wanted to play games or expand the usefulness of the phone they would just download applications.

Similar story with the iPad. Netbooks have arisen because many people just want to browse the web at home or do their email but don’t want to wait ages for a PC to boot up.  They don’t need to do serious gaming or video encoding so something smaller, lighter, cheaper is fine.  To date the answer has been a smaller, lighter, cheaper laptop – ie the netbook.  Another need has been the eBook reader.  The Kindle has been successful but eInk is not everyone’s cup of tea.  Low contrast, slow page turning.  The only real benefit is a long battery life.

The iPad takes the paradigm that worked for the iPhone and reapplies it to the need to date met by the netbook and Kindle.  It brings the benefits of ease of use, touch interface without stylus and quick/convenient access to the lightweight tasks (web, email, reading a book, watching a movie) that most people actually want.  It will stretch to work type things but that is not its main market.

Do I want one?  Hell no, but I do think it will be successful.

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Tweeted off!

January 20, 2010

Vista busy cursor The most annoying thing about Twitter being “over capacity” (down) is that you can’t tweet about it being down.

It’s a natural reaction. I find it therapeutic to consign my milder moans to Twitter. So my followers think I’m a grouch. That’s OK.

But when it comes to mild moans about Twitter being down I have nowhere else to go but my tech blog. And no, I’m not going to sign up to tumblr or plurk just to have somewhere to go to complain about Twitter.

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Podshifter & TWiT: Thank You Lina

January 11, 2010

Vista busy cursor Podcasts from the This Week in Tech (TWiT) network can once again be processed by PodShifter so that they take less time to listen to.

The earlier problems, explanation and plea to Lina Calabria (one of PodShifter’s backers) are documented here and here.

I can only assume that the PodShifter development team have fixed the problem as promised by Lina, in which case I would like to thank Lina for her kind personal intervention, on my own behalf and on behalf of all TWiT listeners who rely on PodShifter to help them shift their way through Leo’s ever increasing stable of podcasts.

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The TWiT Podshifter saga: A plea to Lina

December 24, 2009

Vista busy cursor I am eating humble pie after suggesting that Leo Laporte might have acted deliberately to prevent This Week in Tech (TWiT) network podcasts from being speed-shifted, using the PodShifter service, when dowloaded via iTunes.

It turns out that Leo, or his staff, did take action which prevented PodShifter working on TWiT podcasts, but that was just a side effect. The intention was quite different and entirely innocent. Leo was gracious enough to respond to my earlier post to explain it all.

Specifically, the TWiT RSS feeds were modified by adding a new iTunes feature, the <itunes:new-feed-url> tag which is described here. The tag is there to help podcasters change feed URLs, or deprecate old URLs, without breaking existing iTunes subscriptions. The TWiT feeds have started using this tag to standardise all their feed URLs. Unfortunately, because PodShifter preserves all iTunes tags when it creates the shifted podcast feeds, iTunes just follows the URL in the <itunes:new-feed-url> tag and effectively replaces the shifted podcast feed with the unshifted original feed.

Leo became aware of my post thanks to Lina Calabria of Investling who is one of PodShifter’s backers and had, presumably, been scanning twitter for PodShifter related tweets.

Lina, I have a request for you. Having tried to get my mind around this, this is my take on what should happen next. While I understand that PodShifter (to quote one of your own tweets) respects iTunes tags, that really doesn’t make any sense in the case of the <itunes:new-feed-url> tag. People only use your service because they actively want a speed-shifted version of a given podcast. By preserving that tag you are causing them to get a normal speed podcast and so thwarting their wishes.

PodShifter should not ignore the <itunes:new-feed-url> tag, rather it should use it, if present, to identify the correct URL of the podcast to be shifted. This is in keeping with the spirit of the tag because it resolves issues over changed or deprecated URLs, which is why the tag was introduced in the first place.

Having thus updated the target URL, if applicable, PodShifter should work its speed-shifting magic in the normal way but NOT then pass on the <itunes:new-feed-url> tag. There is no need, because the purpose of that tag will already have been realised in the updating of the URL prior to shifting.

That way, the benefit of the tag is not lost (and in that sense it is still “respected”) and the end user still gets a shifted podcast to listen to, which is what they were trying to achieve. So everyone wins.

So what do you say, Lina? Could PodShifter customers have this change as a XMAS present? Please bear in mind that right now it only seems to be affecting TWiT, but Leo may just be quick off the mark. As more podcasters discover the use of the new tag the more PodShifter users will find their podcasts delivered unshifted and the vast majority will be at a loss to understand why or to do anything about it.

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