Category Archives: Tech

Technology related stuff

SOPA / PIPA – The Day After

1/18/2012 was a very interesting day on the Internet.

I was somehow infatuated with what websites were doing to show their opposition and protest to the SOPA and PIPA bills. I think I liked reddit’s blackout page the best of anybody that I personally saw, but there was certainly alot of creativity across the board.

This blog captured many of the screenshots of big players in the blackout day. They somehow left out my site on that blog, so I’ll go ahead and share what my site looked like with you yesterday.

The most amazing thing, is that I really think this actually worked.

Even GLENN BECK is against it!

This social media age has ignited a fight in the common people. It’s awesome to see. From insane corporate strategies [Netflix], to the occupy movements, to protests that literally changed the landscape of countries: A small spark can ignite a firestorm.

Where the SOPA and PIPA bills will end up remains to be seen, but yesterday was pretty historic. The Internet bonded together and certainly made an impact on a very key turning point in the information age.

Yesterday was supremely significant, yes, but it’s certainly not over. Watch the video. Share it with friends. Use the form to contact somebody and tell them how you feel. Part of the solution.

SOPA / PIPA Blackout

I’m not the “activist” type…

But following the ongoing SOPA and PIPA proposed legislation has me inspired to do my part.

Many strong internet companies are against these bills, and many of them are taking action up to and including blacking out their website for a day.

This is a viral protest, and many sites are taking part in this campaign. Certainly, ericvb.com and its 50 visits per day are merely a drop in an olympic size swimming pool – but we are all swimming in that pool.

Therefore, tomorrow I will be using this handy WordPress plugin to black out my site as well and stand at arms with Wikipedia, reddit, etc.

Learn more about these bills and the blackout by visiting this site:
http://sopablackout.org/learnmore/

The Death of Google Reader

A few weeks ago, Google announced some big changes to Google Reader.

The overall strategy by Google to unify its services drew them to the conclusion that they have to force all Google Reader users to begin using Google+ to fulfill the social aspect of Reader.  Friending, following others, and commenting on shared items within Reader would now be discontinued…

I don’t think this really hit me until it actually happened.

As I was greeted with the “Welcome to the new Reader” message last week, I finally got a feel for how big this change truly was.  Usually, my first click is to “People you follow” when I log into Google Reader.  Well, that’s now gone.  There’s no longer a simple way to see shared items, to comment on them, or to get a quick overview of what items my friends are reading.  Instead, I’m stuck muddling through Google+ posts trying to find a way to make this social world work again.

I just feel completely lost in the new Reader.  The extra clicks/page views necessary to get the same functionality in Google+ make it difficult and inefficient.  I don’t like the look of the new Reader.  I don’t like having to go back and forth between 2 different sites to see and comment on shared items.  It’s just a sad state of affairs.  I’m sick of companies trying to force customers/users into a model that they obviously don’t support.

As of yet, there isn’t a very solid alternative to Google Reader.  I’ve researched and tested a few, but the social aspect is a key that is missing in nearly every contender.  I’m looking forward to trying out hivemined, which seems to be getting alot of e-buzz as a true Google Reader alternative.  Until then, I’m struggling to adapt to a new way of doing this.  A significant portion of my friends and my own internet activity was spent inside Google Reader, and at this point we’re all trying to re-group as the table cloth was pulled out from under us.

Red Ring of Death

For some time, it appeared that the dreaded “RRoD” had overlooked my Xbox 360 console.

Over the years, I’ve watched as my brother, friends, family members, and co-workers had to send their consoles into Microsoft for warranty repair.  Sometimes even on multiple occasions.  The ruthless crimson-ringed beast seemed to spare no one.  In fact, I’m almost positive that I do not know a single person that has an early-model Xbox that has not “red ringed” at some point.

On Thursday night, as I went to launch my newly downloaded Battle Field 3 beta, my Xbox beeped loudly and froze up.  I powered it off, and powered it back on – only for it to freeze at the Xbox boot screen animation.  A second power off/on showed me a most unpleasant site framed in a very distinctly reddish hue.  It seemed, much like death itself stalking the cast of a Final Destination movie, that this unmerciful demon of console demise had at last found its misguided way to my Xbox

Personally, I feel this has been a long time coming.  I’ve somehow managed to dodge this bullet for years.  Probably the fact that I have the “2nd printing” of the Xbox 360 Pro with an HDMI port bought me this extra lease on life, but who can be sure.  After a night’s rest, the RRoD continued in the morning.  I decided it was time to take corrective actions.  Microsoft extended warranty coverage for this issue for a period of 3 years.  Since I bought my Xbox in November of 2007, I was 11 months past my warranty coverage.  This leaves my 1st option:  Send the console into Microsoft for 100 dollar repair/refurb.

Since I like 100 dollars in my bank account, I did not even consider this option.

My next thought is to replace the console.  I immediately shop on Amazon and Newegg, but I’m not really enjoying the notion of paying $200 plus for a new Xbox and paying for a data migration kit.

A third option, much more my style, began to creep into my frazzled mind.   “Why not try to actually try to fix this myself?”.  I am a fairly technically savvy person with a family history of MacGyvering – so I saw fit to AT THE VERY LEAST lace up, touch gloves, and slug it out for a few rounds with the RRoD.  I commenced work immediately.

I didn’t use a guide to open up my Xbox; but I should have.  I used brute force and a couple of plastic tabs that hold the top plastic bezel in place are now snapped off.  It was difficult to  get this console open my first time, and it probably took me 45 minutes to have the thing completely disassembled to where I had the system board out and all other pieces off to the side.

With everything opened up and my warranty (or, possibility of ever having one) now completely devoid, I started looking at possible fixes.  Both the CPU and GPU heat-sinks seemed firmly attached, so I didn’t believe that to be my problem.  Overall, the system was pretty clean.  I blew out some of the dust plugging up the fans and heat-sinks overall, but that definitely wasn’t enough of a backup to cause a RRoD in my opinion.

So, I decided it must be the memory chips on the bottom of the Xbox system board.  These 4 chips sit on the bottom side where no fan/cooling will ever reach them.  Microsoft tried to alleviate this by attaching some chintzy thermal pads, but those things were basically a band aid with some high density foam attached to the chips.

I removed the pads and cleaned the memory chips.  I used this guide to replace those pads with some custom “penny based” copper heat sinks.  You take 2 pennies, wrap them together with electrical tape, and stick them onto those 4 memory chips.  From the pic, you can see I have a tube of high-temperature synthetic grease which I layered between the chip and pennies.

The entire process was a pain.  Getting the system back together was harder than taking it apart.  It’s difficult to get everything to line up correctly while keeping those pennies in place on the chips.  After I got it part-way back together, I test-booted the Xbox only to find that the red ring persisted.  Even worse, this time it seemed to red ring before even powering on the fans.  I took this to mean that I had a short somewhere; and indeed it did seem that the system board was crooked from my penny application.  I adjusted screw tension in several places, and removed screws completely in other places – and after some finagling I was able to get the system to boot to it’s “normal” red ring where the fans and everything at least had power.

Further research indicated that the RRoD error code may persist even if you have fixed the problem.  The easiest way to clear that error code was to replace it with another error code and/or reset the onboard chips.  The easiest way to do THAT is to simply overheat your Xbox.  Shouldn’t be too hard, right?  I mean, the thing runs at nuclear temperature even in a ventialted area.  Google reported the “towel trick” was the key, and I watched this entertaining guy do said trick – which apparently means cooking your Xbox for 20-25 minutes.

Since I had the thing apart already, I decided to expedite this baking process by booting it up without the fans installed.  So I turned it on, then wrapped the console in a thick fleece blanket, and about 6 minutes later it completely powered off.  I tried to boot it up again, and I got 2 red rings vs 3 (indicating overheat, yay!).  So, I let it cool off for about 10 minutes before trying again…

It BOOTED!!!  I let it idle for a bit, played some Trials, verified live connectivity, etc etc.  Everything was looking great!  The penny fix in combination with an overheat to clear it out seemed to do the trick for me.

I put the unit back together, and by this point I was very comfortable getting it back together correctly. I tightened all the screws, got all the tabs back in place, buttoned it up completely.

With everything hooked back up; I tested the console for awhile playing various games.  I played Trials.  I played Battlefield 3 beta.  I reviewed my settings and live connectivity again…   And after 1-2 hours, it was still working fine.

I have continued playing throughout the weekend with 2-3 hours per session; totaling probably 8-10 hours of game play; and I feel like everything is very stable.  No more red rings.  I have done multiple power on/offs, disconnected/reconnected all hardware and storage devices; and at this time I feel very good about my Xbox and its “Non RRoD” status.

In fact, everyone in the family does!

Take that, RRoD…  I looked through your intimidating vengeful red eye directly into your villainous soul.  After a hard-fought battle, I am confident that on this day,  good has triumphed over evil…

###UPDATE###
This penny fix was only temporary.  The red-ring of death resurfaced about 10 days later and asked me for a rematch.

This time I pulled out all the stops and researched every possible fix that typically works for the RRoD.  Ultimately, I ended up at 2 main fixes:

  • Replacing the X-clamps that hold the heat syncs in place for the GPU and CPU, combined with replacing the thermal paste on the cores/heatsinks
  • Purchase a heat gun and use it to refresh the solder connections by heating the bottom of the circuit board.

I followed this video tutorial pretty much exactly.  He does a great job explaining the work done, and gives exact specs for the hardware that replaces the crappy X-clamps.  I took it one step further and drilled a grid of holes in the top of my Xbox to improve the airflow over top of the heatsinks.

This work seems to have officially bested the RRoD – as of now it’s been operating for about a month without any further issues.  I’ve also noticed it running much quieter now that I’ve drilled the holes, so I think that has improved the airflow and makes it so my fans have to do much less work to move the same amount of air.

Your move, RRoD.

Netflix Streaming Shakeup

I’ve completely embraced “streaming” as my primary ingestion path for nearly all media formats for quite some time.

As far as movies go, I’ve been a member of Netflix since July of 2007.  I haven’t bought a DVD since.  I’ve never even considered a Blu-ray player or owning Blue-ray disks.  “Stream it or die” is my motto.  From the music side, digital music owns my entire landscape.  I haven’t bought a physical CD since 2001 when Tool’s Lateralus came out.  Whether it’s MP3s in my car or streaming from my smartphone or my computer at work – I’ve never looked back at CD’s and never will.  Overall, I’ve really just embraced all things the streaming at large: Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, Pandora, Last.fm, Grooveshark, iHeartRadio – the list goes on and on.

Streaming media is certainly in an early stage in its life.  I’d call it late infancy or early toddler.  Although the adoption rate for streaming has been thrust into popularity by Netflix and others; the media conglomerates that license and allow distribution of this content have been slow to adapt.  This results in only “some” content being available for “some” time before it expires.  Meanwhile, the services are offered at drastically reduced rates to customers because the media libraries are far from fully stocked.  I’ll be the first person to admit that the Netflix unlimited streaming plan is worth way more than it’s 7.99 a month rate.  But quite simply, Netflix can’t charge much more than that unless they are able to offer new releases and/or a more complete library.

Netflix has started to attempt shaping the industry as it needs to be shaped by increasing the prices on their streaming/DVD combo plans.  Ultimately, this forces most consumers to choose between streaming or DVD rentals by mail – and I feel that the vast majority of customers choose streaming.  I don’t fully support this move with such a gaping lack of new and high end releases in their streaming library, and I didn’t like that they did it in such a “bulk” fashion.  But, in reality this is not Netflix’s fault.  I was originally INFURIATED with the combo plan price increase and the seemingly forced migration to streaming-only.  But the truth is, this is a move that is necessary.

The industry is resisting the adaption of streaming; and it’s been even further compounded now that Netflix and Starz have been unable to reach an agreement to renew their contract.  But this was all the same with the MP3 era – it took record companies YEARS to adjust to a digital age.  Looks like the movie studios haven’t learned anything.  Nobody wants to go pay 12 bucks to see 20 minutes of ads and previews and a movie that they can stream from their home 3 months later at a much cheaper rate without any ad/previews.  People aren’t going to keep buying 5 editions of the same movie on DVD/Blu-ray (DIRECTOR’S CUT.  ULTIMATE EXTENDED EDITION.  ULTRA DEATH PERISH EDITION).

Streaming media is changing the movie industry.  The customer holds a lot more of the cards, and at some point you better realize it.

Logitech Revue With Google TV

When Google TV was announced last year, I was giddy with anticipation for what that might mean.  I had been looking for a way to never have cable service again, and to blast into the world of on-demand and streaming media.  I COMPLETELY despised Comcast and sought every possible means to sever ties to them.

Hulu, Netflix, and other web content portals offer services that are real and legitimate competitors to the all-encompassing in home services like Comcast has to offer.  But there always seemed to be one key component missing.  That ONE show that I have to watch that doesn’t make it to Hulu, or the Redwings playoff game, or the Lions defeating the Packers for the first time in 5 years – There was always something missing from the equation.

The Logitech Revue was not really the device to bridge this gap.  It cost a lofty 300 dollars.  At that price point, there was zero chance of me purchasing one.

Not to mention that it only really shines when connected to a set-top box from your favorite TV provider; allowing you to search across your guide for your favorite shows, as well as find, schedule and play recordings, and finally access streaming content offered by your provider.  It certainly compliments rather than replaces.

Fast Forward 12 months.  I successfully ditched Comcast and am a happy and year-long Dish Network customer.  I have a pretty solid home theater with a 50 inch plasma, an Xbox 360, and surround sound.  To ice the cake, the Logitech Revue drops to $99.99 right at my birthday.

At that price, with a great service to integrate into, I was ready to make the jump.

The Good

  • Super easy to set up.  Power, HDMI in from my Dish DVR, HDMI out to my TV.  Done
  • Universal keyboard acts as remote control by just entering the model numbers of my existing equipment
  • Google Chrome web browsing, flash enabled and is very accurately rendered 
  • Clean interface, easy to navigate
  • Media streaming app instantly picked up my TVersity install (Which I use to stream to my Xbox)
The Bad

  • Lack of Android market
  • Lack of Hulu (Can’t even play it via Chrome browser)
  • Some application redundancies with things like Netflix, Pandora already accessible to me via Xbox, my TV
  • Keyboard size makes the $100 plus “mini controller” almost a necessity
Overall
The forthcoming Android 3.1 update will leap this device into potential greatness. According to Logitech, that is supposed to happen later this month.  Bringing with it a newly designed interface, and access to the Android market.  I’m very much looking forward to those new features.  I’ll post an update as to my thoughts on the device at that time.
Until then, I am just “ok” with this device, but at the $99 price it is definitely worth it solely to be able to have the search interface to find my media, and to quick check my email and facebook during commercials via a nice PiP interface.