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Tech Tips I'd Like To Remember


 

21 JUL 2018 - Still working on getting my stereo figured out and working right. It's taken a while, and at first I questioned whether I should have bought this particular system. After spending months with it I'm now very happy. It took a little bit to learn how everything works, but this is a very nice system for the small room I have it in.

HARDWARE

NAD C-368 amp and Klipsch RP-160M speakers - I chose the NAD nadamp and Klipsch speakers based on the recommendation from a Crutchfield consultant. There are a lot of stereo choices out there and a bunch of bucks can be spent while hoping everything works together. Amplifiers can be designed to work with specific components and if the wrong combination is put together it can be disappointing, if not expensive and disappointing.

The Crutchfield consultant was able to suggest a system based on my criteria and budget, which really helped narrow down the decision. After spending some time brushing up on audio specs, the NAD looked like a solid choice. And really, the amp wasn't a limitation so much as the speakers used in my small room. There isn't the space for full size speakers so I needed a suggestion for something smaller that would sound good and work with the NAD. I'm extremely happy with the Klipsch speakers!

Intel NUC7i5BNH mini computer - The NUC is one of those mini computers that are a little bigger than a hockey puck. It has everything a normal computer would except it's designed to be "headless", meaning no monitor. I wanted something small, also an Core i5 processor instead of the more powerful i7 because CPU power isn't that critical, and more importantly I'm weary of dealing with heat issues and small form factors. It's like trying to fit a V8 engine into an air cooled VW chassis - runs nice for a while but something is going to overheat eventually.

Netgear Gigabit Ethernet 5-port switch - The NAD required a direct LAN connection to the broadband modem, and at first I achieved that with a couple of Powerline adapters I've had laying around. Then it occured that for a few more dollars I could splt the signal and have the NUC running on LAN as well. A little more research pointed to an ethernet switch, and for about $15 I could run one without degrading the signal very much. Sweet!

TP-Link AV2000 Gigabit Powerline adapter - The last piece started out, as mentioned before, with a couple of Powerline adapters that I bought at least 4 years ago. My initial thought was I could make use of what I already had without purchasing anything new. But from the beginning I encounted connectivity problems that left me more and more frustrated. An interum solution was a direct connection from the NUC to the NAD, but the NAD was supposed to have these wonderful streaming features that obviously were not happening. When my frustration became unbearable I started chasing down component by component to determine the problem, and it appeared to be the Powerline connectors. I had to reset them several times whenever the signal dropped before it dawned on me that 4 year old technology might not be able to keep up with brand new components.

So I took a chance on upgrading the adapters to the AV2000 Gigabit and noticed an immediate difference. Connectivity stabilized dramatically and there much fewer dropoffs when listening to music. Even remote connections to the NUC were much faster and reliable.

Seagate 4Tb SATA external hard drive - This is where the FLAC library is stored, connected to the NUC with a USB cable, and shared with the NAD and Roon software (see below).

SOFTWARE

Microsoft Remote Desktop to connect to the NUC - Once setup correctly, Microsoft Remote Desktop is a solid connection to the NUC. I had some problems early on with wireless connections, but after upgrading the Powerline adapter all my issues disappeared, and RDP is a dream to use. Love it. Oh, and not just desktop connections - I can hook up using RDP from a tablet or phone also... Nice!

Roon by roonlabs.com for wireless streaming - Roon is pricey software that organizes and enhances an audio library, as well as providing streaming input to and from multiple sources. The number of options regarding sources can get somewhat bewildering - the other night I was using Roon on my phone to connect to the NAD to play music on the Pulse 2. But I also could have connected to the Pulse 2 directly from my phone. Somewhat difficult to understand and explain, but the shear variety of methods to connect with Roon and play from multiple devices is amazing. And that's not even touching on the extra material Roon provides about all the artists and bands in a library.

Foobar2000 - For dead simple direct line input to the NAD. Foobar2000 was introduced early on because I was having connection problems, again due to the Powerline adapters. When wireless repeatedly failed I purchased a decent RCA cable and plugged directly from the NUC into the NAD. Fire up Foobar and the music would play endlessly for literally days and nights without end. Heaven... One quick point though - Foobar is designed to be customized with a variety of plugins, and as a result can be somewhat overwhelming. Much of what I saw, though, appealed to making Foobar look nice, and I was not interested in that. So my installation is dead simple - the only customization I wanted was to group an artists songs by album in a playlist. Beyond that I just wanted sound. Good sound. And Foobar delivers that very well.

Also I discovered is that playlists saved in MU3 format in Foobar can be recognized and available to play on Roon. And you can save all your playlists at once... sweet! Nice bonus of not having to recreate the Foobar lists.

Exact Audio Copy - Last, Exact Audio Copy is used for ripping FLAC files. Even though MP3 quality has improved greatly, if time and money was going to be spent setting up a good system then it only made sense to work with even higher quality FLAC files. Also, I experienced a temporary panic attack when it appeared my digital music library had disappeared. The downside to "cloud" storage is the cloud can disappear, so it's always prudent to have a local set of files around as well. However if these files are sync'd, as Dropbox is designed to do, then when Dropbox thinks you've deleted those files it will delete the cloud version as well. And if you don't religiously check all the hundreds of music folders in your library, it can be quite shocking to realize it all just disappeared. Ouch!

Once that happened I realized CDs are about the best insurance one can have for backing up a digital library. Thus I unpacked all my CDs that were in storage and began ripping them to FLAC. I also pretty much buy all my music now in CD form, either new or used on Amazon, so that I have it as a backup in case the digital files somehow disappear.

One other point that I found about Exact Audio Copy. Sometimes it will not recognize a CD when it's in the drive. To get around this I found it helps to run it as Administrator when starting the program. Other than that, couldn't be happier.

 

04 NOV 2017 - Apparently Adobe Flash is a necessary evil in the tech world. It has benefits that are not easily matched by the alternatives (HTML5), yet is old enough that Adobe no longer plans to develop it beyond security updates. The problem is that is a reactive strategy, and if users don't stay current with updates then the bad guys have a wide open door into unpatched systems.

The upside to Adobe Flash is that it not only can stream video, but also has the ability support an advertising platform. HTML5 apparently falls short in this area, which is why sites like mlb.com or nba.com rely on Flash to deliver streamed content along with advertising aimed at all those eyeballs.

But because Flash is so old it has accumulated a number of vulnerabilities to today's online threats. Hackers can utilize Flash to take control of unpatched systems. Aware of this, I dutifully removed flash from my system   - then found out I couldn't see baseball or basketball games even if I had a subscription.

A compromise is suggested and detailed by tomsguide.com - install the Flash plugin on your browser, but set it up so that it doesn't automatically run unless you say so.

 

01 OCT 2017 - So our 10 year-old Samsung 55" TV started acting weird. The volume would zoom to 0% all by itself and no amount of effort using the remote or the buttons on the side of the TV would affect it. Also the channels would cycle thru all by themselves. Also it would power on by itself... really the weirdest thing - when we realized we were having these problems I turned the TV off, figuring it was toast, and so everyone went about their business. 10 minutes later I walk thru the room whee the TV is located and it was on again, cycling thru channels and acting weird... reminded me of one of those horror shows.

Finally I unplugged it. By then we had resolved that a new (or different TV) would be needed and we had plans to use another one from the back bedroom. But before totally abandoning it, I checked online to see if others had experienced the same problem and whether there might be a solution.

Lo and behold - this was a common occurrence and the suggested solution was to open the back panel of the TV and unplug wires that powered the side buttons. Took me a while to get the TV on the floor and remove the panel, but once I did it was easy to find the cables for the side buttons and I disconnected them.

Sure enough, once the TV was powered on it worked fine again while using the remote. The power buttons on the side were no longer working, but those are rarely if ever used, so no great loss.

And we have our TV back - woo hoo!

 

01 OCT 2017 - Well this had been driving me crazy... I have a Dell Vostro 3460 laptop that is a nice little machine. I replaced the battery with an after-market extended version, which worked real well except for the error message when rebooting:

Warning: This battery is not recommended for this system use. It may only have limited features and non-optimized performance. Strike the F1 key to continue, F2 to run setup the utility.

Other than bad grammar, no other problems would occur. F1 would continue the reboot, the battery would charge fine, and it would last for several hours.

It became a hassle if programs would reboot the system when I wasn't around, such as Windows Updates. Then the boot process would sit there for hours at a time waiting for an F1 key to be pressed.

Of course I spent a great deal of time pouring over websites with users encountering the same problem. Suggested solutions didn't work - removing the battery and booting with only the power adapter plugged in, removing battery and power adapter then pressing the power button to discharge remnant memory, updating BIOS... nothing worked. And there's no way I was going to spend upwards of $100 on an official Dell battery - I don't even think they make them anymore.

Finally found a solution. I went into BIOS and discovered a setting for "Adapter Warnings". I disabled this function, rebooted and the nasty error message disappeared! Sweet - that stupid message had plagued me for several years.

Oh, and the new extended battery cost me $33 on Amazon.

 

23 SEP 2017iPhone - It's getting toward the end of the year and of course that means Apple will be releasing their new iPhone models. Normally I don't give more than a passing glance to this news since upgrading every year isn't what I can afford (let's be honest) and also I'm not a big fan of Apple.

I'd been seeing headlines about an iPhone X, which I'm guessing is Apple's strategy for decoupling from numeric versions. Imagine a few years from now and the iPhone 17 is now available... "iPhone 17 - the greatest iPhone ever!! So much better than iPhone 16!!!" So X is a way to shift to model names as opposed to numbers. Not a bad idea.

But I've also run across several news items about the smaller lines for the newly released iPhone 8. Remember when Apple would release a new model  and people would line up outside their stores, waiting with an unbridled enthusiam that can only come from a great marketing strategy, or people paid to stand in line, and/or lack of medication?

Yeah, so the 8 is also a new model that is less expensive and is competing with the iPhone X, which is creating additional headlines of it's own for hyped features as well as $1000 price tag. Greatest iPhone Ever!! [All new features that other phones already have but didn't dramatize like us!!] No wonder the lines for the 8 are smaller - people are waiting to see what the X is like. My guess is the X will easily outsell the 8... if you're invested in Apple products, you pretty much expect to pay a premium for the shiny Apple logo no matter how much it costs.

Here's a comparison of the iPhone 8 specs and the iPhone X. It's sort of written like something from the Apple marketing department, but the conclusion is to save your money and buy the less expensive iPhone 8.

 

 

8 SEP 2017 - Well the whole thing went to hell in a handbasket... About 6 weeks ago my Vostro 3460 started overheating badly and I had to set it aside. I couldn't do more than a few things with it before the fan would jump into high gear. Copying files to a USB key, downloading from the web, anything that seemed disk intensive would cause overheating.

My frustration grew to the point that I just put it aside. The only system I had left was the Surface Pro 3. But then that died on me too... what the hail?!!!

Long story short, I'm running the Vostro again but making sure it only sees light duty. No Photoshop, minimal Dropbox, and definitely no video editing. And I was finally able to reset the Surface using an old Win 8 image (the Win 10 image wouldn't work).

More and more I'm rethinking the whole "thin and light" strategy. I don't travel a lot so there's no need to sacrifice durability for a compact form. Sure, if you work for a corporation and they refresh units every 3 years, then knock yourself out. But I'm spending my own dime here and would like to see devices last more than a few years.

Especially now that I need to make sure neither the Surface nor the Vostro see anything more stressful that email and web surfing. Gonna have to start watching the Dell Outlet Twitter feed.

 

 

03 SEP 2017  - This is sort of how I feel about phone makers removing headphone jacks, and all the people who don't like it:

Headphone Jacks

 

 

19 AUG 2017 - Right now I'm creating this website on a Microsoft Surface Pro 3, with an Intel Core i7-4650U 1.70 GHz CPU, 8Gb RAM, and a 500 Gb hard drive. A nice little system, but I would not purchase another one. Not the best recommendation, but that's the truth.

The Surface is a wonderful notebook - it has an incredibly thin and light form factor. If I traveled regularly this would be a dream to carry. But as a tablet it falls well short of useful.

First of all the Microsoft Store is woefully light on applications. You're lucky to find something relatively common, like Words With Friends. But when you do it's generally not as well developed as the other platforms such as Apple or Android.

And as I stated before, there's just not much of a selection. Need For Speed is missing. So is Waze. Couldn't find a Reddit app or the Opera browser. It's just really thin on choices, and that's not a good thing when compared to the Apple Apps Store or Google's Play Store.

As far as the OS, Windows 10 is pretty stable but the tablet functions that were in Windows 8, and which would have greatly benefited the Surface, have been removed. That, in my opinion, was a mistake. Sure, Windows 8 tablet functionality was forced on everyone and actually crippled the desktop user. But if used as a tablet, there were some pretty well thought out features that would have made the Surface an even better product.

Unfortunately it is what it is - I walked into a Microsoft Store and asked a sales rep if there were any improvements planned for the Surface as a tablet. I sort of got this blank stare from him, as though I was asking a stupid question while not intending to buy anything. Like the Surface Pro as a computer and as a tablet, that wasn't a good combination.

 

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