Archive for the technology Category

DVD player in Windows 10

Posted in Computers, software, technology with tags , on June 12, 2016 by marksun

Recently learned that Windows 10 does not ship with a DVD player and that an upgrade to Windows 10 kills DVD playback.


Microsoft stopped DVD support in Windows 8 and continues in Windows 10. The reason are patent protections for key software components:

  1. MPEG-2 decoder.  A manufacturer must pay $2 per copy of this software.
  2. Dobly digitial audio:

You can get around this by using VLC as a player.  This may also be the case with apple whose video players do not carry a license for Microsofts old .msi format.  VLC is a free open source cross platform that circumvents patents by an interestering assertion:

Patents and codec licenses Neither French law nor European conventions recognize software as patentable (see French section below).

Therefore, software patents licenses do not apply on VideoLAN software.

VLC contains the following:
libdvdcss – find and guess keys from DVD to decrypt it
libaacs – advanced access content system


Ed Bots article:


This link is somewhat self explanatory.  It describes hacks to copy library and a keys database files to VLC’s production directory to enable Blu-Ray playback.



Amazon Fire TV remote issues, Android Fire TV Application Problems

Posted in batteries, Electronics, technology with tags , , , on May 2, 2016 by marksun


The Amazon Fire TV remote crapped out over the weekend. I have a feeling  Duracell AAA alkaline battery corrosion did it in.  I cleaned up a bit with iso and with Corrosion Block but no dice.  AA and AAAs  leak on you especially if there is a long term low current drain. Sometimes it’s just a shiny film and hard to see if you don’t really inspect the battery and battery compartment. The remote has telltale signs of corrosion around the batteries. Hard to tell what went wrong but I suspect a leaky battery burned through a trace in the battery compartment.

This event sparked a brief effort into learning a little about FireTV and FireTV remote apps.  I’ve dug up a few random bits of information about FireTV  workings underneath the opaque black plastic packaging.

Random factoids:

  • The earlier remotes used Bluetooth.  So you don’t have to point the remote at the TV? Seems like I had to but could be wrong about that.
  • After about October 2015, new FireTV remotes use wifi-direct and not Bluetooth.
  • I suspect the broken remote I have is the “old” bluetooth model.
  • The FireTV menu system provides a means of pairing more than one remote to the FireTV unit.
  • I have seen the Wifi-direct access point belonging to my FireTV show up on my phone’s wifi access point list now and then, but not consistently.  It shows a secure connection.  I have no idea what the password is to it or whether and why one would connect to it.
  • To their credit Amazon support will replace the remote. No warranty issue at all.

I did something like this picture – an exploded view of a remote control:


Warranty? What Warranty? Six screws, not four hold the remote together. To get at the other two you have to pry off a second plastic cover piece on the back of the remote.  It’s stuck on with two sided tape and also snaps in.   There are a few clues on google images..


Here is one way to pry that second plastic back cover.  The fifth and sixth screws are under this piece.  I used a small flathead screwdriver and didn’t break any plastic.  The double sided tape however…

Did I fix the remote?


It may be possible to repair an open trace caused by corrosion, but so much easier to call Amazon for a replacement.  Losing the remote is not the end of the FireTV I found.

Next- did you know that you can plug a USB keyboard into the Amazon Fire?   By chance I found I could control all the functions of the Fire TV this way ( I have the model that came with the remote and external brick power supply, not the “stick”).  So while I’m waiting for the remote, this will keep us connected to the big screen TV for Netflix.  Hint. You use the TV screen as the monitor see and set the TV input to the AmazonFire HDMI port.  There is some mumbo jumbo about the USB port being for developers.  That’s a bit further than I want to go with this.

Next – The Amazon FireTV app… …  the obvious alternative to the Amazon TV remote control is to use the Android device with the FireTV app.  This normally worked well,  I’ve used it on and off for a while,  and only recently on my phone, but today I managed to kill the app somehow.   The symptom … the app begins with the “elect a Device to Connect and Searching for Fire TV devices,  but cannot “find” the FireTV device.  The “Troubleshooting” link suggests rebooting android device, rebooting the FireTV (restart), deleting all data from the FireTV app,unistalling and reinstalling the app, multiple power cycles of the FireTV.  No dice.  ( I did not do a factory reset of the FireTV – it can be done with the USB keyboard for example if you don’t have a remote.)

Several hours later …

The app is working again.  Why?  I don’t know.  I decided to try it, then for the sake of form,  power-cycled the FireTV.  Suddenly the device showed up on the app and we’re in business.  There is still an issue with the app finding the FireTV device.  Or having found it, it Cannot Connect. The app is unreliable now.

But what is the cause of the app failure? What changed?

I wonder if this is a software problem in the FireTV …  gotta be.  The user can do nothing.  There don’t seem to be any easy ways to pry open the software like you can the remote control case.


Amazon’s Fire TV Remote Control

Wireless Canon MP640 Printer Stopped Working (and the fix)

Posted in Computers, technology with tags on October 26, 2011 by marksun

It is surprising how often the Canon MP640 printer fails to print.  The only indication of the problem is that the printer queue on the PC reports an “error”, and obviously, no print.  Nobody  messed with the printer and the printer just sitting there shows  no indication of a problem (flashing lights,  grinding noises, paper spewing out etc).

The printer allows you to view the network configuration and by going through the menus, and it is clear an IP address was assigned to the printer.  Ping the IP from the PC and  the port is pingable.  That means there is IP connectivity (see notes on the ping test below).  Something is messing up the communication between the PC and the printer.  The thing between them is the router so that is the next stop.

The fix if ping succeeds but still cannot print – try this and check for a router configuration problem.

Next, logged into my wireless router which is a Linksys WRT54GX2 running WPA2 personal security with MAC filtering.   In the Wireless Security Tab,  both  WPA Personal and WPA2 Personal were checked.    I unchecked WPA Personal.  Printer started working.   Why  were both checked?  Who knows.

Ping fails – router problem – reboot the router.

An error occurs in print queue suspiciously like the case above but the printer IP is not pingable meaning no IP connectivity.   Go through the menus on the printer.  If it cannot see the router’s SSID then the printer has no network.  In this case it’s probably the router. The fix- recycle power on the router to reboot.  To do this, pull the power plug on the router for a few seconds, then plug back in.  This fixes the problem – takes a couple of minutes for the router to reboot and the wireless devices and printer to reacquire the network through DHCP.

What’s up with this router huh?   It’s frequently involved in cases where the “internet is down” in the house.  If it’s not the cable company, it’s usually the router, the cable modem, or both.  Diagnostics frequently begin by nuking one or the other or both by pulling the power cables out and replugging.  Try to be methodical when doing stuff like this and it’s best if nothing important is up on your computers!

More on the Ping Test: 

Just in case this talk about ping is not helpful,  ping is a network troubleshooting tool.  The term ping dates back to the second world war submarine warfare sonar technology. The principle  is to send a loud sound called a “ping” from a loudspeaker under water.  An echo would indicate the presence of something out there.  In tcp/ip networking, a ping is a special packet sent to a specific target (identified by its IP address) which responds back with an echo response.  This tells you that the target, in this case, the printer, has a (most likely) functional network connection.  A network printer that does not respond to a ping has a network problem, and that would be a likely cause of printing failure.  To do a ping test, you need to 1) find the IP addresss of the target printer and 2) run a ping command.  In the case of the  Canon 640 wireless printer, one way to determine the IP address is from the printers front panel.  Use the dial selector to navigate:  device settings > lan settings > confirm lan settings > wireless lan settings > ip address.  In my case, I see  an IP address of  Next on your windows PC, from the start menu,  get to a command prompt by typing “cmd” in the search field, then type  “ping”.     If you get lines of consecutive replies, that is the printer responding to your ping echo requests.  If you get no response, that is the indicator that the devices (your PC and the printer) are not talking to each other.   As always, google ping for more.

Garmin nuvi 1390LMT First Impressions – Routing

Posted in technology with tags , on August 8, 2011 by marksun

I just picked up this unit from Costco. The nuvi 1390 LMT has good reviews everywhere and by and large I agree with most of the positive appraisals of this model.  Here, I’ll just focus on the negatives.

The area where the 1390 (and as I understand it, possibly the entire 13xx model line) falls short is that it does not permit the user to set a start point and end point in advance. Instead, the 1390 expects to navigate from its current physical location. So if for example, you plan to fly somewhere, and you want to plot the route from the Airport to a hotel, you can’t do this easily in advance. It’s not impossible, but to do it you must turn of the GPS receiver,  locate your destination on the map, somehow locate the place you’re interested in,  reset home, that location,  locate an endpoint, then attempt navigation.  I know I missed something here but this is something of the idea.  In short, the interface is not designed to support the use of the device for planning future trips at a far away location.    I understand that other Garmin devices do support this feature.

Another  irritation in the 1390’s user interface is that although it is a touch screen interface, scrolling is unpredictable. It works, but touching the screen and dragging your finger around to pan the map view frequently fails to work as expected. My expectation s are set by such superb interfaces like Google Maps … this devices interface is just not at that level. Is the expectation too high?  Could be… maybe you just need to pay more to get more.

Another area where the software exhibits odd behavior is in inputting an address.  For example, I haven’t yet succeeded in keying in my home address.  Instead the unit picks an address close by.  I can work around this by working from the GPS lat/long position – which is quite acceptable to me but it’s not obvious why an address doesn’t always work.

If all you need to do is get in your car and navigate, this unit will certainly do that, and a lot more.  I’m about to travel so I may have more to say about this GPS later on.

House FM Transmitter

Posted in Electronics, house tech, technology with tags on February 20, 2011 by marksun

To get some sound around the house,  I bought   a HLLY CZH-05A FM transmitter  that seemed to have a practical and workable design with power to cover the whole house.  In fact at 500 mw power output, I was a little concerned about too much power… more on that later.   After a delay for Chinese New Years, it arrived.  No instructions. No matter.  I hooked it up and it worked great and did indeed cover the whole house.   I took the radio outside  and still crystal clear.  Then I walked out to the mailbox about 200 feet away and still had great sound.  I took a walk around the neighborhood and could still hear my radio station. So far so good as far as being able to hear it around the house.  However there are other considerations, like legality.

With a power rating of 500 mw (1/2 watt) the transmitter is not a high power blowtorch but not exactly a low power device either.  The FCC Part 15 regulation for low power FM band transmitters sets a field strength limit of 250 uV/m @ 3 meters.   Approximately 7 billion people, including myself,  don’t own field strength meters. Fortunately,  there seems to be a consensus on the Internet that this field strength corresponds to  a  range of about 200 feet.  From the standpoint of power,  FM transmitters  with 10-20 mw output are touted as FCC Part 15 compliant.

With my IPOD hooked up and the antenna extended about 30″, I did a range check using an FM frequency well removed from commercial statements to avoid interference.   I tuned the car radio  to the transmitter and drove up the hill in my neighborhood.  I could hear my radio transmitter at the top of the hill a mile from home.   I drove down the hill where the road crosses the freeway a mile away and still had a strong signal.  I kept on going and while there were places where the signal faded or became noisy,  it was still strong in some areas a couple of miles from home.   In the car over a mile  from home, the radio sounded pretty good,  comparable in quality and strength to  commercial FM stations, and louder than some of the weaker stations.

Next,  I range tested the system with the antenna collapsed to about 7″.   In this test, the short antenna effectively limited the range to less than 100 meters or an area of  maybe four football fields around the house.  Still, I would guess that this configuration is still of borderline legality.  Trouble is the transmitter gets hot.

What about not using an antenna?  Here the problem is that the antenna is part of the transmitter circuit.  Without one, there is no load to dissipate the transmitter power and the components of the transmitter overheat, possibly cooking the transmitter.

As far as legality in the US is concerned for an unlicensed FM transmitter, the antenna combined with the transmitter is the key.  To get low power output and minimal range from a radio transmitter, the requirement for an antenna  is to minimize radiation but still provide an electrical load for the transmitter output circuit.  How about  dummy loads,  used to test transmitters, and attach one to the antenna output connector in place of the real antenna.   It seemed like the place to start.  Dummy loads are very simple, especially for a low power transmitter.  In practice there is some radiation from a dummy load.  One could expect short range  without the transmitter overheating.   I went to Radio Shack, bought a packet of 100 ohm 1/2 watt carbon resisters and a connector (BNC) to construct a dummy load.  Two 100 ohm 1/2 watt  resistors in parallel equal 50 ohms and can dissipate 1 watt of power.  I soldered these across the leads of connector to make the load and attached the BNC connector to the antenna jack of the transmitter.

I’ve been using the transmitter like this for a few days and the dummy load does what it is supposed to do. The signal is clear only around the house and immediate vicinity.  Outside the house, the signal fades to noise within 100 feet or so.

The resistors get warm to the touch.  To help keep the temperature down, I glued on a small aluminum heat sink I had laying around, which soaks the heat from the resistors.

The transmitter itself is  a 500 mw HLLY CZH-05A.  The radio seems to be nicely made.  Sound is great.  HLLY manufactures FM transmitters with power output from 500 mw to 20 watts. The higher power (e.g. 5 watt)  HLLY transmitters have some notoriety on the internet as electromagnetic interference (EMI) emitters.

In the end, we have a super short range whole house FM radio station.  The sound is great and I’ve found a new use for FM radios.

Flashlight O rings and Grease

Posted in light, lubrication, technology with tags , , , on November 30, 2010 by marksun

O rings are used in most state of the art, high tech flashlights – the kind with the aircraft aluminum precision machined bodies.

The purpose of the o-rings are to form a tight, smooth fit for parts of the light that must move smoothly past each other, and to form a waterproof seal.  To have a reliable and smoothly functioning light,  keep the threads and o-rings clean and free of lint, dirt and moisture, and use the small amounts of grease on o-rings and threads.

Virtually all o-rings used in lights are made of synthetic rubber.  O rings for lights are seldom made of natural rubber (cost and durability) or silicone (cost and/or not the right mechanical properties).

  1. Virtually any silicone based grease or lubricant with or without PTFEs (or teflon) are safe on flashlight o-rings.
  2. Petroleum and mineral based greases are deemed to be less suitable because some synthetic and natural rubber o-rings are attacked by some petroleum based products.  carry risk in this application.  Manufacturers mainly recommend silicone based lubricants.
  3. WD-40 is petroleum based, is too light for this application, and may dry out the o-ring.

I use a couple of greases that I have in my collection of lubes:

  • Lube Gel – silicone grease with PTFE from Radio Shack (oem from a SYNCO).  This tube should last me about 40 years.
  • “Green Slime”,  a silicone PTFE grease used for RC car shock absorbers left over from my RC days.

In the short term, just about any grease will seem to work just fine.  The reason to consider what you use is that greases  tend to stick around for the long haul.  You don’t want the grease to melt down the o-ring to a gummy mess, since the time you discover it will be the time you will need your light the most.

Reference:  “Comprehensive Grease and Lube Thread” on the Candlepower Forum (CPF).

Galaxy S Bluetooth and Android Stability

Posted in Android, technology with tags , , , on November 27, 2010 by marksun

D continues to experience frustrations with her Galaxy S.  Every once in a while, she’s unable to get her bluetooth headset working.  It might take several tries cycling the headset which gets complicated if she’s trying to make a call at the same time.   I haven’t gotten to the bottom of the problem yet or the sequence  necessary.  The phone is paired with a bluetooth headset and with her car’s bluetooth so there begins a possible source of confusion.

Another issue seems to be the overall stability.  Today there was an episode where the phone was neither working with her bluetooth,  and then would not dial.  She rebooted the phone to bet back online.  That probably wasn’t necessary but it does show where the device is still in need of development and bulletproofing.