Remote Login Using Google Chrome Desktop

August 2, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 5.25.19 PMSometimes when I’m away from home, I need to access my desktop computer system remotely to transfer a file or check on something. I’ve used a variety of products and services to do so, but most of them were cumbersome to use. I’m now using Google Remote Desktop which works absolutely great from my Android phone and/or tablet.

It’s very easy to setup, and is quite secure. Amazingly, it runs very quick, even from my Android phone using AT&T’s LTE wireless network. So, if you need to remotely access your home Windows or Mac computer system, check out Google Remote Desktop. Best of all, it’s free!

Media Server Not Serving Your Media?

June 29, 2014

I have the Plex Media Server running on my 27″ iMac Desktop System, and stream videos stored on my Mac to my Android Tablet through my home WiFi system. I usually do this at night while in bed, watching a TV show or part of a movie just before I go to sleep. I noticed a few months ago that while I was watching a streaming video, it would routinely just stop and hang. Pressing the pause button with the video player app on my tablet and then the play button would only play the video segment for about 2-3 seconds before it halted again.

Thinking this problem might be with the video player, I tried a few others available for my Android tablet– same thing happened. I also tried using a different media server as a test, switching from Plex to Universal Media Server but I still got the same stoppage of video playing.

After some Googling, I discovered that my iMac Desktop system might be going into sleep mode and possibly shutting down my WiFi connection. However, under my Mac’s Preferences for “Energy Saver” it was set to never sleep for the computer and for the display to sleep after 45 minutes. Hmm, maybe the sleeping display setting did more than just turn off the display?

Well, something was stopping or preventing my media from streaming from my Mac, so I tried using a OSX command called caffinate to keep my Mac alive and awake when I was in bed watching my streaming videos. To do so, you would type in the UNIX command in a Terminal window,

caffeinate  -t  10800

Here, I’m telling my Mac to stay awake for 10,800 seconds (3 hrs) beginning when I initiated that command. Since I wanted this command to happen automatically everyday at 9 pm, I added it to the Crontab file on my system (Crontab was actually replaced by a process called launchd on the Mac OSX, but you can still use crontab settings). To make this change easier, I used a GUI called CronniX which looks like this,

Screen Shot 2014-06-29 at 6.04.58 AM

Here you see that I’m having that command start at 21 hours (9:00 pm) and it occurs everyday. The “&” symbol at the end of the command statement had the process running in the background. So far, this seems to have fixed my streaming video stoppage, so hopefully this is a permanent solution to my problem.

PushBullet – Great Message Mirroring App

January 26, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 8.06.06 AMIf you have an Android tablet or smartphone, you check out an app called PushBullet. It had a companion extension for your Desktop PC’s Chrome Browser (and Firefox, I believe) that allows you to wirelessly push information between your Desktop PC and Android devices, or between the Android devices themselves. So if you have a web page link, web address, file, or short checklist that you’d like to transfer from one device to another (or all) you can do it from PushBullet. The app does all of this by using the Google Messaging System that is available for free by Google’s Servers.

One really cool feature of PushBullet, is the ability to mirror notifications that appear on your Android phone or tablet to your Desktop PC. So, when I get a notification on my HTC One smartphone (like a CNN or USA Today breaking news), a small dialog window pops up on my Desktop Mac system in the right top corner of the screen with the same message. Other notifications like when someone is calling me or when I get a text message also appears on my Desktop Mac as well. Really cool, since I don’t have to stop and look at my phone when I get these notifications.

Definitely worth installing and checking out if your in the Google Android ecosystem.

Apache OpenOffice (Microsoft Office Replacement)

February 6, 2013

At work I use Microsoft Excel and Powerpoint daily as my main productivity tools. But at home, I’m using an Apple iMac which has a horrible implementation of Microsoft Office (super slow to start up). So instead of trying to use a Microsoft product on my Mac, I’ve chosen to install and use the freeware package called Apache OpenOffice. This is basically a replacement for Microsoft Office (written in Java, I believe) and it works great. Best thing about it, OpenOffice is available for the Mac, Windows, and Linux machines.

The “Office” suite is very easy to use, and I especially like the ability to open xls and ppt files, and conversely save my OpenOffice files in that same format. I’m sure there may be some compatibility issues when using complex features, but so far so good!

I highly recommend checking out this freeware suite of products if you’re using a Mac and want to have similar tools as Microsoft Office.

Dragging my old laser printer into the future

April 16, 2011

I’ve got an old HP Laser printer which I inherited when the company I worked for abandoned their local office years ago, and I’ve been using it as my main printer workhorse ever since. As time progressed on, this laser printer continues to work well, but the advancement of technology will soon make this printer obsolete. For example, this laser printer has an old Parallel Port interface for connecting it to a PC. When was the last time you saw a computer with a Parallel Port? Most modern PCs and laptops have USB ports for connecting to printers and the Parallel Port has disappeared from nearly all motherboards. To get around this issue, I bought a Parallel Port-to-USB-Port converter cable which allowed me to use my PC’s USB port to access the laser printer for printing documents via a special device driver. This option worked well for me for a few years until I dumped my Windows PC in favor of an iMac. Unfortunately, this handy converter cable doesn’t work with my iMac since I don’t have the required special device driver.

Luckily, this HP laser printer has a RJ45 Ethernet Cable Connector on the back since it is a “Network Enabled” device. At my company’s office we had the laser printer connected to our local LAN so everybody could access it, and it seems that this may be my ticket for extending the service life of this printer for my use. So, how am I going to get this printer connected to my home wireless network so I can access it from my iMac and other computers I have in my house?

The solution I chose was to buy a Wireless Access Point device which will allow me to connect the printer to it, and have the printer available on my home network. There’s a few such devices available, but most of them were a bit too pricey for my wallet (over $100 US). I was able to find a model made by TP-Link which was selling for $35 US at, so I ordered that and was able to successfully hook it up to my HP printer.

The way it works, is that the TP-Link Access Point is set to “Client” mode, and I configure it to connect to my home wireless network. The small device is placed upstairs in my office, and acts as a wireless access point. I can then plug any network device into the Ethernet Jack and be connected to my home network. It’s as if I’m connect my laptop, PC, etc. directly into my wireless router (which is located downstairs next to the cable modem). In my case, I connected my HP laser printer to it, and configured my laser printer to use a static IP address. I did this so that my wireless router wouldn’t change its IP address and I can use that address as a permanent network printer for my iMac. Luckily, after configuring everything my Windows 7 laptop easily found this printer on my home network and added it to my printer device list.

So, it seems I can continue using my ancient laser printer for a few more years until computer technology changes again. By that time, I’ll probably run out of Toner for my printer and will be looking for a new solution…

Back to using Google Chrome!

April 16, 2011

I’ve used the Firefox web browser for years on my Windows PC and now on my iMac, and I briefly switched away to Google Chrome a few months ago. I really liked the speed and clean look of Google Chrome (especially the Ominbar which is a combined search field and web address bar), but I was having issues accessing certain sites properly which prompted me to switch back to Firefox.

It seems that over the last few months Firefox and Google have released updated versions of their browsers that boast speed improvements, etc. I downloaded and installed the latest version of Firefox (4.0) and it seemed to work well, but some of my extensions weren’t available for the newer version. Specifically, the layout theme that I had been using with the previous version of Firefox (which basically makes it look like Google Chrome) was not available. I guess I’m a bit picky, as I didn’t really like the default Firefox 4.0 appearance. As such, I decided to switch back to the latest version of Google Chrome and give it a try again.

So far, so good with Google Chrome. The pages do seem to load faster in my tabs and most of the web sites that I visit load ok. I haven’t tried the “troublesome” web sites which I had previous problems, but if I really need to view those sites I’ll just fire up Firefox. The cleanliness of the Chrome browser is really appealing to me, so I’ll stick with using it for a while until Firefox comes up with some newer features…

Apple Trackpad vs. Magic Mouse

December 28, 2010

For Christmas I received an Apple Magic Trackpad for use with my iMac desktop system. I decided to get one after playing around with one at the Apple Store when I made my original iMac purchase several months ago. The Magic Trackpad basically operates like a trackpad on the Macbook Pro laptop, but is physically bigger in size. I’m normally not a big fan of laptop trackpads (as I usually use a mouse), but I did like the responsiveness of the Magic Trackpad for the iMac.

So, I’ve been using it for the last 3 days with my iMac, and it seems to be working well. It does take some getting use to after using my Magic Mouse for so long.

Like with any trackpad device, you move the mouse cursor by sliding your finger on the trackpad surface. To do a left-click, you press down on the trackpad surface with your finger to physically active a pressure switch in the base of the device. The same goes for double-clicking, and you can assign a region on the trackpad (bottom left or right corner) to act as a right-button click. It does take some effort to do this kind of clicking action, so I’ve adjusted the preference settings for my Trackpad to use a single tap as a “click” and a double-tap as a “double-click” (just like with most laptop trackpads).

For a right-click you can do a two-finger tap. For scrolling, you can use two-fingers to swipe up, down, left, or right. There are several other options to fine tune the trackpad operations, but these were the basic ones that got me going.

For general clicking, moving around on the screen, and scrolling through documents and web pages, the trackpad works well. Zooming in and out of images also works nice, as well as zooming in/out of the main display. What’s tricky, is doing a click-n-hold with the left mouse (as when you drag a window around on the screen or highlighting text in a document) when using the one-finger tap method. So to move a window I need to do a quick double-tap on the window header, then drag the window on the screen to the desired location, then do a single tap to get out of drag mode. Also, to highlight text in a document I need to move the cursor to the beginning of the text, do a double-tap with my one finger, drag the cursor across the text to be highlighted, then do a single tap. Kinda cumbersome, but required if I use the one-finger-tap method for “mouse” clicking. Of course, this would be easier if I used the physical switch option but again that just seems too awkward for me.

It is obvious that using a traditional mouse is much easier for document editing than the trackpad (as you probably know by using any laptop trackpad). What would have been nice, is if this trackpad was angled completely flat on my desk instead of at an angle as that would relieve some hand strain that I’m noticing after several minutes of use. Normally you rest your hand on the mouse as you’re using it, and with the trackpad I’m noticing that my hand is hovering above the trackpad which can introduce some fatigue.

I haven’t fully decided whether the Magic Trackpad will permanently replace my Magic Mouse, so I’m going to give the trackpad another week of experimentation. I might also use both the Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad together as both can work simultaneously.


The constantly obsolete computer

December 22, 2010

In cleaning our house for an upcoming Christmas Eve dinner with the relatives, my wife came across an old 3.5″ Floppy Disk with some jpg pictures. She asked if I could transfer the picture files from the floppy disk to a USB flash drive, and I had to think a minute… do I even have a floppy drive anymore? My iMac certainly doesn’t have one, nor does my previous Quad-Core Windows 7 machine. My Dell 11z Netbook doesn’t have one, and my older Dell D620 laptop neither. In fact, none of the computers in my house have an ancient “Floppy” drive at all!

Fortunately, I did have an old PC carcass in my garage that did have a 3.5″ floppy drive but it wasn’t connected to the motherboard. I then began the search through my closet and attic for a Floppy Drive ribbon cable so that I could connect the floppy drive to the motherboard of the old PC, fire it up, and then copy the data from the floppy over to the USB drive. Luckily after searching through tons of cables, connectors, hard drives, etc. I found a floppy ribbon cable and completed my mission.

After all of this, I decided to do a little housecleaning and get rid of all the obsolete computer parts and cables I had collected over the years. With how fast computers progress in hardware and capability, most of my spare parts were just junk. I had a dual DVI output video card which worked great when I was using it, but now it is obsolete since the AGP board connector has been replaced in newer motherboards with PCI-Express 2 slots. I also found an old PC-Card slot WiFi Adapter (no doubt, WiFi-b protocol), a few USB 1.0 speed WiFi adapters, several sticks of old RAM memory, an old Parallel Port printer cable, a 300-Baud COM2 portable Modem (remember those?), lots, and lots of USB-A to B, to etc. cables. I also had a few very old NEC laptops that wouldn’t boot up, “Free” Inkjet printers that came with various computer systems, an old VGA Cathode-Ray tube monitor, and a few wired mouses and wired 101 keyboards. Instead of keeping this ancient junk, I through most of it in the trash and took the old computer electronic devices to my local recycle shop.

It’s amazing how quickly hardware goes obsolete in the computer world. Since switching to an iMac (which is a fully integrated system where all the components are inside the monitor display), I don’t think I’ll be collecting so many spare parts in the future. I sort of miss tinkering with the hardware on my past desktop systems, but then again I’m giving up on all the headaches of dealing with bad drivers, wrong components, etc.

Horrible malware virus rears its ugly head

November 27, 2010

A few months ago the hinge holding my niece’s laptop lid broke off rendering her laptop totally unusable. So out of the kindness of her heart, my wife lent our niece her seldom-used Dell laptop (running Windows 7) so she can continue to do her homework, etc. while her mother figures out what to do (i.e., fix the broken laptop, buy a new one, etc). So as teenagers will do, my niece happily loaded iTunes, Skype, as well as numerous other programs and apps that teenagers cannot live without and went on her merry way. Unfortunately, during that process she inadvertently loaded a malware virus that pretended to be an anti-virus program which found a virus that can only be removed if she paid for the full version of the anti-virus software. A giant scam, of course.

This malware virus is called Thinkpoint and will display the following screen when you boot up your computer:

If you unknowingly click the “Save Startup” button, the program will appear to be scanning for a virus and will finally proclaim it found some very dangerous viruses that can only be removed if you buy their software. What’s bad about this virus is that you can’t easily remove it. There is no way of exiting from this Thinkpoint application, and when I tried to do a CTRL-ALT-DEL to access Task Manager it wouldn’t come up. So this infected laptop would just reboot and reboot with the same Thinkpoint screen as you see above.

So after some Googling, I found my solution. I needed to boot up the laptop from an external USB flashdrive and run a “real” antivirus program to eradicate the Thinkpoint virus. I found this web site that explained how to create the USB flashdrive for booting (into Linux) and then run the antivirus app called AntiVir. Following these directions I was able to have the laptop boot up from the Flash Drive and run the AntiVir software which identified the Thinkpoint virus files. Note, that the AntiVir application by default only identifies the virus files and doesn’t do anything with them. I needed to use the configuration screen for the app to have it rename the virus files. Once I did that, I removed the Flash Drive and was able to reboot the laptop to the Windows 7 user desktop.

I then followed instructions from several other web sites that explained which files to remove and which entry in the system’s registry file to remove to get rid of the Thinkpoint virus. I followed all this up with a full system scan using the freeware antivirus app called Avast! as well as McAfee antivirus. After doing all this, I think the laptop is now virus free.

My niece doesn’t remember what she did to infect the laptop with this horrible virus, but I did find evidence that she (or some application) installed a Peer-to-Peer software called Limewire that I suspect was the culprit. Limewire is a file-sharing application much like Napster, Guntella, etc. which are know to be laced with files containing viruses. As such, I’ve never used such P2P applications and I warned my niece to never install such apps again.

We are very lucky that I was able to remove this bad malware virus, otherwise, I would have needed to wipe the disk clean and go through a clean install of Windows 7 on the laptop followed by hours of trying to find the right drivers from the Dell web site…. ugh.


My Dead Quiet Office

November 14, 2010

I normally work from home in a small but well appointed home office. As a computer professional (and geek) I’ve got numerous computer systems activated at any given moment. I have my big 27″ iMac which handles my personal business, my Dell 17″ laptop for use with my primary job (checking emails, running simulations, etc.), a Dell Netbook for occasionally running PC-based applications (e.g., Microsoft Visual Studio 2005), and my old Quad-Core Desktop PC which I fire up sometimes to do some heavy video processing in batch mode.

Before I purchased my iMac, I used my Quad-Core Desktop PC as my main workhorse computer system. Being a desktop it can become quite loud in my office, but I tried to minimize that by installing a power supply with an oversized fan (quieter) and a variable CPU fan which I can turn down to also minimize the noise. Nevertheless, there was a constant humming in my office that just became the normal background noise as I worked throughout the day.

Since switching from my Quad-Core machine to my iMac desktop, my office has been dead quiet. I’m not sure how Apple did it, but the Quad-Core CPU in my iMac Desktop doesn’t seem to need the same airflow as my PC desktop machine. I don’t hear a thing while I’m working with my iMac. Only on some rare occasion I’ll hear my iMac hum as the internal fans are cooling the CPU during some intensive video processing action, but this happens rarely. The only sound I hear is the hard drive whirling every so briefly when I’m saving a file to the drive.

This is so unlike my Windows PC where the hard drive will thrash away constantly and for no apparent reason. I could never figure out why was my system’s disk drive thrashing away so much. What was it doing that required so much disk reading and/or writing? It just didn’t make any sense to me. On my iMac, I don’t have any of that crazy nonsenseical disk thrashing. None.

My Dell work laptop, however, is the biggest noise maker in my home office. I can hear the internal fan spinning constantly with Microsoft Outlook being the only application open and the disk drive thrashing fiercly whenever I do any activity. So whenever possible (like on the weekends) I’ll turn off my laptop and just have my wonderful iMac Desktop running silently in my office, allowing me to work in peace and quiet…