Thursday, March 19, 2015

Review of the 'mystery' Samsung WB380F smart camera

MY NEW CAMERA

I just bought a new Samsung WB380F smart camera through Best Buy's online store.  It's a mid-level compact point-and-shoot that has wifi and online connectors for several online photo-sharing services.  I specifically wanted something that could link to my cell phone (when switched to hotspot mode) and directly backup photos and videos to Flickr.


That didn't work out so well.

ACCIDENTAL BETA TESTER

Apparently Best Buy listed the camera for-sale before it was supposed to be released?  That's the only explanation I can think of for the strange experience I've had with the camera.  In general, I like the camera and it definitely takes better photos than my Nexus 5 smartphone!  But there's no longer a Flickr app.  That was an included feature on the predecessor model, the Samsung WB350F, but apparently its been dropped.  I tried to find a list of supported services but the 350 is still the model listed on the Samsung U.S. web-site. In fact there's no mention of the 380, at all.  When I tried to google "samsung wb380f" all I found were references to camera stores in Germany where it had gone on-sale in January (two months ago).  I couldn't find any reviews or anything in English.

So I submitted a tech-support request through Samsung's web-site.  Their response was, "This is not a U.S. model."  Um, then why is it for-sale at Best Buy?  Why are all the buttons and manual in English?  I tried googling it again and now, just 2 days later, I see it listed on the Samsung Australia and Samsung UK web-sites.  What's more, the older 350 model is now sold-out on the U.S. web-site.  So clearly they're getting ready to switch models and I simply got ahold of one early.

ONLINE BACKUPS

Meanwhile, I had started experimenting with the remaining online services -- Picasa, Facebook, YouTube, and Dropbox.  Picasa is really Google Plus: Photos.  Dropbox won't let me login and I think the issue is that it doesn't recognize the 380 as a supported model.  (I didn't try Facebook or YouTube because I don't plan on sharing anything online; I just want a mobile backup in case I run out of storage or lose the phone.)  I called Samsung's phone support and they agreed that my issue needed to be escalated.

I tried using the built-in Picasa backup but I don't like the Google Photos web-site, e.g. I couldn't see any way to organize my unsorted photos.  You can either view the (already sorted) Albums, or you can View All which is a big mess.  (My phone has a built-in Google Photos backup but that was the same result as the camera's app.)

I tried using my phone's built-in Google Drive backup but then there's no 'photo awareness' of the files.

I also tried using the official Flickr app but it only backs-up photos you take with the phone, i.e., it ignores photos you copy from elsewhere.
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MY CURRENT BACKUP TECHNIQUE


  1. I installed Flickr Upload on my Nexus smartphone
  2. I installed Samsung Smart Camera app on my Nexus
  3. I take pictures/videos on the Wb380F
  4. Put the camera in 'wifi' mode, then select Mobile Link > Select Files From Phone
  5. Open the Samsung Smart Camera app on my phone
  6. tap the back of the phone to the 'NFC' label on the left-side of the camera
  7. on the phone, click Select All checkbox, then COPY
  8. The wireless copy is fast, e.g. 2-3 MB/second
  9. Flickr Upload sees the new files and immediately re-copies them 'up' to the cloud
Even though this is a two-step transfer I only need to select the photos/videos once (in the Samsung app).  Everything else is automatic.  And I like the Flickr site because it has multiple views you can select, e.g. the new Camera Roll sorts by date and makes it easy to Select All > Add To Album.

WIDE-ANGLE = FISH-EYE!


One thing I noticed is that the camera has a wide-angle lenses so everything looks far away.  If you try to fill the image by walking close to your subject, there's a 'fish-eye' effect.  Instead you need to use the 21x optical zoom.
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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Workaround to Acrobat 9 updates not working

Has it really been 6 months since my last post??  Here's a new Quick Note, as always.

My company still uses Adobe Acrobat 9 Standard but for the past month I've been unable to auto-update my new installs.  Whenever I've tried the built-in Help > Check For Updates it reports "No updates available."  I think I've now found the reason, as well as a workaround.

ROOT CAUSE?
The base install of Acrobat 9.0.0 includes their older updater which is located in C:\Program Files x86\Common\Adobe\Updater6.  Inside that folder there are two digital certs, e.g. AdobeUpdate.cer, which are dated 4/16/2008.  I suspect those certs just expired last month?

WORKAROUND
The workaround is to manually update Acrobat 9 until you get the newer AdobeARM updater which was included in Acrobat 9.2.0.  Worst case you'll need to manually download and install all the following updates:
9.1.0 > 9.1.1 > 9.1.2 > 9.1.3 > 9.2.0

The downloads are located on this Adobe page:
http://www.adobe.com/support/downloads/product.jsp?product=1&platform=Windows

There might be some shortcuts?  For instance, some online discussions say you can skip directly from 9.1.0 to 9.2.0.  Also, you might try copying the C:\Program Files x86\Common\Adobe\ARM folder from an updated PC to an un-updated, then run the AdobeARM.exe ?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Custom ringtones on Nexus 5

I just got my new Nexus 5 through the Google Play Store.  In general it's a great phone!  My only complaint is that it has crashed on me twice -- once during the initial Google Play apps-sync, and again while using the USB 'Media' link to copy several GB  of MP3s onto the phone.

Some of those MP3s are custom ringtones that I'm accustomed to using for particular contacts, i.e., so that I can tell who is calling by the ringtone.  Unfortunately, I could not find any way to select a custom ringtone using any of the built-in menus or apps.  (In the past I've been able to use the built-in music player to set an MP3 as a ringtone but Google Play Music doesn't seem to have that.)

Ultimately what I did was install another file explorer (in this case "ES File Explorer" but I suspect any would work).  Now, when I go into the ringtone selector -- in either Settings > Sound or in the individual Contacts' ringtone -- there is a prompt to choose which file explorer.  If I use ES File Explorer I can then choose any MP3.

Monday, June 17, 2013

fix for Windows Update error 8024402F

I've just reinstalled my main home-office workstation and Windows Update started to fail after I installed Microsoft Office.  The specific error-code is 8024402F.

I tried all sorts of suggested fixes online:
- reboot (MANY times!)
- ran WindowsUpdateDiagnostics tool
- ran System File Checker (SFC)
- Reset the content of the Catroot2 folder
There were other more-involved fixes, too, but I wanted to avoid them if at all possible.  I mean- this was a brand-new install so how could any system files have gotten corrupted?  I hadn't had crashes or other errors before this point.

Solution

The key was that Windows Update was configured for both Windows and Microsoft app updates.  I went into 'Change Settings' and unchecked the option to update Microsoft apps -- i.e., Office -- and the problem went away.  Honestly, the only Microsoft app I have installed is Outlook 2003 so I'm not expecting any updates.  And, apparently, there's something about how Office 2003 registered itself that confused/broke that Microsoft Update feature.


Friday, April 5, 2013

Comparing Schlage vs Kwikset lockset handedness

I have a side door on my garage with a matched set of Kwikset handle and deadbolt but they lock/unlock in different directions.  This is a right-handed door and opens inward, i.e., from the outside the hinges are on the right, and from the inside the handles/bolts are on the right.  The deadbolt works the way I expect, as the top of the key (from the outside) and/or the top of the handle (on the inside) moves the same direction as the bolt.  The key to the handle, however, works the opposite direction.

Handedness of door locks

This is the 'handedness' of the lock.  Rather than left or right, it's defined as clockwise or counter-clockwise.  The seemingly-correct 'handedness' for my locks -- from the inside -- is clockwise to lock, counter-clockwise to unlock.  But the handle's twist-latch turns counter-clockwise to lock.  I set out to reverse this.  And failed.

What I learned about lock handedness

I found some locksmith discussion web-sites where other people had asked about this.  There was a lot of confused replies as most people thought the original poster was an idiot who couldn't figure-out how to remove and reverse the inside/outside orientation.  Eventually I learned the following:

  1. Some commercial locks are designed to have their handedness reversed but most residential locks are not.
  2. When you flip a deadbolt from left-open to right-open, the handedness reverses too since the door-open action is the lock.  But when you reverse the direction on a handle the door-open mechanism reverses but not the internal locking mechanism.
  3. Kwikset handles are all designed with a clockwise unlock. So in order for their handles and deadbolts to have the same handedness you need to use them on left-handed doors.
  4. Schlage handles are the opposite, they're designed with a counter-clockwise unlock.  So their handles and deadbolts only match when used on right-handed doors.

Conclusions/Recommendations

I went to Home Depot and inspected the lockset displays.  I also asked the employees in that department but they were unaware of this issue.  They said people usually just accepted the mismatched handedness.  Maybe now they'll ask customers which way their doors open and use that as a means of recommending one brand over another:

left-handed doors = Kwikset
right-handed doors = Schlage

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Translation of IKEA frukt soppa instructions

This is silly, I know, but I bought a packet of the Swedish fruit soup from IKEA then realized I couldn't read the directions.  So I tried googling it but without success.  Finally, I used Google Translate (which includes a virtual Swedish keyboard for the extra symbols) and the translation is as follows:

ORIGINAL FRUKTSOPPA DIRECTIONS

gör så här, vispa ner påsarnas innehåll i 1 liter kallt vatten, en påse till 0,5 liter. Tillaga på spis eller i mikrovågsugn. På spis, Koka upp under omrörning. Låt svalna, gärna i vattenbad och under lock. I mikrovågsugn, Värm på hogsta effekt (600W) i 6 minuter. Rör om efter ca halva tiden.

TRANSLATED ENGLISH DIRECTIONS

Do this: whisk the bag's contents in 1 liter of cold water, (a bag to 0.5 liters). Cook on stove or in the microwave. On the stove, bring to boil, stirring. Allow to cool, preferably in water and under cover. In microwave, heat at maximum power (600W) for 6 minutes. Stir in about half the time.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Problems with Pelco and Swann security-camera DVRs

OVERVIEW

My office has an established array of 8 security cameras but our DVR is now broken.  The old DVR was a Dedicated Micros DS2 and it never really worked as expected, but it was minimally sufficient so we put-up with it.  Now that it's died I was excited at the prospect of finally replacing it with something that worked exactly as we'd always wanted.  But I continue to run into a bewildering array of problems, none of which could have been predicted.

MY RESEARCH METHOD

I have now researched about 8 possible replacement DVRs.  In addition to reviewing their online product-pages, I downloaded all the brochures and I read all the manuals cover-to-cover, keeping detailed notes.  In this fashion I was able to immediately eliminate several DVRs because they did not allow you to limit users to individual cameras (just general access-levels, e.g. live-view versus playback).

I have also been testing the online demos, of which I was surprised to find so few?  This experience gave me a general 'feel' for the level of spit-and-polish on the UIs, which one would expect to reflect the overall quality of the product.  Some DVRs had a distinctly 1990s UI -- not a deal-breaker but it definitely gave me pause.

REVIEW OF PELCO

After much discussion, I was able to get an in-house demo of the DVR recommended by our security-system vendor -- the Pelco DX4808.  This is the current mid-range DVR by the same industry-leading company that made our 480-line analog cameras.  It featured full-resolution D1 recording capability across all 8 cameras simultaneously, which was the biggest failing of the old Dedicated Micros unit.  Unfortunately, we quickly ran into serious issues with the new unit.

1. The D1 recordings were not properly de-interlaced.  When people would move side-to-side in the camera view, there were major 'jaggies' around them.  And this issue extended to motionless images, too, i.e., the new '480-line' recordings looked worse than our old 240-line recordings (which skipped the whole de-interlacing issue by simply recording one set of NTSC video frames).  I asked several people at Pelco about this and none of them had any idea how to fix it; they confirmed that there was no hidden setting I could use to 'flip' the odd/even frames, nor was there a switch on the cameras to reverse how they were sending the image.

2. There were 3 different DVR interfaces available but none of them allowed you to easily review the recordings?  The 'old' DX Series application allowed you to search by camera and date/time, then presented you with a time-line indicating when the camera had been triggered.  But the timeline was awkward to use since most (short) recordings would show-up as a single pixel-wide 'event' and clicking anywhere nearby would result in the 'invisible' playback of other cameras rather than skipping ahead to the next event on the camera you had searched for.  There was also a newer DS Control application which allowed you to search but then played-back events without any timeline or listing, i.e., it was like you were randomly playing back events.

3. The remote viewing apps used an old Win95-style video interface.  This meant that you could not move the view screen to a 2nd monitor nor could you resize it.  Also it would force my Windows 7 computer to drop out of 'Aero' mode.  The new DS Control app seemed to work properly but the playback UI made it a deal-breaker for my boss.

4. Finally -- and this is really a weird stupid one -- I could not get the DVR to properly use the local-time.  It seemed stuck on GMT, no matter what I tried.  I think the issue was that the initial recordings were done when the unit was still fresh-out-of-the-box running on GMT and so it insisted on deferring to those time-stamps even though I'd switched the general configuration to PST.  I repeatedly asked Pelco if I should just reset the cache of recordings but they never responded, and I returned the demo before bothering to test it.

One good point:  I was able to successfully operate the Pelco DVR remotely across our Cisco VPN.  The old Dedicated Micros had apparently used a faux 'UDP' mode of transmission (TCP packets without the full handshake) which tripped-up our VPN and made playback almost unbearably slow.

CONSIDERATION OF 'OFF' BRANDS

From all my extensive research I had started to notice distinct similarities between some brand-name DVRs and comparable 'off-brand' models.  Clearly, some of these units were simply OEM versions of the same recorder!  For instance, the Pelco DX4800 was really just a rebranded LG LE5008-NH albeit with additional remote interfaces like DS Control.  But this made me realize that I should consider some of the smaller (cheaper) brands, too.

REVIEW OF SWANN

The local Fry's Electronics would frequently advertise security DVRs for a fraction of the cost of the 'real' DVRs I had been reviewing.  In the past, when I would try to test the products' online demos or read their manuals, it was clear that they were shoddy fly-by-night units, totally unfit for a business environment.  But then I saw the brand-new 'top-of-the-line' Swann DVR8-4000.  It featured full D1 recording across all 8 channels as well as a well-reviewed mobile app.  And it only cost $400 -- a third what the Pelco would have cost!  So I purchased a unit, with the expectation that I could return it within 30 days if it wasn't All That.

At first it seemed a roaring success.  Out of the box it appeared to be a very well built and professional unit.  The default settings were all totally appropriate so I didn't even have to change anything to suit our desired recording-mode, i.e., only motion-activated and always max quality (D1 and 30 fps).  And the live-playback was properly de-interlaced -- finally, true 480-line resolution!

Unfortunately it went badly south from there:

1. First, I ran into weird UI issues where I would think I had saved a setting (because I'd clicked OK afterwards) only to learn that the unit only saved some changes if you clicked OK, then APPLY, then confirmed OK again.

2. Next, I created a new user-account and assigned it access to just 1 camera; this was one of the primary requirements which the old Dedicated Micros was unable to perform.  Unfortunately, the remote viewer would either show ALL the cameras (ignoring the configuration) or NONE.  I called Swann tech support and they eventually admitted that these were known issues, to be fixed in a 'future' firmware upgrade -- no ETA.

3. They also asked me if I was able to playback the recordings; I could not!  Apparently this was another known bug.

4. Since I only had 30 days with which to test, I escalated my issues to the senior tech support and asked if I could beta-test the next firmware.  They were very helpful and obliged me, sending me the file which was very easy to install ... and rendered the unit completely inoperable.  Now the tech support people offered to send me a replacement unit, but I declined that in favor of simply returning the unit to Fry's for a refund.

CONCLUSION

So here I sit, sans security recordings.  Of course, the cameras are still serving their primary 'deterrent' role since people don't know they're inoperable!  I'm staying in touch with Swann and if I don't find something else, soon, I may just re-purchase the DVR8-4000 after the firmware is upgraded.