05.21.10

Simple document scanner program

Posted in Windows at 3:11 pm by mike

Ever needed to scan a document using a manual scanner?   I used to go through this painful process using the scanner wizard and pasting the images into a word document.    With a quick search, I found Documalis Free Scanner It’s written by a French company, so depending upon your language skills, you may have to click over to the English UI when you start it up.    From there it’s one button push for each page, with thumbnails showing you the pages you’ve already scanned, and the ability to save the whole thing as a PDF.   Couldn’t be easier and you can’t beat the price.

Two minor oddities:

  1. The first scan starts immediately.   You need to be ready to go when you start the program
  2. You have to pre-select your destination directory.    The filename dialog at the end isn’t the standard Windows browse and save.

Once again.  It’s a great program for the price.

05.20.10

Every SSD could use a little TRIM

Posted in Home Theater, Windows at 9:01 pm by mike

So I was an early adopter of a Corsair P128 SSD drive for my media center machine.   I was extremely pleased with the fact that it eliminated 95% of the disk noise, even though I left the 1TB HD in the machine.   Even when recording to the HD, it barely makes a noise since the OS is completely running off the SSD and the HD doesn’t need to do any seeks.   But because I bought the disk right around the time Windows 7 was release, the SSD firmware didn’t yet support the TRIM command.

What the TRIM command does is tell the SSD to actually clear all the data from deleted files.    Regular old harddisks don’t care much whether they are writing to an empty space, or overwriting a deleted file.   Hence, when you delete a file, usually all the operating system does is mark the space used by the file as free.   Then the next file is welcome to overwrite that space.

Unfortunately, due to the design of SSD memory, it’s actually much slower to overwrite existing memory, because it needs to be cleared first.   This becomes even more time consuming when you are writing a file that is smaller than the SSD block size (Both traditional and solid state drives like to deal with data in a standard size like 256KB or 512KB.  This is called a “block”).   In the case of the SSD, it needs to read the entire block into memory, clear the entire block, then write it back with your small change.    Now this is all done internally on the drive, but still is much slower than a simple read or write.

If the OS knows it’s dealing with an SSD, it can send along a TRIM command after every delete operation.    This tells the SSD to clear the memory associated with the files that were recently deleted.   Note this can usually be done in parallel to other work, so by the time you want to write something to that same block, the freed data has already been cleared!   Note, this does disable the ability to retrieve deleted files, which has long been a double-edged sword in the DOS/Windows world.

Anyways, I thought I was running on a TRIM-less SSD, which meant my performance was going to suffer over time.   Luckily,  at the end of last year Cosair released a firmware update for the both the P and X series which adds the TRIM command.  It just took me a while to remember to check for it.  I was able to verify the SSD firmware version using a clever tool called Crystal Disk Info.   Unfortunately, I only have the “after” screen shot.   In the before shot, the work TRIM was faded/stippled, like the APM in this one.

That’s the good news, the bad news is that the firmware upgrade ERASES THE ENTIRE DISK!   That meant I need to explore Windows 7 backup and restore options a little more.

I was pleasantly surprised.   Backing up an image SSD to the HD was just a few clicks using the windows backup tool (OK, I did have to delete a number of old episodes of Ace of Cakes and Project Runway to make space [ sorry honey ] ).   The one hiccup I had was creating a bootable recovery CD.    After telling you to insert your CD, the create recovery disk program would hang and eventually error out with an Optical Drive error.   The problem turned out to be an old version of Virtual Clone Drive which was giving the system fits when trying to identify the disk devices.  Removing it solved the problem, and I wasn’t able to repro it after installing the latest from Slysoft.

The most challenging part was that firmware upgrade documentation insisted that the installation program was only supported when running from a bootable USB flash drive.   This turned out to require a bit more research than I expected.    I found a number of links with a number of different methods for creating a bootable flash drive.   The simplest one I actually found on a German website I translated through Google.   But after a quick search today, I found the same instructions on a native english site as well. The bottom line is you grab the HP Flash Format program and a copy of the DOS system files.     The HP program is fairly idiot proof, and will allow you to browse for the DOS system files you want to load.

After copying the P128 firmware files to the USB drive (after formatting it with the bootable OS) it was amazing how quick and painless it went.    I did have to muck with the PC Bios to tell it to boot off the flash drive, but once I did, every thing went quick and easy. I actually wasn’t sure it had worked, but running it the second time it said there was nothing to do.   I then booted off my Windows recovery disk, and it automagically found my backup on the HD, and asked me if I wanted to restore the SSD.   It really couldn’t of been any easier.

Now, if I could just get the latest version of Arcsoft TMT to play BDs on my system.. but that’s a story for another time.   For now, learn from my trials and tribulations and DO NOT try to use your HTPC as your primary BD player.   It will cost you at least $400, and you can buy the same thing for $99 at Best Buy.   As you can guess, there’s a 1000 word rant waiting to be released about this one.

05.15.10

Fun with the iPad

Posted in Mobile at 2:58 pm by mike

So I decided to get my wife an iPad for mothers day that MPSharp needed to do some iPad research (business requirement), so I picked one up at Best Buy a few weeks ago.   Went for the 64G version with no 3G, thinking that I really didn’t need to give AT&T more money on a monthly basis.  Also, given the iPhone 3G is getting a little long in the tooth, I figured it was time to jailbreak it and turn it into a mobile hotspot for the iPad.   I’d already added mobile hotspot software to my HTC Touch Pro 2 (Tilt 2) and the iPad works great with that.   The question was how much work was involved to jailbreak the iPhone.

So it seems it seems that jailbroken iPhones are now widespread enough to have their own app stores.    Jailbreaking the phone is now idiot proof.   Download the Spirit  jailbreak program, connect your phone, run the program, click “Go” and you’re done!   Installing the hotspot software was a little trickier.   I actually paid $9.99 for MyWi, which also required another jb app store manager called RockYourPhone.  Of course, as soon as I paid for that, I found a free one called PDANet.  This got me wondering about the market for jb iPhones and how many of them there are.   Last year, Cydia reported almost 500,000 visitors a day (I’m sure they are well past that now)  It’s an interesting testament to Apple’s business model.

So back to the iPad.   A few observations:

  1. It’s heavy. It’s too heavy to suspend in the air for any length of time.   Even trying to watch a 5 minute YouTube video is a little too much.   I suspect stands will be a hot selling item, especially if you want to watch a movie on an airplane, or some such.
  2. Lack of Flash sucks.   I sincerely hope Apple loses this fight.  I did find an interesting Bookmark hack called iTransmogrify which pipes the video through YouTube to make it iPhone friendly.   This helps to a small degree.   As usual, there are some JB solutions such as iMobileCinema, but I’m not excited about jailbreaking the iPad just yet.
  3. The screen is difficult to read in outside daylight.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s still a very compelling device.   Browsing through the JB iPhone is useable, but it seems to go much faster through the HTC which has been hacked for HSDPA (4G) performance.  It really seems to get the most use as a TV companion device.   It currently shares the coffee table with a laptop, and it’s interesting to see which device you want to use for what.   For instance, I’m using the laptop to write the blog (the on-screen keyboard is much better than the phone), but nothing really beats the lean back browsing experience.   It’s obvious the device will have an infinite use as a remote control, even if it’s made obsolete by newer versions.   I just installed an RDP client on it today and used it to play music on the HTPC.   I happen to know there are a number of  interesting IR solutions out there made for the iPhone, they’ll be even more usable with the iPad, but even an old iPod Touch will work in this case.  I’ll wait for the price on those to drop a bit.  Next thing to try is some book reading, but I still think the device is going to be to heavy to do that comfortably.

Finally, it wins hands down for one handed browsing while feeding a baby.