Sunday, December 31, 2017

Vizio M70-E3 will not work with HDMI adapters

This is only a problem, as I have no solution.

I tried to set up my new Vizio M70-E3 display (circa Dec 2017) to accept HDMI audio/video from two Acer Veriton N4640g mini-PCs.  These PCs are quite capable and run Windows 7, which I prefer.  They are also small and almost silent, and so good media PCs.

The Veriton is VGA only.  I figured that I could use a VGA-to-HDMI adapter to convert the signal.  However, the adapters I tried did not work.

(For anyone reading who is unfamiliar with Vizio TVs, they have no discrete audio inputs.  If they had, I would have bypassed the HDMI video first thing.  But this is not possible.)

The first was the Cable Matters VGA-to-HDMI Converter with USB Audio.  The video on this worked perfectly but there was no audio.  The drivers were fine and Windows showed the USB audio device playing, but the TV did not play the audio.  I tried several ports, several HDMI cables, and two separate identical converters without success.

Figuring there was an issue with the USB audio, I next tried the Bytecc VGA-to-HDMI with 3.5mm audio.  The 3.5mm jack on the PC worked, but the TV again refused to play audio.

Finally, I  tried the Vantec USB 3.0 to HDMI 4k converter.  I didn't have much hope, but the audio worked perfectly (surprisingly).  However, the video playback was ever-so-slightly laggy, making it unsuitable even with locally stored 1080p video files.  I don't know if the issue was with the Core i5, the Veriton USB, or USB 3.0 performance in general, but it didn't make it.

In the unlikely event that anyone other than me wants to try this, be aware that the Vizio M70-E3 does not like the audio signal produced by x-to-HDMI converters.  Be sure you test the configuration beforehand.

Also, as a note, anyone looking for a "media PC" might want to look at a laptop/notebook instead.  They are frequently cheaper than a "media" or "mini PC" when on sale, are just as quiet/power-efficient, have better specs, will fit most media centers (when folded closed) and are (in my experience) much easier to set up owing to the built-in screens and keyboards.  I snagged a couple of new Win 7 laptops on sale to fix my issues and they worked very well.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Repairing the Snuggles My Dream Puppy

Problem:  Snuggles either stops working or begins barking incessantly.  This is apparently a very common issue, and also one that most parents dread - a broken toy on Christmas morning.

Cause:  Snuggles has a loose battery connection, somewhere.  This is causing the puppy to either not work, or reboot over and over.  The constant rebooting is the cause of the incessant barking - it is replaying the startup bark over and over.


1.  Try removing the gaskets in the battery holders.  They look like this:

These are normally separate parts and are not glued into place or anything.  Just pull them out with your fingernail.

The gaskets really don't have any function in Snuggles.  They theoretically seal the batteries against water, but this should not make any difference since Snuggles is not a water toy.

Once this is done, reinstall the paws (battery covers) as normal.  They should be able to press down on the batteries more effectively and will (hopefully) solve the connection issue.

2.  There is a video on the subject that shows how some Snuggles - likely earlier ones, though that is just conjecture on my part - have a loose cap on the battery compartment in the left-hand leg.  Repairing the cap requires removing the battery holder from the leg, which takes a bit of doing.

I removed mine and found that the battery holder was already fully glued, with no possibility of disassembling and regluing it.  So that did not work for me.  I did not try the right leg because I felt that it was unlikely that one leg was glued properly and the other not.

One way you (should) be able to tell if the video will work out is if Snuggles starts to behave when you push the battery holder together with your fingers.  If so, the internal endcap is likely loose and can / should be fixed.  If not, that is not likely to be the problem, and you might want to look for another solution before removing the compartment from the leg.

For what it's worth, removing the compartment from the leg is not too hard and is easy to reverse, so you're not risking much by trying it.  But it may be unnecessary since it takes only 10 seconds to remove the battery holder gaskets.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

How to downgrade Firefox 57 Quantum to Firefox 56

God damn you, Mozilla.  You DO NOT do a major, massive update to people's web browsers without any warning in the middle of the work week!  This is Change Management 101, go buy a bloody book on the subject!

And don't you go telling me that it's in the media/news/whatever.  If you are going to screw with people's machines this way, you tell the up front and DURING THE INSTALLATION PROCESS that big changes are coming.  You DON'T spring it on them as just another update.

Anyway, if you are still reading this, possibly you are like me and not too enthused with Quantum breaking all your extensions, add-ons or whatever.  You could waste ages trying to figure out if Quantum supports everything, plus dicking with the UI.  Or you could roll back.

Fortunately, rolling back is indeed simple: all you have to do is close Firefox and re-run the Firefox 56.0.2 installer again.  Yes, it really is that easy.

More detailed instructions, including what to do if the process goes awry, can be found here at SuperUser.  But that's really it.


-  You need a copy of the Firefox 56.0.2 installer.  Mozilla makes this harder to find than it should be, so I don't have a link handy.  It's out there.

-  You should back up your profile directory before downgrading.  This is as simple as copying %APPDATA%\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\ to another location for safekeeping.

In my case, everything was perfectly preserved after the downgrade except for the theme (which I had changed in Quantum) and a new spacer in my toolbar setup, both of which were trivial to fix.  Good luck.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Tassimo machine runs cleaning or add water cycles instead of descaling cycle

Problem:  Tassimo machine runs the wrong cycle with the cleaning disc in.  Usually, the problem is it will not run the descaling program no matter how long the brew button is pressed.

For example:
-  It runs a regular cleaning cycle instead of a descale cycle; or
-  It runs an "add water" cycle instead of a descale cycle; or
-  It runs an "add water" cycle instead of a cleaning cycle.

You can sometimes tell that this is what the machine "wants" to do because the wrong icons light up when you put in the cleaning disc.  For example, the "add water" icon may light up, which is not supposed to occur with the cleaning disc in place.

Solution:  It's probably reading the wrong barcode off of the cleaning disc.  Mostly this occurs because the window that lets the machine "see" the barcode is dirty.

To fix, lift up the disc holder and clean the little rectangular window underneath, then re-insert.  The machine should then be able to properly identify the cleaning disc and everything will work as it should.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Stopping machines from connecting to the internet when the VPN goes down on DD-WRT

VPNs are good but their connections are rarely perfect. 

Usually, when they disconnect, your router fails over back to using the unencrypted WAN connection.  This is convenient but leaves your network connection exposed, which rather defeats the purposes.  Likely little point in being protected only 99% of the time, right?

Worse, you don't even know if the VPN is off.  Everything just blithely continues on as usual.  You'll only know if you manually check.  Which is stupid.

If you're like me, there are some devices on the network where you don't really care if they keep working or not.  Perhaps there are some where you actually want them to keep working, even if the VPN stops (Netflix?).  And there are probably a couple where you want them to stop working the second the VPN goes down.

If you search you will find lots of VPN monitoring programs that purport to kill programs upon VPN disconnect.  However, not one of these will work if you've set up your VPN in your router, because they can't see the VPN at all.  All those programs can see is your router, so they cannot tell if the router has lost the VPN connection, so they cannot work as advertised. 

So, those of us who have the VPN in the router have to implement the kill switch in the router.  Fortunately, OpenVPN on DD-WRT can do this.

To prevent a machine from accessing the net when the VPN is not working:

-  Make sure the device you want to block has a static IP address
-  Go to DD-WRT home page
-  Go to Administration
-  Go to Commands
-  Paste the following command in to the "Commands" box:

iptables -I FORWARD -s <ip-address> -o $(nvram get wan_iface) -j DROP 

-  Replace <ip-address> with the static IP of the device you want to STOP working if the VPN dies.
-  Click "Save Firewall"

To delete this rule later, click the "Edit" button (which will show up after the save), delete the command and click "Save Firewall" again.

To test, go to Services/VPN and disable the OpenVPN client, then click Save and Apply Settings, in that order.  The blocked machine should lose all internet access (but not local LAN access).  Re-enable the VPN to get it back, and you're all set.

I imagine the IP address might also be a subnet range, which would make it capable of blocking a whole range of devices.  I haven't tried it.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Copying files from a VLC xspf playlist into a new directory

Problem:  You have a nicely curated VLC playlist in xpsf format, and you want to copy those files (and only those files) to a new destination.  Like, your phone or portable device, for a trip or something.

There is a tool called "XSPF Export Tool" out there, done by Gerald at Dragonzero.  It did not work for me.

There is another tool called AmoK Playlist Copy.  It does not support .xspf playlist format.

So what worked for me was:

-  In VLC, save the playlist into *.m3u format, and

-  Use AmoK Playlist Copy to copy the playlist files to a new directory.

Worked perfect for me.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

P.I. Engineering Macroworks 3.1 for X-Keys running impossibly slow under Windows 7

Update August 2022:  The solution below did NOT work for me, so three more years of putting up with this nonsense.

Pretty much every time I ran Macroworks, it would hog the CPU to the point where the machine became almost completely unresponsive.  It took 20-25 minutes just to start Task Manager and kill it. 

However, I may have found another solution:  Set Macroworks' "Priority" in Task Manager to "Low".  This seems to let it hog the CPU without actually getting in the way of anything.

This is (again) a new development and I don't know if it is going to pan out, but it's worth a shot.


Update Oct 2019:  Per the comments below, I updated to the latest MW (as of mid-Oct) and  it seems to be completely fixed.

Oddly, PI does not mention this anywhere that I could find.  Perhaps they don't want to admit they had an issue, or perhaps the issue really was confined to a few lucky users.

However, you DO need to manually uninstall MW before performing the new install.  PI Engineering does <u>not</u> mention this <u>anywhere</u>, so shame on them, but it's true.

I highly recommend the following:

1.  Save your scripts before nuking the old install.  They are in:

\Users\[Your User Name Here]\AppData\Local\PI Engineering\MacroWorks 3\MyScripts.  Look for "Script_xxxx_x.mw3" files.

Place them in a safe place.

Note: If you're not regularly backing up this folder, you're asking for it.

2.  Export your key legends and put the file(s) in a safe place.   Alternatively, copy the *.lgd files in your MyScripts folder.

The process below will nuke them too.  So be sure to do it!

3.  Follow the instructions in this thread to completely nuke the old install.

4.  Reboot.

5.  Install the latest MW.

6.  As noted in the thread, before first run, click the "Run as administrator" box.

7.   Re-load the scripts from File\Load Script, legends from File\Legends\Import Legends.

I did not unplug my devices, and it seems to have worked.

However, I did get "Dragdrop did not register" errors - or something similar, I didn't write it down.  I just kept hitting "Continue" and eventually they went away.  It seems no harm was done.

I have not tried running it without the "Run as administrator" option checked, and I probably won't bother.


Update Jan 2018:  I had problems with Acrobat so I restored my PC from a backup and had to reinstall Macroworks 3.1.  The latest version  (v., Dec 2017) >appears< to have fixed issues with speed and the X-Keys programming key not working correctly.  Time will tell.

However, I do still recommend running Macroworks  in admin mode, as described below.  Setting the Windows "Run this program as an administrator" flag the Compatibility tab >seems< to do the job.

Update:  No, it didn't.


Problem:  Macroworks 3.1 starts to run / respond slower and slower until it pretty much hangs completely.

Note this is for "MacroWorks3g.exe", which is the GUI interface.  MacroWorks3r.exe, which is the system tray utility, doesn't seem to have any problems.

One possible solution:

-  Exit the GUI (kill it if you have to)
-  Optional:  Exit the system tray utility.
-  Go to where these files are (likely C:\Program Files (x86)\PI Engineering\MacroWorks 3.1)
-  If necessary, right-click MacroWorks3r.exe, and choose "Run as administrator".

OK, here's the trick: when you want to access to GUI:

You >must< go to  C:\Program Files (x86)\PI Engineering\MacroWorks 3.1\MacroWorks3g.exe, right-click, and "Run as administrator".  Do this EVERY time you want the GUI.

What will not work:

-  If you access the GUI from an elevated system tray program, it will NOT behave.
-  If you check the "Run this program as an administrator" in the Compatibility tab, it will NOT behave.
-  If you use the programming switch on the Xkeys to invoke the GUI, it will NOT behave.
-  If you run it from any ordinary shortcut, it will NOT behave.

Again, you have to manually run the GUI as admin EVERY time.

For some reason, this works differently than the "Run this program as an administrator" in the Compatibility tab. I had that checked but it didn't help.  Running the program manually in admin mode using the right-click menu did work.  Don't ask me why, but it cleared up all the hesitation on my machine.

If that doesn't work on it's own, try going to the Compatibility tab for both programs and setting Compatibility Mode to "Windows XP (Service Pack 3".  I did both and I don't know if it made a difference.

Note you can avoid much of the inconvenience of having to run the GUI as admin by minimizing the GUI when you don't need it, rather than closing it.  Then it will stay running properly all the time.

Note this may cause the programming switch on your Xkeys to stop working.  Also, you will no longer be able to press an Xkeys button to get it to program - you have to double-click the key in the GUI.

These effects are probably because the stick hardware can no longer control the MacroWorks program when it is running as admin.  This is because admin programs direct other programs, not the other way around.  But these are a small price to pay to have a properly programmable X-Keys system again.

[Edit Dec 2017]:  The GUI frequently crashes if it's left sit for a long time.  I plan to try plugging the Stick directly into a proper USB hub instead of the keyboard USB port, to see if that fixes anything.

[Edit Nov 2020]:  Still no fix - in fact, with the second-latest update (, things seem worse than ever.  I know it's not just my Stick since I unplugged it, and MW behaves the same with just my jog keypad.  

 As PI is obviously never going to fix this, I would not recommend purchasing Xkeys products.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Microsoft Word stops accepting non-text keys (a.k.a. keyboard stops working in Microsoft Word)

Problem:  Word stops accepting non-ASCII keys.  Everything works using mouse shortcuts, but keyboard equivalents do not work.

For example, you can type "normal" text.  But arrow keys, function keys, and keyboard shortcuts such as Ctrl-X for copy, Ctrl-V for paste, do not work.  Home and End keys do not work.  Function keys like F7 for spell check do not work.  Number pad arrows do not work.

Possible solution:  Using the mouse, try starting the spell checker (Review / Spelling & Grammar.). 
For whatever reason, this unlocked all of my special keys again in Word.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Kodi / XBMC not respecting ".nomedia" file or "excludefromscan" tag in advancedsettings.xml

Things to know:

-  XBMC is too old to recognize the ".nomedia" file.  You'll need to upgrade to a recent build of Kodi.

-  To get a proper ".nomedia" file in Windows, you have to tell Windows to name the file ".nomedia.", with a trailing period.

-   advancedsettings.xml should be in "%appdata%\Kodi\userdata\".

-  You don't need all the fancy regex crap you see in the examples.  <regex>somethingsimple</regex> will do.

-  If you're having problems with "excludefromscan", you should know there is a separate tag for TV shows called "excludetvshowsfromscan".   So if you're having problems with "excludefromscan" not excluding TV show directories, this is probably why. 

That last one killed me for bloody hours.  I suppose it makes sense to have different settings for movies and TV, but why oh why isn't the first tag "excludemoviesfromscan"?

Also, Kodi 17 Krypton doesn't seem to respect the .nomedia file properly in all cases.  I don't know why I seem to be the only one having that problem.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Programs such as Excel, Word, Acrobat suddenly and persistently pop up dialog boxes on the wrong monitor

Problem:  After weeks/months/years of trouble-free operation, various programs such as Word, Excel, Acrobat etc. start popping up their dialog boxes on the "wrong" monitor in a multi-monitor display.

For example, the "Find" or "Format cells" dialog of Excel may appear on the right-hand monitor instead of the center one, or on the center one instead of the left-hand one.  Or, for dual-monitor displays, it shows on the left if Excel is on the right, or vice-versa.

Possible solution:  If you are running an AMD FirePro graphics card, chances are your monitor settings recently got f^ck@d up for no apparent reason at all and completely scrambled your nice monitor setup.  God only knows why this happens at all (I sure don't) but I'll bet it happened to you.

You went through all the pain of resetting monitor positions in the Windows Display settings, because your left monitor became your right, your center became the left, etc.  And (probably) re-organizing all of your 100s of desktop icons on your displays which similarly got scrambled, and your damn icon restore programs didn't work.  Now you find that dialog boxes are effed up as well.

If all of the above is true, the culprit could very well be the AMD Catalyst Pro Control Center setting called "Enable Dialog Repositioning".  It is buried in Catalyst Pro Control Center under Hydravision / Desktop Manager.  Chances are it is enabled and set to "Show on preferred display" where the "preferred" display is NOT the one you want.

To fix it, you can turn off dialog repositioning completely - I really don't know why it is there in the first place - or you can reset it to "Show on application's display".  You may need to try both settings to see which one works better.

Of course, if you prefer dialogs to appear on one of your displays all of the time, you can keep it set to "Show on preferred display".  Just make sure the number of the "preferred" display, waaay off there to the right, is actually set to the one you want to call the preferred display!  It does NOT automatically default to the Windows "main" display.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Sudden and inexplicable "Your connection is not secure" on Firefox with major sites (Google, Mozilla, PIA, etc.)

Problem:  Firefox suddenly barfs "Your connection is not secure" messages on major sites such as Mozilla, Google, Blogger, PIA, and possibly several others.  But several other major sites (news, Bing, etc.) are OK. 

Phones, tablets and other PCs on the same network are not affected.  And there is nothing in recent news that Google has somehow messed up their security certificates and basically screwed the entire online population of the planet.

Solution:  Chances are your PC clock is wrong, either because you just reset your BIOS or replaced the backup battery in your PC, and forgot to re-set your clock. If your PC thinks it's 2004, it will fail a lot of current security certificates.

Another possibility is your antivirus is interfering with Firefox security validations.  This is not likely unless your AV and/or Firefox has changed recently, but is supposedly a known problem with Avast in particular.

Similar issues can cause a "Your connection isn't private" error in Chrome.  For a list of possible fixes to both issues, see this post at Quora.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Hard drive indicator solid, seemingly large activity from System process (PID 4)

OK, I assume you didn't deliberately change anything.  If you did, start checking the drivers for your latest hardware before doing anything else.

Symptoms:  Stable Windows 7 x64 system suddenly has HDD indicator light on solid (or nearly solid).  Happened suddenly without warning, re-occurs within a few minutes after booting. 

PC will freeze for at least several seconds at a time.  CPU activity is high.  Task Manager is slow, hangs frequently and tells you nothing useful.  Process Explorer seems to show System process (PID 4) taking lots of CPU, but no other details - no real indication which process is actually hogging your hard drive. 

Turning off antivirus doesn't help.  Acrobat may complain about a "serious error" when started and/or freeze up.  Inability to use Disk Management tool.  Shutdown takes tens of minutes, if it happens at all; might freeze on "Logging off" or "Shutting down".

Cause:  Something probably broke.  Chances are your DVD-RW drive, CD-RW drive (if those exist anymore) or a secondary hard disk/SSD in your system has bit it.  This can cause the HDD indicator light to stay on permanently even though the PC is actually not trying to do anything in particular.

(As a guess, it's probably that "secondary" high-capacity hard drive you stuck into your PC when you did your first SSD upgrade.  You don't use it much and tend to forget it is there.  It's probably old, old, old by now.)

If you're smart enough to have placed your virtual memory swapfile on the pseudo-dead drive, you may have additional problems.

Poking around in "My Computer" may tell you which drive is at fault.  It may show up but be inaccessible; it may be partly accessible but might disappear later.   You will probably not be able to run any kind of disk check on it; trying will result in an Explorer hang.

Solution:  Manually shut down and disconnect the suspected offending drive or burner.  If possible, try reconnecting with a Dock to run Seatools or other diagnostic utilities and/or to copy files off the drive.  (You are backing it up, right?  RIGHT!?!?!?!  Stupid!)

Note that maybe the SATA port went bad, rather than the drive.  So be sure your replacement is a known-good drive and/or use a different port.

(Why this affects Acrobat is beyond me and is just one more example of why that is a poorly coded program.)

If it's not the above, then you're down to shutting down programs to see if you can find an offending process.  Good luck.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Samsung created a bare metal restore miracle and apparently nobody noticed

It's been a maxim in the backup industry for years that you can't image a live system.

You always, always, always have to shut it down, boot from alternative media, and image that way.  Having spent more hours than I'd like on this, I can state this has always been true.

Until now, apparently.  The Samsung Data Migration utility just imaged my live Windows 7 system, in all its glory, from a smaller M4 SSD to a larger 850 Pro SSD.  It took about 30 minutes.  It even kept the hidden system partition.

Does nobody else realize what a godsend this is?  It's a working bare-metal restore solution for a live system.

OK, yes, the Samsung utility only writes to Samsung SSDs.  (That's touted as a safety feature, as you're unlikely to have two Samsung SSDs in the same system, but we all know why that really is.)

But, still - backup of a full image of my SSD on a live system?  Anytime I want to?  Really?  It's a god-damned miracle.

In case you haven't groked it yet, I do keep backup images of my boot drive.  Rare, I know.

Further, I actually keep a second SSD, fully imaged and bootable, on my shelf.  If my regular SSD fails, I can slot in the spare and be back up in minutes - not hours.  Ever rarer.

However, if you work for yourself or are in any situation where you just don't have the time to recover a crashed PC, having a spare worth a couple of hundred bucks is damn great insurance.  I can't imagine I'm the only one out there with this particular problem.

Developing a working imaging system was a pill.  I tried all the software that claimed to do live backups - all failed.  I know because I did the image, a bare metal restore, and physically plugged in the "new" drive in place of the "old" drive.  All failed to launch, DOA.

Eventually I settled on using Bart PE on a rescue CD, coupled with Image for Windows.  Reboot using Bart PE to keep the SSD from being "in use", and Image could copy it.  Restore the image later to any compatible device, plug it in and we have liftoff.

Of course, downing the machine, booting with a Bart CD and doing the image was rather slow and inconvenient.  It was worth it, but not something I liked doing, as it required me to go offline.

And then here is the Samsung Migration Utility.  Hassle-free, fast disk imaging anytime at the push of a button.  Keeping a spare SSD handy has never been so handy.

Maybe this is old hat.  My Bart/IFW solution was developed 5 years ago, perhaps everyone has moved on somehow.  But this is my first experience with a one-click live-system bare metal restore that works.

And yes, I will have to go out any buy a second Samsung SSD for my spare. I will do so quite cheerfully since never has a company deserved it more.

(Being practical, however I'll probably get the less-expensive 850 EVO model for the backup; no point in wasting money.)

Update:  Turns out I had purchased an identically-sized 850 EVO as my cold spare drive sometime in late 2015.  I had imaged it with my tried-and-true Bart PE solution and shelved it.

Of course, the EVO also came with the migration utility, but as I routinely ignore OEM software for straightforward items such as SSDs as bloatware, I never even looked at it.  Migration is not mentioned on the box or any of the visible packaging.  If I had not spotted the byline on the vendor website that mentioned the Migration Utility for the 850 Pro, I never would have known it existed.

Imaging my 256 Gb 850 Pro to my 250 Gb 850 EVO (yes, 250 Gb) was equally painless and again took about half an hour.  Live backups ahoy!

Why your PC should have a hard drive dock

The single best damn accessory you can buy for a PC is an internal SATA hard drive dock.  No, not the crappy external USB kind, the internal built-in SATA kind.

Why?  Because:

0.  ZERO compatibility issues with anything.  It's SATA, works with USB boot stick, Hiren's Boot CD, UBCD, all other boot media, all third-party utilities, etc.

1.  It lets you plug in another hard drive and make hot backups daily.

2.  It lets you remove said drive and replace it with another in about 5 seconds.  Meaning now you have both hot (online) and cold (offline) backups, and are proof against nearly every virus out there (including ransomware).  Good for weekly, monthly and quarterly backups.

3.  It lets you take your backups offsite; now you are proof against disaster.  (Hey, a 10 months old backup is better than nada.)

4.  It lets you migrate your current HDD/SSD to a newer, replacement, and/or larger HDD/SDD very easily.  Which is what I'm about to do.

5.  It lets you expand your nearline storage endlessly.  Just take a HDD off the shelf and plug it in.  Great for storing unlimited movies, TV, games, etc. where you don't need it online all the time.

6.  You don't pay monthly fees for cloud storage, and there are no tiers or storage limits.

7.  Newer models accept both 2.5" drives and 3.5" drives directly.  No adapters.

8.  Newer models accept 3.5" drives without a supplementary screw-on tray or caddy (i.e. trayless).

9.  If your HDD crashes, you can boot from CD/USB and plug in a new HDD/SSD to recover as much as you can.  No worries about USB support not working on your recovery CD or stick.

10.  Direct SATA connection much faster than USB connection (yes, even USB 3.0).

Do yourself a favor and the next time you buy a PC, spend the $50.  It's worth it.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The late adopters / inheritor's guide to an original Nintendo Wii that has been "softmodded"

For my kids first console I went with the original Wii: Wii is best for kids, the games are (usually) pretty good, and the hardware and games are cheap.  What the Brits call a "cheap and cheerful" solution.  Six-year-olds can't tell the difference!

I was lucky and managed to pick up a "softmodded" Wii, which had been modified to run game ISOs from an external hard disk.  This was good for me since most game discs are wearing out from inevitable wear and tear, and the Wii disc readers can't be too far behind.  Hard drive copies are impervious to both issues.
My system was blank (no games).  And I had no real idea how to use it or how it was set up, and the info on the web was horribly disorganized at best.  This information is aimed at any other late adopters who don't need to set it up, but do want to understand it.

This guide presumes you have/use the following:

Configurable USB Loader softmod for Wii. If your Wii shows "cfb" when starting the Loader Channel, it has this UI.

- WBFS Manager 3.0 (WBFS-M) because that is what I used.  WBFS Manager supports drive cloning and multi-game copying, which makes life easier.


There are several programs that let you run games from hard disk on the Wii.  Mine used Configurable USB Loader.

Softmod Wii systems use two storage devices:
-  An external USB hard drive for games
-  An SD card, plugged into the front slot, for covers and "resources"

I bet you didn't notice the SD card - it is plugged in under the little front cover.  Go take a look.

The hard drive is just a plain old ordinary USB hard disk.  But it can be formatted as Windows-compatible (FAT32 or NTFS), or with the proprietary WBFS file system used for the Wii.

Some claim WBFS is more stable, and it is obviously the safest, so WBFS is popular.  This means it can't be read by Windows or Macs if you just plug it in to your PC.  I bet you tried already.

Note:  If Windows asks to format the drive, DO NOT DO IT.  You will lose everything.

The SD card is also an ordinary SD.  As another guide says, this is the perfect task for an older 512 Mb or 1 Gb SD card.

Safeguarding/Backing Up Games

Hard disks fail, so obviously you want to ensure you're safe against a hard disk failure.  This means copying your game ISOs elsewhere for safekeeping.

Games are stored on the HDD as regular ISO files.  If you have a FAT32 or NTFS disk, you can plug it in to your PC/Mac and copy away.

If you have a WBFS drive, get WBFS Manager 3.0 (or similar).  Be sure to get the x32 or x64 edition, as appropriate for your type of Windows.  Use that to copy the ISOs from the WBFS drive elsewhere. They will be copied as ordinary .iso files using the game name as file name.

Note:  WBFS Manager requires you to "Refresh" the drive list and "Load" the drive manually, only after which will you see the list of games on the drive.  See this video for how that works.

Wii games are about 2 Gb each, typical, but it varies a lot.  For reference, I saw a system that had 440 games - which are nearly all of them - that required about 850 Gb.  Meaning a 1 Tb to 1.5 Tb drive will be enough for just about everyone.  The associated SD was 2 Gb and was also likely larger than required.

Cloning Your Drive

Another easy way to back up is to get a second USB drive and do a drive-to-drive copy.  This video shows you how by using WBFS Manager 3.0.  (There are also other WBFS programs out there but I don't know if they do drive cloning or not.)

Drive cloning is slow: Copying 400+ games from a USB 2.0 drive to a SATA drive will take ~10 hours.  It will not tie up your PC, but don't sit and watch it.

Adding Games to Hard Drive

You can add game ISOs directly to the Wii hard drive by:

-  Using WBFS Manager to copy directly to the drive, or
-  Putting a game disc into the Wii and using the "Add Game" function.

I used the second method to put my existing game discs on to the hard drive.  It takes 5-10 minutes per disc, but is pretty simple.

To use WBFS Manager:
-  Plug your hard drive in to your computer
-  When prompted, DO NOT format the drive
-  Start WBFS Manager
-  Click "Refresh Drive List"
-  Select the correct drive letter
-  Press "Load".  You will now see the list of games on the drive (if any)
-  Press "Browse"
-  Find the game ISO to load
-  Press "Add to Drive"

For further help, try referencing this guide.  Just substitute "hard disk" for "USB stick".

Using CFB

OK, data all saved, games loaded, now how the ^*!@$#! do I use this thing?

In theory, CFB is somewhat self-explanatory.  In practice it's confusing and it's pretty easy to get lost.

On startup you should see some sort of cover flow.  Look in the bottom left-hand corner for a list of the remote buttons and what they do.

From here:

-  "A" selects a game
-  "B" goes back
-  + adds a game
-  1 brings up game options

-  If hovering on a cover, 2 brings up the game.
-  If not hovering on a cover, 2 (usually) brings up the favorites list.

After selecting a game or function, read the text on the resulting screen to see what to do next.  Generally, A progresses/selects, while B cancels/goes back.

Where things go to $h!t is with the cover flow options.  There are a lot of them, selectable with Up and Down.  But they don't always go in the same order so it can take a lot of fiddling to get back to the one you like. 

My advice:  keep pressing DOWN until you get to the last view (Flow 1), then go up from there.

Organizing Games

As far as I know CFB offers the following options for organization:

-  You can tag Favorite games.  These show up when you press 2 on the UI.  But there is only one Favorites list.
 -  Teen/Mature filter:  This hides inappropriate games from the little ones.
 -  You can sort by: # of players, # of online players, and several others.

You can not do any of the following:

-  Organize games into folders.
-  Have different lists or settings for different people.
-  Sort by game rating (E, E10, T, M, etc.)
-  Sort by game rating / popularity

Parental Controls

CFB seems to bypass parental controls.  Maybe there are per-game options for this, but I don't know yet.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Synology Rackstations and Diskstations are dying due to a bug in Intel Atom C20xx CPUs - Is yours next?

For the low-down on this, see the Register article here.

Though The Register mentioned Synology, they did not mention that large numbers of Rackstation and Diskstation NAS devices of every type have used the affected Atom chips. 

The DS1815+ is certainly getting attention, but my own RP2416RP+ - something that I would hope qualified at a mid-upper-end model, at least when I purchased it - is similarly affected.  Lower-end model owners have also reported issues.  And at this point there is no reason to think that every Intel Atom C20xx device is not affected.

(And here I was mulling over the idea of retiring my old server, since my Rackstation has been doing so well.  Good thing electricity rates are cheap enough that it wasn't worth turning off the old kit.)

So far Synology has not released any statement regarding the issue or what steps, if any, they are going to take to correct it.  They are probably still trying to figure out how to minimize the impact to their bottom line.

It does have to be said that this is hardly Synology's fault - they trusted Intel, and Intel let them down - hard.  Having lived through two such scenarios already myself, I do have some sympathy for them.

However, that is not any argument for saying that Synology customers should bear the cost of this.  I had to live through a nightmare scenario of having defective firmware in my server hard drives (all 16 of them) and am most definitely not happy about having my new 'n shiny "upgraded" server revealed to be a time bomb.

Accordingly, I personally encourage every 'Station owner that has a valid warranty to submit a support ticket at this link, and push for a full and complete replacement of their affected unit(s).