Category Archives: Hardware

Embedding videos the old fashion way

There was a time when I embedded web videos manually by uploading the video file to a server, and then wrote some HTML embeded code on the web page to show a video.  Then came YouTube which solved one of the biggest problems which is server bandwidth, but they insisted on transcoding the uploaded file before they’d show it.  What this meant was that I had to upload at a significantly higher bitrate so that the losses will be minimized but that is a very time consuming process on a ~400 Kbps upstream connection with HD video files.

So now I’ve decided to try a little experiment using DropBox.com’s public folder feature and some HTML 5 “video” tags.  Below is a 1440×1080 video clip I encoded using H.264 High Profile level 4.0 at 2.2 Mbps for the video stream and 128 Kbps AAC audio.  The bitrate is what YouTube would probably give me for their “1080P” stream but I would have likely had to upload at 5 Mbps for a starting point and that would take a lot longer.  Using this method, the end user sees the original encoded video with no intermediate transcode step.

You must have an HTML5 capable browser.

Unfortunately, the WordPress graphical editor will screw up the raw embed code so I have to edit the post using raw HTML. Javascript apparently doesn’t support full screen. Free solutions like Video JS will support browser full screen (you still need to push F11 for true full screen) but the video doesn’t play back smoothly in Chrome. Furthermore, this still won’t work in Internet Explorer 9 or Firefox 3.6.23 which is frustrating. The good news is that the videos are easy to download, though it’s possible to download flash video (without DRM) as well using extra plugin tools.

There is another alternative which is to go directly to the download link. Opening that link in Internet Explorer will open Windows Media Player which has the lowest CPU utilization and highest chance of smooth playback on lower end devices like netbooks. That will do full screen for sure. Or we can use the Windows Media Player plugin which is really going old school, but that too has the benefit of smooth video playback, but may not work on Macs and Linux devices.

‘Pentium’ branded Sandy Bridge laptop for $268!

UPDATE 9/2/2011 – The deal is alive again.  I bought one and it is a reasonably nice screen and keyboard.

Here is a Lenovo “Pentium” branded Sandy Bridge laptop for $268! at Fry’s (Silicon Valley, don’t know about other regions).  That’s a little too good for me to pass up as my old wooden computer experiment is barely holding on from bit rot.  This thing has an Intel B940 dual-core processor that is a 32nm Sandy Bridge microarchitecture chip with all the power saving features of an i3 processor.  Hyperthreading is disabled though.  Comes with Windows 7 Home Premium license.  No HDMI port but c’mon, $268 is rock bottom prices.

Note that these deals will likely be gone in the morning so hurry up if you want one.

This should make you wonder why 10″ tablets should sell for $500, or even $400.  Those IPS displays and capacitive touchscreens are expensive now but they’ll have to come down in price as tablets push those components into the mainstream.  This laptop is obviously nowhere near as portable as a tablet, but it will make a nice luggable device that will primarily be used at home plugged in.

UPDATE – Damn it.  Fry’s reissued a Friday ad on Sunday and a bunch of people there were asking for this and they didn’t have it.

MacBook Air 2011 Model Launch Immenent

Normally I wouldn’t go out of my way to put forth a baseless prediction, but while browsing the prices I did notice that the refurbished models of the MacBook Air have all dropped by about $20, previously the entry level MacBook Air model was listed at $849 with a 15% discount. I have watched the refurbished store in the past and noticed that shortly before a product launch, the prices for a particular product would drop as a successor was released shortly there after. This would lead me to believe that Apple will probably launch a new MacBook Air right around the time of the WWDC. My only other explanation for Apple to reduce the prices of their refurbished MacBook Airs would be that the products simply aren’t moving from the refurbished market which would be something I have yet to witness from Apple.

The only reason why I am even bringing this up on this site is that after a quick Google search, I haven’t seen anyone else make this observation and thought I would try and be the first to call this prediction.  A number of other sites have predicted the next MacBook Air would be released around June/July with a SandyBridge Processor and Thunderbolt interface.  Most likely this will include an integrated  Intel HD3000 graphics chipset which will likely result in a significant boost in CPU performance all the while being inferior in 3D graphics.  Then again, who buys a MacBook Air for gaming or graphics editing?

UPDATE: Well, apparently I was incorrect in assuming the exact release date.   Hopefully Apple will refresh the model sooner than later.

The Solid State PC

A silent PC is one that makes absolutely no noise, and by necessity has no moving parts (including fans). Such systems usually use very low-end hardware limited to trivial tasks such as running a cash register. The system introduced today, a Solid-State PC (SSPC) is a powerful quad-core i5 PC which runs most software faster than the majority of modern PCs, yet uses less than 25W idle.

Continue reading The Solid State PC

MacBook Pro 2011, The Good and the Bad

Like many others, I had been holding my breath for the greatness of the Macbook Pro hoping some of the rumors where true while others were not.
First let’s take a look at the good which would be the obvious inclusion of the Sandy Bridge processor. The Core 2 Duo was aging gracefully, but still needed to be retired only to be replaced by a much speedier i5 offering two generations of performance boost over the Core 2 Duo. The immediate added bonus and probably the second most promoted item would be the inclusion of Light Peak, or as we have now rebranded it, Thunderbolt. With an interface that allows for 10GB of bandwidth across the interface, moving data to an SSD has never been so fast. In fact, I might want to run my games off of the external drive because of the speed. Also a couple of maintstays with the New Macbook Pro are the Firewire 800 port and two USB ports. We have the same Super drive without any mentioning of the BluRay drive at this time. Clearly Apple wants to distance itself from Sony and promote their iTunes store here. All MacBook Pros include an illuminated keyboard which they have for a couple of generations now. The resolution starts with the very familiar 1280×800 and moves upwards. We also include the familiar SD card slot which started with the 2010 generation of MacBook Pros  The one last good thing that I have to mention is that they have bumped up the hard drive capacity to 320 GB by default.  However, if you want to get an SSD, they are by no means any cheaper of an upgrade than they were a year ago.

Now time for what I consider the bad. The Macbook Air 13.3″ laptop has a superior 1440×900 resolution screen that makes me almost want that particluar laptop instead of the 13.3″ MacBook Pro. Also, and I personally hold Intel responsible for this, but the 13.3″ models also suffer from using Intel’s intregrated HD 3000 video card. This is an unfortunate departure from the nVidia chipsets in the last four generations of Macbook Pros. At this time, I have not met an Intel video chipset which I have liked. They are all slow performers and lack the power that I need just for my day to day operations. I may try the latest Macbook and change my mind, but I highly doubt this. I can usually tell when I am running a PC with an Intel graphics chip or an alternative.
Last and this is what I probably consider why I recommend anyone with a current Macbook Pro to stay away from this upgrad is that Apple has slashed the battery life with the new upgrade. They are now 3 hours less than the previous generation. That to me means that I might as well stick with my iPad for the long trips or try getting a different brand of laptop. -See Update.  I currently think a Lenovo Thinkpad T420 has my name on it. As much as I was looking forward to the new releases, Apple has done little to impress me and much to disappoint me.

As for Steve Jobs, please get well soon as I feel your company is beginning to disappoint me.

UPDATE: There was a bit of a misunderstanding on the battery life. Apparently the battery holds the same charge as before and the laptop has the same power draw as before, but the tests were changed.  As noted in a computer shopper review.  The battery life is the same in both 13.3″ laptops.  The new testing is that using the DVD drive during the operation of the laptop while the older test was based on “average” use.  Average use would be something akin to browsing the web or performing other low CPU intensive tasks.   I hope that holds accurate as I would hate to see newer generations of laptops moving towards power draining CPUs again.

Put the scroll bar out to pasture already!

Put the scroll bar out to pasture already!

Once you’ve tried finger based scrolling on smartphones and tablets, it makes you realize how antiquated the Desktop User Interface (UI) is, especially the scroll bar. A plugin called “Wet Banana” adds mouse drag tablet-like scrolling but it’s about time all desktop operating systems get a UI upgrade.

Update:

Actually, an alternative to implementation at the OS level is to implement this feature into the mouse driver!  The user can immediately use this in every application that supports the standard scroll functionality of the existing scroll wheel.  Windows Explorer, Microsoft Outlook, MS Word, or any application will work with a mouse driver.

The scroll wheel on the standard mouse already has two methods of scrolling in Windows.  One, you can roll it.  Two, you can press down and toggle the speed and direction of the page panning.  But neither mode is as intuitive as the Wet Banana plugin where a user flicks it in the desired direction with the desired speed to make it glide until friction stops it or until the user puts the brakes on.

I’ve asked Jedediah Smith and various operating system makers (or anyone) to create a custom Windows and/or Linux mouse driver?  Replace the traditional functionality of the scroll wheel with the exact same physics and behavior of Wet Banana.  The existing mouse driver already has the ability to control the scrolling, direction, and speed. It just needs a better human interface.  I hope someone will meet this need.

Strange PC flakiness solved

I recently had a strange problem with one of my PCs. It was acting slow and sluggish, then the RAID 1 dropped a drive out saying it was failed (I’ve used RAID 1 on all my PCs for a while now, an dI highly recommend it). I shut down, inspected the failed drive, and turned the PC back up again, and it wouldn’t boot. No matter what I did, it wouldn’t come up. The next morning, it had shut itself off, and when I turned it on, it worked perfectly fine… and then shut itself off again after about 30 minutes. Clearly, I had a heat-related issue. But I wasn’t seeing any of the symptoms of CPU overheating, like random reboots or application errors; the expected shutdown was the only CPU-heat symptom, while the rest of the problems (drive errors, for example) pointed to motherboard issues. I installed the MB tools to monitor it, and it was clear that the CPU was indeed overheating; it hit 97 C within about 10 minutes of booting! Eventually, the PC refused to boot. I ordered a new motherboard, and thanks to Amazon Prime, it would be delivered less than 24 hours later for only $3.99 S/H.

Even though I was certain I knew what the fix was, I did a quick consultation with my friend Chris Ansbach via IM. He really knows his stuff, and he pinpointed the exact cause of the problem, which is going to help me prevent it. If you need to work with someone who knows their stuff, he’s your person and I’d gladly put you in touch with him. Looking at the motherboard layout, the two bridge chips northbridge chip is are located right next to the CPU, and is both are passively cooled. Inspecting the CPU and heatsink showed the cause of the overheating. The heatsink is the stock Intel model, and the plastic clips can eventually lose a little bit of tension. While the heatsink will still be on, and feel firmly attached, it will no longer make good contact with the CPU. Meanwhile, the thermal grease gets dried up (mine flaked off) because of the heat, and its is less effective, compounding the problem. Eventually, the CPU starts to overheat. Because of the location and cooling systems on the bridges, they were it was overheating too, causing that flakiness. After replacing the motherboard, the system is working like a champ; I got very lucky that the CPU was not damaged!

So, what’s the takeaway here? Two things:

1. Motherboard design matters a lot more than I thought. From here on out, I am going to be looking for motherboards where the bridges are actively cooled, and not right up against the CPU.
2. Heatsink design matters, even in a non-gaming, non-overclocked machine. Two big things that I learned to look for: a backplate to secure the heatsink to the CPU that uses screws or some other fastening mechanism that will not loosen with time, and fan that blows up or sideways, not down; this will ensure that if the case air is hot, it isn’t making the CPU any hotter. I knew about some of the other stuff (heat pipes to elevate the heatsink away from the CPU, larger design, etc.) but these were two things that I just was not aware of, particularly the backplate.

Hope this helps someone avoid the same kind of meltdown I had!

J.Ja

Nook Color ten times better rooted

Just make sure you follow these instructions carefully.

Why is this cool?

  • Everything is way faster!  Well to be specific, it’s mainly the soft keyboard that’s way faster.  The old keyboard was somewhat laggy and annoying.
  • Full Android market
  • Should be easy to restore factory restore on 8 failed boot attempts
  • Already used apps like Wyse Remote Desktop and Angry Birds
  • Replaced launcher with free edition of LauncherPro.  So much nicer than the default launcher.
  • The iPhone showed that people want native applications (apps) instead of running everything through a web browser

How is Nook Color different from Samsung Galaxy Tablet?

  • Nook Color has superior 8-bit IPS LCD panel with better color and viewing angles.  Galaxy is a 6-bit TN LCD panel.
  • Galaxy Tablet has built-in 3G, Wi-Fi, and BlueTooth.  No 3G on the Nook Color and the BlueTooth hardware isn’t currently supported yet.  3G is not a problem for people with one of those portable MiFi hotspots which support multiple devices.
  • Nook Color has no cameras.  Galaxy has both front and rear video camera.
  • Galaxy is slightly lighter.
  • Galaxy is more than twice the price of the Nook Color.

How is Nook Color different from iPad?

  • With a microSDHC slot, you don’t get robbed on flash memory
  • Unless your name is Yao Ming, you’re not going to palm an iPad.  The 7″ form factor fits in a large pocket and it’s much easier to operate standing up or hand held.
  • Less than half the price.
  • Nook Color runs Google Android, iPad runs Apple iOS.

Update – The pigs have taken the eggs, but the kids got my Nook Color and won’t give it back.

When I get it back, will need to test the new Kindle App (Barnes & Nobles have to be rolling in their graves).  Already tested the Google Books app and it seems to work fine and it comes with a huge free library.

Issues so far –

  • I had to create a new Google account even though my YouTube account was already linked to my Gmail account.
  • YouTube App was working great initially but refuses to stay launched now.  I’ve noticed this problem on some other apps I installed.
  • Not sure why the Android Calendar and Contacts app won’t sync with my Gmail Calendar and Contacts.
  • Google Earth crashes on the splash screen and requires a forced close.

Here’s a short video of the device in action.

More observations and issues:

  • I absolutely love the 7″ device form factor.
  • I love the ISP display panel.  I mostly use it with minimal brightness and 50% brightness at most.
  • Android seems to suffer bit rot and needs to be rebooted twice a day.  The touch display gets laggy or worse, it starts clicking things all on its own.  Everything is fixed with a reboot, but it’s shocking how unstable Android is.
  • I also had to download a task manager to kill processes.  I also tried a startup manager (think of it as MSCONFIG for Android) to prevent crapware from starting up.  Problem is that the startup manager automatically kills processes I don’t want killed, like the browser so I’ve had to uninstall it.  It also doesn’t seem to prevent those processes from launching, just kills them after they startup.
  • Cut/paste doesn’t work for shit.  Copying text is a nightmare, and most input fields don’t give you a paste option.  Simple tasks like copying a URL to bit.ly and then inserting that shortened URL to the twitter app just don’t seem possible, and I can’t find a good cut/paste app for Android.
  • A lot of applications and pages in Android don’t come with a previous-page button.  You really need a physical button for previous-page on Android OS.  The physical home button is a must though a lot of devices are shunning that.
  • Despite all these problems, I still love the device.  I just wished Android wasn’t so damn buggy.
  • Can’t wait till they update the Nook Color to Android 2.2.

Rooted Nook Color with full Android here I go

Looks like the rooted Nook Color with Android 2.2 (it’s not 2.2 yet, that requires a different hack) is the way to go.  I mean where else can you get hardware equivalent to the Samsung Galaxy Tablet for $250 unlocked?  Unlocked Galaxy is $802 on Amazon!  Here’s the specs that excite me for this price.

  • 7″ 1024×600 IPS panel (178° viewing angle like iPad)
  • Capacitive multitouch
  • ARM Cortex A8-based Ti OMAP 3621 @ 800 MHz (same processor as Droid 2 and Droid X)
  • MicroSDHC slot
  • Wi-Fi and theoretically BlueTooth capability if unlocked
  • No mobile radio for HSPA or CDMA 3G, but that’s what my MiFi portable hotspot is for.

Full specs here.

Since it’s the Nook Color, it should have some fairly good continuing community support for future software upgrades. I’m going to pick one up tomorrow to play with, and Auto Nooter 2.12.15 here I go!

The limited custom Android 2.1 OS that the Nook Color came with is meant to keep you on their platform since they don’t look like they’re making much margin (if any) on the hardware.  This is some really awesome hardware for the price considering the fact that half the hardware in a smartphone would cost twice as much these days.  This is like four 3.5″ screens joined together and it’s small enough to go in a coat inside pocket.

UPDATE 12/17/2010 – So far so good.  Got the unit last night, used it 4 hours and haven’t charged it overnight, and it still 59% of the battery remaining.  I have to keep it at minimum brightness in a dim room and half brightness seems to be good in a normal lit room.  Full brightness would probably be useful outdoors (excluding directly under sun) and room near bright window.  Web browser seems to operate reasonably smooth.  Have not rooted yet.

Acer’s superwide 4.8 inch smartphone is sexy

Acer has just announced a new Android Smartphone with a 4.8″ 1024×480 resolution super-wide, and it is one sexy beast of a phone.  This form factor is as narrow as a normal smartphone can be while fitting inside a pocket.  In fact, I suspect that it’s probably not much wider than an iPhone though it is likely an inch or so taller.

Some people are suggesting that this is too wide of a form factor since the 21×9 format doesn’t fit 16×9 video format, but movies are often 1.85 or 2.35 “CinemaScope” format and that fits this display’s aspect ratio perfectly.  Furthermore, the super-wide or super-long format is perfect for reading webpages and it should reduce the need to pan and zoom.  The 1024 wide resolution also allows you to terminal server into a server with most of the desktop visible, and just a little up/down panning would make the entire desktop visible.  I’m hoping the device won’t be too expensive, but I think it’s the perfect largest pocket sized form factor a person can get.