Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Blinking lights of death on constantly rebooting Synology Rackstation (or Diskstation)

Problem: Synology Rackstation (or Diskstation) reboots endlessly.  Power LED blinks, ALERT LED blinks.  Some drive LEDs green, most are red (or orange).  One drive LED might blink indicating drive activity.  LAN connection LEDs are dark (inactive).  No access. 

Solution:  Try powering it off, pulling all drives, peripherals and RAM, and rebooting.  (Don't forget any USB peripherals, like a UPS.)

If the Power/ALERT light behavior persists, and it doesn't return to a solid-on Power light in about a minute - your Rackstation is dead.

Or, at least, it took Synology support chat < 60 seconds to conclude mine was dead.  Maybe you will be more fortunate.

Synology would not confirm in my case, but I can't help but think the dreaded Intel C2000 bug could cause this.

BAD NEWS:  Unless your unit is in warranty, or covered under the Atom +1 year extended warranty, you are SOL.

GOOD NEWS:  Your data is most likely OK!  You can (carefully!) plug the drives in to a new NAS and all your stuff should still be intact.

Monday, April 29, 2019

VLC Media Player suddenly has choppy video

Problem: VLC "Vetinari"stutters / plays choppy video when older versions played just fine.

Solution:  Go to Tools \ Preferences \ Input/Codecs  and set "Hardware-accelerated decoding" to "Disable".

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Things I learned when setting up hardware keys for Google accounts

Here are some items that are potentially useful to know when setting up a hardware key (i.e. Yubikey) for online security.

1.  Yubikey is grossly overpriced.  HyperFIDO has fully compatible keys at a quarter of the cost, and they even protect the USB plug contacts - something Yubikey does not do. 

(Why most key makers choose designs that expose the USB contacts, I will never understand.)

They also have a mini version.  Reviews say it is not as well built, but at this price, you can afford to buy spares.  Plus it comes with a cap to keep grunge out of the USB plug.

Unfortunately, they don't have a Bluetooth / NFC version.  For that you should consider a Feitian at half the cost of a Yubikey.

2.  You can't use Firefox for setup.  You can use Firefox for ongoing use, but to set up, you must use Google Chrome.

3.  With Google, you can add many keys.  I was able to add five to my Google account.  If there is a limit, I've not found it yet. 

This is most excellent since you can have multiple keys for difference purposes (desktop, laptop, travel) plus pre-registered backups stored in a safe place for when you lose/break your primary key(s). 

4.  You still need your passwords.  Hardware keys supplement passwords, but - currently and somewhat oddly - do not replace them.

5.  Phone/text verification is fairly secure, but not as secure.  After you enroll your keys, you should consider removing your mobile as an option for 2-step verification.

As far as I know - and I've not yet tested - for ordinary two-factor authentication, you can use a physical key for your desktop, but you do not absolutely need one for your mobile.  I intend to find out as soon as I can.

If, however, you enroll in the Google Advanced Protection program, you (apparently) must have at least one key for your mobile.  This usually means a Bluetooth or NFC key, though USB-C keys are also available.

Other notes:

- Adding and removing keys is a snap.

-  The LED light on the Mini is fairly bright.  There is an LED on the Titanium also, but it is not obtrusive.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Additional options for repurposing old Android

Further to my previous post, I have found XWidget to have a lot of good options for information displays on old Androids.

New development of XWidget has reportedly stopped, but the app still works fine.  Rainmeter is (presumably) intended to replace it, but it doesn't (yet) work on Android.

The free version allows you to access a fairly good library of free widgets.  If you want the others (such as something from this massive collection by jimking) you need to pony up a couple of bucks.

Despite the developers insistence that it was possible to transfer downloaded widgets to Android, I could not make it work. XWidget would not connect to my phone (yes, I checked the driver).

[Update 2019-04-06]:  The .XWP files for Xwidget are nothing more than zip/rar archives.  You can open them directly with WinRAR and extract the working files without the need to install the PC application, as described below.

Original text:

"My workaround was to unpack/install the widget on the PC and copy to the Android, as follows:

-  Download the XWidget package to PC.

-  Double-click to invoke the XWidget desktop and install the new widget.

-  Locate the unpacked widget in C:\Users\[username]\Documents\XWidget\Widgets

-  Copy the widget directory to the Android at Internal storage\XWidget\Widgets

-  Start the XWidget app and hit "Refresh" from the three-button menu."

jimking (and others) have an extensive collection of widgets not available in the XWidget gallery, but available for direct download.  As does yereverluvinuncleber.  I imagine there are many more.

XWidget even allows some simple editing directly on the phone.  So if the layout or elements are not to your liking, it is possible to move/add/remove them until the widget is more to taste.

Examples below, all from jimking (thanks, Jim!).  The top one is my current favorite for a tablet (8" or larger).

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Using an old Android phone or tablet as a wall/desk clock and/or weather station

No shortage of sites telling us we should be re-purposing old phones rather than junking them.

I wanted to make a wall clock / weather station.  Easy, right?


Many issues, including:

-  The phone did not support a landscape home screen, meaning widgets were out.

-  Most weather apps looked like crap.

-  Many weather apps also did not rotate into landscape.

So, several things to fix.  Very frustrating for what should have been a trivial thing, took much longer than I expected.

As I wanted landscape mode, that meant an app and not a widget.  I tried out 10-12 weather apps and was not happy with any of them in landscape; most of them did a bad job of using all the available real estate.

Some solutions:

1.  Install Nova Launcher.  This allows most any phone/tablet to have a landscape home screen; it also hides the status bar.

(It can't hide the home/back buttons - that's part of the OS.  But it does everything else.)

2.  Now that I could do landscape widgets, I tried several out.  I found the best displays came from Weather & Clock Widget for Android.

Options include a proper big clock, very nice icons, and several full-screen widgets.  Also, the widgets scale well to landscape aspect, with the various elements getting larger.  Many widgets don't scale up when you make them bigger.

Transparent Clock and Weather was second-best.  Its widgets don't scale up well.

Beautiful Widgets was third; the default themes are horrible, but using a different theme and hiding the background (in the widget settings) helps a lot.

3.  For wall mounting, I considered making a shadowbox, then buying a magnetic mount.

In the end, though, I realized that these were overcomplicated.  A couple of Command adhesive strips is all you need.

If you want a clean install, use the Command snap-fastener strips.  These are normally used for picture hanging but will work just fine.

(Yes, you do need to plug it in.  It won't look bad if you place it near something else that is already plugged in, like a landline phone, computer, etc.)

For a desk, all you need is a stand, or maybe a wireless charger stand.

Here are some examples of what you can do with Nova plus Weather & Clock Widget / Transparent Clock & Weather on a typical 5"-ish phone.  My preferred layouts are at top.  The top one is for a weather station by the door, while the second one is a kitchen clock.

How to get an old Android to use a landscape home screen

Lots of sites tell you that you should be "re-purposing" old Android phones into something useful.

I admit there are some useful things they could do.  Various kinds of clocks and weather forecasters are obvious; also a remote control for your smart thermostat or lighting.

However, none of these sites deal with the main difficulty for many of these.  Which is, of course, old Androids do not rotate the home screen into landscape.

This caused me no end of frustration (well - OK, several hours - but it felt endless) when I wanted to make an old phone a wall clock/weather monitor.

One way to fix it:  Use Nova Launcher.  It supports landscape home screens, even on older devices.

Google Launcher also did so, but is apparently discontinued.  It also populated the home screen with extra crap that Nova does not have.

Nova can also get rid of the quick-access apps and the status bar.  It can't get rid of the home/back buttons, as those are part of the OS.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Useful things every parent should carry (EDC for Parents)

Everyday carry (EDC) has a bad rap.  Those who "practice" are either doomsday 'preppers', have a peculiar fascination with the subject in and of itself, or both.  Both approaches come off as crazy.

Still, here are some items that I think are useful for any parent of small(er) children to always have around when you're out and about:

1.  A keychain flashlight, like a Nitecore Tube.  I've spent more time looking around dark schoolyards, classrooms, gyms, etc. for mittens, hats, toys and water bottles than I care to recall.

2.  A tiny pair of folding scissors.  I've lost track of the number of tags, threads, etc. I've cut off with these.  I like the old, crappy bent-metal kind.

3.  An ordinary plastic shopping bag.  Good for unexpected school / daycare crafts, projects, gifts, books, homework, etc. etc..

4.  Big Band-aids; better for larger scrapes at the playground or camping.  (Or small ones, at least.)

5.  Spare change or small bills.  Good for those "I forgot I needed a dollar for school today" problems.

6.  A safety pin.  Good for last-second / emergency / temporary fixes to special clothes/costumes, bags, backpacks, etc.

7.  A small comb or brush.  Very useful for school photo day, school plays, special occasions, or whenever your kid looks embarrassing.

8.  A spare blank check.  Very useful when you have to sign up for something today, either because you forgot or didn't see/get the notice.

These range from very cheap to practically free.

A little duct tape doesn't hurt, if you don't mind taking the time to:

-  Find/buy some flat duct tape;
-  Find/buy a small, portable roll; or
-  Wind some around a spindle yourself.  I recommend using an eye lag screw, which is the kind used for drop ceilings.