Surface Pro 3 camera test – a disappointment

I recently had my first experience using the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Since I’m into photography and video editing, I figured the first thing I should do is check out the camera.

When I tapped the camera app, a view from the rear facing camera filled up the screen, and nothing else. No button or toolbars were visible to give me a clue how to use the app. So I tapped the screen, thinking that it might take a picture just like it would on my Moto X. Sure enough, it did. Next I tried to slide a finger up and down on the display to see if it would zoom like my Moto X does, but it didn’t. I tried using two fingers and sliding them apart to zoom, but that didn’t work either. After some more poking around, three buttons suddenly showed up along the right side of the screen. One was to take a picture, one to take a video, and one to take panoramic photograph. I’m not sure quite why a button to take a picture was included because tapping anywhere on the display appears to do the same thing. Pressing the video button started a video, so I took some test footage and pressed stop. The interface paused for a few moments, presumably to save the footage, before it allowed me to take another picture or video. After trying a few more video clips, I noticed that sometimes this pause would be non-existent, and other times it would take 30 seconds or more before it would save the video and let me proceed using the camera app. I found this rather baffling, but I assumed it was by design.

Then I looked at the footage. About two out of three clips had distortion or artifacts in the video. Some of the problems were minor, but in some cases the entire video was garbled and choppy. It seemed that the videos that took the longest to save were the ones that had the most issues.

After many attempts, I put together a camera test video, but I had to record some of the segments several times to get a usable video. As you can, even the clips I used had some distorted areas.

Has anybody else encountered these problems with the Surface Pro 3? If so, put your experience in the comments below. In the coming days I’ll be doing some more research to see if I can find more information on the issue or a way to fix it. If I can learn something, I will add it to this post at a later time.

Ubiquiti Unifi Long Range Access Point – Review

About a year ago I decided to replace my aging Linksys access point that was beginning to cause a fair amount of trouble.  One problem is that it would freeze on a weekly basis and had to be power-cycled to fix it.  Range was also an issue.  I wanted the signal to reach another building on our property that was about 200 ft away.  In order to make that happen, I had purchased a pair of range extender antennas for the unit.  This allowed internet access in the other building, but the signal was very weak and not all devices were sensitive enough to be able to connect to it.

After some searching, I decided to get a Unifi Long Range access point from Ubiquity.  Shortly after I purchased it I recorded a video showing the unboxing and setup, as well as my initial thoughts.   Now that I’ve used it for some time, it’s time for a more in-depth review.

Ease of setup and use

Setting up a Unifi access point is different from most other access points in a similar price range. Instead of having a built-in web-based administration interface, it requires that you install the controller software on your computer. The controller software runs on Windows or a MAC, and you can also download a Linux version from the Ubuquity website. Once the controller software is installed, then you use a web-browser to configure the unit much the same way as you would any other access point. For most of the features of the Unifi, the controller software doesn’t have to be running – you only launch it when you need to change the configuration. A few businesses oriented features such as captive portal need the controller software to be running in order to function.

For home use, the controller software doesn’t give you any major benefit, and it takes a little more effort to use than a built-in web-base administration interface. However, where the controller software becomes useful is when you have two or more access points. The controller software allows you to configure common settings such as SSID in one place, and it gives you lots of statistics on who is using wifi and what AP they are connecting to.

Some enterprise access points use a hardware controller. The problem with them is that if the hardware controller fails, you have to get a replacement to get things working again. With a software controller you can move the controller function to another server in minutes and be back up and running.

Range

The range of the Unifi access point is leaps and bounds better than my old Linksys. With the Unifi, any device can connect from any building on my property. In fact, I can manually set the power of the AP one notch back from the highest setting so it’s not using full power, and the coverage is still sufficient.

Value

For a business-class access point, it’s hard to find an access point with all the features of the Unifi without spending a lot more money. For home use, it’s still a good value, but there are other good choices. I’ve been impressed with the models I’ve used by Engenius. Although Engenius isn’t as well-known a brand as many others, I’ve found that they beat the more well-known brands in price, features, and reliability. But if you’re looking for business class features on a budget, go with a Ubuquity Unifi.

The model I purchased can be found on amazon by clicking here.

Five Tips for the Beginner R/C Airplane Pilot


I recently took up the hobby of flying radio controlled aircraft. It’s a lot of fun, but I would have gotten off to a better start if I had understood a few things before my first trip to the flying field. Here are five tips that every aspiring R/C pilot needs to know.

1. Choose the right airplane

I’m not a voice of experience here. The only airplane I’ve ever owned is the Cox Sky Ranger. But as far as I can tell, the two things you’re looking for in a beginner airplane are: Easy to fly, and durable. The Cox Sky Ranger is fairly good at both of these. It is very easy to fly, but it doesn’t glide well. You have to give it a little throttle when you come in for a landing. On the durability side, the “flex-foam” construction is almost impossible to break on a crash. The safe-prop system also makes breaking a prop very unlikely. However, if you crash it hard nose-first, you’ll bend the motor shaft. If it’s a minor bend, it may still be able to fly, albeit with less power. If it’s bent badly, you’ll probably have to get a new motor, which isn’t necessarily all that expensive but still a disappointment when it happens. I love my Sky Ranger, but if I had it to do over, I’d buy the Cox Sky Cruiser, which does glide (according to the reviews I’ve watched), and has a push prop above the fuselage where it is almost impossible to break in a crash.

2. Find a suitable flying area

Now that I know how to fly my Cox Sky Ranger, I can easily fly by Cox Sky Ranger in an area the size of a softball field. However, when you’re learning how to fly, a larger area is better. I’d also recommend you find a place with grass as opposed to a hard surface. Obviously, if you’re taking off from the ground as opposed to hand-launching, you’ll need a smooth hard surface to take off from; but grass is a lot more forgiving when you crash.

3. Choose the right day

The first time I flew, I made the mistake of thinking a slight breeze wouldn’t make a difference. You can fly in a slight breeze once you gain experience, but when you’re starting, choose a day when there’s no detectable breeze. If you know where there’s a flag flown on a high flag pole, take a look at that. If the flag is moving, choose another day.

4. Understand the controls

When I flew for the first time, I didn’t understand how the controls worked. From my experience when video games when I was younger, I thought that I simply held the stick to the right or left to start a turn and kept it in the position until the turn was complete. After a few crashes and a little research, I realized that I was doing it wrong. A short nudge of the stick to the right or left was all that was necessary to bank the plan and start the turn. Then the stick is centered again. If the plane starts to level off before it has completed the turn another nudge will put it back into a bank. Once the turn is complete, a brief nudge in the opposite direction may be necessary to straiten the plane out.

Of course, before any of this works correctly, you need to trim the controls so the plane flies straight when you release the controls. Read the manual, and watch some instructional videos before you take to the skies.

5. Label your plane

If you’re like most R/C pilots, sooner or later you will lose an aircraft. Put your name and phone number on the plane somewhere so you have a chance to get it back if that happens.

Conclusion

For me, learning to fly meant 8 or 10 crashes and a bent motor shaft before my first successful flight. If you follow these tips, you have a good chance of doing a lot better.

How to build a model rocket on the cheap

Building and launching model rockets is not an expensive hobby, but a few days ago I decided to try my hand at building three small rockets from scratch – one for each of my three sons.

This video on the right explains the process. I’ll be adding a few more details to this page in the future. For now, here is a list of engines that will work well for this project:

Estes A8-3 – This is engine I’d recommend – a lot of fun without losing the rocket

Estes B6-4 – a bit more powerful

Estes C6-5 – This one will push a small rocket out of sight – good luck finding it!

My new rackmount server build for Proxmox VE

CSE-504-203BHere are a few notes on my most recent server build.    I’ll fill in more details as time goes on, so check back here in the future.  If you have questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll try to address them as best I can.

The server was purpose-built for running Proxmox Virtualization Environment.  Proxmox VE  is a fantastic Linux distribution based on Debian Linux.  To the base OS it adds OpenVZ and KVM, two mature Linux virtualization technologies, and then puts a very easy-to-use web-based GUI on top.  I also have built two other servers for running Proxmox VE.  The videos for those are here and here.

You really only need to make four purchases to build this server, not counting peripherals such as mouse, keyboard, and monitor:

The case I used is a 1U rackmout server case from Supermicro with a model number of CSE-504-203B.  Click the thumbnail to the left to see my video review of this case.  In summary, it’s a sturdy, short-depth rackmount case that is designed for specific Supermicro motherboards.  You won’t get far trying to use this case with other motherboard manufacturers – check out the video for more details.

This case is very similar to another one from SuperMicro, the CSE 505-203B.  The difference is that the CSE 505 has the motherboard ports exposed on the front panel of the case, whereas the CSE 504 that I used has the ports exposed on the rear of the case.  The motherboard compatibility of these two cases are the same.  Here is a quick list of some of the popular Supermicro motherboard models and the cases that match them:

For these motherboard models: MBD-X9SBAA-FMBD-X9SCAA-LMBD-A1SAi-2750FMBD-A1SRi-2758F
Use one of these cases: CSE-504-203BCSE 505-203B

For these motherboard models: MBD-X7SPA-H,  MBD-X7SPA-HF
Use this case: CSE-502L-200B

For a motherboard, I used Supermicro model MBD-X9SBAA-F-O.  This motherboard has an integrated Intel Atom™ Processor model S1260.  The cool thing about this processor is, unlike many other Atom processors, it has hardware virtualization support.   There are a couple of things you need to know about this motherboard.  First, it has no PS/2 ports for mouse or keyboard and supports only USB 3.0.  Therefore, only newer operating systems will work properly.  Supermicro has published an OS compatibility list here.  Secondly, it supports only ECC RAM, and accepts SO-DIMMs.  As a result, your choices on RAM are limited as there are not many SO-DIMM memory modules on the market that support ECC.     The Kingston RAM I choose works fine.

I will be adding to and revising this blog post as my server project progresses.

 

How to change the Windows 7 logon screen background image to the default

1365011437A lot of computer makers put their own background image on the Windows sign-in screen  Some of them are OK, but in many cases I prefer just the regular Microsoft default.  Here are the steps to change it back to the default:

Warning:  The steps below require editing the Windows registry.  If you mess with the wrong things in the registry, you can cause serious problems with your computer.

  1. Launch the registry editor by clicking Start, typing regedit and pressing ENTER.  Click YES if you see a security prompt
  2. Browse to the following location:
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Authentication\LogonUI\Background
  3. Double-click on OEMBackground and change value from 1 to a 0
  4. Restart your computer

As an alternative, you can download this reg file and run it to make the changes automatically.  Right-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” to save the file to your computer.

Partners in Rhyme finds a resolution to my YouTube copyright frustration

Thumbs Up

Partners In Rhyme

A few weeks back I described a frustration I ran into as a YouTube creator. To get the background story you should probably read that post first. Even though I had done things the “right way” and only used properly licensed stock music in my videos, I still got slapped with copyright claims on several of my videos from a company call IndMusic. IndMusic, as it turns out, has been a source of frustration for both composers who create stock music and video creators who license and use that music. As I mentioned in the previous post, I had reached out to Partners in Rhyme, the stock music vendor from which I purchased the music, to see if they would give me some help. As it turns out, they did. Within a day or two I got a response from Mark Lewis at Partners in Rhyme. He requested all the information surrounding the problem: the videos in question, the company filing the claim, and the music they were claiming as theirs’.  Mark worked with the author (and presumably with IndMusic) and all the claims were dropped a week or two later.   This adds a new level of credibility to Partners in Rhyme.  Not only did they sell me the stock music, they also stood behind it when things went wrong.  Thanks to Mark’s efforts, my cardboard boat fishing video is back online with the disputed music, and I’ve deleted the video with a different music track that I had temporarily posted as a workaround.  Speaking of cardboard boats, I also have produced a video on how to build one, and I have another blog post with a few construction details.

How to install and use the OpenVPN client exported from pfSense

OpenVPN and pfSenseIn the world of open-source router & firewall software, pfSense is my favorite. It has features that rival some of the best commercial products, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how to use it. pfSense has several options for allowing remote VPN (virtual private network) connections. OpenVPN is one of these. Once the pfSense box is configured to allow connections from OpenVPN clients, the system administrator can add users and export pre-configured installer files to allow those users to connect and work over any Internet connection of reasonable speed. Here are the steps needed to connect to a pfSense-protected network.

1. Install the OpenVPN client
Install the OpenVPN client using the pre-configured installer exported by pfSense and provided to you by your system administrator. Hopefully, this was provided to you on portable media such as a CD or USB thumb drive. Sending the installer by email defeats part of the security benefit of using VPNs because the installer could be intercepted on the way to its destination.

2. Set the client to run as administrator
If you are using Windows XP, you may skip this step. Locate the “OpenVPN GUI” icon on the desktop. Right-click on the icon and click Properties. Click the Compatibility tab, and place a check beside “Run this program as an administrator”.

3. Connect to the remote network
Take note of the icons that appear in the system tray (bottom-right of the screen beside the time display on the Windows taskbar), and then double-click the OpenVPN GUI icon on the desktop. You will see the OpenVPN icon appear in the system tray area. Double-click that icon to connect the VPN. You will be prompted for the username and password provided by your system administrator. Once the connection is established, you’ll see a message show up in the system tray indicating that you are connected.

4. Connect to the remote computer
Now that the VPN connection is established, all you have to do is use the remote desktop software included in Windows to connect to the computer of your choice. That is normally found in the Start menu under Accessories. Look for Remote Desktop Connection. If you wish, you can place this icon on the desktop by right-clicking on it and clicking Send to > Desktop (Create shortcut). When you start Remote Desktop Connection, enter the name of the computer you wish to connect to. You will also be prompted for a username and password to sign into the computer.

In the future, connecting will just be a matter of repeating steps 3 and 4. In the near future, I will be posting some additional tweaks that automate the process even further.

How to install Word and LibreOffice templates with a login script on Windows Server

Document Template ImageAfter some research and experimentation, I finally figured out how to push out Word and LibreOffice templates to client computers on a Windows Domain using a few commands in a login script. In our environment, we have a mix of Microsoft Office 2007, Microsoft Office 2010, and LibreOffice 4.x.x. This method seems to work with all three.

To start with, I placed the template files (.dotx and .ott) in a subfolder named templates and placed that within the netlogon folder on the domain controller. That way they are available for copying by the login script.

Here are the lines I added to the login script:

xcopy "\\server\netlogon\templates\Invoice Template.dotx" "%appdata%\microsoft\Templates\" /y
mkdir "%appdata%\LibreOffice\4\user\template"
xcopy "\\server\netlogon\templates\Invoice Template.ott" "%appdata%\LibreOffice\4\user\template" /y

Both destination folders use the %appdata% variable which should work in all modern versions of Windows. The destination folder referenced in the first line is already created when MS Office is installed, so the script just copies the template. The second two lines are for LibreOffice. Since the user templates folder is not created automatically, we first issue a command to create it (this line will harmlessly error out once the folder is already there) and then copy the template.

I’m still testing this in our environment, but it seems to be working well so far. I’ll update and edit this post if/when I notice any problems.

ContentID Madness: IndMusic, Partners in Rhyme, and my cardboard boat.

cardboard-boat-video-screenshotSometime late in 2013 I began to see articles and blog posts complaining of changes to YouTube’s ContentID system. The system is designed to flag videos containing copyright-infringing content and offer the owner of the content a chance to monetize the videos in question or have them removed from YouTube. I didn’t pay much attention as most of the complainers where YouTubers that were creating videos with in-game content. However, in the middle of December, the controversy paid a visit to one of my YouTube channels.

The channel is called “Great Cove Adventure Films” and is where I post videos of outdoor adventures such as fishing and hunting. In the space of three weeks, I received notification from Youtube that three of my videos contained copyrighted content. The videos effected were these:

Fishing from a cardboard boat
Channel Advertisement 11.23.2013
Catching bluegill on Fannettsburg Lake

The party making the claim is called IndMusic, a company that is becoming known for these sort of claims. Supposedly, the background music in my videos infringed on the copyright held by an artist they represent. The thing is, this music wasn’t something of questionable origin or something I ripped off a CD. I had purchased the songs in question in January 2013 from an apparently reputable company called Partners in Rhyme. The stock-music collection cost me $99 and was called Sacred Hymns. It included several soft instrumental hymns that I thought would go well with my outdoor videos. The receipt and license agreement from Partners in Rhyme clearly stated that I was purchasing the right to use these songs as background music for video projects. Furthermore, the license stated that Partners in Rhyme had the necessary authorization to grant me those rights, and that their agreement with me did not infringe the copyrights of any third party. So in spite of me acquiring this music the “right” way, YouTube was notifying me that IndMusic held the rights to the music and future revenue from advertisements would be shared with them instead of me.

Thankfully, YouTube allows a video creator to appeal. I took advantage of that and appealed the claim on all three videos. I explained in each of my appeals how I had legally acquired the music. In a few days IndMusic lifted the claim on two of the three videos. However, they didn’t lift the claim on my cardboard boat video. On January 17, 2014 I received a notice from YouTube that IndMusic had reinstated their claim on my video. I could file a second appeal, but this time the stakes would be higher. I would have to share my contact information with IndMusic, and they would be free to take legal action against me if they still felt that my video was infringing. In addition, if they turned down this appeal YouTube would place a copyright strike on my YouTube account. For a small-time YouTube creator, the risk is simply not worth it. I should be able to assume that my appeal would be granted, but since it was denied once it certainly could be denied a second time.

So what choice do I have? The video is still active, so I can just leave it there. However, all revenue sharing from it now goes to somebody who probably does not deserve it, basically rewarding IndMusic for filing a claim that appears to be invalid. So as soon as I can put different music with the cardboard boat video, I’ll be pulling down the old one and putting up a new one.

So who’s to blame for this madness? The short answer is, I don’t know. Are IndMusic and YouTube over-zealous in their copyright policing efforts? Did Partners in Rhyme sell me rights without proper authorization? For what it is worth, it appears that the stock music collection in question is no longer being offered by Partners in Rhyme. I left a voice-mail for them today (January 18, 2014), but so far I have not heard from them. I strongly suspect Partners in Rhyme is the innocent party, but they are likely the only company of the three that I’ll actually be able to have a conversation with.