Archive for the ‘Microsoft’ Category

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Brilliant Germany, Hapless Brazil or a Bit of Both?

July 9, 2014

Vista busy cursor  It will take Brazil a long time, if ever, to get over their 7-1 World Cup Semi Final mauling by Germany.

Brazil built up the game to be all about passion, emotion, riding the fans’ wild support and “doing it for Neymar”. While about it they seemed to entirely forget about discipline, shape, organisation, patience, control. The Germans couldn’t believe their luck. Thomas Muller was quoted after the game saying every time the Brazillians got the ball they rushed forwards with it and left the Germans masses of space to get at their defence on the counter.

Taking nothing away from the Germans, they were awesome. Movement, passing, vision, pace. Wonderful. But not 7-1 worth of wonderful without a lot of help from their opponents. Would that German side have stuck seven past Costa Rica, who got to the quarter finals while only conceding one goal (penalty shoot-outs aside)? Costa Rica don’t have stars or flair players but they know how to set themselves up to be solid and competitive.

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Brazil have been shown up as not that great. They do have some decent players but got further than they deserved thanks to the incredible local support, occasional bits of brilliance from Neymar and moments of luck. Without their two best players, with the weight of expectation upon them and up against a very good team they were unmasked as not up to it. Worse, their over-reliance on emotion rather than organisation allowed the Germans to start sticking the goals in, and the realisation they were undone broke Brazil’s spirit so that they went utterly to pieces and the flood-gates opened.

 

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Hasta la vista, Windows 8

February 13, 2014

Vista busy cursor  It is odd to think that I started this blog nearly 7 years ago because Vista had just come out and I was struggling with it as an early adopter. 

These days I just run Windows 7 on my home PC (and use it on my work laptops) and otherwise barely give Windows  a second thought. Windows 7 is fine, it works and is pleasant enough to use.

There is no way I would go anywhere near the debacle that is Windows 8. Vista was bad enough and I don’t need aggravation for the sake of it. Microsoft appear to have lost their way so badly with Windows 8 that they may never recover from it. I’ll move away from Windows 7 when absolutely forced to and not a moment sooner.

Whereas my Vista-related pain was first hand, I am aware of the ongoing Windows 8 saga from tech news on the Internet, and I do still listen to Windows Weekly with Leo Laporte, Paul Thurrott and Mary Jo Foley on the TWiT podcast network. More out of habit than because I particularly care. Certainly not about Windows 8. I don’t have an Xbox or Windows Phone. So why do I keep listening? I guess the show still has its moments, although the interminable conjecture about who would be the next Microsoft CEO has merely given way to interminable conjecture about what Satya will do to take the company forward.

Puts me in mind of the joke about the old woman on a plane driving everyone mad with incessant loud whingeing along the lines of “Boy, am I toisty!” … “I am so toisty” … “Boy, am I toisty!” until a fellow passenger calls the stewardess and persuades her to get the woman a glass of water. The latter takes a long swig and everyone on board breathes a deep sigh of relief, until …

“Boy, wuz I toisty!” … “I wuz so toisty” … “Boy, wuz I toisty!” etc etc

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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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How to Press your TV into Service as Video Podcast Player

October 21, 2012

Vista busy cursor  Acquiring a TV that can connect to my home wifi, more specifically a Samsung Smart TV, has proven to be transformative.  Surprisingly so. I finally have a proper solution to a problem that has been bugging me for a long time, namely how to watch video podcasts on an HD TV. That is, as opposed to on a phone, tablet or computer, and as conveniently as if I were watching normal broadcast programmes.  It’s not that I spend a lot of time watching video podcasts; currently I only watch three shows a week. Still, when I do take the time to watch them I want to do so in comfort and with a minimum of hassle.

Before arriving at the complete solution, there were a couple of false starts.

False Start 1 – Laptop and HDMI cable

Our Samsung Smart TV, bought for the master bedroom to replace a dying cathode ray TV, was not our first HD TV. We had already acquired a 42″ Toshiba TV for the living room, albeit not a Smart TV. My first attempt at “lean back” podcast viewing involved hooking up my laptop’s mini displayport, via adapter and HDMI cable, to the Toshiba TV, having used iTunes to download my video podcasts to the laptop over the home wifi. This setup did work, in the sense that I could sit back in my armchair and watch my podcasts on the TV, but it was hardly a slick solution, the downsides being:

  • It was not trivial to get the laptop (running Windows XP) to recognise the TV and send a video signal to it
  • The TV would cut out when I closed the lid of the laptop! If I left the lid open I could see the video in two places and found that disconcerting. After a fair bit of Googling and messing with the Windows settings I did manage to cure the problem
  • I was forever having to use the TV’s own remote control to switch the picture size to “native” (as opposed to, say, “wide”) otherwise parts of the picture would get cut off
  • I had no remote control for video playback! I was effectively using my TV as a PC monitor so found myself having to use the mouse for play/pause/rewind, etc. The HDMI cable was too short to allow me to use the mouse from the comfort of my armchair, so I had to get up to pause the video if the phone rang.
  • I couldn’t really leave the laptop on and connected to the TV the whole time, so whenever I wanted to do some video podcast watching there was the faff of booting the laptop up, connecting the cable up, often having to wait for my shows to download and then having to disconnect it all afterwards.

False Start 2 – Android phone and MHL cable

When the Samsung Galaxy SIII was announced, one of the features that caught my notice was Allshare Cast.  It allows you to mirror the phone’s display on the TV in real time, although you have to buy a specific Samsung accessory, a wifi dongle that plugs into the TV. This sounded like the ideal solution for my video podcasts, but I had by then already upgraded to a Samsung Galaxy Note which does not support Allshare Cast.  The Note does, however, support HDMI out, or at least MHL over micro USB which amounts to the same thing. The bottom line is you can still mirror the phone’s display on a TV provided you get the right cable and adapter. A cheaper solution than Allshare Cast but the phone has to be located close to the TV, because of the cable, so again I was missing my remote.  The beauty of Allshare Cast would have been that I could have kept the phone with me and used it, effectively, as a remote.

I had the idea of trying to use my old Android phone, an original Samsung Galaxy S, as a remote. I looked for apps that would allow me to control the Galaxy Note from the Galaxy S. The obvious choice would have been Droidmote, but that requires root and there is no way I was going to take a chance on rooting a Galaxy Note right near the start of a 2-year contract.

I also tried a curious app called Tablet Remote from Tournesol which uses bluetooth for inter-device communication and a custom keyboard on the “controlled” device to implement the transmitted commands without need for root. It is a bit of a fiddle to set up but did work very well for a day or so. Then the bluetooth connection started generating errors and there was no recovery from that.  I did have a dabble at writing my own Android apps to do something similar but have parked that since I now have a satisfactory solution.

The solution – Samsung Smart TV, Allshare and Juice

I bought the Samsung 22″ 1080p TV because I needed a new TV, not because I had a fix for my podcast problem in mind. And I bought a TV with Internet connectivity simply because more and more new models are offering this and there seemed no sense in investing in older tech just to save a few coppers. In truth, I was not sure what the benefits of a Smart TV really were. Very likely a lot of people buy Smart TVs because they are the “latest thing” but then just proceed to use them with broadcast TV, satellite or cable, which is what they are used to, without ever taking the time to explore the additional options brought by Internet access. Samsung do at least recognise this by featuring a very large, colourful and conspicuous button, right in the middle of the remote, to activate the “Smart Hub” screen. It just begs people to ask “What the hell’s that button for?” and maybe give it a whirl.

In my own case I have made considerable use of the Samsung’s Smart TV capabilities but it is not really the Internet access that made the difference. Wifi connectivity to other devices in my house has been the key to my podcast viewing, allied with support for the DLNA protocol. Samsung don’t refer to DLNA explicitly – they use the Allshare brand  – but it is just their own implementation of DLNA. Clearly they want you to buy lots of Samsung devices and connect them up using Allshare, which is understandable to a point, but this goes against the grain of DLNA which is all about ensuring interoperability between devices from different manufacturers for sharing of video, images and audio content over wifi.

The specifics of my podcast solution are as follow:

Source device

I have my video podcasts downloaded automatically to a selected folder on my desktop PC running Windows 7. Should anyone be interested, the shows I currently follow are from Leo Laporte’s This week in Tech (TWiT) network, namely “All About Android“, “Before You Buy” and “Know How“.  They all come out weekly and the latter two are available in HD.

Podcatcher software

I’m using the Juice application, formerly known as iPodder. It looks a bit old-fashioned and clunky but it works very well.  I have it set up to delete the files automatically ten days after download.

DLNA broadcast software

Surprisingly, all you need is Windows Media Player. If you activate the sharing feature, and include the relevant folder in your media library, then WMP will act as a DLNA server, making the files in that folder and its subfolders available for consumption by any DLNA client on the same wifi. Interestingly, I couldn’t make WMP recognise files sitting within the Windows “My Documents” tree, which is where my iTunes  music and videos are located. That meant I couldn’t use iTunes as my podcatcher unless I changed the default iTunes folder and moved all the content across. It was easier to use Juice and pick a download location that WMP could access.

Accessing the video content

Even with the WMP application window closed, the DLNA service is running in the background. I can then press the bright, cube-shaped Smart TV button on my Samsung TV remote and wake up the Smart TV functionality.  From there it is a matter of navigating to the Allshare icon, selecting it and navigating to the “videos” option. My DLNA-enabled desktop PC appears in the list of sources.  I select it and navigate to the folder with my content and select the show I want to watch. It buffers very briefly then plays perfectly.  Beautiful quality, no stuttering.

Remote control

I now have not one but two remote options. I can use the Samsung TV remote to play, pause and FF/FR in 15 second steps.  Unfortunately the 15 second interval is fixed. I can though navigate to any part of the show by using the “tools” button on the remote then selecting “time search”.

An even better option is to use my Galaxy Note as the remote. If I launch the Allshare app on that I can again select the desktop PC as source, navigate to the show I want and then launch it directly from my phone.  I am presented with a dialog box asking whether I want it to play on the Note itself or send it to the Samsung TV for playback.  If I choose the latter, it plays perfectly on the TV as before but I can now use the Galaxy Note as the remote. The advantage is that I get fine control of playback navigation.  Instead of the 15 second forward/back, or the slightly clunky time search, I can navigate within the show to the second by swiping on the Note’s screen.

The upshot is that my podcasts are just there, available to be watched on my Samsung TV, very shortly after each episode is published. No faff, no hassle and I have full remote control for comfortable “lean back” viewing. Heaven.

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Six weeks with the Galaxy Note and I’m in Love

April 1, 2012

Vista busy cursor  Well it has been six weeks since my Galaxy Note arrived but I was hooked after 6 minutes. I really do not care if reviewers think it is too big for day to day use as a phone. The display is gorgeous. Performance is way better than my old Galaxy S and so is build quality.

The size is noticeable but does not stop me enjoying the phone. It fits in my jacket or trouser pocket. The worst it gets is that it can be a bit uncomfortable in my trouser pocket if I am tying up my shoelaces or sitting in the car. In the latter case I just leave it on the console while I’m driving.

People complain you can’t use it one handed. I can, just about, with care, but very rarely need to. I was well used to using my old Galaxy S with both hands anyway. I prefer to use it that way.

All in all, the downsides to the size are way more than offset by the benefits. I think all the furore about the size comes from iPhone users who have been conditioned by Apple to regard a 3.5″ screen as the “right” size for a phone and have never had the experience of living with anything bigger. It is not an Apple product and Apple does not offer anything comparable so they feel obliged to make fun of it. People who actually try the Galaxy Note tend to fall for it. The 5 million sales in 5 months show there are enough people who have cottoned on to how good it is.

The big wins for me are:

Video – the screen size and quality mean I can really enjoy films or video podcasts very conveniently, say on the train or a plane, without having to worry about bringing a full size tablet or setting up a laptop.

eBooks – the Note’s screen is only a little bit smaller than say a Kindle Keyboard, and just as easy to read.  Even in bright sunlight because the screen can be turned up very bright, and all from within the Kindle Android app. I have a Kindle Keyboard but no longer really need it.

Note taking – is for real, not just an excuse to give the phone a catchy name. I use the S Pen a lot more than I expected to. On my recent cruise I was using it to take screen caps of the ship’s GPS position on Google Maps and annotating the map so I could identify where my pictures were taken and suchlike.  I used it to take and organise notes at port lectures before each port of call.  And more mundane things like handing the phone to fellow passengers so they could write down their email address for me.

And all the attention the phone gets from other people. No-one bats an eyelid at an iPhone any more, but people get excited about the Note.  This ranges from waiters in the bars on board ship to security staff at airports. The final leg of my journey home was a BA flight from Heathrow to Manchester and I was using the BA Android app to display my boarding card.  This meant handing the phone to BA staff who tended to want to play and ask interested questions before handing the phone back.

The Note is a winner and deservedly so. Say nay to the nay-sayers.


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Taking Note of the Galaxy

February 12, 2012

Vista busy cursor  Just a few days ago I had more or less resolved not to upgrade my end-of-contract Samsung Galaxy S, instead hanging fire until the rumoured Galaxy SIII is on the market, something which will probably not happen until the summer.

But I have started to come to the view that there is a truly great option available right now, the Samsung Galaxy Note. When it was first announced I dismissed it as a curiosity, an oddball device for a very niche market. Somewhere between smartphone and tablet and with, of all things, a built-in stylus reminiscent of my Windows Mobile devices of old.

I may have been too hasty. The Note is creating quite a buzz. People who actually spend any time with it seem to fall in love.  It is not the stylus (sorry, S Pen) that is of particular interest, thought it might be useful for occasional quick note taking.  It seems to be the fabulous screen, just big enough to make browsing, watching video and reading e-books a delight, while still just portable enough to carry everywhere as your day to day phone and music player.  And the performance is streets ahead of anything else on the market, all with quite passable battery life thanks to the souped up 2500 mAh battery.

The fundamental question is around the form factor. Is it the best of all worlds, combining the benefits of a smartphone and tablet in a single device? Or might the opposite be true, that it is too big for sensible use as a phone while still being too small to serve properly as a tablet? The reviews from the Verges, Engadgets and TechRadars of this world all fail to give the Note a ringing endorsement. They are charmed by the screen and the performance but all feel the device is too big to fit in your jeans pocket so not really suited as a regular day to day phone.

If, though, you read the user comments on those reviews you get a different picture. People who have bought the phone seem to get used to the size quite quickly and they all think it is great. No-one appears to regret buying it.  It is bigger than typical smartphones but not too big to carry in a trouser or jacket pocket. For women it is even easier as it will fit in their purse, indeed Samsung have been quoted as suggesting they planned to market the Note primarily to women in the UK because of the purse compatibility.  Not that this will stop many men being just as keen on the Note.

My current phone contract is up on Tuesday and there is no longer any doubt in my mind. I won’t be waiting for the Galaxy SIII when I can have a Note right away.


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What nextus?

February 1, 2012

Vista busy cursor How time flies. My Android phone is eligible for an upgrade on 14 February. That’s when I complete month 17 out of an 18 month contract on T-Mobile. 

Can it really only be 16 and a half months ago that I was still using a Windows Mobile phone? Yes, I mean clunky old Windows Mobile that needed a stylus, not the new Windows Phone with its Metro interface.  I can barely remember my old HTC XDA Stellar (Tytn II).  I’m sure it’s still lying around somewhere.

My current phone is a Samsung Galaxy S, running Gingerbread 2.3.3, and I’m pretty certain my next phone will be another Android device. Well I can’t see myself buying an iPhone.  I still feel as I did 16 months ago. I think the iPhone is a stunning piece of engineering, design and software+hardware integration. But it’s a bit small screen-wise, inflexible in terms of UI and lacks other features I value such as tethering and turn-by-turn Google navigation. The worst aspect of the locked-down UI is that sliding finger keyboards (as typified by “Swype“) are not permitted on iPhones.

Don’t I need Siri? After the novelty wore off I might use it on occasion when I remembered it was there.  I’ve had a play with Siri on my kids’ iPhones. It is better than anything currently on Android (closest to date is Speaktoit Assistant) but that won’t last long.

What about Windows Phone? I actually think these are fantastic phones. They are refreshingly different and have if anything gone beyond iPhone and Android by looking for a new paradigm to supersede the grid of icons. The idea of “hubs” to integrate contacts/social networking/other services does offer something new and potentially superior. I do love the look and design of the high end Nokia Lumia phones. I steered clear of Windows Phone 16 months ago because the platform was just launching and I expected teething problems. I had no wish to be an early adopter and hindsight confirms I was right to be cautious.  But what about now that Windows Phone is past the early creakiness?

No. I really want Windows Phone to muscle its way into the market and be a major player, but I don’t actually want a Windows Phone for myself right now. I feel it is a phone that will work best for people who live on social networks, who will make the most of the integrated  hub concept.  I don’t use Facebook, don’t hang on every tweet, don’t have an Xbox, don’t use Microsoft services such as Live, Skydrive and hotmail.

I’m primarily a Google services user. I want gmail, Google calendars, Google maps and turn-by-turn navigation. I use Google+ but not on my phone. And I like to tinker with my user interface. Get it all organised exactly the way I want it.  I want to use an app like Tasker to fine-tune the phone’s behaviour. I want the Swype keyboard, which knocks all others into a cocked hat. And all of that points back to Android.

My initial temptation was to go for the Galaxy Nexus. I hate manufacturers’ insistence on trying to differentiate themselves by adding skins to the OS. Ice Cream Sandwich does not need “improving” and certainly not at the cost of being beholden to manufacturers and carriers for months while they add their skins and bloatware to new releases of Android.  The Galaxy Nexus would cut through all that, and is a fine device. But Leo Laporte put me off it a bit on “Before You Buy”. Mostly because of his rant over the pentile screen although no-one else seems to have a problem with it. I have a pentile screen on my Galaxy S and it doesn’t bother me.  Leo also objected to the soft buttons replacing traditional capacitive hardware buttons.  I actually think that is key to the concept of ICS unifying tablets/phones and may only work clunkily now because many apps have yet to be optimised for the new OS.  Still, his hostility gave me pause.

My carrier, T-Mobile, don’t offer the Galaxy Nexus in the UK. I won’t switch carrier, no-one else matches the signal strength where I live. There are third party vendors offering the Galaxy Nexus on T-Mobile contracts but I’m not loving the packages on offer.

My best hope is the Samsung Galaxy S III but that may not be out till the summer.

You know what? I’m going to stick with my Galaxy S for now, and switch to a SIM-only 30-day rolling T-Mobile contract.  I can keep my physical SIM and number and cut my monthly outlay to £15 per month. When someone finally brings out a new ICS phone worth having, that’s available on T-Mobile, I’ll take out a new 18 month contract.


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