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.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Samsung Galaxy S9 / S9+ suddenly stops making phone calls after firmware update

Situation:  You've had a Galaxy S9 or S9+ for a long time with no issues.  You have not installed any new apps recently.  No app updates have occurred.

However, after a Samsung firmware update, the phone will (very frustratingly) no longer make voice calls.  It will attempt to dial and give up after 10-30 seconds without ringing through. 

Booting to safe mode does not help, but does remove all your widgets.  (ARGH!)

Possible solution:  The firmware update has enabled voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) calling support, but your carrier / access point doesn't support/allow for it.

To fix, go to Connections -> Mobile networks -> VoLTE calls and disable VoLTE calling.

You should be especially suspicious of this feature if you are using a femtocell or cell phone boost device.  These devices probably don't support the newer VoLTE feature.

Oh, and hey to Google - F-you for removing all my widgets in Safe Mode.  My God, you couldn't have saved their previous state somewhere to restore afterwards?  Seriously, that is SO HARD?

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Difficult-to-answer questions on the Insta360 One X 360 degree action camera

Here are some of the questions I found it difficult to answer regarding the (relatively) new Insta360 One X action camera.  That is, they required more research than I would have thought necessary.

Many of these relate to indefinite shooting outdoors.  This involves the use of an external power source, as well as waterproofing / weather protection.  The primary application is filming motorcycling in uncertain weather conditions, where it is not practical to stop and dismount the camera every time there is a drop of rain.

For reference, on my last trip, we were rained on for 11 hours straight returning home.  We were utterly soaked, and any non-waterproof camera would have been ruined.

External Power

Q:  Where is the damn USB port?

A:  It's on the left side of the camera, near the base.  See here.

Q:  What kind of USB port is it?

A:  It's a micro USB.  The camera comes with a short USB-A to micro-USB adapter cable.

Q:  Does the One X charge and operate from an external power source?

A:  Yes, it does.  The camera will charge and operate from external power, allowing indefinite shooting times.

(Reference here, here, here.)

Q:  Will the camera run without the battery on an external power source?

A:  All sources say NO, but this user was able to use the One X with no internal battery on an XT power bank. 

Q:  What current capacity is required for the external power source?

A:  I read one reference - which I can no longer locate - that stated you needed a 2A source.  Lesser sources may not fully supply the camera and result in the battery running down even though it is plugged in.

Note that many external USB battery packs are limited to an output current below 2A.  These types of packs may not fully power the One X.

There are references to a similar problem affecting the Sony FDR-X3000, which is a non-360 action cam.  So, though I don't understand the behavior, it is evidently possible.

Admittedly, this one does not make sense.  As the 1200 mAh battery lasts 30-60 minutes, one would expect a 20-40 mA draw - not a 2A draw.  Even accounting for "bursty" current consumption when writing to the SD, 2A seems excessive.

Plus the camera would likely overheat at such draws, which it does not, and users would likely be complaining that some battery packs don't work, which they are not.

(This reference cites the battery chargers at 2A, but that is not the same thing.  Obviously you want to charge the batteries as quickly as reasonably possible, but that has nothing to do with camera current draw.)

Q:  Does the software stitch out the USB cable?

A:  Surprisingly, it seems it (mostly) can.  Not quite fully, but the cable is mostly invisible.  At worst, it should be quite easy to work around.

I would recommend using a right-angle plug and taping / arranging the cable directly to the body of the camera in order to minimize exposure, as shown in this video.

Astute viewers will note the bike owner used a USB cable with a fat ferrite core near the plug.  This was actually the USB adapter cable that ships with the camera (see 3:30 of this unboxing video), to which he presumably added a USB extension cable.  Even with this relatively giant core, the One X software eliminates nearly all of it.

One should be able to get a lower-profile USB cable third-party, in which case it might be fully stitched out.  The ferrite will be unnecessary since the longer cable will (presumably) only be used for power, and not data transfer.

(Sample video here.)

Note that all videos from "A Bike Thing" shows his bike lights strobing.  This is an artifact of the video recording process, and is not happening in real life.

Venture Case / Dive Case

Q:  Does the Venture Case / Dive Case include a 1/4" tripod mount?

A:  Yes, they both do.  The Dive has a 1/4" socket built-in, while the Venture has a GoPro-like mount with the socket at the base.

Presumably this is so the Venture can be used with the various existing GoPro mounts on the market, as well as allowing relatively easy removal/replacement.  There is no need for these capabilities with the Dive Case since you don't need quick R&R underwater.

Q:  Does the software fully eliminate the Venture Case from the footage?

A:  Yes.  However, stitch lines may become slightly more prominent.

Note you must select the software option to stitch for the Venture Case, or else the case will be visible.  See this video for an example of what happens if you stitch incorrectly.  (I do not know if this occurs in camera or in post.)

(Reference here.   Sample videos here, here, and here.)

Q:  Does the software fully eliminate the Dive Case from the footage?

A:  No - the base of the Dive Case is still visible, and you have to work around it - that is, you will need to avoid pointing the perspective at the bottom of the camera.  Otherwise the case is fully invisible.

If you hold the stick a bit low, it is still possible to get a clear view of the operator (i.e. yourself, the diver) during your dive.

(Reference here.  Sample videos here, here, here, here, here. If video links don't work, see original Facebook post here.)

Q:  Can you use an external power plug with the Venture Case?

A:  No, as there is no opening in the Venture Case for an external power plug.

If you want to do this, you'll have to drill a hole in the Venture Case and somehow seal up the opening.  There are no known examples of anyone doing this (yet).

Hopefully Insta will come up with a Venture Case that includes an optional port that mates to a waterproof USB cable, like the X-PWR system for the GoPro.  No comparable system yet exists for the Insta360 One X.

For those interested in such modifications, see this video for how the Venture Case operates.  The camera battery compartment is on the latch side of the case, while the USB port is on the hinge side of the case.

There are no good views, but it may be possible to permanently mount a USB cable into the Venture Case and seal it up with silicone, while still allowing the camera to be inserted and removed.  This is not confirmed.

(Reference here.)

Q:  Can you use an external power plug with the Dive Case?

A:  No.  For obvious reasons, modifying the case for this capability is not recommended, as the resulting hole will never be able to seal against water pressure.

Dive time is typically limited to 45-50 minutes, at the most, due to tank limitations (novices or especially active swimmers may get only 30 minutes).  Only experience will tell if the 30-60 minute battery of the One X will be enough to handle an entire dive.

(Reference here.)

Q:  Does the Dive / Venture Case support a TF card extension cable?

A:  This is not mentioned by Insta and is unknown / unsupported.  In theory, the camera will not know that there is an extension cable, but the speed of the card might be compromised.

The thin profile of the extension cable may allow the Venture to seal even with the cable poking out; in practice, your mileage may vary.

The Dive case is unlikely to seal well under water with a TF cable poking out.

SD Card / Recording Time

Q:  What kind of SD card do I need?

A:  You need a microSD card of V30 speed class or better, formatted to exFAT (FAT64).  Inferior cards will not be able to handle the data dump from the camera.

Some sources claim the One X has an unlimited card size, but Insta states that the maximum size is limited to 128 Gb.

Note that microSD and TF (originally known as TransFlash) cards are functionally identical.

An excellent rundown of recommended and compatible cards can be found here.  Other recommendations here.

Q:  How big of an SD card do I need for my recording time?

A:  Without a camera in-hand this can only be estimated.

The One X (at 5.7k) has a data rate in between that of the original One (4k, 8.125 MB/s) and the Pro (8k, 43.75 MB/s).  Various sources list it as 100 mbps (12.5 Mb/s) or 2 streams of 60 mbps.

Anecdotal estimates place a 60 minute video at 43 Gb, indicating that actual bitrate is closer to 100 mbps.

Assuming about 100 mbps, that is approximately 12.5 MB/s, 750 Mb/min, or 45 Gb/hr.  Giving recording times of:

-  32 Gb card:  42 minutes
-  64 Gb card:  1 hour 25 minutes
-  128 Gb card:  2 hours 50 minutes

Unfortunately, this video shows an actual One X, set to 5.7k, with a 32 Gb card, having an estimated recording time of 30 minutes, not 42 minutes.  64 Gb and 128 Gb cards would top out at 1 hour and 1.5 hours, respectively.  Suffice to say that extended recording in 5.7k is really not possible.

This seems to be typical of 360 cameras.  This Gear360 shot (reference here) shows a 4k Gear using a 128 Gb card having a 4 hour recording time, rather than the predicted 4.7 hour time.  The One X would probably get the same 4 hours when set to 4k.

IF the One X supported 256 Gb and 512 Gb cards - which it seemingly does not - the recording times would be about 5.5 hours and 11 hours, respectively.  These would be suitable for all-day touring, and cards are not even that expensive.

It is unknown if the camera will actually function with such cards, or if a firmware update may come that enables large-card support.  If one was being uncharitable, one might suspect that Insta deliberately limited the recording time to push users towards the far more expensive Pro models.

Note that 360 Rumors stated that the recording time was limited by file size to 30 minutes.  This was apparently fixed by a firmware update.

Time-lapse video should substantially extend this time, provided you want time-lapse at all.  There is an example of a 6 hour time-lapse video, shot with unknown settings on a 128 Gb card.

This video shows an actual One X with a 32 Gb card allowing 5,500 JPG (not RAW) photos when set to 18 MP.   However, the camera appears to take 2 shots per photo, doubling the storage per shot.  That's 45 minutes at 1 second intervals, or 3 hours 49 minutes at 5 second intervals, when doing time-lapse in photo mode.

That's with a relatively puny 32 Gb card, and using JPG.  RAW and larger cards will obviously change this.

Q:  Can I use an SSD instead of an SD card?

A:  There is no indication anywhere that the One X supports an SSD.  To get that, you need to pony up $5k for a Pro model.


Q:  How does the Bluetooth remote work?

A:  Sample video here.

Q:  What does timelapse look like?

A:  Sample video here.

Q:  What do embedded statistics / GPS overlays look like?

A:  Sample videos here, here and here.

The camera must be wirelessly connected to a phone - or, maybe, the new GPS remote - to receive GPS data while filming.  This will cut battery life.

There is little data available on how the GPS overlay works.  I don't know if the overlays are added post, or are embedded in the video in real time.  Which is, I don't know if they can be optionally added after or are forever embedded in your video.

An idea for an alternative waterproof / weatherproof case is here.

Other references:

Insta360 One X on motorcycle
Insta360 One X motorcycle mount example
More motorcycle mounting options
Philip Bloom review of One X 
A good critical video comparing the One X to the GoPro Fusion
A good critical video on what is / was wrong with the One X

Special thanks to:

- Steve at A Bike Thing for his helpful series of videos on using the Insta360 One X for motorcycling.

360 Rumors for what is possibly the most complete information source on the One X available today.