WiFi Explorer for your Android

December 4, 2011

My Kindle Fire came with an app preloaded called WiFi Explorer which is basically a Web Server that runs on your Android device on your local home WiFi network. The app will give you a web address which you can type into any web browser on any PC/Mac on your home network to access the file system on the Android device. From there, you can upload files, delete files, rename them, etc. all wirelessly. The system works pretty good, and I’ve used it almost exclusively to transfer files to and from my Kindle Fire tablet. It is easy to setup and use, and I really like not having to connect my Kindle Fire to my iMac using a USB cable. The app is free from the Android App Market, and I highly recommend it for Android users.

iPhone 4 WiFi personal hotspot

April 17, 2011

A lot of the cell phone carriers are selling MiFi devices which are often labeled as “personal hotspots”. These small devices act as a portable Wireless Router which you can carry in your pocket and make Internet connections with your laptop, iPad, etc. via WiFi. Usually they are priced at $100-$200 US and then have a $60-$100 monthly charge for data usage. These MiFi devices are a great choice if you need to connect multiple devices to the Internet while on the go (I can see a traveling business person using one of these for his or her smartphone, laptop, iPod Touch, and iPad).

Some of the newer smartphones have the ability to act as personal hotspots, with some charging a small fee and others not charging anything. From what I’ve read, the Android phones provide this service free of charge but the iPhone requires an additional monthly charge (depends on the carrier, but usually runs $20-$30 per month).

If you’ve jailbroken your iPhone, you can use a small utility called MyWi which allows you to connect your WiFi devices to your iPhone (wirelessly) as if it was a personal hotspot. Using this method, you shouldn’t be charged the extra monthly fee as described above (but, you will be charged data usage according to your current plan).

As a test, I decided to download the trial version of MyWi from the Cydia App Store (available for jailbroken iPhones) and see how well it worked. After downloading and installing this simple app, I was able to configure it and use it within just a few minutes. First, I fired up my Windows 7 laptop and checked for WiFi Routers in my area, and sure enough my iPhone appeared in the list. I connected to it and did the speedtest.net speed test to see how fast the connection was (via my Verizon cellular connection). On average, my laptop saw 3.60 mbps download speed and 3.60 mbps upload speed (not too bad!). I then tested my iPod Touch connected to my iPhone via WiFi and got similar speed results. So, it seemed that the MyFi app is a good solution if you want to convert your iPhone into a personal hotspot without paying the extra monthly cost. Of course, you can only use this method if you jailbreak your phone and your average iPhone user may not want to go that route.

Note, that MyWi isn’t free (it current costs $19.95 via the Cydia App Store), but for a small one-time charge you’ll get a personal hotspot without any extra monthly recurring charges.

Applescript for renaming my video files

November 14, 2010

For certain TV Shows I like to save them in my “archive” for viewing later, so I try to label them in a logical fashion. With my current automated system of recording TV shows, removing commercials, and adding in meta data to the mp4 video file, I’ve created a new Applescript that will help rename the video file for my personal archive.

The script is a bit lengthy to post here in text form, so I’m making it available for download from this link. I’m basically using the freeware program called AtomicParsley to extract some meta data from a specified video file (e.g., show name, episode title, season number and episode number) and use that information for defining the file name. For example, my script will take the video recording of an episode from The Walking Dead and will format the name as:

The Walking Dead – Guts – S01E02.mp4

So it has the TV show’s name, episode title, season and episode number all contained in the name of the video file. Again, it is getting all this data from the metadata contained inside the video file (which was added by my recording script).

I’ve got my Applescript set up as an application icon which I can double-click to bring up File Chooser Dialog Window or you can drag video files onto the icon to process the files. This script makes it much easier for me to rename my videos quickly for storage.

Note, that I tried to do the renaming of these videos in this manner after I processed them in my video recording script, but iTunes renames the video file to only the show’s episode name (e.g., “Guts.m4v”) when it automatically processes the file for syncing.

Recording TV shows on your Mac

September 14, 2010

For the last several years my wife and I have been using Microsoft’s Windows Media Center to schedule the recording of TV shows on our respective PC machines. In general WMC has been working well, with just a few glitches here and there. Using some external tools (i.e.,DVRMSToolbox and ShowAnalyzer) I have a process in place to record TV shows, cut out the commercials, and converted the recorded shows to WMV format for our Zune media players.

Last year, out of frustration my wife switched from her Vista PC to an Apple MacBook Pro laptop. Since she can’t run the Microsoft Zune syncing software on her MacBook Pro, I kept her PC still up and running to continue recording TV shows and processing them for her Zune 120 player. A few months ago her Zune device stopped working (hard drive failure) so for Mother’s Day I bought her an Apple iPod Touch (32 GB) as a replacement. Mainly because it will easily work with her MacBook Pro using the iTunes software. She still uses her Vista Desktop PC for recording TV shows, but now I’ve modified some of the processing scripts to convert the recordings to MP4 format for her iPod Touch.

Unfortunately, her Vista PC was having trouble recording her favorite TV shows for some reason or another (e.g., couldn’t download the latest TV listings, conversions stalled because of Windows updates, etc.). Twice, I had to reinstall the WMC software because the PC couldn’t download the TV listings from the Internet. So yesterday, I decided I would switch her over to a Mac-based system for recording TV shows from our cable TV service.

Upon doing some investigating, it seems that the product called EyeTV HD was what we needed. This relatively new product is designed to work specifically for the Mac OS X, and has the ability to work with cable set top boxes for changing channels via an IR Blaster. The only issue we currently have, is that this device requires component input for the video and audio, and our current set top box from Comcast only output a coaxial line.

So, I took our current converter box down to the local Comcast office and asked to switch it for a converter that has component output. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t specify I wanted HD component video output so they gave me an old Motorola converter box that has the very old composite video output (think of the old Pong game console that used the composite video connection) which just didn’t work for my needs. I did ask two different people in the Comcast office if this converter would give me digital component output and each of them said, “definitely” without even looking at the connectors on the back of the converter. As such, I came home to verify that this box wouldn’t work (as I suspected) and I called Comcast on the phone to see if they could mail me the right unit. So in about a week I’ll have the proper converter box to continue with my TV recording setup.

The nice thing about the EyeTV HD is that it has a onboard MPEG encoder, so it won’t use the MacBook Pro’s CPU for the encoding. Also, the EyeTV’s software can convert recorded TV shows to both iPad and iPod Touch formats at the same time. So if my wife chooses, she can watch her TV shows on either her iPad or iPod Touch. As such, I probably won’t need to jump through very many hoops to get her TV shows converted to the proper format for her iPod Touch, compared to what I needed to do for my Zune with Windows 7 and Vista.

If this all works out ok, I’ll probably switch over myself to a similar system and then I can shutdown my Windows 7 PC permanently.

Ninite – A great automatic software installer

October 31, 2009

niniteIf you check out my Netbook Blog, you’ll see that I recently purchased a Dell 11z netbook system. The bad thing, is that it arrived with Windows Vista installed and not Windows 7 (which is what I expected). As such, I have to wait about 10 days to get the Dell OEM Windows 7 install DVDs in the mail (ugh).

So I’m in a dilemma– should I install all my standard apps under Vista and use my netbook for the next 10 days and then later wipe out Vista with a clean Windows 7 installation and RE-install all my apps again? I normally install about 10-12 standard applications that I use for my work (most of which take a considerable amount of time to install) and I don’t want to do these installations twice in such a close period of time. So, I decided to just install the FireFox web browser and use my new netbook at a very minimal level until the Windows 7 OS DVD arrives.

This morning, I stumbled upon a wonderful utility called Ninite which seems to be the answer to my prayers. The http://www.ninite.com web site has a list of programs that you can select, afterwhich you download an installer program that runs on your system and automatically installs all the selected applications using the default settings. So I was able to use this free service to download and install the latest versions of 18 different applications completely automatically. I launched the installer and 15 minutes later it was done, with no user interaction on my part.


Since I normally select all the default settings when I install apps, this utility was perfect for my needs. It also answers “no” for apps that try to install junk (like Yahoo toolbar add-ons, etc). What’s really nice, is that nearly all of my standard apps are among the listed available applications for installation, especially some of the programming apps I use.

So now I can use all my favorite apps on my new Dell netbook under Vista, and later do the same fast installation under Windows 7 and be up and running. Great, great utility!

Moving my Calendars into the Cloud

June 5, 2009

calgooI like to keep my life in order, so keeping track of appointments and calendar events is important to me. Since the company I work for has standardized on using Microsoft Outlook 2007 with Microsoft Exchange Server, I’m forced to use Outlook as my scheduling tool for my work activities. I also have been using Outlook 2007 at home on my personal desktop PC for a few years for both as my main email application and for recording calendar events. The big challenge for me is to keep my personal and work calendars separate, but have them both viewable at the same time when I do my personal or work scheduling.

Since I’m using Outlook 2007 for both my home and work PC, I could “publish” both my calendars privately to the online Microsoft Office Servers and have the two Outlook apps access them as Internet Calendars. In this method, my home PC can view my work calendar but I can’t edit the entries on my work calendar. Likewise, my work PC can view my personal calendar but I can’t make changes to it. This is fine, but limits my ability to change both my personal and work calendars on the same machine.

Another option, is to sync my calendars to the “Cloud” (Internet) and open both of them as Internet Calendars on each PC system. This afternoon, I decided to try using this method by installing the freeware app called CalGoo. This utility runs in the background on a PC and will automatically sync my calendar events from Outlook to a Google Calendar via an Internet connection. An added bonus, is that I can edit or create calendar events in my Google calendar and they will be synced to my Outlook calendar as well. As such, I used CalGoo on both my home PC and work PC, and have them both sync to separate Google calendars in my Google account. I then open the Google calendar of each other system in Outlook as an Internet Calendar.


Now, my personal calendar is synced to Google calendar and my work calendar is synced to a different Google calendar. I can then view both calendars overlayed on one another in a single Google calendar screen. Likewise, I can also overlay my personal and work calendars in Outlook on both my home PC and work PC. It all seems to work fine, since my home PC and work PC are both normally always connected to the Internet.  Also, I can check, delete, and create events in either calendar whenever I want so long as I have access to a web browser and an Internet connection.

Doing all of this also positions me pretty well if and when I do switch to a Palm Pre phone. The Pre syncs with Google Calendar, so this will allow me to view and edit calendar events on either my work or personal calendars.

My Windows Media Center Remote Arrived Today!

May 23, 2009

tv_setIt looks like my Windows Media Center Remote arrived earlier than expected, so I spent some time this afternoon hooking up my new set of hardware components. As you may have read in a previous posting, Comcast in the Seattle area will be switching  some of their “premium” channels from analog to digital signal. As such, I will need to use a Comcast Set Top Box (STB) which will convert these digital signals to analog for the TV Tuner Card inside my Desktop PC system. Unfortunately, I can’t control the STB directly using the Vista Media Center (VMC) software (which I use to schedule recordings, watch live TV, etc.) so I needed to purchase a Windows Media Center Remote (with Infrared Emitter) to do the channel changing.

Basically, I connect the IR receiver for the Windows Media Center Remote to my Desktop PC via a USB cable. Once I do that, the VMC software has the ability to interface with it. The IR receiver also has a jack for a IR emitter, which VMC will use to send IR signals to the STB to change its channel. So, I then connect the STB, with the Cable TV line connecting to it, and second connection between it and my TV Tuner card.

Once everything was connected up, I followed the installation guide on this web page. It was very helpful in explaining how to hook up the hardware and what the setup steps were with the VMC software. After following this guide, it appears that the entire setup is working as expected. No hangs or snags as of yet. Whew! 🙂

It seems so primitive to have to use IR emitters taped to the front of a STB, etc. to get all this to work, but I really have no choice since there isn’t a reasonable alterative. I’ll just have to keep an eye on the whole McGyvered system and will let you know if I have any issues. So for now, I’m back in business with recording TV shows on the Comcast Cable Network!

NOTE: If the audio volume for your recordings seem very low, try increasing the volume of the STB by using the remote control that came with it. I noticed that my recordings were really low in volume, and jacking up the STB volume resolved the issue.

DVRMSToolbox for Video Conversions

May 7, 2009

video_conversionIf you’ve read my Zune Tips blog, you’ll know that I use a freeware product called DVRMSToolbox to convert my Vista Media Center recordings (from Cable TV) to WMV file format for my Microsoft Zune media player. DVRMSToolbox (Dtb) automates the entire process, where it monitors my “Recorded TV” folder for new completed files, and then does the processing and copies the generate WMV file to my Zune sync folder. It’s entirely automatic, so I just sync my Zune in the morning to my Desktop PC and I’m ready to watch my TV shows!

I had everything working just fine before the big Deskop PC upgrade, but I noticed that using the tool called DVRMStoWMVHD (to do the DVR-MS to WMV format conversion) didn’t work quite right on my upgraded system. For some reason, the audio gradually goes out of sync with the video while it is being played, to the point where after 45 minutes the audio is about 6 seconds behind the video. Really annoying to watch.

I ran a bunch of tests, and I can’t seem to figure out the problem. Usually this type of issue occurs with the installed Video and Audio Codecs on the Desktop PC system, but I was careful to only use known good codecs. I’ve also installed the AC3Filter application (as recommended by the maker of Dtb) but that didn’t seem to help.

My alternative solution was to replace DVRMStoWMVHD with using a two step process:

  1. Convert the DVR-MS file to MPEG format using the program ffmpeg
  2. Convert the MPEG file to WMV format using Windows Media Encoder 9 (WME9)

That seemed to work just fine, however, the Visual Basic script used to run WME9 bombed out under Vista with the message, “Console Based Script Host has Stopped Working. cscript.exe“. With some digging, I discovered that a protection scheme called Data Execution Prevention (DEP) was stopping the Visual Basic script from running. This “protection” scheme was designed to prevent malicious software from running on your system. The cause for this error, was a bug or improper compiling of certain DLL files used by WME9. To fix this, I had to follow the steps outlined by this Microsoft Hotfix.

Once I did that, the Visual Basic script running WME9 worked fine on my Vista system. So, I’d rather use the one-step approach with DVRMStoWMVHD, but it looks like I’ll need to use the two-step approach that I outlined to have audio-video synced WMV files.

Updated (8 May 09): I figured out the problem with DVRMStoWMVHD having the audio/video sync issue. It turns out version works fine (which I was using on my old system before upgrading) and the latest version has the syncing issue, so I think the current version has a bug. Since I still had the older version on my old hard drive, I switch back to using it and problem solved!

Sending Emails with Large Attachments

April 25, 2009

yousenditHere’s a neat tip that I got from www.howtogeek.com regarding a Microsoft Outlook plugin that allows you to send emails with very large attachments. In a lot of cases, IT departments limit the file attachment size to 5 or 10 MB (for both sending and receiving), so this nifty Outlook plugin lets you get around that issue by uploading your large attachment to their server and providing a download link in the sent email message.

The plugin is for a service offered by YouSendIt.com, where you can send up to a 2 GB attachment if you go with the “Pro” plan. YouSendIt allows you to attach a file with a max size of 100 MB for the free plan. There is also a 1 GB monthly download limit for the free plan, and all links to downloads are valid for only 7 days.

So, it sounds like a useful plugin if you need to send emails with large attachments.

Corral Your Desktop Icons

April 22, 2009

fencesOften times I need a temporary place to keep a file or document, so I simply put it on my desktop. As such, my desktop screen now looks like a graveyard of icons. I’ve got so many icons, that it takes me up to one minute to find the icon I’m looking for. What a mess! I try to group icons by category and function on my desktop, but whenever I plug my laptop into a docking station or connect to a video projector my screen resizes and the icons are moved around randomly.

Luckily, I found a very cool freeware application called Stardock Fences. It’s a great application that allows me to sort out and group my desktop icons into small bounded regions on my screen. The image below shows an example of what Fences looks like on your desktop screen:


It’s both functional and aesthetically pleasing, and very easy to use. In fact, you can easily hide all the desktop icons by double clicking on the main desktop screen, and bring them back by double-clicking again. And best of all, it’s free!

So if you’re a neat freak and want to group and contain all your desktop icons, I highly suggest you give Fences a try!