Saturday, April 8, 2017

Great Place to Have Camera Gear Repaired

A few months ago, I wrote about the incredibly crappy customer service that I got from Nikon.  I am a "Nikon Professional Services" member, and you would think that I might get some kind of respect or service as an NPS member.  You would be laughably wrong. 

I had just bought a used Nikon lens and wanted to know if this was a "US" lens that Nikon would repair if need be.  Nikon refused to tell me.  They told me that I would need to send the lens in to one of their repair facilities in order to get the answer to my question.  Ridiculous!

I just discovered a facility in Culver City (thanks, photo forums) that repaired a Leica and Canon lens for me.  I was thoroughly impressed by their communication and service, and so I recommend them here.  If you have a Nikon or Canon lens or body that is either "gray market" or "US-warrantied", I am pretty sure that Steve's Camera Repair will be able to service your lens or body, with speed, efficiency, and quality. 

Here's their contact info:

Steve’s Camera Service Center
4355 Sepulveda Blvd
Culver City, CA 90230
www.stevecamera.com/contact

Monday, February 27, 2017

Products With Bad Batteries: Don’t Make the Mistake of Buying Them

-->

 I've been meaning to write a post about batteries for a while.  I think about this theme every time I use a product where the manufacturer has gotten cheap and used low-quality batteries -- and the product is dead, useless because of the cheap batteries. 

If a manufacturer makes a good product, that product will contain high-quality rechargeable batteries that hold a charge for more than a few days, even several months. 

On the opposite end, I've bought too many products where cheap, low-quality batteries have obviously been used.  These items end up showing their low quality.  When you need to use them -- they aren't there for you.  You therefore have to keep these tools or gadgets on the charger all the time, and they eventually cost you a lot more than products with high-quality batteries.  

My biggest disappointments have been Garmin nuvi GPS units, which seem to be made of very low-quality components.  Oh, how can I forget laptops from HP and Asus, which make me tear my hair out when I use them?  

Here's a list of some products and their makers where the batteries would go dead after being unplugged from the charger for just a day or two. 

I've been increasingly surprised and disappointed at the low build quality of my Garmin nuvi units.  A 1350 model that I bought five  years ago is no longer usable, as it will not accept my finger touches on its touchscreen.  It is maddeningly unusable.  I bought this for my wife, who treats all gadgets with great care.  (From my Amazon order history, I see that I bought a StreetPilot c330 GPS Navigator back in February 2008.  We've come a long way). 

The new 2595 LMT model that I bought last year has a very mediocre battery life, losing its charge completely after just a day or two.  It's evident that Garmin has cut corners by putting crappy, inexpensive batteries into its nuvi units.  These batteries will lose their power if they are sitting in the car for just a couple of days.  A device with a better quality battery will hold its charge and power on after sitting for one or two months, maybe more.  C'mon, Garmin.  Your GPS units cost a lot, and surely you can put higher-quality components in them. 

The only device that I've ever had damaged while traveling was a Garmin, which suffered a cracked screen when I had to check in my rolling carryon.  None of the four smartphones in that carryon got damaged, nor did any of the four hard drives suffer any damage.  I've never had anything else in my carryon or checked baggage break, after 30 years of traveling.  Well, I am sure I have, but that would have been my fault -- and I can't remember. 

One of my biggest disappointments was trying to use iPod touches as a music player when swimming laps.  I bought FOUR iPod touches in all, selling all of them.  Every one of them would lose a charge if I let the iPod sit for more than a day.  The iPod were devices from hell.  If I sat them on my desk and looked at them every day or week, they'd keep a charge for over a month.  Once I was satisfied that the battery was OK in the iPod, I'd seal it in the waterproof pouch for swimming the next day, and when I'd be in the pool ready to use it -- SURPRISE!  The iPod had run out of battery power.  I f***ing hate Apple iPods.  They are over-designed, with batteries that are too thin. 

Surprisingly, the iPad mini 2 that I have works just fine and seems to hold a charge for several days.  The iPad 2 and 3 that I owned before this mini worked fine for two years or so, and after that, their batteries would not hold a charge for more than a day or so. 

Be careful of buying used Apple iPod touches and iPads.  They are overdesigned, and they use very thin batteries that probably only have a life of two years or so. 

On the other hand, I've recently bought four-year-old used MacBook Pros and Airs, which still have good batteries, and are simply awesome machines. 

I had an Asus Nexus 2nd generation tablet that was even worse.  The battery in this otherwise fine tablet can't sit for more than 12 hours before it loses its charge. 

I have four Windows 7 laptops that do various tasks around the house, such as serving as a Windows Media Center DVR.  The Asus is a real piece of s***.  This Asus laptop was the most expensive Windows 7 laptop I ever bought.  It had fine specs, so I thought that I was getting a great deal. The touchpad has never worked right.  I started using it seriously for a while, had to buy a separate mouse to use it.  The battery dies almost instantly -- it won't hold a charge.  Then the hard drive starting giving me problems.  Even worse, when the hard drive started acting up, I got a mysterious message from the Asus laptop (well, I guess I have to blame Windows) and chose the wrong option, erasing and reformatting the hard drive.  The hard drive did the same thing a week later. 

My HP Envy laptop worked for a year, but then the battery on it died.  The battery would not hold a charge.  I bought a replacement battery on Amazon, which was just as bad.  Don't buy a battery from Amazon seller ZTHY TECH. I bought the battery in August 2016, but it's going to be too much trouble to rip it out of the Envy and ship it back.  Oh, and the HP Envy's hard drive died within the first week of purchasing it.  After a huge amount of hassle, HP took the laptop and replaced the hard drive (something I could have done easily myself).  The hard drive that they put in started acting up a year later, and I had to replace that one too.  The Envy is now in storage, as is the Asus. 

I have an MSI laptop, and a Fujitsu laptop.  Both are inexpensive Windows machines with i3 processors.  I think that the MSI laptop's battery is bad now.  Who knows about the Fujitsu.  I am wondering what the hell I was thinking by buying four Windows laptops.  At least they are Windows 7 machines. 

My LG G3 phone has such a large screen that it sucks up the battery.  I loved my G2 phone.  The G3 phone is ridiculous, and a real disappointment.  Maybe the battery is high quality, but the engineers who designed this phone did not put enough thought into it.  If I am driving and using an app like Waze on the phone, it sucks up so much power that the phone will steadily drain EVEN IF I have a charger attached to it!  As a result, the phone is almost useless. 

Finally, I've now built up a collection of eight vacuum cleaners across our main home and our summer home (and several storage areas).  The newer Black and Decker handheld vacuums that state they have lithium batteries are great and will hold a charge for weeks:
Black & Decker HHVI320JR02 Dustbuster Cordless Lithium Hand Vacuum

I bought an old B&D Dustbuster that has to be plugged into the charger all the time, and is therefore useless.  The Eureka 96HX Quick-Up Cordless 2-in-1 Stick Vacuum had the same issue and is retired.  Lastly, if you are looking for a small handheld vacuum, definitely get one with a battery (and a good battery).  I bought the Eureka 71B EasyClean Corded Hand-Held Vacuum, and I just never used it because of the hassle of having to hook up the cord.  I use the newer Black & Decker cordless vacuums all the time, and they are great tools for all kinds of things (like cleaning the dust out of my computers), rather than useless objects rotting away in storage. 


Before my readers say that all I do is complain, I would like to point out some super awesome products that have only been great. 

My Panasonic wireless phones. These phones are amazing.  I can walk 50 yards from the base unit and still hear people talking on them clearly.

Most of the Panasonic gadgets that I've bought in the past 30 years are still working. 

My Macbooks (and other Macs); all 2012 or 2013 models, are simply awesome machines.  If you are buying a used Mac, note that Mac laptops will show the number of battery cycles if you call up the System Profiler.  

My small 2000-watt Honda generator: I had to use this for two days during a power outage.  It powered two refrigerators, ran a microwave and espresso machine, charged all my phones, and powered my MacBook Pro for 12 hours on half a gallon of gas.  

A paired set of Makita tools -- a drill and nut driver -- that I bought from Home Depot during a Black Friday over four years ago.  The batteries that came with this set hold a charge for a year or more.  Just fantastic quality.  

My 3-year-old chocolate labrador retriever, Moose, has an all-day battery that recharges in 5 minutes and goes all day, all the time.  I expect his battery to last 12 to 15 years.  


Monday, February 6, 2017

Getting "Live file system repair is not supported" Errors When Using WD Hard Drive with Mac

I've used dozens of hard drives with my Macs.  I highly recommend the OWC
NewerTech Voyager S3 hard drive bays, where you can put a bare hard drive into the bay, which then works with Macs or PCs through USB 3, Firewire, or eSATA. 

Here's an example:
https://eshop.macsales.com/shop/NewerTech/Voyager/Hard_Drive_Dock

I use the S3 USB3.0 dock with my Macs, and they work great.  They are fast and reliable. 

I bought a WD 3tb desktop hard drive a few months ago, and I've had a really difficult time getting it to work with my Mac.  I tried transferring files to it all weekend, and for one reason or another, the transfer process would get interrupted about 4 hours into the process.  The drive would not act right -- I could not open it to view files, or it would show that no files had been transferred, or I could not eject the drive. 

I had to restart my Mac three times and tried reformatting the drive, and checking its health, using Disk Utility.  This took all weekend, a real waste of time. 

I kept getting the message "Live file system repair is not supported".

****
Forums on the web showed that this many other folks have the same problem.  Here are some quotes:

https://discussions.apple.com/thread/5739421?tstart=0

Force ejecting the drive, shutting down and restarting provides a temporary fix (Disk Utility checks out the drive fine) but the problem comes back on a regular basis now.

I am also now seeing this problem after upgrading to Maveriks (sic). Time Machine stops working with an external USB drive (Seagate) and Disk Utility can't repair the drive with the error "Live file system repair is not supported".

I just thought I would share my solution. I was having the same issues, but I turned off file sharing and it repaired the drive with no issues. Once it was done I turned file sharing back on.

+1 for turning off Sharing.

****
I figured that this drive was defective, which was surprising.  Western Digital's drives are generally considered to be very reliable. 

I ran WD's Mac-based "WD Drive Utilities" app on the hard drive.  They never used to have an app like this for the Mac, so I learned something today.  It showed that the drive was fine. 

I did not believe this, so I took out my Windows 7 laptop (an HP Envy that has caused me a lot of trouble, more on this later) and ran WD's "Lifeguard Diagnostics" utility on the drive.  The quick tests showed that the drive was fine, so I ran the 6- hour sector diagnosis.  Six hours later, I got the message that all sectors on the drive were fine. 

From the forums above, I had seen the note that turning off file sharing in System Preferences had worked.  I doubted this and never tried it (because I've had File Sharing on when using dozens of other drives and never had a problem), but I stumbled onto this possible solution:

In Disk Utility, partition the drive as Mac-journaled (this is what I did, other formats may work)
Select the drive and choose Get Info (cmd-I or File--.Get Info). 










The Get Info window for the drive will appear.  I've never see this before, but under General: there is a checkbox and the words "Shared folder."  I unchecked the box, and I am hopeful that this solved this bizarre problem.  We shall see; I am two hours into a cloning operation and it is fine so far.  We'll see in three hours. 

Here's another thing I found:

So, if you have a disk greater than 2TB you cannot have Disk Utility format the boot sector as an MBR type (i.e. MBR would be grayed out).  If you must have an MBR formatted disk drive you will need to purchase a 2TB or smaller disk drive.
(MBR formatting is an option when partitioning hard drives; it allows the drive to boot up Windows machines). 

Super Awesome Internet and Wifi Devices

My friends know that I spend way too much time trying to figure out how to get Internet access when I am on the road, camping; or at my summer house in Washington State. 

Here are two devices that I've tested a great deal and can recommend highly. 

TP-Link CPE210 2.4GHz 300Mbps 9dBi High Power Outdoor CPE/Access Point: about $57 at Amazon


https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00E8BWQPE/ref=ox_sc_sfl_title_9?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=A4UCFL9LU89NR

This TP-Link router picks up someone else's wifi hotspot from 100 yards away or more.  It's a WISP router, meaning I can pick up a Comcast Xfinity hotspot from a neighbor's house, and then turn it into my own wifi hotspot with a different name. 

Comcast has blanketed the US with wifi hotspots.  Most folks with Comcast internet become unknowing and unwitting broadcasters of Xfinity hotspots.  When I am on the road or at my summer house, I use this TP-Link router to get an Xfinity signal from a neighbor across the water or from a far-away RV park hotspot, and it is plenty fast.  Not enough for streaming video, but good enough for everything else I need to do. 

Folks are using these TP-Links with their RVs, also setting up two of them to talk to each other, supply a remote cabin up to a mile away from the main house with internet. 

This is not very portable, so I only set it up if I am going to use it for a few days in the same location.  It is an incredible tool for picking up wifi signals from far away that you can then use.  (I am a Comcast subscriber at our main home, so have a username and account that I can use with their Xfinity hotspots). 

******
 I've been using the Freedompop free cell phone and cellular hotspot services for three years.  Freedompop really gives free cell phone and hotspot service -- but you have to be aware of the "gotcha's" and disable things like their premium services, which adds charges. 

Freedompop's customer service through Twitter messaging has been GREAT.  I've received better customer service in the past month through them than I've ever had from just about any company.  That's either saying a lot -- or maybe it's sad that I am getting such poor customer service from all the other companies that I deal with. 

I have noticed that a Samsung Galaxy S3 phone, with Sprint's 3G and 4G network, has not been working as well as it did.  I believe that Sprint's 3G network might be getting less attention from Sprint and degrading in area and quality.  Sprint's 4G network seems to be getting better, but the area it serves is fairly small compared to Verizon's.  

I recently bought a FreedomPop Netgear Zing hotspot.  This device takes a cell phone signal (4G) and lets you access the internet through Freedompop's (Sprint's) cell network.  I have been very happy with how fast this hotspot works, at my summer house, which seems to be on the edge of Sprint's 4G network.  This wifi hotspot uses cell data and is plenty fast.  I get 500Mb of data to use monthly with this hotspot for free; I have not opted to pay for the 3G fallback data.  

The Netgear Zing hotspots always show low battery and no power warnings; but despite the warnings, they have been working fine.  I will have to see how long they last.  I've only had one for one month; but I've been so  happy with it, that I bought another.  Freedompop has been selling them for $20.  The Netgear Zing hotspots DO have 3G fallback capability, from what I could tell -- but that costs $3.99 per month.  Using the hotspots only in 4G mode is free, if you only use up to 500Mb of data per month. 

https://www.freedompop.com/offer/netgear-zing-free-trial?ftm_source=google&ftm_medium=cpc&ftm_campaign=Shopping-US_WIRELESS_SPRINT:US:ALL:SRC:KWD:DTM&ftm_placement=-&ftm_term=-&ftm_network=search-g&ftm_content=112646612479-1o1&ftm_adgroup=NA&ftm_device=dto&ftm_devicemodel=&gclid=CIrW2Pjx-dECFUNafgod_DIHmA

Using Freedompop is free but you need to know how to turn off the gotcha's. 


Saturday, January 14, 2017

VLC for Android as a Music Player -- How to Play Songs Continuously, Icons and Controls Explained

I converted a cheap Android phone to use as my music player, when swimming.  I bought a waterproof pouch that allows me to use waterproof earbuds, and the combination is pretty great.  I have pretty good control over the touch interface through the waterproof pouch.  I taped a small square of packing padding over the inside front window of the pouch, which pulls the front of the pouch away from the touchscreen of the phone enough so water does not mess with the controls. 

I use VLC on the Android to play my folders of mp3 files.  I used to use an iPod Touch, but the battery life on the thing was terrible (while sitting, not while playing).  I had perhaps four iPods, and all of them would die after sitting for two days.  I tried copying all my music files and folders to another iPod, and it took a day of research and five hours to simply duplicate all my music from one iPod to another.  I am done with iPods. 

With my Android phone, I just copy my music folders and files to a micro-SD card, and that's pretty much it.  Boom -- duplicate music library on another phone. 

I chose VLC to play my music folders, since it could choose a folder on an SD card and play all the music files on a folder.  Recently, I'd choose songs in a folder (not a playlist) and get stuck -- VLC would only play the one song, then stop.  This was a hassle.  I did some research and discovered that no one out there has fully explained the controls for VLC's audio interface, nor how to make all the songs in a physical folder play continuously. 

The phone that I use for swimming has VLC version 1.7.5, an older version.  I describe using VLC version x below. 


VLC v1.7.5: How to Play All Songs in a Folder (Not a Playlist) Continuously, Without Stopping After Every Song.

I have my music mp3 files in folders on my computers, making it easy to put folders of music on CDs and SD cards.  These are physically separated into folders, not organized into playlists on the phone -- which VLC can do. 

To play all songs in a folder continuously, so every song plays one after another without stopping until the last song in the folder, do this:


Go to the folder level of the SD card.  In my case, I open VLC, then using the menu icon at the top left of VLC (three lines), I choose sdcard (rather than Internal memory, since I've stored my mp3 files on an SD card).  Then I choose the topmost folder, which contains all the folders of mp3 files.  I called this "Music SD card".  Once in that topmost folder, I see all my folders (usually albums). Choose "Play" from the three dots to the right of the folder you wish to play.  Once you do this, the folder will open, and you can choose any song in the folder to start playing. The songs listed in the folder will then play in succession.  If you just choose the folder of music files and then choose a song in that folder, without choosing Play at the upper level first, then the song you choose will only play once, then the music player will stop. 




Now, if you press the bottom of the VLC player, you will bring up a small inset screen that allows you to scrub through the song while it is playing, pause,  jump ahead to the next song, or go back.  I've encountered these symbols and icons before, so I don't describe them. 

There were a couple of icons that I've never seen and did not understand.  Here's what they do. 

Here's the folder of music files, with the song presently playing "opened" at the bottom:


You'll notice this icon, or symbol, at the right of the widget player:





What the heck does this do?  I could not find an explanation anywhere.  I searched for quite a while, and experimented with my phone.  By pressing this icon, you can change the icon to black, and then the number "1" will appear inside the arrows, in black again. 

Here's what I think this icon does.  I believe that this icon controls playlists -- so this icon does not do much for me, since I don't use playlists.  I'd rather just organize my music files physically, in folders on an SD card or computer.  Regardless, here's what this does:


1.  Orange means that this icon is turned off -- the playlist will not loop, or play itself over and over again. 

2.  Black means that loop is turned on -- the playlist will play over and over again, continuously. 

3.  Black loop symbol with 1 digit in it: plays a single file over and over, so you hear the same song that you selected over and over. 

I experimented with this icon in the pool, without knowing the above, trying to get my folder of music to play all songs continuously.  It took quite a while to figure out what the loop icon meant.  I just selected one song in a folder, had it play -- so it was the only song in the playlist.  Selecting the black loop, with or without the number 1 in it, meant that the same song played over and over again.  See, the playlist only consisted of one song!

What do the two crossed arrows at the left mean? 

If black, the next song in the playlist will play. 
If orange, the music player stops after playing the current song. 

Again, these are playlist controls, so I am not real sure.

I discovered some more updated symbols that VLC uses, which do the same thing as the above:

This website had some explanation of what VLC does when used as an audio player:


http://hqandroid.com/vlc-for-android-beta-the-swiss-army-knife-of-multimedia/


You can create your own playlists by selecting a song to start off with and then clicking ‘append’ (found in the drop down menu) on every song you want to add. In the same way that you can change the song order of albums you are able to do the same with your custom playlists. VLC will also remember the last playlist you created, so that you don’t have to keep selecting the songs every time. It also has the same extra features that the video player offers: change the playback speed, add a sleep timer and jump to a certain time in a track.

******

Another phone that I use as a music player has VLC 2.0.6 on it. 


With this version of VLC, playing all songs in a folder makes more sense.  Just find the song in the folder that you want to play, and choose "Play All" by selecting the three dots to the right of the song. 






Friday, January 13, 2017

Another Website Hall of Shame: Best Western's Website STINKS

Want to get irritated?  Try booking a room at the Best Western website.

You'll find a room.  Then, as a member, you will have to endure not only checking a box stating that you are not a robot, but having to choose among several images as to whether those squares are street signs.  What is a street sign anyway?  Does a sign on a street qualify?  How about a real estate sign?

OK, you can do this.  Now you notice that each time you click login -- the password that you just filled in gets replaced with the website telling you to re-enter the password.  You do this three to six times, more if you are like me.

Oh, and I did not get this in the screenshow capture, but at several points in the process, the "prove you're not a robot" captcha comes up again, demanding an intelligence test from you.  Over and over again.  Arrgh.  

You can never get in.  The website is insane.  You book a room at another hotel on a website that actually is not annoying and make you scream and destroy your computer, such as hotels.com.

video 

Hey, yes, I stay in Best Westerns sometime.  They are great to stay in, when in Australia.  And in certain places on the Oregon coast, they are the only places that allow me and my dogs.

Oh, as it turns out, I was entering the wrong password.  I use 1Password to manage my passwords, so I think BW changed it.  I did call BW customer service, and they said that they have been having problems with the new site.  But of course, the agent had no idea what I was talking about, since she never used BW's website.  Why is it that us customers out here generally know more about a company's offerings and websites than the company's own representatives? 

Here's a link to the old site, where I was able to figure out how to reset my password.  I hate it when companies change their websites.  They never seem to do enough testing.

http://book.bestwestern.com/bestwestern/selectRoom.do#




Sunday, January 8, 2017

AT&T U-Verse Modem/Router Combination -- YES You CAN Host a Web Server Behind It

In the past years, I had both Comcast cable Internet and AT&T DSL service to my home office.  Both Comcast and AT&T offered a public or externally-facing IP address.  With this IP address, my clients (almost never more than two at one time) could access web pages that I served from a Mac Mini behind a router.  I could also access and control IP security cameras, and I even served up a simple Filemaker database showing my video clips.  Comcast gave my service a pretty permanent IP address; whereas AT&T's DSL service changed my IP address pretty often, perhaps twice a week.  I used the dyndns service to let clients access my webserver where the IP address changed often -- you can read more about it at dyndns.org. 

About nine months ago, I changed to AT&T U-Verse service.  AT&T has been trying to kill off their old DSL service over copper lines.  The nice things about the old DSL service is that you could buy a DSL modem, and then use your own router behind that modem.  The same thing applied to Comcast's cable internet service.  I highly recommend using your own router, regardless of how you get your internet.  You'll have to get a modem to decipher the internet signal from Comcast, AT&T, or Verizon -- but your router will then do the important stuff.  Having a router that you can configure easily is important. 

With U-Verse service, AT&T forced me to use their own modem/router combination.  I wasn't very happy about this, but I had no real reason to serve up my own web pages any longer.  Like most folks, I have a web hosting service that serves up my web pages.  The problem is, sometimes I'd still like to have my Filemaker database up for clients -- and having a web hosting service host my Filemaker database(s) is more complicated than doing it myself with a Mac Mini behind my own router. 

Over the past nine months, I halfheartedly researched the web and tried some testing to see how I could get my Netgear router to work behind the U-Verse router.  I could not find any answers to my questions.  I finally had time this past week to troubleshoot the situation.  Here's what I learned for sure: Yes, you CAN put a web server behind an AT&T U-Verse router and access it from outside.  Yes, the AT&T U-verse internet IP address is public, and it is forward-facing -- so someone typing in your IP address can reach your webserver. 

Here's how to do it.  I have an AT&T U-Verse modem/router, model Pace 5031NV.  I connected my normal Netgear router with an Ethernet cable to LAN port 1 on the AT&T router.  I then reached the setup page on the U-Verse router by typing 192.168.1.254. 

The U-Verse router is unexplainably slow to respond, but not terrible.  I went to Settings -- Firewall --> Applications, Pinholes, and DMZ.  I saw that two devices were connected to the AT&T router, under "Select a computer."  One of these was my Netgear router.  Any router attached the U-Verse router will have a confusing name; I only recognized that my router was named as such because I had given it a username when I used it with Comcast; and the other computer attached to the U-Verse router was my Mac Mini, named as such. 

I then chose the Netgear router, and chose the button called DMZplus mode at the bottom of the screen.  This states: Allow all applications (DMZplus mode) - Set the selected computer in DMZplus mode. All inbound traffic, except traffic which has been specifically assigned to another computer using the "Allow individual applications" feature, will automatically be directed to this computer. The DMZplus-enabled computer is less secure because all unassigned firewall ports are opened for that computer. 






Basically, DMZplus mode lets all traffic flow through the U-Verse router to my Netgear router.  This is exactly what I want. 

In the Status page for the U-Verse router, I can see that my device allows all applications through my Public IP. 

That's all I needed to do! I had already set up port forwarding in my Netgear router, so that my Mac Mini served up web pages through port 80.