Friday, September 22, 2017

Adding a Bluetooth Keyboard in Windows 7 - When Standard Instructions Don't Work

I have a few bluetooth keyboards lying around, some four years old or older.  I've never really had the time to use them much, and the pairing process was almost always a hassle.  On one of my laptops, an MSI machine running Windows 7, I spent over an hour trying to get a bluetooth keyboard to connect to the laptop -- finally realizing that the laptop did not have Bluetooth!  The MSI is about four years old, and it's astounding to think that the manufacturer did not put in Bluetooth on the machine.  Sure enough, though, I looked up my machine on the web, and discovered that it likely did not have Bluetooth. 

Windows 7 machines are awful about telling you, quickly and simply, if you are connected to a good wifi signal or not; if your wifi is on or not; if you have Bluetooth capability or not.  I have four Windows 7 laptops, and most of them have a function key that turns wifi on and off, but looks like a Bluetooth symbol.  One of the laptops has a function key that turns both wifi AND Bluetooth on and off.  For all my machines, if the function key has been used to turn off wifi or Bluetooth -- then it's impossible to turn wifi or Bluetooth on any other way, such as through Windows. 

It's ridiculous. It should be far easier to figure out if wifi or Bluetooth are available on a machine, and if they are turned on or off.  It should also be FAR easier to select a wired Ethernet connection for internet access, or a wifi connection.

On to my recent experience.  I pulled out one of my dusty Bluetooth keyboards (a Motorola keyboard, designed to be used with Android phones).  I spent a good 30 minutes trying to pair the damn thing with Windows the usual way:

  1. Turn on your Bluetooth device and make it discoverable.
    The way you make it discoverable depends on the device. Check the device or visit the manufacturer's website to learn how.
  2. Select the Start button  > Devices and Printers.
  3. Select Add a device > select the device > Next.
  4. Follow any other instructions that might appear. Otherwise, you're done and connected.
Your Bluetooth device and PC will usually automatically connect anytime the two devices are in range of each other with Bluetooth turned on.

As usual, the instructions from Microsoft did not work.  I continually got a window that looked like this, but the window flashed by in an instant, too quickly for me to enter the code shown, and then I'd get an error message.  I tried the above directions about a dozen times, and even pulled out a Samsung keyboard and tried it.  The other options in similar-looking windows that appeared did not work either.  I even progressed to the point where I was allowed to enter a pairing code, but the Windows machine never showed what I was typing on the keyboard.

I've previously added and used Bluetooth keyboards on Macs, iPads, and another Windows 7 machine, so I knew that it could be done.

After numerous attempts, I discovered a site that gave an alternative method:

Here's what they suggested, and this worked easily:

In short, instead of following the usual pairing instructions, right-click on your device and select Properties.  Check the box for drivers, and the driver should download.  After that, your keyboard should work with your Windows 7 machine, no pairing needed!

Here's the instructions from the website:
To start, open up the Control Panel, and go to “Hardware and Sound”. Select “Add a Bluetooth device”:

When Windows is searching for your Bluetooth devices, put your keyboard into pairing mode (press the button). When it shows up in the list, don’t double click it! Instead, right-click on the keyboard device and select “Properties”:

In the window that opens, “Keyboard Properties”, wait a couple seconds for the services panel to load. Once it has loaded, check the box for “Drivers for keyboard, mice, etc. (HID)”. Click on “OK” to close the window.

Windows will load the drivers for your keyboard. After everything settles down, your keyboard should be working with Windows. Try typing characters into Notepad, to make sure it’s working properly. Congratulations!

I also discovered another website that gives similar instructions on how to connect a BT keyboard without pairing:

1. Right click on the Bluetooth icon at notification area and select “Add a Device”.
2. If the keyboard is not discoverable, press and hold the Bluetooth Connect button located at the back of the keyboard.
3. When the keyboard is found, right click on the keyboard and select Properties.
Add a Device Properties

4. There will be a checkbox “Drivers for keyboard, mice, etc (HID)” under Bluetooth Services. Check it and click the Apply button. Wait for the installation to complete and then only click the OK button to close the window. 

Read More:

 I had the same problems as this website describes! 

Here are some of the problems which I’ve encountered when trying to connect a bluetooth keyboard to Windows 7. The Bluetooth keyboard is discoverable but then fails to connect with the error “Adding this device to this computer failed” with two different error messages:
Adding the device failed resulting in an unknown error. The reported error code is: 0x80004005. Contact your device manufacturer for assistance
It took too long to add this device. Devices usually stay in discovery mode for only a short period of time to prevent power drain. Try adding the device again.
Read More:

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review of Lawn Sprinkers and User Guide to a Gideon Two-Port Water Timer

I (well, not me but a gardener) put in new topsoil and grass on the side of my summer house in Washington state.  I've never done anything lawn- or garden- related before, so this was a new experience. I was stunned at how much water I had to use over the past six weeks. 

For new grass growing from seed, you are supposed to keep the top 2 inches of soil moist at all times.  I had to do this for the past 6 weeks.  I started by watering manually, then experimented with a bunch of different sprinklers.  The side lawn was pretty much rectangular except for a part at the end.  It was difficult for standard, cheap oscillating sprinklers to cover because tree branches hung over the center part of the lawn.  The lawn was about 60 feet across and perhaps 15 feet wide.

The best sprinkler was a pulsating sprinkler, an old Melnor that the previous owner left me.  It was all plastic, but it worked great -- you could adjust the feathering, the distance, and the circular area that the water would cover.

I let the water from one hose go through a "Melnor XT Mini-Turbo Oscillating Sprinkler with One Touch Width Control & Flow Control, and Rotation".  This is a "different" looking sprinker, and it has what Amazon calls "4 Way Ultimate Adjustment."  It was just OK, but better than other sprinklers.  I could adjust the width, distance of the spray, and how far the watering pattern would go back and forth -- but it was a finicky unit.  I spent hours getting the unit to work just right, and it would still leave dry spots of soil right in front of it.  The best part of this small unit was that the water could pass through it to the above Melnor pulsating sprinkler.  Using both of these let me water just about all of the new lawn. 

I tried other sprinklers and was disappointed.  I tried two different (inexpensive) oscillating Gilmor sprinklers from Lowe's and had to return both of them.  The Gilmor sprinklers, including a Melnor pulsating plastic sprinkler, would not work if connected in series with one hose.  My water pressure was fine, and the Melnor XT Mini-Turbo (what a ridiculous name) worked just fine.

To get the very final section of my lawn watered, I bought a "Melnor XT Turbo Oscillating Sprinkler with One Touch Width Control, 2 Way Adjustment."  I could adjust the width and "back and forth" pattern of this sprinkler.  This one also had dry spots and was not perfect, but I did get it to water the area that I wanted.  Instead of placing it in the center of the lawn, I had to place it on the side, because the water pattern always went off to the side (on the return stroke) rather than evenly on the sides of the sprinkler as you would expect.  I put this sprinkler on a separate hose, from the same water outlet.

I then bought a Gideon Two-Port Water Timer and set the timer so the bottom two sprinklers (on their own separate hose) starts at 6PM for 20 minutes.  Then the top sprinkler starts at 630PM each day for 20 minutes, watering the top of the lawn.  This way, each "section" of sprinklers gets the full water pressure available while it is on.

The Gideon timer has been working fine for a week.  I did look online for a user guide but there are none to be found, and the website is really sad.  It seems that the manufacturer is just a distributor of gadgets; no user guides at the website.  I've scanned the user guide for anyone who needs it; here it is.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

PUMP YOU UP! Ways to Pump Up Your Inflatable Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP)

I bought a Tower inflatable Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP) a couple of years ago.  It's a great, fun thing to use in the water.  I am not a master by any means, but I can stand up on it and paddle a while.  It tracks fairly well and moves well through the water.  I enjoy it more than my heavier West Marine Pompano 120 Sit-On-Top Angler Kayak -- which is a really nice kayak (more on this later) but weighs 60 pounds, and being so long and inflexible, is cumbersome. 

Paddleboards, at least in warm weather, are just more fun than kayaks.  I enjoy having contact with the water, and being able to jump off the paddleboard and climb back on.  My chocolate Lab, Moose, loves sitting on the paddleboard -- it was incredibly easy to train him to sit on there. It's pretty easy to get him onboard when he swims up (he does require firm assist from me to get up); the worst part is when he scratches my tender areas when clawing his way up, or when he shakes the water off himself -- no one likes getting sprayed by water! It's hard to get him to leave.

I've found that paddling while standing is a bit hard, but do-able even with Moose onboard.  I usually play around, however, by simply sitting on the SUP with my feet facing forward, as if I were in a kayak.  For some reason, paddling this way does not kill my back -- whereas when I am in a kayak, my back quickly starts hurting unless I have a seat for support.  I also paddle on the Tower SUP while kneeling. 

One nice thing about the Tower SUP is that it is inflatable, and it is light.  I can deflate it, and take it anywhere, even in a small car.  It weighs 26 pounds, and even inflated it is relatively easy for me to carry the SUP under my arm, over my shoulder. 

Here's what I recommend for inflating a Tower inflatable SUP.  I've spent hours figuring out the best way to pump up my Tower SUP, and my recommendations below should work for any inflatable SUP that is rated for a pressure of 10 to 15 PSI. 

Tower supplies a hand pump for its inflatable SUP (I bought the Adventurer 2 package).  Forget using the hand pump.  Trying to inflate your SUP with the hand pump will lead to exhaustion and back spasms.  The only good thing about the hand pump is that it will inflate the SUP to the proper pressure -- which is a pretty high pressure.  Tower states that you cannot possibly overinflate the SUP by using the hand pump, which is likely true.  This is because pushing on the hand pump gets progressively more difficult as you approach the target of 10 to 15 PSI. 

I tried the hand pump and gave up after pumping away for 20 minutes and barely seeing the SUP rise.  I then bought an electric pump and a foot pump from my local Walmart.  Neither of these worked, because all pumps are rated to different PSIs.  The electric and foot pumps that you will find in retailers like Big 5 and Walmart are generally for pumping less than 1 PSI, and will work only to inflate swim toys.  My Tower SUP (supposedly) needs to be pumped up to 10 to 15 PSI, so that it is absolutely rigid. 

I started researching online, and there are electric pumps made to inflate inflatable SUPs, and have a rating of 15 PSI and higher.  They are generally in the $100 to $150 range.  My concern was both the price and the fact that these pumps generally require 110V AC current to work.  I want to be able to drive to a river, and pump up my SUP in a wilderness area without any electricity around.  I could use a pump that works off a 12V DC source like a car battery.  Those pumps, too, cost over $100. 

I started foraging around in my garage and discovered that I had an old foot pump from an inflatable Sea Eagle Kayak (it's for sale, unused BTW).  I love foot pumps.  I love them because they pump a high volume of air, can pump up to a high PSI, and you can use them anywhere -- they don't require a car battery or AC current as a power source.  This foot pump is called a Bravo 7.  It had the right connector on it (a Halkey-Roberts twist-lock valve).  I am able to pump up my SUP with this Bravo 7 foot pump in about 10 minutes, maybe less.  It is not hard at all. 

My first pump, the one from Sea Eagle, broke after a year of light use (the side material separated from a clamp).  I bought another one at West Marine for $30:

I used the first pump with my SUP for the past year and had no complaints.  I had been pumping air using the Bravo 7 until the foot pump would just not pump any longer.  I was probably stressing the pump, finally causing the flexible material on the pump to separate from the clamp holding it to the pump.  My SUP was nice and rigid, but not quite as rigid as it could be.  I took a pressure reading, and using the foot pump, it was only inflated to 2.5 psi.  Again, I was perfectly happy using my Tower SUP inflated to 2.5 psi. 

After the pump broke, I had the time to do more research.  I discovered that the Bravo 7 pump only inflates to 5.8 PSI.  Amazon has a listing for a Bravo 9 pump, which seems to pump up to 4.4 psi.  West Marine has two other Bravo foot pumps.  The Bravo 2 is only rated to 2.9 psi.  Their Bravo 10 is rated to 11.6 psi and costs $70...I think.  I am not sure which is the "heavy-duty foot pump" for $70, and why the "medium-duty foot pump" is $75.  These pumps, from the photos on West Marine, don't seem to come with a Halkey-Roberts connector either.  It would be easy to transfer my old connector from my ruptured pump to a new one (the hose diameter would have to be the same) but still...

I did not want to spend $70 on a pump that might fail.  I did not want to spend $100 on a pump that required AC current.  I eventually bought this $18 adapter:

Electric Pump Valve Stem with torque tabs "Patent Pending" for FAST Inflation with Wakooda and Halkey Roberts H3 Inflation Valves

This is simply a Halkey Roberts H3 valve that has a Schrader inflation valve on it.  Schrader valves are the same kind of valves found on car tires and most bike tires.   I already have a portable tire inflator that works off my car battery (BTW, I’ve found that these draw an incredibly high current, well over 10 amps, and won't work when connected to AC 12V power adapters, battery chargers; and will fry the fuses if connected through a cigarette lighter adapter inside the car). 

I connected an inexpensive Campbell Hausfeld tire inflator unit to this Wakooda Valve and it worked great.  It pumped my SUP up to 5 psi in about 5 mins (after the SUP was already at 2.5 psi using foot pump).  I don't think I need my SUP to be 10 psi but might try that.  Using a higher quality tire inflator would probably inflate the SUP to 5 or 10 psi even more quickly.  Anyone using a power inflator like this should keep a very close eye on the pressure, as it will be possible to blow the SUP up past its pressure rating very quickly.

Here's what an Amazon reviewer wrote about another inflator valve:
The gauge is somewhat flimsy and I don't really use it, but the adapter is a perfect fit for my inflatable TOWER Paddle boards. I now use my air compressor to inflate the boards firm to the touch (< 10 minutes), and then only need about 20 more strokes with the high pressure hand pump to achieve 10+ psi. WARNING: be careful with an air compressor, it's easy to over-inflate once you reach the pressure zone.

Kayak choice:
I still like my kayak.  It allows me to go much faster and farther than I can on my SUP (I am not very good at using either of these vessels).  I did a lot of research and chose my present West Marine Pompano 120 kayak based on the following Amazon review (thanks, Amazon reviewer!).  Here are some excerpts from that review:

Perception Sport Pescador 12 Angler Kayak review from Amazon:
"...This kayak is by far the best deal on a high end kayak out there's one of the few kayaks out there that is at a price point that let's starter's (sic) and people on a budget get into the sport but at the same time is such a high quality and nice yak that you don't realy ever need to upgrade from it ..

"...The best thing about this kayak is that it is actualy (sic) a re-named 2008 Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 with a different label and actually built by the same company as the Tarpon 120. ...

"...this is because Wilderness systems/Perception are owned by the same company which is confluence water sports...instead of throwing away the mold for the old Tarpon 120 they re used it with the Perception brand calling it the "Pescador" and are selling it for almost half the price as the Tarpon 120...

"...West Marine also sells this kayak occasianly (sic) and will match any competitor's price...west marine also sells another kayak that is made by confluence that is identical in design to the tarpon 120/pescador called a "pompano 120"....comes with nice accessories like anchor system,extra rod holders,scupper plugs etc but unfortunatly does not come with the nice pescador seat..."

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

USPS used my photo of a great white shark for the artwork for one of their new shark stamps

Always happy to see my photos being used, although not always willing to toot my own horn -- USPS used my photo of a great white shark for the artwork for one of their new shark stamps:
@USPS to issue #SharksStamps:

The real thanks always goes to the dive operators and shark experts, in this case the Solmar V staff and crew, and Lawrence Groth (one of the real pioneers of shark diving at Guadelupe and the Farallon Islands).

Also, National Geographic Australia recently published one of my African wildlife images.  It's funny, since this is one of the few of my African wildlife images published -- lots of competition!:

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Thanks to Auto Repair Shops That Trust Their Customers

Precision Auto Care
274 West Main Street
Woodland, CA 95695 

Dear Sirs: 

On Thursday, June 1, I was driving my Honda Odyssey from Washington State to my home in Monterey, California.  My power steering went out in Dunnigan, and my AAA insurance agent recommended your repair facility.  

Your receptionist took my call and very helpfully allowed me to speak to one of your mechanics, Hector.  Hector talked me through the issue, and with his help and expert opinion, I decided that I could risk continuing to drive all the way home, rather than stay overnight to have your facility repair the power steering pump the next day.  Indeed, I made it home without the power steering working, and the problem was indeed a faulty pump. 

I want to thank you for having a great policy in place, so that you would allow one of your mechanics to talk to a stranger who needed an opinion.  It saved me from having to stay overnight in a strange town, and finding a hotel that would put me and my dogs up overnight -- which would be incredibly difficult.  The fact that your mechanic took the time to spend three minutes on the phone to go over some basic troubleshooting saved me a huge amount of hassle and time. 
I had called my usual auto facility in Monterey first, and despite being a customer for over 20 years, they would not stick their necks out to help me make a decision, nor allow me to speak to a mechanic.  The guy who answered the phone knew me, knew that I was a customer of 20 years, and had enough knowledge to help me with the issue.  However, citing insurance liability, he told me that he could not tell me much, and he did not tell me enough to allow me to make my own decision. 

I am thankful that there are still some service facilities that are willing to help out a driver in need.  No thanks to my auto repair guys in Monterey, who I am very disappointed with (and when I complained to the owner, he seemed more concerned that I was criticizing his guy on the phone, rather than the fact that his policy was terrible). 


Norb Wu
Norbert Wu Productions

Saturday, June 24, 2017

One Tube of LifeSeal Sealant Stays Fresh for Ten Years

I have about 30 types of glue and sealant in my garage.  I've had to use these tubes of stuff for anything from creating a surf housing out of plexiglas, to fixing a hole in my boat or drysuit, to the usual home maintenance stuff. 

Recently, I had a small job sealing a hole in my house.  I found these three tubes of sealant that I had used over the past 10 years.  I had used all these tubes of sealant about 10 years ago, then sealed them up and never used them again.

Of the three tubes, only BoatLife Life Seal was useable.  This is great stuff!  It had not hardened at all around the cap, so I could use it immediately.  It still worked just fine.

The other two products, GE Silicone II and DAP Auto/Marine Sealant, had frozen up completely.  I cut into the bottom of the tubes (you can see this in the photo), and they were solid.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Alternatives to Comcast TV and Internet

I cut the cable TV cord at my Washington State summer house and put up an antenna.  It gets the five major networks, in really nice HD.

I also stopped using Comcast for my Internet at my WA state summer house.  The blog post below describes the options anyone might have if they want to stop using cable Internet for a while.

A neighbor near my Washington State summer house recently wrote:
"I've had enough of Comcast and all thier bull s***. I ca'nt find anyone who offers internet out here.
Do you have any ideas on how we can get internet?."

I wrote back:

I had enough of Comcast too!  ...

I have some solutions for you, but what has worked for me may not work for you. 

First thing was getting rid of cable TV and putting up that giant antenna.  It gets all five major networks, which is fine with me.  However, it is getting stations from 30 to 42 miles away, and it cuts out during low tides.  The TV signals travel across water better.  I am bringing a new TV antenna (smaller) that I've just had good luck with here in Pacific Grove, where I am also fed up with Comcast.   I want to test it against the giant one.  (Conclusion, the giant antenna works better than the one I tested in PG). 

That leaves internet.  You told me once that you streamed Netflix.  That could be a problem, because streaming video takes up lots of data.  I've been getting by in Olympia by using and buying cell phone data from Verizon and Sprint networks.  AT&T and T-Mobile cell networks don't work well at my place.  I have 500Mb of free data on every Freedompop hotspot and phone that I carry with me, and I have about four of them.  But those all together are only 2.0Gb per month. 

I used to get by just fine for a few weeks in Olympia with just 2Gb per month, but it's been getting harder and harder to do so.  A lot of these computer and tablet manufacturers automatically upload updates to, for instance, an iPad -- and those updates might be 1.5Gb in size.  That's most of my free allotment right there.  Web pages are getting more and more dense with data. 

I have written about Freedompop and their free phones on my blog.  They actually really are free, and I bought two wifi hotspots from them recently for $20, and they work great.  But you have to be really careful with them or they will getcha on data overages (but there's a setting where your data just turns off if you go over a certain amount).  They use the Sprint network.  I get Sprint just fine at our Olympia house but I also have an unobstructed path to the water to where I put the hotspots.  They are the kind of service that will getcha unless you are careful and know all the rules. 

Here are some of my blog posts on Freedompop:

I bought an iPad with a Verizon modem, that I use as a wifi hotspot, because the data plan is good and Verizon's network is strong at our house.  I will buy 1Gb or 2Gb of data at a time, which is about $25 per month.  That data expires after a month if I don't use it. 

Both Verizon and Sprint have unlimited plans now (again).  Verizon has been losing customers and so is trying to get back customers.  Now might be a good time to get a cell phone and an unlimited plan with Verizon, perhaps.  If you get service with Verizon, make sure to buy a phone that allows  you to use the phone as a wifi hotspot.  I am not sure if Verizon allows this or has a fee to do so.  You could do the same with Sprint.  If you get a phone with a big data plan, and can use your phone as a wifi hotspot, that might solve a lot of your problems (unless, again, if you stream a lot of videos).  One hour of video streaming can use up 500Mb to 1Gb of data. 

If you get a cell phone as a wifi hotspot, I have various routers and repeaters that can take that signal and spread it around your house, if you need a stronger signal. 

Cell data, however, is super-expensive compared to cable internet from Comcast or AT&T.  Luckily, here at PG, we have the choice of both.  I may go with Comcast for 12 months, then switch to AT&T for 12 months.  That makes me a "new" customer every 12 months with the other company, so I call in after 12 months and get a "new customer" deal.   I just switched from AT&T, and they gave me something like 200Gb of data per month with their internet service.  I probably used 60Gb of data or more each month that I was with AT&T, which is way more than Verizon or Sprint would allow me to use.  I can get by with just 2Gb to 5Gb of data at Olympia each month because I don't watch videos online (I use the TV antenna) and I am real careful not to allow updates to my laptops or ipad.  I update those items when I get to a place like a hotel, or home, where I have truly fast, near-unlimited data. 

When I switched back to Comcast in March here in PG, they promised that my TV service would remain exactly the same.  I've had the same service with them for years, called Limited Basic, around $30 per month.  After the switch, I got a bill, and suddenly there were all these new, unannounced charges.  Broadcast TV fee $5 monthly.  DTA fee for each TV, $4 to $11 per month depending on whether you want HD.  Installation fee.  Incredible, fraudulent!  I got so mad that I've now gone through three TV antennas and over 30 hours of walking around my property and two roofs trying to get the best signal.  I finally found a good antenna that gets the four major broadcast networks, and am looking forward to telling Comcast to f*** off next year.  However, I will still need to get internet from somewhere, and will probably switch to AT&T for a year. 

For Olympia, I am happy living with few bills and not having to deal with Comcast.  Their customer service in Olympia was ridiculous one time.  They would not allow me to return their box, and keep my TV service going for another week.  I had to throw a hissy fit before they took the box back .  It was their damn box, I did not need it to view TV programming over their cable, and they would have charged me if I did not return it.  They were arguing that I could only return the box the day that I cancelled TV service with them. 

How about satellite internet and TV?

PS: I see this Freedomspot Netgear Zing:

I have two of these hotspots.  They work well but always give battery error warnings -- but still work.  $20 for one of these is a good deal, as long as you don't sign up for any BS plans -- just the free plan.