Wednesday, June 29, 2011

PowerPoint Embedded Presentation

One of the cool new features of SkyDrive is the ability to embed a PowerPoint presentation in one's blog or web page.  Here are the steps to do this.

  • Create a shared folder on your SkyDrive account.  It's free so there's no cost to you.  
  • Put your presentation in the shared location.   You should now see you presentation in the list of files under the shared folder.
  • Click on the "i" icon on the right side of the document.  A right panel will appear.
  • Under Share click on the Embed link and then copy the iframe and paste this into your blog.  In the case of Blogger I just clicked on the Edit HTML tab in the compose window and pasted it into there and then it appeared below.

That's all you need to do.  This is using the free PowerPoint Web Application and is much better then generating HTML from PowerPoint and trying to get it to work within one's web page.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Not So Magical Apple Store Experience

I love Apple products and have spent a small fortune buying said Apple products at various Apple stores.   In one of my posts I described how my son and I are Apple fans for life because of a simple act of an Apple Sales Associate and how he gave us a new iPod Touch after my son dropped his and cracked the glass the day after Christmas.  We didn't buy it at the Apple Store but he did this simple act of kindness anyway.  Wow that's customer service.

How quickly the magic fades....

I recently received an iPod Touch as a gift (this is long after my son received his replacement back in December).  I have an iPhone 4 and an iPad, my wife has an iPhone 4 and an iPad and my son has an iPod Touch current generation and the first gen so suffice it to say that we really didn't need another Apple iPod Touch.  Unfortunately I didn't have a receipt.  Because of my wonderful experience with the Apple store previously I thought maybe they would take the return and give my a credit or something so I could buy more of their products.

Boy was I wrong.

I walked into the Palo Alto store and spoke to the greeter and told her what I wanted to do.  I showed her the unopened iPod Touch.  It was pristine and brand new looking.  It looked exactly as it does when you buy it with the thin white sheathing that protects the clear pastic of the iPod Touch box.  I never opened it.

She looked at me as if I just ripped the store off or something.  

They don't have these things on the floor so I'm not sure why she thought I stole it.   I guess I could have stolen it some place else but I don't think I'd be coming into the store with my family to return stolen merchandise.  Anyway, she proceeded to go to the Genius bar to look up the serial number or something on the computer.  She came back and said I'm sorry you didn't buy it here so we can't take it back and that was it.

Now I know most retailers these days don't take merchandise that wasn't bought at their store but I kind of thought Apple was different.  I mean if I wanted to get the typical retail experience I would go to Best Buy or Walmart.   For me the Apple store was sort of magical.  All of my previous experiences with the Apple store had been great so why would this be different.

Apple, if you're listening, maybe instead of looking up whether I purchased the iPod Touch at the store, the sales associate could look up how much Apple crap I've bought over the years and then make an informed decision as to whether to give me a credit for a $220 device or not.  I mean I've purchased a small fortune of Apple products from Macs to stupid dongles and I think the least Apple can do is to assume I'm not their to rip them off.

Alas, the Apple Store is just a tad bit less magical to me today.

P.S. A friend of mine did the same thing and was given cold hard cash at the Palo Alto store so if nothing else be consistent.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Printer Drivers for Old Printers

I was pretty excited when I got my new Mac last year.  What I wasn't really excited about was the fact that my new Mac couldn't connect to a couple of my existing printers.  I was a little annoyed because I was being forced to buy a new printer (just after I bought this expensive new Mac) because I had the good fortune of having printers that actually lasted longer than a year.   I have an HP LaserJet 6L which must be like 10 years old and a Canon MultiPass MP730 which is probably like 8 years old.   As you may guess this doesn't really fly with the wife who is pretty annoyed that you now have to buy 2 new things instead of the one you promised. She pretty much thinks either this was your ulterior motive from the beginning or that you're an idiot for not doing enough research.  Wow, what can I say?  Anyway, I had found myself in this dilemma.  

Thank goodness for Bing (well actually Google but since I work at Microsoft I must try to plug the company's wares every chance I get).  I did a search and came across some newsgroups discussions talking about the Gutenprint Open Source printer drivers for old printers that wouldn't die.

Here's how to install these new drivers.

  1. Just click on one of the download links.  On a Mac it will download the DMG file and open up automatically like a hard drive.  
  2. Double Click the Installer and Install the Gutenprint printer drivers.
  3. In OS 10.5 (Snow Leopard) go to the System Preferences and open the Print and Fax preferences.
  4. Click on the + sign to add a new printer.
  5. If you're lucky the printer will just show up by Default.  Just click on it in the list.
  6. The key thing now is to select the print driver by selecting the "Print Using" pop up and then picking "Select Printer Software" which pops up a dialog with a list of hundreds of printers.  The auto select feature isn't able to associate your printer with the appropriate Gutenprint drivers so you'll have to select it manually.  Find your printer in the list.  The Guntenprint installer appends the list with all of their drivers.  In my case the HP LaserJet is called "HP LaserJet 6L - CUPS+Gutenprint v5.2.6." 

I totally get the OpenSource movement now that I use these Getenprint drivers, Handbrake and VLC.  It's really great that these developers share their work for free for the benefit of all.   I applaud you.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

AppleTV 1st Generation vs 2nd Generation - Should I upgrade?

Apple TV MC572LL/A (2010)
I currently have an AppleTV and it's a 1st generation box with 160GB hard drive.  Since the second generation AppleTV was launched a few months back I've wondered if I should buy a new one.  At $99 bucks it's in my price range but clearly it has to provide a heck of a lot more capabilities than the current one for me to spend any money on a replacement.  For me, the big thing is AirPlay.  Lucky for me, we recently purchased the second generation box at work and I borrowed it to test it out on my home network.

I'll get straight to the bottom line...if you already have an old AppleTV keep it.  If not or if you use your box differently than I do then it might make a lot of sense.

Here's what I found.

1) The old interface is better then the new one.  Don't get me wrong it's still as simple and as easy to use as the old one with Apple's signature clean and beautiful user experience.  The difference is that most of the UI is taken up by the for purchase stuff and not your own collection.  At the top level are movies, TV, music but all of this takes you to the iTunes store.  If you buy or rent a lot of movies then this might be better for you.  The second generation AppleTV consolidates all of your personal content in a single location under Computers and to find your music, movies and photos you have to go there so it's at least a couple of clicks before you even get to your content.  The first generation box integrates everything at the top level so your movies, music and tv shows are in the same location as the rental stuff.  So it's just a single click to your content.

2) Lots of delays waiting for content to load from your library -  The first generation AppleTV box sync's with your iTunes library so content is downloaded to the box.  I personally have it set up to only download photos.   Music and videos are read directly from my NAS.  But even in this situation the list of music and videos are downloaded and maintained on the AppleTV so one doesn't have to wait for this information to be acquired when traversing menus on the AppleTV.  This is not the case with the Apple TV 2nd Gen.  Every time I go to a menu it says Loading Library.  Now I have a huge library wtih over 800 videos and 100+ GB of music so things load pretty slowly for me.  This is really annoying and is probably the biggest sticking point for me.  Now you can get around it if you have an iPad and use the remote control.  The AppleTV remote control on the iPad is great and doesn't have to wait for any type of loading.  It's a little weird because it feels like sometimes it caches it but other times it tries to load things again.  It's possible that my library is too large to cache which is why I'm getting such a bad experience so your mileage may differ.

3) AirPlay isn't as good as it could be - AirPlay is pretty cool.  You simply start a video or music from the iTunes app and it will play on the 2nd Gen AppleTV.  However, for now, this only works with Apple's apps such as video, YouTube, Photos and iTunes.  It doesn't really work with anything else.  These are the very things I could care less about because these are all natively supported on the AppleTV so I don't have to AirPlay them.  The things that would be cool would be if third party apps supported AirPlay such as Hulu, 60 Minutes, or any of the other video apps.  Only the audio works with most of these which makes it far less useful.  I read that this may change and that third party apps will get video support.  Once this happens then I think it may be worth an upgrade.

So is there anything better on the 2nd Gen AppleTV?  Well I think movies load faster.  I'm not sure why this is the case but they do load faster which is really nice.  My old school AppleTV takes at least a half a second before a video starts to play.  It's so slow that sometimes I have to wonder if it crashed or not.  The other thing is the new box appears to be more stable.  I have lots of issues with my old AppleTV.  The entire box locks up when syncing and nothing can be done.  It hangs every now and then so I have to unplug it to start again.  And overall, the new AppleTV feels a lot faster.

I think I'll buy one once AirPlay is working with lots of apps.  AirPlay is pretty cool.  The way you get AirPlay to work is that the typical video icon changes on the iPad to a triangle with a box around it when near an AppleTV or AirPlay device.  Click on this and you'll get a menu with the AirPlay devices.  In my case it says iPad Screen or AppleTV.  If you pick AppleTV it starts to play on the TV.  You have to be in the main UI.  It doesn't work if you're paused in a movie.

Before I end this post I should also point out I had some issues setting up the new AppleTV.  The easiest thing for me to do to get this set up quickly was to unplug my old AppleTV and then plug in the new one using the exact same cables.  When I did this and tried to turn on Home Sharing on the new AppleTV it said it couldn't log into the iTunes store and then I got the spinner which kept going round and round as if it was looking for something.

Well iTunes didn't like this.  When I looked on my Mac the old AppleTV still looked like it was plugged in and I think this confused the new box.  I rebooted iTunes and my Mac and then tried home sharing again on the AppleTV.  This fixed everything and stuff just started working.  However, when using Home Sharing the new AppleTV doesn't appear in iTunes at all.  I wasn't really sure things were set up right until my stuff started showing up on the AppleTV.

Anyway, in conclusion the AppleTV is still a pretty cool little box but if you have the old AppleTV I don't think there is any reason to buy the new one at least until AirPlay video is supported by third party applications.

UPDATE: It appears that a number of third party apps are releasing AirPlay video support even though this won't work until 4.3.  Here's link to the MacRumors article.

UPDATE2: I purchased the new Apple TV and have been pretty happy with it.  Loading the library doesn't take a long time like it originally did in my earlier tests so that's not really an issue.  Also it appears to play a wider variety of video encoding.  I accidentally Handbraked a few movies using the default template and they wouldn't play on the old AppleTV but they play find on the new one.  I have also used the AirPlay feature mostly a bit for fun like playing music videos using Vevo but the apps I really want haven't added AirPlay support like Hulu, 60 minutes and least as of the last time I tried.  Finally it's a lot more stable than the old AppleTV.  it doesn't lock-up or crash or need rebooting a lot like the old one did.  I've been using it quite a bit for Netflix and it works great.  I could watch netflix using my XBOX, Wii or PlayStation but the Apple TV is always on and it's quick to get too.  Anyway, I'm pretty happy I purchased this new version.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Issues with Handbrake .9.5 and AppleTV 1st Gen

It may be just me but I'm having issues with Handbrake .9.5 and an AppleTV 1st Gen box.  I've been using the latest Handbrake and all the movies I've encoded playback with video issues where the picture breaks up and becomes discolored for a few seconds.  In a couple of movies like Despicable Me and Inception my AppleTV literarily froze after it hit this portion of the movie.  I had to reboot my Apple TV by unplugging it.  I'm using the Apple/Universal template in Handbrake.

I decided to go back to .9.4 since I never had any issues before.

However,  I'd like to use the new version so I'm continuing to do a few experiments.  I opened .9.5 and .9.4 up and compared the two.  I noticed that under the Advanced tab there's a slider called Psychovisual Rate Distortion.  On my .9.4 version of Handbrake this is set all the way to the right.  In .9.5 it's set in the middle.  I'm re-encoding a movie to see if that might fix my issues.   I also upgraded my version of VLC which appears to be at version 1.1.5 now.  I was only at 1.1.3.  I'll post an update here once I get a chance to watch the whole movie again (boy that's going to be a pain) to see if it fixes the problem.

UPDATE: OK, I've done a little more testing and it doesn't look like a Handbrake issue.  It actually appears to be file corruption.  I typically Handbrake everything to my local drive and then copy them to the NAS.  My iTunes account points to the NAS and my Apple TV plays all of the movies from the NAS.  Here's what I discovered.  First I searched and then found a fully reproducible place in the movie that fails - white splotches over big areas of the video during certain scenes of Despicable Me.  I then tried playing this same move from the version on my hard drive.  It played perfectly.  OK, it must be a NAS issue.  I first tried to reboot it.  It had trouble rebooting which led me to think the NAS was in a bad state.  Once rebooted I played the NAS version of the movie again and it still had the same issues.  So I then copied the move back to my local hard drive to see if it was the movie file or the NAS hardware.  The copied version exhibited the same video issues.  Ahhh- it must be file corruption. I then copied all of the original handbrake encoded moves from my hard drive back to the NAS and retested Despicable Me.   It played perfectly.  My conclusion is that the NAS got into a bad state and for some reason started corrupting files a couple of weeks ago.  The reboot seems to have solved the problem.  Sorry Handbrake developers for the wrong accusations.  It was user error (or in my case NAS error).