Category Archives: Tips

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.

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

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

Stay away from Cruz e-Reader

Out of curiosity, I picked up a Cruz e-Reader from Fry’s for $160 this morning because it looked interesting with a 7″ 800×600 display running Android 2.0.  This device is apparently tied in with Borders bookstore and it doubles as a cheap Android tablet device.  After about 1 minute after I turned it on, I decided to seal it back up in the box so that it can be returned.

As a side note, the Black Friday sale at Fry’s Electronics stunk this year.  Nothing good in the processor memory section with no combo deals.

So what’s wrong with the device?  Well the chassis actually looked and felt nice with a rubbery non-slip surface in the back and it had an SDHC slot as well as decent speakers.  But it was completely ruined by the unresponsive performance of the user interface.  Tapping took forever to recognize and the scrolling was extremely choppy just about anywhere you went.  Yes I realize it’s positioned as an e-Reader, but I expect a bit more from a color device.  I didn’t even bother testing the video playback capability because the sluggish user interface was a nonstarter.

I’ve already got a 7″ Telechip 8902 based Android 2.1 tablet with 800×480 resolution being shipped to me and I expect a decent experience based on this video review (Telechips device form MP4nation.net was garbage, don’t bother).  Yes I realize it’s not nearly as nice as a Samsung Galaxy 7″ Tablet with 1024×600 resolution (which feels good in the hands and has a very responsive user interface), but the generic Telechip tablet is $430 cheaper and doesn’t require a data plan.  I’ve already got a MiFi for 5 Wi-Fi devices so I don’t want another data plan.

UPDATE 1/5/2011 – I ordered the Telechips based 7″ tablet from MP4nation.net and it took 6 weeks to get to me.  Then it came with a European AC power adapter which means I’ll have to buy another EU to US connector to use it.  The USB charging doesn’t work with any of the chargers I tried.

Biggest problem is that Android Market is broken on the device.

Device is far more sluggish than showed in the video and the resistive display requires a lot of pressure to make it work.  Screen surface doesn’t feel good rubbing, and the front edge feels too sharp that it is uncomfortable to hold.  It’s also a lot thicker than the Nook Color.  The back feels like cheap plastic instead of the rubbery grip on the Nook Color.

BlackFriday deals that you don’t have to wait overnight for

I’m going to be updating this post as I find more things that are interesting.

For the people who depend on mail order, NewEgg has some good stuff (via bfads.net).  Here’s a sampler.

The NewEgg Black Friday sale begins tomorrow (Wednesday – 11/24) at 1pm PST (4pm EST). A few high notes from the flyer:

Yes I know there are full blown 15.6″ laptops at Walmart for under $200, but you’ll likely have to camp out all night and risk getting trampled in the morning so I’m disinclined to recommend trying for those unless you’re a starving college student with more time than money.  $70 2TB hard drive and a $90 20″ display just seems too good to pass up if you’re looking for those things.

Best SDHC USB card reader for $3

These are simply the best USB SDHC card readers at any price because it’s the fastest reader I’ve measured, and DealExtreme sells it for $2.99 (free but slow ~3 week shipping from China).  I was able to measure read speeds of 22 MB/sec and write speeds of 11 MB/sec using a cheap 16 GB class 6 SDHC card from A-Data.  At these prices, I ordered a several extra just to hand them out as cheap but really cool gifts.

Deal Extreme SDHC USB card reader SKU 6858

Image credit: DealExtreme.com
I hope they don’t complain about the image usage since they’re getting free advertising here.

I also got one of these all-in-one 3.5″ media readers for $5.32 and they were terrible.  Not only was it incredibly slow (we’re talking 4 MB/sec read speeds), but the drivers aren’t stable and it “disappears” from Windows Vista.

Problem with UltraFire WF-502D flashlight

I just received this UltraFire WF-502D flashlight from DealExtreme (SKU 04314) in the mail. This flashlight battery compartment is simply too short.  When you put two batteries in it, you can’t even screw the back lid on. Furthermore, the on/off switch was broken but that was the least of its problems even if the on/off switch worked.

This flashlight was $20, but it is extremely powerful.  The two high capacity 3.7 volt Lithium Ion rechargeable batteries (SKU 20392) that I bought have 8.88 watt-hours of energy each.  Two of these batteries almost have the same energy storage capacity of the Apple iPad which is pretty amazing.

Now it’s quite possible that these extremely high capacity batteries happen to be on the large-side because they barely fit in the charger, and the flash light might have erred on the small side.  Combine these two facts and we have a situation where the flashlight can’t accommodate these batteries.

I just issued a defective item claim at Deal Extreme and I hope they send me a good one.  I’ll update this post when this issue is hopefully resolved.

Updated 9PM – DealExtreme support has responded and said I can mail the item back to a US based address in Florida.  They’ll cover shipping if it’s less than 30% of the defective item (which in this case it is).  They’ll ship a new unit when they get old one back.