My initial thoughts on the SmartThings Home Automation System.

                I've been looking at home automation systems for a while now and I finally pulled the trigger on SmartThings a couple of weeks ago. I thought I would give a brief (okay, not that brief) summary of how it's gone so far. The reason I started looking at home automation was because my wife wanted to be able to control an outlet and turn it off in case she left something plugged in. I looked at the WeMo system but that was pretty limited and wasn't compatible with Windows Mobile. I had been reading up on SmartThings for a while. I knew they supported Windows Mobile although there were complaints about app stability. I decided to go ahead and grab it when the Home Monitoring kit went on sale for $200 (instead of $250).

                The kit includes the new V2 hub, a motion sensor, outlet, and 2 door (or window) sensors. I was eager to get the system up and running. One problem, the Windows app was terrible. I couldn't get past the initial setup screen without it crashing. I thought this might be a problem so I went with the Android app to continue with the setup. I should just get a cheap Android tablet for this sort of stuff but since I don't have one I went with the BlueStacks emulator on Windows. I was able to install the SmartThings app and get things set up just fine. After I created an account and added the hub I added the outlet. It was as simple as plugging it in and selecting "Connect New Device" in the app. The app found the outlet and I was able to name it and say where it was located. I tested it through the app and it seemed to turn on and off as expected. One thing I really like about the outlet is that it has a button on it to override the app when needed.

                The next thing I installed was one of the door sensors. It was very simple. There are two pieces, the larger one attached to the door frame and the smaller piece to the door. I attached them with the included double sided tape but you could also screw them in. I installed the second door sensor to my actual garage door. Again, the sensor was found by the app and added to the system. In the app there is an option to use the sensor in "Garage Door" mode. In "Garage Door" mode they use the accelerometer (I think) instead of the magnet to trigger the sensor. That way you can just apply the large part of the sensor to the garage door and it can tell if it's vertical (closed) or horizontal (open). I added the sensor in the app and tested it by just laying it flat or standing it up on a table to make sure it was working before applying it to the door. After I installed it I tried testing it but the sensor wasn't tripping. Even when the door was open it said it was closed. Here's something that might save you some time. After a bunch of troubleshooting (at first I thought it was a range issue) I discovered that the sensor simply wasn't getting tilted flat enough when the door was open. I moved the sensor to an angled part of the door on one of the decorative panels so that when the door is open the sensor is totally flat but when it's closed it's at a slight angle off of vertical. Now it works perfectly fine. It seems to be more sensitive about lying perfectly flat than standing perfectly straight up. So that's it for what was included in the kit. I don't know what I'm going to do with the motion sensor yet. I'm sure it will have more options in terms of how it's triggered and what it sets off.

                I wanted to try adding a light to the system so I got a Cree LED lightbulb. Unlike the other sensors this was a total pain to get connected to the system. I went through the same procedure of telling the app to look for a new thing and then turned on the light bulb. It would just never find the bulb. I read that there is a way to reset the light by turning it on/off at 2 second intervals. When a reset is triggered the bulb will flash on its own. I probably had to reset the bulb 5 times before it was finally recognized by the app. Once it was found though the rest of the set up was easy. The bulb can be triggered to turn on or off and has a dimmer. Within the app I've set up a smart lighting procedure so that it automatically turns on at sunset and off later at night. It has been working great after the initial problems getting it connected.

                One last thing I want to talk about is the SmartTiles app ( THIS APP IS AWESOME! It was written by a third party developer and installs on the SmartThings hub to provide a web interface for the system. It works great on my Lumia 950 and I can pin the page right to the home screen. I can control the light and outlet, monitor the sensors, and arm/disarm the system all from within the tile interface. The long term plan is to try using my Surface RT as an interface for the SmartThings system via this app. We'll see how it goes.

                Ideally I would eventually like the system to know when I get home and leave so it can automatically arm and disarm the sensors. It seems like the presence sensing ability of the app isn't great right now. There are times when I'm home and it says I'm not and vice versa. I think presence sensing will probably be better with a dedicated key chain sensor (which they have) or with a revision of the app. The Windows Mobile app quality has actually improved since my initial use. I think there was a behind the scenes update. I am able to add new things and it seems more stable now (although it still crashes too much). So far I'm really happy with the SmartThings V2 hub and system. I only have a few things integrated right now but I'm excited about the potential of the system. More importantly, it has been really reliable and stable and has passed the wife approval test. Hopefully all of that continues. Thanks for reading.

Designhuette MANHATTAN Watch Winder

I recently picked up four Designhuette MANHATTAN watch winders while Christopher Ward was having a 25% off sale. In case you don’t know, the reason for a watch winder is to keep automatic watches running after not wearing them for a while. This eliminates the need to constantly set the time and also keeps the watch movement in good shape by keeping the gears moving. I’ve been looking for a watch winder for a while now. For the most part they all seem ridiculously overpriced. Some winders can cost over $500 for a single watch! The MANHATTAN winders are $150 before the sale. The reason I chose this model is that it has a modular design. Up to twelve winders can be connected together to share a single power plug. The packaging is very plain, just a white box. Inside the winder is wrapped in a velvety pouch. I got the black model and it is a very glossy black. Each unit comes with an international power plug and a connector cable to string multiple winders together. There are 2 switches to adjust the direction of winding (clockwise, counter clockwise, or alternating) and the number of turns per day (650, 750, 900, or 1000). It also takes two AA batteries that the manual says is for “emergency operation only”. I would think that if you were in a real emergency winding your watches would be a minor concern but whatever. Honestly, the insert that holds the watch feels a bit cheap. There is a strong spring that keeps the watch in place but the plastic is a bit flimsy. Ultimately it doesn’t have to be too strong to hold a slowly spinning watch but it would just be nice if it felt a bit nicer. I installed the four winders, attaching one to the power outlet and daisy chaining the others together. There is a small LED in the front that is on while the winders are spinning and slowly flashes when they are paused. Even with all four units spinning they are very quiet. They also seem to generate no heat which was a concern for me since they will be in a safe. Obviously it will take a while to determine how reliable they are but hopefully it won’t be a problem. Overall I’m very happy with the MANHATTAN watch winder and glad I don’t have to worry about setting my automatic watches all of the time.


Visit to Christopher Ward Watches in Maidenhead, England

A few weeks ago I was planning a trip to Paris and London. I'm a big fan of Christopher Ward watches so I figured I would try to visit them while in England. I hit them up on Twitter asking if a visit was possible and they gave me an email address to write and make an appointment. It was all set, 11am Friday with Declan. Getting to the showroom from London was pretty simple. An easy train ride to Maidenhead and short walk to the building. A lady answered the door, I said I had an appointment, and she directed me to the front room where another customer was already waiting. It turns out he was picking up a watch that he got repaired and soon left. A few minuted later Declan came out and introduced himself. He then left to grab 4 display boxes filled with pretty much every Christopher Ward watch.

I really wanted to see the new C9 5 Day Harrison with the in house SH21 movement. Declan brought out all 3 styles of the watch. I was afraid it was going to be too big for my wrist but it really wasn't an issue. The version of the C9 5 Day I really liked was the white face with blue hands. Unfortunately I own a white C5 Malvern and the C9 didn't look different enough for me to justify the purchase. I know the movement is completely different and the C9 5 Day is a bit larger but they just looked too similar. The blue and grey faces of the C9 aren't the easiest to read with the mirrored hands and weren't my favorites. I know the SH21 movement was designed with flexibility and extendability and Declan said they will be coming out with a smaller watch. Hopefully they will add different complications and change the styling a bit.

Just because the C9 5 Day didn't work out for me doesn't mean I didn't find anything. I've been intrigued by the C9 Jumping Hour watch ever since I first saw it. Again, I was worried that it would be too big but it fit great. I found that having the ability to try on all of the watches was really helpful. I had read that Christopher Ward was coming out with an Arabic numeral version of the Jumping Hour and Declan was kind enough to show me a prototype. I thought I was going to like it more but I found the numbers to be a bit too cartoonish and liked the roman numeral version much better. Along with the new C9 5 Day the company came out with a new single fold buckle. Declan offered to put a strap with the new buckle on the Jumping Hour for me. He also offered me the new strap and buckle for my C5. I really thought about because the double fold buckle on my C5 is a bit tough to use but I decided to hold off. In the end I got the stainless C9 Jumping Hour with the new buckle and my wife got a black Trident Pro on a bracelet. We were so excited about our purchases that we carried the out of the store and Declan offered to mail the boxes back to the states so we wouldn't have to carry them ourselves.

Overall the customer service was fantastic. It's a shame I won't be able to visit very often since it's 5500 miles away. Declan was extremely helpful and offered to show me watches that weren't quite released yet and many different watch and band combinations. I also didn't feel pressured at all during the visit. Although the boxes were mailed to my house, Declan brought them out so we could see then new design. He also said there will be new watch winders coming out soon which is something I will definitely check out. If you are a fan of Christopher Ward watches or watches in general and are near the London area, I highly recommend making an appointment with Christopher Ward and visiting the showroom. Thanks so much to Declan and the entire crew over at Christopher Ward.

Cocos Fire in San Marcos, CA

Unfortunately I live near where the Cocos fire was burning in San Marcos, CA.  We were evacuated for a couple of nights but our house wasn't really in danger.  After the flames were no longer close by I was able to watch the helicopters get water from Lake San Marcos to fight the fire with.  There was a steady parade of helicopters getting water, dumping it on the fire, and returning.  About a week after the fire I hiked up from Discovery Lake to Double Peak Park.  The trail goes through the burn area in several places.  It's pretty amazing to see the destruction and how close it got to neighborhoods.  I hope I don't see another wildfire this close for a long time.


Click on the pictures below to view the photo sets of the firefight and aftermath.

Cheap Macro Lens Alternative

I got a set of diopter lenses to use with my Sony A77 camera.  I've been wanting to try some macro photography for a while now but didn't have a macro lens.  Both my kit 16-50mm 2.8 lens and Tamron 70-300 USD lens have minimum focal distances that are too long for macro work.  I researched a bit into getting a specific macro lens but the cost seemed a bit high.  I found a cheaper alternative called a diopter lens that can be used with any lens.  I read that they work best with telephoto lenses so I got a set to fit my Tamron lens, 62mm.  Here is the specific set.  I took a walk last weekend with the +4 and +2 filters to test them out.  It was a bit difficult because it was pretty breezy and I didn't bring a tripod.  The filters worked better than expected.  The minimum focusing distance was greatly reduced and the image quality was better than expected.  I can't wait to get out and try the +1 and +10 filters too.  Here are a couple of examples and a link to the full set on Flickr.

Does your Xbox 360 not show up under 'Play To' with Windows 8?

Maybe everybody knew about this but I just figured it out.  I really like the 'Play To' feature of Windows 8 and the Xbox 360.  My problem has been that the Xbox doesn't always show up as an option to send video to.  I finally realized that the Xbox needs to be turned on before my computer.  I always leave my computer on and I never leave my Xbox on so it was frustrating trying to figure this out.  Now, when I want to send video or music to my TV I first turn on the Xbox.  Next, instead of restarting the computer, I just turn the wireless off and on.  As soon as the computer is back on the network the Xbox is listed as an option for 'Play To'.  It seems like there should be a way for Windows 8 to know that an Xbox has appeared on the network but this workaround works for now.  Previously I used a Netgear PTV1000 to show my computer content on my TV.  Unfortunately the PTV1000 does not work with Windows 8 and I can't upgrade to the newer WiDi adaptor yet (My TV and receiver don't have HDMI).  Hopefully someone else will find this helpful.

Letter to the San Diego City Council regarding the Plaza de Panama project.

Dear San Diego City Council,

    I was deeply disappointed to hear that a court ruling has effectively put an end to the Plaza de Panama project.  This project will greatly improve Balboa Park and return the Plaza to it's original pedestrian friendly form.  The current plaza is a mess of traffic, crosswalks, and parking.  It looks and feels nothing like a park.  The Plaza de Panama project will return the area in front of the Museum of Art to a place where people can gather and events can be held.  A lot of work has gone in to the planning of this redevelopment and I would hate to see it wasted due to a technicality with the city's municipal code.  I am a resident of San Diego County so I am sending this to each of the council members.  I frequently visit Balboa Park for events, museums, and the Old Globe.  I have seen the plans for the Plaza de Panama project and know how much of an improvement the project is for the park.  I urge you to quickly fix the municipal code so that the project can continue.  It will be a shame for these enhancements to the park to not be completed by the 2015 Centennial celebration.  Thank you.

America's Cup World Series - San Francisco

Last weekend I flew up to San Francisco to watch the second installment of the America's Cup World Series.  I went to the August regatta and had a blast so as soon as I got home from that one I booked a flight for the October event.  I am not a sailor but I guess you could call me a fan of exciting things and these America's Cup races are definitely exciting.  To make it even better, the October regatta was the same weekend as Fleet Week.  Luckily the races and air show were at the same location so I was able to enjoy both.

Because of Fleet Week, the America's Cup Village was moved to the far west end of Marina Green.  I saw it called Little Marina Green and also Marina Green West.  The Village was much smaller than in August.  The team bases were not located in the village and the boats didn't launch from there.  There was still a main stage, shops, refreshments, digital boathouse, and educational activities for kids.  Further down the spit (I was told it isn't a peninsula) where the yacht clubs are located, they had two sets of bleachers.  One of the bleacher sections was ticketed while the other one was free.  The addition of free bleachers was new this time and had I known about it I wouldn't have purchased a ticket for one day.  By the time the racing started both of the bleacher sections were very full and they were trying to squeeze people in the ticketed section to make room.  Another consequence of having the races during Fleet Week was that the racing was moved off shore a bit.  They said this was because they had to have an exclusion zone for boat traffic to travel through.  I have to admit, this was a bit disappointing and I hope they bring the races closer again next year.

The organizers did a great job of educating the public about the America's Cup during the morning show on the main stage.  They explained the history of the event and showed highlight videos from the previous day.  They also brought out the actual America's Cup out a couple of times so people could see it and get pictures.  (You couldn't get very close to it though).  The announcers also answered questions from the crowd.

The races were just as exciting as in August.  Saturday was my favorite day because there were two match race semifinals, two fleet races, and then the match race finals.  It was also the day I saw my first capsize when Jimmy Spithill flipped his AC45 around the initial turn in the first match race.  Amazingly, the boat and wing sail weren't damaged and he came back to finish second in the next fleet race and win the final match race.

I had a fantastic time in San Francisco for both of the America's Cup World Series regattas.  The city did a great job handling the crowds, especially during Fleet Week.  I didn't have any problems with BART, buses, or cabs.  I am confident that the Louis Vuitton Cup and America's Cup races next year will be successful and I can't wait to go up and see them.

Briefly, I want to thank the America's Cup organization for the work they are doing promoting clean and protected oceans.  They are organizing shoreline cleanup activities with the race teams and teaching children about the importance of cleaning up the oceans.  During the regatta I was able to attend a talk by Dr. Sylvia Earle about current ocean conditions and what we can do to help out.  The America's Cup organization doesn't have to do these extra events but I'm glad they are and think it will go a long way towards getting people to cleaning up and protect the oceans.

Why I'm getting a Nokia Lumia 920.

     Now that the latest phones from Apple, Samsung, HTC, and Nokia have been released or announced, it seems like a good time to explain why I'll be getting the Nokia Lumia 920.  I have been using the Windows Phone operating system since March 2011 when I bought a second hand LG Quantum.  Previously I was using the old Windows Mobile OS.  I really liked the Quantum and the Windows Phone 7 OS.  I upgraded to the Nokia Lumia 900 as soon as it was released.  The larger screen and more powerful processor were fully utilized by the Windows Phone 7.5 Mango update.  I'm still using the Lumia 900 and it is fantastic.  I have very few complaints about it but as soon as I saw the Lumia 920 I knew I was going to get it.

     The Lumia 920 has features that other phones simply do not have, like built in wireless charging and optical stabilization in the camera.  These are killer features that put the phone over the top.   Wireless charging is an interesting feature.  I don't see myself buying a bunch of charging pads to put around my house, maybe just one.  Where is really seems useful is with accessories like the JBL speakers.  You just place your phone on the top of the speakers and it charges and streams music wirelessly, great feature.  Since Nokia is using a standard wireless charging format there should be lots of compatible accessories.  Despite the botched introduction, the camera on the 920 looks great.  Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) is the reason I purchased the Sony A77 digital camera.  The fact that they could shrink the technology down to fit in a phone is amazing.  The benefits will be obvious in low light situations and while recording video.

     The design of the 920 is simply a refinement of the 900.  It isn't the thinnest phone but I'm fine with that.  When you start making the phone so thin that it compromises the  structural integrity then you've gone too far.  I can't tell you how many broken iPhone screens I've seen.  The 920 also weighs more than other phones.  If I'm going to spend a few hundred dollars on a device then I want it to feel like a substantial product.  The design and weight of the 920 give me that feeling.

     So what phones am I choosing the Lumia 920 over?  First, the iPhone 5.  Why would I want a phone with a lower resolution screen, worse camera, no NFC, no wireless charging, non standard connector, no live tiles, and will shatter in my hand?  Okay.  Next, I'm only interested in looking at other Windows Phones.  The OS is simple to use and lets me do the stuff I need to do more quickly.  The first generation of Windows Phone 8 devices includes the Samsung ATIV and HTC 8X and 8S.  I like the design of the ATIV the least.  The HTC and Nokia phones simply look better to me.  Although the HTC phones look nice, they lack the wireless charging and OIS enabled camera in the Nokia phones.  They also lack the exclusive apps that Nokia has been able to provide to the Lumia line.  Nokia has made several apps and sponsored others that are exclusive to their phones.  These include their Maps, Drive, and Transit apps.  Taken together, the Nokia Lumia 920 will be my next phone.

America’s Cup World Series San Francisco

               Wow, what a weekend!  I went up to San Francisco, Aug 22-26 for the America’s Cup World Series.  The event was held in front of Marina Green park, between the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.  I went to watch the races on four days so I was able to check out the multiple viewing areas.  On Thursday and Sunday I stayed on the shore at Marina Green.  On Friday I watched from the end of the peninsula near the yacht clubs.  On Saturday I had a ticket for The Deck, a set of bleachers at Marina Green.  All of the viewing areas were great.  The free seating at Marina Green park was near where the teams boarded their boats and it was the best place to view the finish of all of the races.  From Marina Green park, the peninsula blocked the view of the start and west side of the course.  Watching from the peninsula was great for the start and west side of the course.  To see the finish and east side of the course I had to move over to the other side of the peninsula.  It wasn’t a problem but I ended up moving back and forth a couple of times during each race.  Another problem with watching from the peninsula was that you couldn't hear the announcers.  They said they might try to fix that for the October regatta.  Having a seat in The Deck at Marina Green was probably the best.  The little bit of elevation was enough to see the entire race course, even the start.  If you are only able to go for one day I would recommend sitting at The Deck.  I think it’s a bit too expensive to sit there every day though.

               The America’s Cup village was located at Marina Green.  There were several exhibits and vendors to visit.  There was an AC45 on display for you to see up close, out of the water.  There was a main stage for music acts and award ceremonies.  The village also contained champagne, wine, and beer gardens, and food vendors.  The team bases were located in an area so that you could view the teams getting ready.  Of course there were also gift shops, a general America’s Cup one with most of the teams represented and a giant Oracle Team USA store.

               I read that there were over 150,000 spectators for the entire weekend in San Francisco.  The organizers did a really good job of making the event fan friendly.  I have already bought my plane tickets (on Virgin America of course) to return for the October races which will be held during Fleet Week.  Please have a look at my photos from the weekend on Flickr.  If you like sailing and photography it really is a fantastically scenic arena.  I had an amazing time and can’t wait to return in October.

My Squaretrade Warranty Experience

   Recently I had to use my extended warranty from Squaretrade and I had an excellent experience.  Two years ago I purchased a Sony Vaio laptop and decided to get an extended warranty for it.  I shopped around and found the Sony and Fry’s warranties to be much more expensive than one from Squaretrade.  I had never used Squaretrade before but the reviews seemed positive so I went for it.  The warranty cost about $100 with one of the abundant coupon codes you can find online.  The coverage was for 3 years including accidental damage (important for a portable item like a laptop).  Two years of use and the laptop was fine.  Suddenly the speakers stopped working.  Headphones still worked fine, just not the speakers.  Since the Sony factory warranty that came with the laptop was only for 1 year, I had to use the Squaretrade warranty.  I logged into the Squaretrade website and submitted a claim.  The next day I received a call from a contracted repair center.  They said they needed to know what model of laptop I had so they could send out a box.  Two days later a special box arrived with a return shipping label in it.  The laptop just fit but it seemed very secure when the box was closed up.  I sent the laptop off via 2 day shipping.  Once the laptop arrived at the repair center I received an email stating that it should be repaired within 5 days.  The next week (5 business days later) I checked my status claim on the website and it still said they were waiting for the laptop to be shipped.  Since I already received an email stating that they had the laptop I decided to give them a call.  I talked to the Squaretrade representative and explained the situation.  The rep looked up my account and said that the repair center was waiting for a part.  He then called the repair center to confirm but they were already closed for the day.  He said he would get back with them the next day but it seemed like they weren’t going to get the part and would probably just payout the claim.  This was a little disturbing since it was just a bad speaker and I fully thought that it was repairable.  Luckily I did a full backup of my data before sending it off.  A couple of days later I called back for an update.  After being on hold a long time before they answered, I was told that they couldn’t get the part and they were going to send me a check for the full price of the laptop.  That sounded great except that I was really expecting to get my laptop back but they said I wouldn’t.  I asked if they could at least return the hard drive to me so that I could uninstall some software and recover the activation keys.  The Squaretrade rep contacted the repair center and put in the request.  He said that the laptop hadn’t been scrapped yet so it should be possible.  Within a few days I received a check for the full purchase price of the laptop.  About a week later the hard drive also arrived.

    Overall, my experience with Squaretrade was better than expected.  I have always been fearful that these third party warranties would find some loophole to deny my claim.  Squaretrade almost did the opposite.  Heck, I got a new laptop because of a broken speaker!  There are a couple of small things that they could improve.  I wish the information on the website was updated more accurate and up to date.  I was also on hold for 15 minutes once waiting for them to answer the phone.  Other than those minor complaints I was very happy with Squaretrade.  The entire process only took a couple weeks and they even sent back my hard drive.  I’ve already replaced the laptop and purchased a Squaretrade warranty for it.

Nokia Lumia 900 - Three Week Update

I picked up the Nokia Lumia 900 from AT&T on Easter. The AT&T company store near me was actually open on the holiday. The salesman said they had 5 of the cyan colored ones. I don't know how many black ones they had. While I was purchasing my black one I saw one other person getting a cyan one. My previous phone was an LG Quantum, also a Windows Phone so I already had my Live ID set up with my contacts, calendar, and Twitter information.  When I first turned on the Lumia 900 I entered my Live ID and all of my info synced down to the phone.  I still had to reinstall all of my apps manually.  The MyPhone website made installing the apps pretty easy by allowing my to see my purchase history and send apps to the my new phone.  I wish I could select multiple apps to send to the phone but the process was not that bad.

As for the hardware, the phone feels great in my hand.  The matte black case looks good and doesn't show fingerprints very much.  The large touchscreen looks really nice indoors and out.  It will show fingerprints but no worse than other touchscreen phones.  The camera takes good pictures, though not great.  I haven't had much use for the front camera for video calls yet.  My previous phone had a hardware keyboard but I find the large screen size of the Lumia 900 and great software keyboard make typing fairly easy.  I still think I would prefer a hardware keyboard for typing something as long as a blog post.  For texting and websites it's fine though.  The rest of the software is regular Windows Phone 7.5.  It runs smooth on the Lumia 900, only showing the slightest bit of lag if a lot of tasks are open.

There a couple of things I would like to see improves with the phone.  First, the vibration in silent mode is a little weak.  I have missed some notifications and calls by not felling the phone vibrate.  Second, the screen brightness adjusts too slowly.  When taking the phone from indoors to outside it takes several seconds for the screen to get brighter.  When it does you can see it slowly increase in several steps.  Third, the camera button does not wake the phone from sleep and launch the camera app consistently.  It always works from the lock screen though.

Finally I had one problem that required a hard reset.  Let me describe when the problem started.  I was playing a game with my Bluetooth head set connected to the phone.  While playing the game I received a test message.  The phone started to read the text message over the headset but then the phone completely restarted.  After that restart I started to have problems connecting to the LTE network.  If the phone dropped from LTE to 4G it would not reconnect back to LTE.  Only a restart or toggling airplane mode would allow the phone to reconnect to LTE again.  If I entered a weak signal area and the phone dropped back to 4G it would stay there again.  After searching online and not finding anybody with a similar problem I decided to backup and hard reset my phone.  After the hard reset I have not had the problem again.  Hopefully if was a one time issue.  I should note that I installed the first software update the day it was released and my problem happened over a week later.

Overall I am extremely happy with my Lumia 900.  The few minor problems I have are not bad enough to cause me to return the phone and might be able to be fixed with a software update.  Nokia's response to the first network issue and rapid update release gives me hope that more updates are on the way.  Even if that is not the case I plan on using my Lumia 900 for a while (at least until WP8 Apollo comes out).

I want Flickr on a Blu-ray player. Oh and, screw the MPAA!

The other day my LG Blu-ray player started acting up.  On some discs it doesn't load the menu or takes a really long to do so.  It has only just started to act this way so something is definitely wrong.  I started researching players.  At first I looked for a player that could access Flickr. Sharing online photo collections on your TV seems like a use case that many people would want.  Apparently not, because I couldn't find a single Blu-ray player that could access Flickr.  Oh well, on to the next spec.  I wanted a player that could be part of a DLNA network to make sharing media easy.  Luckily this is a common feature that most of the modern players have.  Lastly I wanted a player that could access streaming videos.  I already have an Xbox 360 that can access Netflix, YouTube, TV shows, movies, and music.  The only other streaming service that I might need is Amazon.  Again, access to Amazon streaming is pretty common now and the current players from Sony, Samsung, LG, and Panasonic all have the feature.  After doing all of this research I settled on the Panasonic DMP-BDT110 player.  Now is a great time to buy one because the 2011 lineup is getting discounted and the 2012 model players aren't that much of an upgrade.  Finally I remembered that I needed to check for component output (ie analog).  My entire home theater setup is hooked up by component because both my TV and receiver lack HDMI.  This isn't really a problem because I still get a full HD picture.  Here's where the MPAA sucks.  All Blu-ray players made in 2011 and later either have the component ports crippled or don't have the ports at all.  Everything needs to be hooked up by HDMI.  This means I can't get a new Blu-ray player until I get a new TV, and probably a new receiver too.  The reason for this switch away from analog outputs is supposedly to combat privacy.  The problem is, NOBODY PIRATES MOVES OVER ANALOG!!  This would involve playing the entire movie and recording it over the analog outputs.  Real pirates simply use software to break the copy protection on the disc and rip the movie. Removing analog outputs only hurts honest consumers, not movie pirates. I was planning on upgrading my home theater eventually but not right away.  If my Blu-ray player completely stops working I will be unable to watch my HD movies for a while.  That's why I say, screw the MPAA, and will somebody put Flickr in a Blu-ray player already!

Windows Phone Mango improvements on my LG Quantum

This is just a quick list of some of the smaller changes I have noticed in Windows Phone Mango. The major changes like multitasking and the new browser have been covered extensively elsewhere. Some of these changes may be specific to my phone model, LG Quantum on AT&T. I will keep updating this list as I find more changes. 1.  Better people tile, better animations with the few contact pictures I have and it grabbed twitter contact pics. 2.  Autocorrection now works with the hardware keyboard. 3.  The camera sound is off if the phone ringer is off.  The camera will also take a picture when you touch the screen, this can be changed in the settings. 4.  Several apps had Mango updates but they weren't listed on the marketplace tile.  I only saw them when I searched for them in the marketplace. 5.  The volume numbers are larger and easier to read. 6.  Media player controls on the lock screen are larger.

7.  The picture tile is now animated.  The picture I have set as the picture tile is larger and now slowly scrolls vertically.

Windows Home Server 2011 Update

It has been over a month since I installed Windows Home Server 2011 and have been using it for my data storage and backup needs. Although I really like the new server OS it has not been without some problems. For one, there seems to be a problem with the client backup service on the server. It isn't always running and if it's not then backups of client computers won't happen. It appears that the service doesn't automatically start after a server restart. If I go into services and manually start it it keeps running and backups happen as they should. Another problem I have had but since solved is that the server was unable to clean the client backups. By default the server keeps 5 daily backups, 4 weekly backups and 6 monthly backups. There is a cleanup task for the client computer backups that is supposed to get rid of the extra backups. It seems that while Crashplan is trying to upload the server backups to the cloud the backup cleanup service can't run. If I pause Crashplan the cleanup task runs fine. I initially was going to have Crashplan pause while the cleanup task was scheduled to run but I may have to change that idea based on the following observation.

As I said on my previous posts about my new server, I am using Crashplan to backup my data to the cloud. I have created 2 sets in the Crashplan program. The first set, with the highest priority contains my photos and documents. The second set contains the video and client backup folders. The first set uploaded to the cloud just fine but there was a problem with the second set. I'm not sure about the file structure of the client computer backups but it seems like they are stored as several large files are changed when the server updates the backups every night. These changes are seen by Crashplan and it has to upload the large files every time they are changed. The incremental backups are taken care of on the server so it doesn't have to transfer a lot of data from the client computers but then the server consolidates the backups into larger files. This means that Crashplan can't efficiently use incremental backups because large files are being changed on the server, not just small ones. Because of my slow DSL connection Crashplan doesn’t have time to upload all of the large files to the cloud every night. I will probably end up adding a server backup drive to the system and then either use the built in server backup function or simply create a third backup set in Crashplan and have it copy the backup database the internal backup drive. I am finding that one of the most useful features of Crashplan is the ability to create multiple backup sets that can save different file selections to different locations.

One final point about my WHS 2011 usage. Last week, Microsoft released the RC of Windows Home Server 2011 Windows Phone 7 Connector (nice long Microsoft name). I downloaded it as soon as I could. Two parts are required, an add-in for WHS 2011 and an app for the phone. To install the add-in I just copied it to the desktop of a client computer on my home network and double clicked it. This was the first add-in I have installed using the new install method (as opposed to copying it to the add-in folder on the server) and it worked fine. I was prompted to enter the server password, accept the EULA, and click Install Add-in. That was all that was required for the server add-in. I then installed the app on the phone. I had to enter a web address on the phone because the app isn't publically published in the marketplace yet. The installed app is called My Home Server. I launched it and selected 'add an account'. I entered my server web address and was then prompted to enter a user name and password and if I wanted administrator access or not . You can also change these options each time the app launches. I chose to not have the app remember the password and not to allow administrator access. When the app launches the first thing you see are any alerts on your server. The panorama contains three pivots, 'alerts', 'media', and 'account'. Swiping to the right of the panorama shows 'media' with music, pictures, and videos listed. The first time I used the app nothing appeared when I selected any of the media categories. I had to restart the server and then items appeared as they were supposed to. Under the 'media' part of the app I can view all of the pictures on my server and save them to the phone if I want. I can also stream any of my music, but it looks like streaming playlists is not an option. In theory I should be able to stream my videos but it only seems to work for some files. This could be due to a codec issue or it may be due to my slow upload speed and lack of patience. The final part of the app panorama is 'account' where you can change settings (currently the only setting is to turn on the live tile). Under 'account' you can also logout and see the about screen for the app. I have activated the live tile and pinned the app to my start screen. The tile shows a pie chart of your used and free server space. It also shows any warnings or critical alerts on your server. Even though I don't have the app remember my password, the live tile updates almost instantly with any changes to warnings or alerts. I have also noticed additional integration with the phone. For instance when looking at photos stored on the phone and selecting the 'share' option there is an 'upload to My Home Server' option. Selecting this option opens the My Home Server app. After entering my password the photo is automatically uploaded to the server. The picture is uploaded to a folder called 'LG-C900 Mobile Uploads'. I wasn't given a choice of which folder to upload the picture to.

Overall I am really enjoying Windows Home Server 2011 and the integration with Windows Phone 7. There are times when accessing data remotely from the server, either from the web or phone app, where it is a bit slow. I think I am running into the limits of my DSL upload speed. This is mainly going to be a problem for people trying to access video from their home server.

Thanks for reading and if you have any questions or comments feel free to contact me.

By the way, I wrote most of this post using the OneNote Web App with Skydrive and on OneNote in Windows Phone 7. Both worked great.

Upgrading to WHS 2011 (Part 2)

I started off by removing one of my 1TB hard drives using the remove hard drive tool. This took a lot longer than I thought it would, several hours. After it was finished I removed all of the drives from the system. I kept the WHS v1 and other 1 TB drive with my data just in case I needed to go back to my original server.

I installed one of the new 160 GB laptop drives into the dual driver cage and put the cage in my case. Next, I booted up the system with the WHS 2011 disc in the DVD drive and proceeded with the install. The complete install took about 2 hours on my system and involved several automatic reboots. After the OS was installed I had 3 partitions on the hard drive. The OS was on the C: partition and the shared folders were on the D: partition. There was also a 100MB System partition. I turned off the server and installed the 1 Tb drive that I had previously removed the data from. The server saw the drive and I added it to the system. I then used the move folder tool to move the shared folders from the D: drive to the new G: drive. I couldn't figure out how to select all of the folders to move so I did it one at a time. Now it was time to put some data on the server. I plugged in the external drive to which I had performed a server backup. I then manually copied the files over to the new shared folders. I had more folders than the default WHS 2011 setup so after copying them I had to add them with the "Add a folder" tool. After adding the folders they showed up in the Server Folders tab.

Next I needed to protect my server from a crash of the OS drive. I installed a second 160GB laptop drive in the dual cage with the first OS drive. To set up the mirror of the OS drive I used the built in software RAID in the OS. To get to the disk partition tool go to Start and type "create and". The first thing in the menu should be called "Create and format hard disk partitions". Select this option to get to Disk Management. Under Disk Management I could see the 3 partitions on the OC drive and the 1TB storage drive. The second 160GB drive was also shown. I right clicked on the 100MB partition on the OS drive and selected "Add Mirror". The system then said that the drives would have to be converted from "basic" to "dynamic". I selected OK and the mirror was added. I did the same for the OS partition (C:) and it worked fine and = only took a few minutes. For some reason I am not able to do the same thing with the empty D: drive. When I roght click on it, the option to "Add mirror" is not available. This isn't critical since the D: drive is empty but I don't know why it won't let me set up a mirror of it.

Now that my server was up and running I went to the client PCs and uninstalled the old WHS connector software. I then went to "http://whserver/connect" to install the new connecter software and set up the backups. I was worried at first when the first backup took a couple of hours but then I remembered that all of the data had to be transferred, the subsequent backups only transferred the changed data and took only a few minutes.

I have been running WHS 2011 for a couple of weeks now. So far I really like it. The new connector software allows me to quickly start backups and view any alerts. I have had a couple of problems with the backup service on the server stopping which causes my backups to fail. When this happens I have to remote in to the server and manually start the service, then backups work fine again. I don’t know why this is happening, whether it’s a bug or a conflict with some other software I have running on the server. I have installed APC PowerChute to manage my UPS, Crashplan to continuously backup my shared folders online, and DynDNS updater. The backup service problem is the only issue I have had with the system. I have logged in to my server from my Windows Phone 7 and it is great that there is automatically a mobile formatted website. It was very easy to download photos from my server to my phone. I am looking forward to the WP7 add-in and app to get even more functionality between the 2 devices (perhaps remote management and streaming).

I do have one final thing to configure on my Windows Home Server 2011 box. Once I am fully convinced that the new OS is working fine for me and all of my files are again backed up off-site, I will add my second 1TB drive and use it as a mirror of the G: drive which contains my shared folders. I'm waiting to do this because I will have to wipe out my 1TB drive and that will make it impossible to go back to WHS v1 with my data intact. I will probably do this in a month or two and it will provide a complete backup solution for my data. I will have both the server OS and data on mirrored drives in the same tower. I will also have all of the data backed up off site with Crashplan.

Again if you have any comments or questions please feel free to leave them and I will do my best to get back to you.

Upgrading to Windows Home Server 2011 (Part 1)

I currently use Windows Home Server and I love it. Microsoft released the 2011 edition a few weeks ago and I am starting to figure out my upgrade path. Currently I don't have a massive amount of storage requirements. I keep all of my music, photos, and documents on my server. All of the data on my server, including PC backups totals about 500Gb. I have 3 hard drives in my system right now, one 200Gb Samsung drive for the OS and two 1Tb WD Green drives for the storage pool. I have most of the folders in my storage pool set to be duplicated so really I can only store about 1Tb of data. I use folder duplication as my primary means of data protection in case of a single drive failure.

In preparation for my upgrade to WHS 2011 I purchased an additional 1Tb hard drive and an external dock. I set WHS v1 to perform a server backup to the external drive. Once the server backup was complete I sent the backup folder to the cloud using Crashplan. I chose Crashplan because they offer truly unlimited online backup for a very reasonable price. I got an even more reasonable price by purchasing 4 years of backup and using a coupon. Here is where the first minor problem arose. Because of the slow upload speed of my DSL it took 45 days to complete the offsite backup. Luckily I started this project about 2 months before the RTM version of WHS 2011 was released so I had plenty of time for the upload.

I am going to reuse the two WD 1Tb drives for storage for the WHS 2011 installation. Initially I will set them up as mirrored drives. This will replace folder duplication which was a feature of Drive Extender and is no longer included in WHS. I also purchased two 160Gb WD laptop drives to use for the OS installation. I will also set up these drives as mirrored and will install them in a 3.5" to 2 X 2.5" drive enclosure I purchased form Newegg. ( This will protect me against a failure of the OS drive, which is protection I currently do not have in my WHS v1 system.

Planning ahead about the order in which I install the drives will go a long way in helping me create an organized server. I will start with one of the 160Gb OS drives and one of the 1Tb storage drives. After WHS 2011 is installed I will use the "move folder" tool to move all of the shared folders to the 1Tb drive. Next I will install the second 160Gb drive and configure it as the mirror for the OS drive. Then I will install the second 1Tb drive and set up is a mirror of the storage drive. Finally I will connect my external hard drive and copy all of the data back to the shared folders. So that’s the plan, hopefully everything will go smoothly. If anybody has any ideas, suggestions, or questions please feel free to leave a comment.

Sony dash unboxing

I picked up a Sony dash at Best Buy today.  I’ve been waiting for this to come out since I heard about it from CES.  I have posted a few pictures of unboxing it below.  When I first plugged it in it showed an intro video which I proceeded to skip.  It then searched for wireless networks and after finding mine it asked for the security key.  After connecting it said there was a software update available.  It updated the software from version 1.0 to 1.7.  After it restarted I started browsing the apps from the dash.  When I tried to select one to add it said I had to go to to register first.  I went online to set up an account.  The dash gave me a 4 digit code that I used on the website to register my device.  Once that was completed I could add apps from the website or from the dash itself.

So far I really like it.  I have it set up to show my friends flickr photos but it seems to only show a few of them on repeat.  I also have to see if I can get the flickr app to stay active.  It keeps cycling through the apps I have on the device.  I think it is going to take me a while to figure out all of the features.  It came with very minimal documentation so I have a lot of exploring to do.


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