USB Drive not working? could be the cable!

Did you have the experience that when you plug in your USB drive to the PC, it doesn’t get detected, or windows give some error, and perhaps the drive doesn’t seem to be spinning up at all? I just did, in fact it happened to 2 of my old drives. A 80GB and a 120GB which I haven’t used for a couple of years.

I thought that they were old and were failing, or already had failed. Turned out to be otherwise!! It was the USB cable I was using. The cable was meant for those drives, but due to the age and the humidity of Singapore, the contact points of the connectors had some level of corrosion. Interestingly, it’s bad enough to not deliver enough power to spin up the drives and to cause unusual behaviour. Once I switch to a good cable, the drives spin into full life!!

So, lesson learnt, if your USB drive seems not to be working, try and change the cable first.

Aztech Homeplug HL115EP

I’ve been using the Aztech homeplugs for over 3 years now. Started with the HL109EP, used it for some time, and then several months back I upgraded to the HL115EP.

My preference for home networking connectivity is Cat5e UTP cables. However, when I moved into my current apartment in 2008, renovation works was kept to a bare minimal, and so to run new wiring was not an option. The next best thing was to leverage existing cables.

My apartment has 2 levels with the core internet access point in a far end of the apartment. Wireless reach is poor, and I had to extend it. Wireless bridging didn’t give good performance, and would require several Linksys WRT54GL (my old time favorite hacked with DD-WRT) to cover the whole apartment. So, the other alternative was with physical connectivity, which cleverly uses the power lines that reaches to every corner of the apartment.

The Aztech homeplugs were introduced, and worked pretty well. The electric cabling around the house became the core network backbone of my home network.

With the HL109EP, which on the box rates to be 200Mbps, was able to deliver up to 36Mbps with the power points on the lower level, and about 17Mbps on the higher level. The reason was how the electrical connection was done; there’s a big hop from the lower to upper level.

The LAN port on the HL109EP was 100Base-T, which is very common. If you are thinking now, how will 100Base-T give 200Mbps, it’s the common marketing gimmick of adding upstream (100Mbps) and downstream (100Mbps). As my internet connection back then a 10Mbps (ADSL), that was good enough. Anywhere in the apartment I could make use of the full bandwidth of my internet line.

Earlier this year, I upgraded to 50Mbps Fibre. That puts the “core network” to be the bottleneck. The reasonable option was to upgrade. Quite coincidentally, Aztech launched the new HL115EP. On the box it says 500Mbps, and the device has a 1Gbps LAN port. How this has improved is that the device has a built in noise filter. This will effectively improves on the quality of the signal the HL115EP can deliver over the same wires, and therefore achieving higher speed.

The performance of the HL115EP is definitely noticeable. In my case as a 1 to 1 replacement of the HL109EP it gives me double the throughput. At times it can go faster up to 3x but that really depends on how noisy the power lines are.

One thing to note is that the HL115EP does not work with the HL109EP, they will not talk to each other. However, if you have multiples of each, and need 2 discreet networks, that will work just fine. So say if you want to have 2 networks on the same premise that do not talk to each other, you can have one network made up of HL109EP, and another of HL115EP.

I don’t have experience with other competing products and cannot compare. But what I can advise is that keep your Powerline networking gears to be consistent throughout. Don’t attempt to mix and match. I was lucky to be able to upgrade all my HL109EP to HL115EP through an Aztech launch promotion!!

I did say to keep the Powerline equipment consistent; that’s all that really matters. Your internet router, wireless access points, NAS, everything else on the network, does not have to be an Aztech. I have a 2Wire router (provided by my ISP), a DLink Gigabit switch, Linksys WRT54GL, Baffalo WZR-HP-G300NH, Foscam FI8919W, Apple Airport Express connected to various HL115EP and they are working very well.

For those who wonder how I test the network throughput, basically just having a PC/notebook at each end of the HL115EP and run iperf on them.

Anyone in Singapore who is keen to invest in the HL115EP, on tip is Aztech is in every PC show that happens every 3 months in Singapore. You can typically buy a pair for under S$120. Outside the PC show, a pair will cost about S$130 depending on where you shop. Find the brochure of a recent PC show here.

Foscam IP Camera

So many months ago, I purchased a pair of Foscam FI8918W cameras. Primary usage is to be able to check out what’s going on at home while we are out. After using it for several months now, I highly recommend it to anyone who needs a “remote eyes and ears”.

I must say, it has been a very good investment. Comparing the features with the more commonly known brands like Dlink, Panasonic, Linksys, etc.. it’s very very competitively priced.

Video quality is great does 640×480 @ 30fps, Pan & Tilt capability, night vision is enabled via infrared, 2 way audio (yes, you can have a conversation), motion detection alarm, and much more. All for only S$125, and includes delivery fee.

Coupled with my Singtel Fibre Broadband, I can get very good frame rates when viewing from outside the home, connected via the internet. You’ll need to know how to configure out broadband router to appropriately forward the TCP ports to the cameras.

The video can be access via your favorite browsers, e.g. IE, Chrome, Firefox, Safari (on iPad and iPhone too!!). Or my favorite method is to use the IOS App, Live Cams Pro. Find it here http://www.eggmantechologies.com

In Singapore, you can order the camera from http://www.foscamsingapore.sg. Though you can possibly order from an US site, and may cost a little less, but at the price of difficult warranty replacements. I’d rather just order from the Singapore store and get easy warranty replacement when required (so far so good, touch wood).

Hello 2012!! The most >Geek< fun I've had in a while

ok ok, so this is really not at all keeping up to trying to post regularly. Got too busy, had a baby, etc.. excuses.

Now, I have a great reason to post!! I just finished a little pet project, tiny one.. but I’m quite excited about it as it’s something I’ve tried to do over 10 years ago, but the products were bad. Now, with newer hardware and software it’s a reality!

I had just succeeded to build my home SIP infrastructure. With a SIP client on my iPhone, I can connect to my personal PBX server, and make calls to regular phones via a SIP to PSTN router.

You are lost? I just built my own VOIP system, which I can make data calls over the air, from my iPhone, connect to my home based VOIP system, and call to a land line. What’s so big deal about that? Here in Singapore, the digital land lines are completely toll free! All outgoing LOCAL calls are free. With 3G and 10GB of quota a month, I can make a lot of phone calls this way!

I will share how I did it… and boy, it’s not easy. This setup is not for the faint hearted to even attempt to consider. Leave it to the real IT geeks *cough*

Here’s a glimpse on what you’ll need.

  1. Home broadband connection which has preferably unlimited usage (as we get here in Singapore)
    +the broadband connection must always be up (otherwise you cannot connect from outside of your home)
  2. Home wifi  network, if you want to make calls via your SIP client in the smartphone
  3. A Linksys SPA 3102 (retailing for about S$100 in Singapore) – this is a VOIP Router
  4. Asterisk – a free PBX Server – run this on an old PC, or a small atom machine, or a virtual machine
    (I run mine as a VMware Virtual Machine)
  5. A SIP client for your PC and/or smartphone
    PC – A good and free SIP client called X-Lite (http://www.counterpath.com/x-lite.html)
    iOS – many choices available, free and paid I use the free client from 3CX (http://www.3cx.com/VOIP/voip-phone.html)

Generally, each item is easy to get up and running, but to get them working together was not easy, especially when you don’t understand half the terms involved. This is one of the craziest situations where I was looking at pages of configuration items and they are mostly abbreviated.

In addition, there are few up to date guides on the net which tells you what to do. I found lots of guides for Asterisk, some very good, but are for older versions. I’m using version 1.8, and there are lots that are now redundant. After all I’ve done to get things to work, I must say it’s actually not a lot of settings we need to make.

Credits will be given when due. I will link to the sites which I found the most useful information.

 

Windows 7 accessing file share error

strange issue came up for me recently, my notebook running Windows 7, stopped to be able to connect to CIFS shares. I keep getting that the “network is not reacheable” error from Windows. Networking wise, it’s incorrect as I can ping the device and I can access the web services on the device.

Some research pointed me to the proliferation of the 6to4 adapters in Windows. These adapters help to route IPv6 over IPv4, and for some reason, I’ve got hundreds of these adapters in my system.

All I had to do is to remove them by disabling IPv6, and the problem got resolved. No root cause here yet, but at least there’s the fix.

So, go to http://support.microsoft.com/kb/929852 and apply Fix #50409 & #50412. Both will need a reboot each time, and then my problem was resolved.

thumb friendly keyboard on the iPad with iOS5

iPad Split Keyboard

one of the best improvement to the onscreen keyboard for the iPad is that it’s now movable and also thumb friendly.

The standard keyboard still exists, and you can easily switch between the new layout and the old. The special enabling key for this is the button on the bottom right of the keyboard. This used to be for hiding the keyboard. Now, in addition to hide, if you tap on the key and drag it upwards, the keyboard will transform to the split mode. This has 2 big benefits, both sides of the keyboard are now thumb friendly. I can comfortably hold the iPad and type away with both thumbs. And this is true for both portrait and landscape orientation for the iPad.

Second benefit, is that you can move the keyboard any location vertically!!

To get back the original keyboard layout, just drag the keyboard back to the bottom of the screen.

Way cool!

This works for both the original iPad and iPad 2.

Blueant V1 voice dialing with iOS5 is broken

So, one of the first problems I have with iOS5 is voice dialing with my trusty Blueant V1. It works, but it dials the wrong entry in my favorites list!

I tried to reset the V1 and re-initiate pairing with the iPhone, but didn’t help at all.

I realized what the problem was, and it feels like an iOS5 bug!

I have contacts, in my favorites list, which have multiple phone numbers. e.g. my wife has 2 entries, one for her office number and one to her mobile number. And I’ve got this setup since pre OS3.0 days. So, this is not a new configuration for me. When I do the voice dial, it will not dial the number I’ve set as the favorite, but the first number listed in the contact view. But, if I manually touch the favorites entry, the phone will dial the correct number. So, the portion which allows bluetooth integrated dialing is broken some where.

The workaround is to split the contact into a few contacts. Each with the unique phone number you want to dial. So, for my wife, I have to create 2 new entries, one for office and one for mobile.

This is a really bizarre problem. Hope a fix appears soon.

iMessage how to use it?

The first question I had was, where’s the app for iMessage? I was thinking that there could be a dedicated app, and it’ll probably function like having another “whatsapp” like function. I was wrong. In face, iMessage is integrated into the orignal “Message” app. Yes, the one you use for SMS and MMS.

So, how to start using it? There are 2 parts to it. Part 1 is to setup your iOS device, and part 2 is how to send an iMessage.

Part 1 – go to settings, messages, then look at addresses. These are what your friends and contacts will use to send iMessage to you, as a form of identification (like a userid). By default, your mobile number will be one of them, and the other is the iTunes or iCloud account you used when your first setup iOS5. You can add or change more contact information. e.g. your work email address. Add all the form of “identification” you want and save it.

Part 2 – just launch messages, and here’s the cool bit. Just add the contact you like to send a text to. The app will then do a check if the recipient is already registered with iMessages. Remember what you did in Part 1? The recipient’s contact information in your phone book will be used to check for iMessage “compatibility”. If yes, your “send” button will turn blue, and the text box will have a faint “iMessage” word, otherwise it will have a faint “text message”, and the “send” button will be green.

It’s that simple!

Now, I’m just a little curious about the warning that popped up once or twice to warn of carrier charges for sms sent to activate iMessage. I wonder how many messages will that consume.

iOS Upgrade fail with error 23 – the workaround

So after trying iOS 5 myself, I’m feeling good to upgrade my wife’s iPhone 4.

Strange thing occurred that once I asked iTunes 10.5 to upgrade the iPhone 4, after the first dialog box that says something about backup, the next thing I get is error 23. Which actually means the phone has a hardware problem. Is there an underlying problem? I have no idea, phone seems fine.

So, what I did that made it work… or at least now it’s gone past that stage. Put the phone into recovery mode, and now iTunes 10.5 is downloading iOS5. Will know soon enough if it will work all the way.

*update* the workaround was successful!!

*update 2* to get the iPhone into recovery mode, do the following

  1. have your computer running iTunes 10.5, and the iPhone sync cable plugged into the computer
  2. don’t connect the sync it to your phone yet, and shutdown the phone
  3. after the phone is off, press and hold the home button (don’t let go of the button)
  4. keep holding the home button, and plug the sync cable into the phone (still, hold on to the home button, don’t let go yet)
  5. when you get to the recovery screen, you’ll see the iTunes logo and the sync cable show up on the phone, you can now let go of the home button
  6. iTunes will detect and report that the phone is in recovery
  7. Follow the wizard to proceed with the upgrade

iTunes 10.5 can sync 2 devices simultaneously

Things have been different, and I didn’t have anything good to write about. Until now…

I’ve just updated my iPhone 3GS then my iPad to IOS5. The sync was taking quite some time and I decided to try to sync my 3GS while the iPad is being restored. Searched around a bit and found some old posts saying that Windows iTunes can’t sync simultaneously. Yea, that post is a little old, from 2009.

So now, I’m trying it myself. It works!! The improvement now is that for music, videos and app sync, the device doesn’t stay in the lock screen anymore. It’s more like a background process.

There’s more to be discovered with iOS5, hopefully some more good stuffs to write about!