Saturday, September 10, 2016

Moving from Virtualdub to avidemux for MP4 editing

AVI files are pretty passe by now, but I'm certain there are people out there (like me) who have gotten used to Virtualdub.

Sadly, Virtualdub will load most anything (with the appropriate plugin) but cannot save much of anything.  So, unless you really like everything in AVI format, you'll need a new editor.

The question is: which one?

If you like Virtualdub for it's good keyboard support, easy clipping against keyframes, processing speed, ability to clip without transcoding, or anything else, you are probably going to want an editor that works like that for .mp4 files.

Fortunately, I only had to look around for a bit. 

-  I looked for Windows Live Movie Maker, but it only comes bundled with a bunch of other stuff, and I did not like that.  I didn't even bother trying to install it.

-  I tried Filmora Video Editor.  Looks like a good editor for "real" video editing, where you merge multiple video streams and so forth.  But the interface and output options are nothing like Virtualdub, and it seems too complex for simple clipping.  I tried to clip a file and gave up in short order.

My third try, avidemux, seems to do the job.  It has an interface and behavior similar to Virtualdub, seems fast, opens everything (avi, mkv, mp4, etc) and can save without transcoding.  It will clip on and off keyframes, warns you when you're cutting off a keyframe, and handles off-keyframe cuts fairly gracefully.

(I guess I should have tried avidemux before.  I admit the name put me off a bit.  But then again, what kind of name is "Virtualdub" anyway?)

I have not tried avidemux for items like volume correction, video conversion or other things.  But so far it's looking like a nice & fast editor for simple tasks.

For reference, here's a handy cross-reference guide of the basic controls for avidemux that you'll probably want to know/use.

Virtualdub -> avidemux
Next frame:  Right arrow -> Right arrow
Previous frame:  Left arrow -> Left arrow
Next keyframe:  Ctrl-Right arrow ->  Up
Previous keyframe:  Ctrl-Left arrow ->  Down
Start:  Home ->  Home
End:  End ->  End

Mark beginning:  [  ->  Ctrl-Page up
Mark end:  ] ->  Ctrl-Page down
Save:  F7  ->  Ctrl-S

Not guaranteeing I got all of those correct for Virtualdub, but they should all be correct  for avidemux.  Happy clipping!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Lexmark CS510 series won't draw / pull paper from alternative paper tray

Problem:  CS510 series won't pull paper from any available tray automatically.  Instead, it says something like "Load Tray 1 Plain A4", even though Tray 2 has paper in it.  Or, maybe, vice versa.

Related:  You've loaded the all trays / the only tray with paper, but the printer says you need to load it again, saying something like "Load Tray 1 Plain A4" or similar.

Solution:  The CS510 doesn't auto-detect the loaded paper size(s) from the trays directly.  Instead, you have to go to Settings/Paper Menu in the printer web server to set the paper sizes. 

It will then "know" that one or more trays are holding the correct paper size for your print job.  It will then stop complaining that you need to load a particular tray with a particular size.

This will also fix cases where you've loaded letter and print to letter, but the printer "thinks" the tray holds A4, or similar mix-ups.

This will obviously not work if a multi-tray printer is loaded with different paper sizes for different jobs.  You can't expect, nor likely want, the printer to print letter size when the only available paper is legal size (or vice versa).

This shouldn't be an issue with a printer that's been in use because it presumably has been set up before, and will therefore "know" what paper has been loaded.  But a new printer will assume all the trays are European A4 size.  Which is just blinding if you are in Europe (or the UK/Switzerland/Norway/etc.) but not so great if you are over the pond.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Battery life of the 1byone Driveway Alert Sensor system

This information would be good to know for anyone considering this system, but does not seem to be available.

I measured two sensor samples as follows:

-  Standby (active):  25 uA max
-  Detect:  16.2 mA max for about 2 seconds

It's not actually 16 mA for the full 2 seconds, but that's close enough.  Especially since the 2 seconds might be anywhere from 1 to 3 seconds - I did not bother to measure more accurately than that.

The sensors run on AAA cells, which I personally hate because of their relatively low capacity.  But, running the numbers, the effective capacity of AAAs should run these sensors for a very long time.

-  Due to self-discharge and temperature effects, cells will only deliver 75% of their rated capacity.

-  I estimated alarm consumption at 16 mA for 4 seconds.  This is twice as conservative as the ~2 seconds I estimated from observing the unit current.

These work out as follows:

Using 1000 mAh alkaline AAAs @ 75% of rated capacity:
- 1,000 detects:  24 months @ 1 detect/day
- 1,500 detects:  21 months @ 2 detects/day
- 2,000 detects:  18 months @ 3 detects/day
- 2,500 detects:  13 months @ 6 detects/day
- 3,000 detects:  9 months @ 10 detects/day
- 3,500 detects:  5 months @ 19 detects/day
- 4,000 detects:  1.7 months @ 75 detects/day

I would hope the 75% derating is conservative, but possibly not.  Newer alkalines do have a better shelf life than older types, but they are not known to be especially shelf-stable or stable under low current loads.  Freezing temperatures may also affect them.

Reviewers don't give any numbers on how long the sensors last, but I have the impression that 3-6 months may be typical.  Which, given how conservative the above numbers are, would theoretically put these people in the range of 20+ detects per day.  Given that the sensors do tend to false under certain circumstances, this doesn't seem at all unlikely.  Better positioning and setup might greatly extend battery life.

From this, and assuming 15 detects/day at a more realistic 2.5 seconds/detect, alternative cells will give approximately the following lifespan (all derated by 75%):
-  1000 mAh AAA cells: 10 months
-  3000 mAh AA cells: 2.5 years
-  8000 mAh C cells: 6.8 years
-  15000 mAh D cells: 12 years

It is pretty clear that any way you cut it, larger (but still cheap) alkaline cells will dramatically increase the performance of the sensors.  Which is what you would expect, except that the expected time for puny AAAs is already so large, C and D cell run times go through the roof.

You would obviously have to hack these units to attach to these larger cells, but this is not hard.  See the interior of the sensor, where there is ample room to put additional wiring and a jack:

The main problems would be how to house and mount the larger battery pack so it's accessible, doesn't look bad, and is not subject to weathering, damage or vandalism.

I initially purchased lithium AAAs in an effort to get a better battery life - especially in the winter months - but they are very expensive.  Adapting to AA, C or D would have probably been less costly, and will still be less costly in the long run.  I'd also rather change the cells at my leisure in the summer rather than in the dead of winter.

With these numbers you could probably easily use NiMH cells, if you don't mind changing the batteries a bit more often.  At about 15-20 detects/day you should get about 4-5 months (or so) out of them, which isn't bad at all given that they can be used over and over again.  NiMH AAAs would give maybe 6-8 months, while NiMH C and D will be quite a bit longer.

Per the calculations, at 20 detects/day, Eneloop AAAs @ 800 mAh will last about 6 months, while AAs @ 2,000 mAh will last about 15 months.  Eneloops are pretty stable with low self-discharge, so the 75% derating should be fairly representative over the expected time spans. 

Even assuming it is off, or you get more detects than expected, 9-12 months of life from a single set of rechargeable AAs is not bad at all.  And they are a lot less chunky than C or D-size cells.

These numbers also mean that if you have a high-traffic area, battery life drops precipitously.  For example at 75 detects/day, you can expect to get six weeks, and around 100/day you'll get about 40 days from alkaline AAAs. 

If the sensor is always going off, expect to change cells very, very often, or adapt the sensors to use an AC adapter instead.  At 16 mA peak nearly any 4.0V-5.0V adapter will do the job.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Experiences with DealExtreme and Banggood return policies

Just wanted to relate a recent experience between DealExtreme and Banggood, in case it is useful to anyone.

I have ordered several products from both vendors.  As a rule, the products are as described and well made.  Or, at least, a quality equal to or higher than what you would expect from the selling price.  There have been exceptions but that's been the general experience.

(Yes, shipping takes a long time.  That's a given.  I've had 1 or maybe 2 orders lost or show up extremely late.  It's just what happens.)

Most of the items have been USB cables, battery packs and such.  As I've gotten more comfortable with BG, I've been ordering more and more expensive items.

Most of the time these items work fine.  Sometimes they don't.  But - to make a long story short - BG has always refunded or replaced the defective items.  That's a new replacement item or a 100% refund, after I've shown them a video (or photos) of the problematic item.

This includes expensive items such as RC toys, where they sent a replacement transmitter when I got a defective one.  They refunded some RC car wheels when I got front wheels instead of back wheels.  And it also includes refunds for non-performing items like battery chargers.

This has recently extended up to tablets, which are roughly $100 a pop for inexpensive models.  (Kids break them so I buy cheap ones.)  One tablet got lost in the mail and they refunded it without any complaints once the tracking number stayed stuck for 60 days.

Based on this, I have 100% confidence in BG.  I do not worry at all buying from them since I know that if they send a defective item I will not lose any money on it. 

Up until recently, BG had better pricing than DX, but that has been changing.  Plus DX has a few items BG does not.  So, based on my favorable past experience I ordered a couple of tablets from DX.

On arrival, one was DOA with a non-functional screen.  It happens.  I did the customary video of the issue and opened a customer service ticket.  What I got back was a little disappointing.

Here are the options they presented:

-  Get the tablet repaired and negotiate a (partial?) rebate of the repair cost
-  Get an $8 credit
-  Return the item (shipping cost: $20) for an exchange

Obviously not nearly as supportive as BG.  This is typical of the risks that people do not want to take on when purchasing expensive items from overseas vendors.

This is my first experience with DX return policies, and I can't say I'm too impressed.  In previous days I might have just shrugged and chalked it up to experience, but BG is setting a much higher bar for customer service.

From this, I would have to recommend Banggood over DealExtreme.  If you do have issues - and they do happen, even to the best vendors - BG should cover you.  DX will not.

It is true that - depending on the item - BG might be a little bit more expensive than DX.  And they don't stock identical products all the time. 

And this is just my experience, YMMV.  I recently read a tablet review on BG where, somehow, their return policy changed to pretty much match DX.  I do not know why they would handle different customers differently, but it seems that they might.  So be certain to always protect yourself with a credit card or other means of payment that allows you to dispute the payment should things go badly.

In any event, I know where I'm buying my expensive toys in the future.

(Note:  I shouldn't even have to say this, but in this day and age of paid reviews I guess I have to.  NOBODY PAID ME to write this, and I have NO affiliation with either DealExtreme or Banggood except being a customer.  It's my money on the line here, not theirs.)

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Things you can do to provide web filtering (parental controls) on Android

This article concerns how to keep little ones from stumbling into inappropriate content on the net via an Android device.  If this isn't what you need, you can stop reading now.

Unfortunately, Android has no "master switch" that enables filtering.  But there are some things you can do.

I will also say that no filtering is ever perfect.

1.  Youtube:  Enable "Restricted mode".

How:  On the individual device, go to  Go to the bottom where it says "Restricted mode: Off".  Click and enable Restricted Mode.

Limits:  Only filters Youtube content.

Notes:  This seems to work by browser, so you have to do this on the device of interest.  Going to Youtube on a PC when you want to restrict a tablet doesn't work.

2.  Google Play:  In the Play app, go to Settings/Parental controls.  You can set a PIN to prevent kiddies from setting it back.

Limits:  Only filters Play app content.  Play access via browser is unaffected.

3.  Parental control app.  Several are available on the Play Store.

Limits:  None seem to be a clear winner.  Most require subscriptions.

4.  Use OpenDNS.  Methods vary.  Basic filtering is free.

Limits:  Doesn't work with some VPN services.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Transmission will not shift into reverse on Tremec T-56 transmission

Problem: Car suddenly and inexplicably won't shift into reverse.

The usual tricks do not work, including:
  • Shifting to first gear, then reverse
  • Shifting to fourth gear, then reverse
  • Rolling a bit forward
  • Letting car idle, stationary, with clutch out, before trying for reverse
  • Letting the clutch out a bit with the brakes on (to try and align transmission gears without moving forward)
  • Pumping clutch
  • Removing the floor mat to get an extra bit of clutch travel
  • Forcing the gear
  • Shifting into reverse with the engine is not running
If you have a reverse lockout solenoid, it may feel very much like the solenoid is preventing you from shifting.   This will seem to be "confirmed" on those few occasions when you can shift into reverse when the car is not running by overcoming the spring pressure of the solenoid/shifter mechanism, but this trick will (probably) not work consistently.

Unfortunately, this can be caused by a myriad of problems, ranging from trivial to expensive.  These include:
  • Low clutch fluid (refill clutch fluid)
  • Air in clutch lines (bleed clutch fluid)
  • Worn/low transmission fluid (change)
  • Broken reverse lockout solenoid (replace)
  • Worn master cylinder (replace)
  • Worn slave cylinder (replace)
  • Worn reverse synchro (replace)
  • Worn motor mounts (replace)
  • Worn shifter bushings (replace)
  • Worn clutch / flywheel (replace)
You will probably be convinced that you need a new reverse lockout solenoid because yours feels like it is stuck, and/or worried your clutch is about toast.

However, before you despair and resign yourself to another dealership visit for a new reverse solenoid, clutch or transmission service, check that tiny little hydraulic clutch reservoir under the hood.  In my case the reservoir was dry, meaning the clutch fluid was a touch low.  Topping up with less than 100 ml of DOT-4 brake fluid seems to have fixed the issue. 

Note that any DOT-4 will do.  If you add quite a bit, pump the clutch slowly 10-15 times after topping up.

A dry reservoir is a sign of a leak.  If you haven't had any shifting problems before, the leak may be new.  Keep an eye on it and repair as necesary.

Note: This obviously assumes you haven't done something dumb like accidentally install a CAGS eliminator on your reverse solenoid by mistake.  This can happen if you purchased the wrong CAGS for your vehicle.  This should be obvious, however, since the reverse gear will immediately stop behaving once the incorrect plug is installed, and come right back once it is removed. 

I'm not going to say which car I personally have, but the Tremec was used on several, including:

  • 1997-2007 Corvette
  • 2005-2007 Corvette Z51
  • 2001-2004 Corvette Z06
  • 1993-2002 Camaro
  • 2004-2006 Ram SRT-10
  • 1992-2007 Viper
  • 2000 Cobra R
  • 2003-2004 Cobra
  • 2004-2007 Cadillac CTS-V
 Happy reversing!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Installing the Oxford Anchor 14

So install was a pain.  Drilling concrete is never easy.

Besides a pencil/Sharpie, earplugs, a level (if wall mounted), pliers, gloves, glasses, etc, you will probably need to acquire:

-  A decent 1/2" hammer drill.  A rotary hammer is better, but expensive.  Consider renting one, it may make life easier.

-  Masonry bits in various sizes from 1/8" through 3/4". 

Why so many bits?  Several reasons:

-  You need the smaller sizes because nobody in their right mind will try to drill a 3/4" hole in concrete straight off.  Start with a very small pilot hole and work up slowly.

-  Masonry bits can wear out quickly.  You may need two or three of the smaller sizes to get four holes.

-  The bracket fasteners are 16mm.  They will not quite fit into a 5/8" hole, and DO NOT try and tap them in or they will deform and/or come apart.  They will fit and tighten in a 3/4" hole if you cannot find the requisite 16mm bit.

-  Many of the "all-in-one" drilling/driving sets have a few masonry bits.  But they probably go up only to 3/8".  Chances are you'll need to buy one or two of the 1/2", 5/8" and 3/4" sizes, respectively.  (I ended up going through a few small bits but only needed one 1/2", one 5/8" and one 3/4". for ten holes.)

-  A good masonry bit will bite and drill relatively easily.  If it is not biting, it is probably worn out.  Or maybe you've hit rock or rebar.

-  The bit bits are a little expensive at $10-$15 each.  I found them cheapest at Home Depot.

More details:

-  The commenters are right.  Drill ONE hole first.  Mount the bracket up, then mark & drill hole #2.  Repeat until you get all four.  Trying to mark and drill four at once is a recipe for at least one to be off-center.

-  If you're having trouble getting your initial hole on center, you can use a "regular" titanium or high-speed bit to get a dimple to center the masonry bit.

-  If you end up with bits that melt, flatten, pancake or mushroom - i.e. an  un-drillable hole - chances are you hit some rebar.  In which case you can spend $100 on a carbide rebar cutting bit, or move to a new location.  After melting nine bits (!) I eventually chose the latter, which is why I had ten holes and not eight.

-  If you miss or have to shift, you will have some leftover holes.  Fill these in with weatherproof grey silicone or similar.

-  ALWAYS completely thread the provided fasteners to ensure they thread cleanly.  I had two that were difficult to thread, and they could have caused problems if I'd inserted the anchors without clearing them.

-  I tightened mine with a torque wrench, but only because I had an inch-pound wrench lying about that I had inherited but never used.  You will need the right adapters, bits etc. to let you put a 6mm hex key on it.  I used the 3/8" torque wrench, a 3/8"-to-1/4" adapter and a deep 6mm 1/4" drive socket.  To make the 6mm hex bit I cut the long leg off of the L-shaped hex key that came with the bracket.

-  I have no idea how you're meant to hammer the ball bearings in to the bolt heads.  You'll need a punch, I guess?  I didn't try.  Will be easy if floor-mounted, but IMHO rather unnecessary.

-  Hammering the cover plugs into the bracket is hard.  Expect to miss and mark up your nice new bracket.  (Note mine were wall-mounted - floor-mounted might be easier to keep on target.  Maybe use a rod or something between the cap and hammer to avoid hitting the bracket itself.)

-  If you have difficulty removing a fastener and end up leaving parts inside the hole, you can fish them out with a magnet.  They are steel and not aluminum.

I had to make a cardboard & cloth pad to let me lean against the drill with my body, without crushing my hands or squashing myself too badly.  It takes a LOT of force to get the bit moving sometimes and I simply cannot deliver that with my arms alone.  Knee pads or a mat are also highly recommended.